Practice Self-love & self-compassion — caring for yourself especially during the time of loss requires you to prioritize yourself so you can realize what and who are needed to help you recover.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dawn Kamilah Brown.
Dawn Kamilah Brown, MD, also known as “The MD with ADHD™,” is a double-boarded Child & Adolescent, Adult and Sports Psychiatrist and Serial Entrepreneur.
She is the owner and CEO and sole practitioner at ADHD Wellness Center PLLC with two private practice locations in Texas with a growing virtual presence and is also the owner & CEO of Mental Healthletics PLLC and serves as the company’s Sports Psychiatrist for elite (and retired) athletes of college and national sports organizations.
She enjoys traveling all over the word and spending quality time with her family, close friends and three toy yorkies: Django, Gucci and DJ.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, I was blessed to have a fulfilling childhood. At age six, I decided I wanted to become a doctor. I religiously watched PBS broadcasts of interviews and surgeries performed by three black famous neurosurgeons, Drs. Keith Black, Alexa Canady and Ben Carson every Saturday morning. I was intrigued by the brain and wanted to know everything about it and had dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon. After sharing my career aspirations with my parents, EVERY SINGLE DECISION they made following that conversation intentionally supported by dream: My mom, an educator, picked my teachers through middle school. We relocated to the suburbs so I could attend a high school that was known for having a high acceptance rate into prestigious universities. I worked very hard and graduated at the top of my high school class, being the only African American in the majority of my classes and recognized by my senior class as “Most Likely to Succeed.” I graduated with honors from the prestigious university and HBCU, Xavier University of Louisiana, known for creating exceptional students to become top candidates for medical school placement.
It would appear my childhood and adolescent years were focused solely on education, but that was not the case. My parents balanced my primitive years with the fine arts and music (I played the violin in two orchestras for 14 years, sang in four choirs, and did some acting). My mother and I were fans of roller coasters and rode every single ride at Cedar Point Amusement Park and Kings Island; and we routinely traveled as a family to various parts of the country, enjoying different cultures while strengthening our connection with one another.
My formative years have had a positive impact on how I view life’s opportunities and support why my passion for education, children, and mental health is strong and purposed.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My Favorite “Life Lesson Quote” comes from my father, Donald Ray Brown. Since a child, he has always supported my passions and decisions and reminded me about his definition for “Success,” to encourage my approach on how to pursue them: “Success is the point where opportunity meets preparation. The opportunity arises, and one is prepared, thus realizing ‘success.’ Many miss out on success because often times it comes disguised as ‘hard work.’ Dawn, you will be successful because you are not a stranger to hard work.” My Dad recited this quote at my high school, university, and medical school graduation celebrations. He also mentioned the same quote after the completion of my adult psychiatry residency and child psychiatry fellowships. On December 31, 2020, he spoke these words over the phone right after I closed on my new home. My father (and mother) has always planted words and scripture of success and hope into my spirit. I have accomplished many of my dreams because of their beliefs and words of affirmation.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
The top three qualities that I attribute to my success are: Prayer & Meditation, Relationships, and Commitment.
- Prayer & Meditation — I start and end every day with prayer and meditation. Prayer is me talking to God and meditation is me hearing from God. I live every day with intention and on purpose. What I want in life is aligned with what God has planned for my life. I want to make sure that everything I do is within the Will of God and that’s what I pray for. When I think about the success I have achieved they’ve resulted because of prayer, meditation and God’s involvement with orchestrating my decisions that have led to success. Occasionally, a patient would remind me of their emotional or mental pain and how I’ve helped to provide relief to their suffering. I do not rely solely on my human capabilities. Every choice I make has an action and reaction. Practicing mindful forms of talking and listening to a higher power has improved even the simplest of challenges not only in my life, but also in my patients’ lives.
- Relationships — It is extremely difficult to achieve success in this life without the support of others. Success is not a solo journey, it’s a group victory. It rarely comes after a first attempt, and often happens after many failures. It’s realized in small steps. My success can be attributed to many people- my family, friends, colleagues, mentors, church families, patients, clients and supporters. I am grateful for the relationships that I have cultivated along the path of me becoming a serial entrepreneur of 3 companies. Whether it was a family member or teacher who encouraged me to not give after I failed, or a patient who referred others to me who could benefit from my professional help, I have been successful because of others. Relationships can provide help, introductions, positions, opportunities and can also serve the role as cheerleaders. I commit the time to building and maintaining them. I make them a daily priority.
