As I’ve gotten older, I have wished less for things and more for memories and experiences with loved ones. I’ve wished that political madness would just come to a screeching halt, I’ve wished for health for myself and my family, I’ve wished for old and new relationships to deepen, and I’ve also wished for that perfect camel color coat. During the stressful times that are the holidays, I can’t help but to reflect on this last year–a year full of significant personal growth.
A year ago we celebrated our first Christmas with a child as part of our family. We saw the magic of Christmas take hold of an utterly naive little human and it made our hearts soar. We enjoyed a great Christmas with our all of our closest family in our own home, and the love was almost palpable.
Then 2018 started off just like any other year. My husband was half way through his surgical critical care fellowship, which meant I was half way through doubling up on call. Yet, the light at the end of the tunnel suddenly seemed so dim–so dim I wasn’t even sure it was there anymore. Every call made me anxious, every patient encounter made me more cynical, and I started to resent every minute I spent at work away from my daughter. I wanted to be at swim class, music class, or at the park with her, not taking care of thankless patients and challenging families. I began searching for any way out. I spent hours researching non-clinical careers, I considered going back to school for my MBA, I wanted to start a decorating business, I wanted to become a CrossFit coach, I wanted to do anything but be a trauma surgeon. The anxiety began to boil over in March. I had a full blown anxiety attack, at work, in the middle of the night. Thankfully, my husband’s strength and support saw me through the wee hours of the morning. I caught a bit of a break from call, and I kept putting one foot in front of the other. I robotically made it through another couple of months until I had 11 days of call in a row. (There were a couple nights off in there, but not a necessary amount of reprieve.)
I had eleven days of call with my husband working 80 hours a week in fellowship and being understandably exhausted at the end of every day. And my off days weren’t exactly off days because I was trying to schedule myself to be available for every minute that I could with my daughter. I was skipping workouts. I wasn’t getting rest. I wasn’t eating right. I was running myself into the ground. I started asking other friends about “mom guilt” and how often they got to see their own children. I began making comparisons with my own life and trying to figure out what I could give up so I could keep going.
I finally caught a break! I had two weeks off (not by asking but simply because the schedule worked out that way), and I thought it would surely allow me to recuperate and come back stronger. Yet, the weekend before I was due back at work, I broke down entirely…on a river trip…for my husband’s birthday. I realized that I was struggling to even have fun. I was struggling to enjoy time with my husband and our best friends. It all seemed so forged, and I finally collapsed mentally and emotionally. After a day of floating down the river, my husband was finally made aware of my affliction. He was incredibly supportive and agreed to assist me in finding the help (and the time for that help) that I so desperately needed.
On June 10, I reached out on Facebook to a group of physicians that I barely knew. So began my authenticity on social media. Within hours, I had responses from people I hadn’t talked to in ages all offering a shoulder to cry on or to lift me up in whatever way they could. On Monday, my PCP worked me into her busy schedule and I had a prescription by day’s end. On Tuesday, I met with my psychiatrist for the first time. Thanks to that group to whom I reached, I had all the right connections, and this psychiatrist was just 30 minutes down the road and well versed in physician burnout–especially for physician moms. Within a week, I was being seen by an equally wonderful psychologist. I knew by taking the time I needed that things would have to get better. And they did.
That dreadfully dim light started to shine again. I could start counting down the calls until my husband would finish fellowship and some amount of normalcy would return to our lives and our schedules. I reached out through my blog and Instagram, and I found what true vulnerability and authenticity could do for my mental health, my confidence, and my entire well-being. Genuine–that’s all I could be. I was too exhausted from feigning happiness for too long. I poured my heart out. I let others know what all I (and other doctors, too) was contending with. Meanwhile, I faithfully kept appointments with my psychologist and psychiatrist, and forced myself to make new social connections. About 6 weeks after my call for help, my husband first told me he could see a change. He has reminded me of how far I’ve come these last 6 months multiple times, and he’s even the one the encouraged me to write this post–to let all of you know how far I’ve come.
In the past 6 months, I started attending a girls night with some of the women from my CrossFit gym. I’ve come to know these ladies in just a few short hours and consider them friends in the sincerest form. When physician mom groups have met up locally, I’ve made it a point to be in attendance. In doing so, I’ve found local women that are a lot like me–with similar struggles, similar habits, and all willing to offer support. I even made it off the waiting list for Brave Enough 2018 and had the best “girls weekend” I could have ever imagined. 350+ women all opening their hearts and their minds to be better for themselves and not just for everyone else. Everything that had been slowly improving just seemed like it all culminated in this one experience, and I can’t even begin to explain the connections I felt with women that were perfect strangers just hours before I arrived. I was lucky enough to sit on a women physicians panel upon my return, and made four more amazing connections. The number of connections I’ve made with some of the most fantastic men and women on my journey is countless.
I don’t always love the patients we care for or the difficult family members–who demanding doesn’t even begin to describe. I don’t always appreciate administrators that don’t prioritize our service line. I don’t always love going to work, and there are still times where I’m relatively anxious before call even begins. However, most days I don’t actually dread going to work either, and I even look forward to it. Gasp! I love the people in our office, and I’ve come to appreciate the service I provide to patients. I’ve even started to find some small amount of reward in it again. (Administrators, nursing turnover, and insurance companies don’t really help.) I’m not sure that I think I’m any better a doctor than I was, but I do provide better care than I was able to provide 6 months ago.
Mostly, I’ve found my myself again–that feisty firecracker that won’t take much $#&% especially when it comes to doing what’s right or not. I’ve found my voice again, and I’ve used it to stand up for my patients, for my partners, for physicians, for women, for myself. I’ve found that longing to lead, to make moves, and to stand up, unapologetically. (Thank you Judge Hatchett.) I am a better leader.
I think my marriage is better. Sure, we have times when we don’t connect in the ways we want. Some days are harder than others, but overall, I know that my best friend is by my side cheering for me all the way. I know this marathon would be impossible without him, and I am so appreciative of him as a husband and a father. I am a better wife.
I think I’m better at home. I am more present with Ava when I’m home. I’m not constantly wishing for a nap or time away. Yet, all of you know that with a 16 month old, it’s still physically exhausting. I am more thoroughly enjoying watching her grow into the bright soul she is becoming. I am a better mom.
I think I’m better. In fact, I know I’m better. That doesn’t mean I’m cured. Depression doesn’t just “go away” with some medications like a bout of sinusitis. It takes ongoing work to keep it at bay. Who knows how long I’ll be on medications this time? We are thinking about baby number 2 soon, and I know that will bring its own set of stressors. I’m not going to pretend like I’ll ever be completely “cured” from my depression and anxiety, but I will continue to manage it. I also think burnout can be managed as well–but it’s going to take entire communities to change their culture and support one another to slow this epidemic.
I will continue to be open and honest with my family, my friends, and all of you. Because we really aren’t alone, even when we feel like we are. Someone has a similar struggle that they’ve seen their way through, and if you see yourself through this one, you can be that same light for someone else. Find the things that work for you–working out, getting outside, writing/journaling/blogging, photography, a new side gig. And know, deep inside, that you are enough. That is the one thing I told myself when I started this journey by creating Doctor Enough, and Dr. Sasha Shillcutt does her best to remind us all. We are enough.
As 2018 is coming to a close, I’d say I’ve gotten just about everything I wanted and all of the things I needed. Thank you, Santa! And I am so wonderfully grateful. Thank you to my blog readers, and my Instagram followers, and my Facebook groupies. Thank you to my friends, my family, and my doctors. I wish you the happiest (genuinely) of holiday seasons and I’ll see you in the New Year!