- Commitment — I believe success and commitment go hand in hand. The belief for me wanting to be a doctor was spoken at age six when I told my parents that I wanted to be a neurosurgeon. Around age 8, I recorded on a VHS tape where I spoke of wanting to accomplish 3 things in life,” Become a news reporter, become a doctor and make a lot of money.” LOL! Speaking these words out loud fueled my desires. It created an inner belief that with God’s guidance, hard work and support, I could achieve all of these things. I believe the most successful people believe first in themselves then in their goals for their success; simply, when you believe in yourself and what you are wanting to accomplish, you are likely to be committed to achieving success and less likely to lose your focus or give up before reaching success.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Do you feel comfortable sharing with our readers about your dramatic loss or life change?
During my medical school tenure, I experienced multiple detours that resulted in tearful and sleepless nights, stomach pains, emotional frustrations, and self-defeating thoughts. I failed my medical school boards five times over the course of six years. I felt embarrassed about not graduating with the class that I was elected class president for two consecutive years and when I didn’t think things could get worse, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer during my second year of medical school.
It was my mom who prayed with me, cited scriptures with me and reignited my faith and trust in God’s plan for my life while she was going through a countless number of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. It was my mom’s (and Father’s) encouragement, strength and love that helped me to persevere through challenges of medical school and walk across the stage to accept my medical degree as “Dr. Dawn Kamilah Brown, MD.” It was also a part of God’s plan for my mom to “see” me accomplishing my life’s dream, just like she “heard” me speak of my dream at age 6.
Two months after my graduation, my mom died on her 31-year marriage anniversary. I was emotionally devastated. My mom, who was also my best friend, prayer partner and cheerleader was gone. She became a beautiful Angel in God’s arms. During the final conversation I had with my mom she said, “Dawn because my life may stop, yours should not. I will always be with you.” I took those words to heart and eventually, I designed a new roadmap for my life.
What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?
Following my mom’s death, it was difficult to continue life without my mom’s physical presence. My Dad had necklaces designed for our family (him, me and my brother) with a beautiful photo of my mother. Engraved on the back are the words “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” As a Christian, I understood and accepted what this meant. But has a daughter who loved and admired her mom to the highest of levels and thought of her as her best friend, these words were unbearable to live with. This was a person that birthed me. She knew how I felt without me expressing it. She knew my decisions before I made them. She had the incredible gift of knowing how to “calm” my emotions when I was angry, and she knew the right words to say when I felt self-defeated.
I also realized how much I miss her — I miss our conversations, her guidance, her voice that I often anticipated hearing for words of advice support and encouragement. I miss her cooking, hearing her jokes, and our laughter after watching an Eddie Murphy movie. I also realized how much I will miss her — I will miss her being at my wedding, the delivery of my first child and her having an opportunity of being called “Granny.”
I constantly asked myself, HOW was I going to continue to live without her??? Following her passing, I frequently thought about this question. I did not have thoughts of not wanting to live or desires to end my life, but I didn’t know how to continue living. This was a very confusing and scary time in my life and although I had a loving father to speak with and a Father from above to pray to, the uneasiness of how to continue living was an inner conflict that I dealt with for quite some time.
Death is final. There is no coming back from it. I would never see her again. We would never embrace again. I could never tell her how much I love her…ever again. And this was extremely painful and scary. How could I go on without her?
Grieving the loss of a parent has been the most difficult experience I have had to work through. And being a psychiatrist has not made the process easier. With my therapist’s help, I had to realize that despite what we do and how well we do it, should have no bearing on coping as a human being. And when you let your identity go during these vulnerable moments, the uninvited guests of emotional pain and grief can leave too, leaving room for healing to occur.
How did you react in the short term?
I was emotionally numb at my mother’s funeral; I don’t recall much that happened. I don’t remember the details of her homegoing service or even the tribute I delivered. The moments I do remember were the uncontrollable tears I cried when my church choir sung my mom’s favorite gospel song; when I saw my mother’s casket slowly drop underground; and when I slept in my bed for 2 days straight after her funeral. I knew people “meant well” when they told me that they were praying for me, when they left food at our house to eat, and when they told me they will always be available whenever I needed a listening ear. But at that time, I didn’t want to hear or desire any of those things. I needed my mom, and no one could give me what I wanted.
After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use?
I coped with the loss of my mother by completing my adult psychiatry residency and one of year of my child psychiatry fellowship. Two weeks following my mom’s funeral, I started my first year of adult residency without a blink. I ignored talking about Mom, I avoided going to therapy to deal with my grief and I put all my energy into learning how to effectively treat my patients. I behaved like nothing was wrong, I lied to people when asked how I was doing, and I forced a smile to show people that I was managing life well without my mom’s physical presence.
Since my behaviors didn’t align with my thoughts or emotions, it eventually led to an emotional shut down — I didn’t share my feelings with my immediate family who I know could have mutually benefitted from me being open; I avoided calls from friends who offered a listening ear and encouraged me to “let the grief out;” I attended church service every Sunday and participated on the praise team and in the adult choir ministering to others while ignoring my own spiritual and emotional pains.
This coping style got me through three years of adult psychiatry residency and the first year of my child psychiatry fellowship, although I now understand it was an unhealthy way to cope with the loss I felt. Later, I realized I was going through a depression and was not aware. Occasionally, I share my story with my patients as an example of how we can use unhealthy coping strategies to avoid feeling the pain that can lead to our healing, which should be a healthy process.
Can you share with us how you were eventually able to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
Four years after my mom’s death, I started therapy. At that time, I was dealing with conflicts in my relationship which led me to therapy. During this process of becoming more self-aware, I realized I had projected feelings of losing my mother unto my relationship which caused emotional dependency, manipulation, emotional dys-regulations and despair. The variances of these led me to feel like I was going to explode, and that’s what happened one night with my then boyfriend. Unrelated to the topic we were discussing, the pain came out and it released with vengeance. We both recognized that this was the pain that I had avoided for years, and it was time to approach it head-on and finally, deal with it. Therapy was and still is my “safe space.” I was able to speak about my anger towards God for taking my mother “too soon.” I was able to discover that there were emotional inadequacies that I had not dealt with. I was able to let go of the pain I felt, holding myself hostage to feelings and thoughts that were outside of my control. I was able to learn more about “Dawn” and accept who she was and who she desired to become. I was able to speak without judgment, fear and shame. I prayed to God to take the “pain away” when I realized the depression was taking a toll on my spirit and livelihood. I lost 30 pounds, I didn’t sleep well, and I had begun to not feel. It was during my start of therapy where my journey to healing took place and I’d realized that this was part of God’s answer to my prayer. Combining my religious and spiritual beliefs with a scientific approach to receiving help was a saving grace. In turn, I shared my experiences with my Pastor who supported my mission and involvement with my church family as a mental health advocate in promoting awareness and education for seeking mental health services. The pain of losing my mother had to occur for me to have a deeper connection with others’ who have lost a parent or loved one; as my healing continues, I now have the capacity to help others with their own healing process.
Aside from letting go, what did you do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
I focused on improving my emotional, physical and spiritual realms. I knew that they interconnected, and it was important for me to give attention to all areas in order for my emotional shift to re-balance. What we think, can become how we feel, which often leads to behaviors or actions.
- I worked with a friend on healthy eating and incorporated a realistic exercise routine in my schedule; I lost 30 pounds, the weight I gained during my mourning.
- I met with my Pastor and consistently talked to my “Spiritual Mothers” who were supportive and understanding during my grief process and welcomed me to speak freely without judgement; I know God heard their prayers because I wouldn’t have been able to get to the place of emotionally stability without them.
- I worked with a therapist with the intentions for self-betterment. I wanted to understand my emotions and how they related to my Christian walk and Love for God. I realized I had been selfish with how I grieved my mother’s death and not given attention to death’s meaning in life. Death is a natural part of the life cycle and will happen to us all. It is the open door to the afterlife. After exploring and accepting this connection, the emotional shift from feeling grief, despair, sadness and depression shifted to appreciating feelings of happiness, joy and freedom for the 28 years I had with my mom.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?
I was on cloud nine when I attended my white coat ceremony, prepared for the adventure medical school would bring. While on Thanksgiving break of my first year, my parents shared with me that my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. It was emotionally painful for me not being physically with her to support her through her treatments as she had always been my number one supporter, along with my dad.
Not knowing I had ADHD at the time, over the course of five years, I failed three different medical board exams a total of FIVE times, although my clinical skills did not reflect these scores and were consistently described as “exceptional” by those who graded me.
I met Robin Park, MD during my first year of medical school. At the time, she taught medical students in all years of our education, she served as Director of Medical Student Education in the Department of Psychiatry at SLUSOM, and she organized the psychiatry inpatient, outpatient, and consultant & liaison care for St. Louis University Hospital and Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. Dr. Park was an involved teacher and mentor with many medical students, specifically those of us who struggled with board exam failures.
God uses hard times in our lives to put our faith to the test. He wants us to trust Him AND the process he has predestined for our lives. He builds our character yet humbles our successes, so that we may continue to learn from our failures and stay the course to receive something greater. Dr. Park’s mentorship played a significant role in my life. She was a beacon of hope for my journey and continues to be an extraordinary example of a prayer warrior, mentor and friend. Dr. Park is one of the reasons why I am a double-board certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist and a major reason why I embrace my role as a mentor seriously, to help others reach their potential.
Were you able to eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation? Can you explain how you did that?
It was designed for me to have a personal experience with death in order to help others how I’m meant to help them. I have helped my patients who have coupled their grief with depression, and others who are open to experiencing a different perspective about death, deal with their emotions, by accepting how they feel, supporting them to feel what they feel and guiding them through the process in order experience the emotional shift that leads to healing. My position is not to create the healing process for them. I’m here to support them as they create that path for themselves. This can be a different journey for everyone, and it is important to acknowledge and validate that our varied journeys look different, yet these paths have the ability to reach the same place — A place of Healing.
What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? Can you please explain with a story or example?
Since this personal experience, I view death and life differently. Everyone and everything have meaning and purpose. My mother’s death did not coincidentally happen when it happened. Eventually, I shifted my focus to the Christian principle of it being “her time” to live with God in Heaven as her work here on earth, was finished.
More importantly, a bigger message that I learned is that it is not all about me. When we are emotional about someone or something, it defines our attraction or connection with them. During the initial part of my grieving process, my focus was on how I felt — which I tried to avoid by not feeling. However, mid-process, I realized that the art of grief is to explore why the pain occurs. The pain for me signified the love I have for my mother instead of the loss of her presence. The love explains why the loss hurts and after realizing this, I learned to appreciate other “losses” that have occurred in my life.
I also realized some losses must occur for us to grow, or the risk of being stagnant may result. The loss of a few close friends in my life have allowed me to discover the type of relationships that I want in my circle are individuals who are supportive, nurturing, genuine, and authentic. My circle is small and that has been by my design. I am blessed to have friends who are mutually invested in our friendship and support the big visions I have for my personal life and my businesses.
Lastly, I have learned more about my purpose. I have 3 questions I routinely ask myself that help guide me to have the life that I want: 1) Why am I here? 2) What can I accomplish while living on earth? and 3) How can I live a purposeful life that aligns with the life God intended for me? I prioritize Prayer and Meditation; I invest in my personal and business relationships, and I am passionate about my commitment to serve others in the different roles I play in their lives.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
- Practice Self-love & self-compassion — caring for yourself especially during the time of loss requires you to prioritize yourself so you can realize what and who are needed to help you recover. Prioritizing you does not mean you are a selfish person. It is an act of self-love that allows you to be refreshed, refueled and renewed to ensure you are operating at your best and work through your loss to discover a different path. This should also include you to feel your loss (allow yourself to cry, be angry or feel however you feel. It may hurt, but it’s natural and normal) and give yourself grace (you are human who experiences human things. It’s okay to not feel sad all the time. It’s healthy and good to laugh and participate in activities you enjoy.
- Connect with others– We are inherently social beings. We are not designed to do things alone. Yet, you find most believe that asking for help and relying on others is a burden and makes you appear “emotionally weak.” Despite these views, studies support just the opposite…well, not that one is emotionally weak, but the burden eventually lies on the individual that did not ask for help or rely on others’ support. Resultantly, this can increase an individual’s risk to experience emotional symptoms like anxiety and depression; and to be clear, these conditions do not make a person “emotionally weak.” They make a person “human.” Talk about you are feeling with others. You do not have to struggle with these feelings by yourself; ask others for help if you need it. Seek out family, friends, a spiritual advisor, therapist or support groups. If your symptoms are not improving or you feel you need additional help, talk to your doctor.
- Create or Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle — When people experience a significant loss or life change, their body and mind can, too. It is common for people to experience changes with their sleep cycle, eating habits and energy levels. They may notice a shift in their level of motivation and interests, which if both have decreased, can often lead to inaction. Listen to you body and your mind. They often talk to us when we are not taking care of ourselves like we should. Headaches, pains, and not understanding why we “woke up on the wrong side of the bed,” can be signs that our body and mind tell us that something’s not right and needs attention. To work through life’s challenges, it is important to be in a good state of physical and emotional health. Develop a routine that attends to these needs and includes good sleep hygiene, a well-balanced diet and regular exercise.
- Give Yourself Time — There is no set timetable or schedule to grieve loss. And depending on the loss, time may differ and may take weeks or years to fully process the loss and fully heal. Furthermore, the grieving process can be limitless; it can re-emerge after working on emotions that we have worked through; it can be triggered by other forms of loss; it can even reappear as a reminder for loss when something or someone else is present. Regardless, when we commit the time to become aware of the emotions that come with loss, then we can be better at understanding what has occurred, how it affects our lives and what we need in order to successfully, manage the emotions whenever they come.
- Accept that Loss Brings Change — Experiencing a loss can leave a lasting imprint on your life: holidays and birthdays may never be the same if you’ve lost a loved one; goals and plans may change if you’ve lost a job; things cannot go back to the way they were if you’ve lost a friendship. As much as it may be difficult to admit, sometimes loss occurs for the purpose of change, even when we are resistant to it. This can also mean we come out deeply changed after a dramatic loss or life change, and that’s okay.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
To practice agape love at best as we can with one another. This is the type of love God has for us. It is selfless, sacrificial, understanding, non-judgmental and unconditional. It is not an action, but a feeling. If we were to treat one another with this type of love, we would live in a better world. Examples would be donating to charities out of the goodness of your heart; doing acts of kindness for others, whether you know them personally or not; and dedicating your life to help others for the good of humanity.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂
There are a number of people I would love to meet- Lebron James, President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey. But at the top of my list would be our former first lady, my forever first lady, Michelle Obama, Esq.
- I am inspired (and encouraged) by her passion to encourage young girls and women to celebrate who they are and help them realize the power that lives within them to be a positive force in our world.
- I would like to personally share with her my admiration of her grace and beauty as a strong Black woman who represents many of our journeys — from childhood to “Becoming.” She is a perfect imperfect model of how acknowledging who we are, understanding what we want in life and how bad we want it can lead to a path of right decisions, purposed with supportive people and divine interventions that result in living a fulfilling life.
- I am a fan of her vulnerability and her advocacy for mental health. I would love to work with her on a mental health project that would create greater access for others to receive the help they need and deserve. Her approach of humanizing mental illness by sharing her own experiences with depression has resulted in a greater connection with others and gives people hope. It furthers the point that regardless of who you are, or what you have (or don’t have), mental health is a “human issue” that is non-discriminatory and can affect us all.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I can be found on all social media platforms as @drdawnpsychmd. I would love to connect with others and see how I can provide help and bring value to whatever they are doing. Connect with me on any of my brands’ websites:
- ADHD Wellness Center PLLC (medical private practice) www.adhdwellnesscenter.com
- Dr. Dawn Psych MD (educational mental health advocate and speaker’s platform for all topics related to mental health and awareness- includes my speaking schedule, media projects, podcast, ADHD products) www.drdawnpsychmd.com
- Mental Healthletics PLLC™ (dedicated to servicing the mental health needs and wellness of elite collegiate, professional, Olympians and retired athletes. www.mentalhealthletics.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!