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My Life Dimmer Switch

Dympna Weil, MD confesses how owning the dimmer switch of her life changed EVERYTHING. She shares exactly how.

I do things on my own terms, that are in alignment with my values, my conscience, my inner compass.

I always have.
My early career was in academics, practicing OBGYN at a tertiary care center with medical students, residents, midwives, complicated cases and all the support of specialists and sub-specialists and resources galore. I loved that inquisitive spirit of teaching and mentoring, collaboration and community.
I then journeyed into a smaller community private practice and later, in another season of my life, practiced as an OBGYN Hospitalist.

I was searching for the right balance of practicing medicine and being a human with a very human life.

Somewhere along the way, however, I slowly stopped listening – or at the very least I muffled – my intuition.
I just kept going, kept doing the things I was supposed to do because that’s what I did, because that’s what I trained to do.
And wasn’t that the goal?
Become a doctor.
Wasn’t that the dream?

When I declined to listen to my intuition, that inner voice as it called to me, its volume increased.

When the volume got louder, instead of listening, I put on noise-cancelling headphones.
Anything to just keep going. Ignore my intuition; silence my body’s signals.
After all, medical training had made me masterful at those very skills.
Ignore the urge to use the bathroom.
Silence the signals to eat or drink.
Process the difficult emotions buried in the name of seeing another patient and keeping it together in the moment?
Hardly ever.
Sleep?
Totally overrated.

Until one day, my body said, “No more.”

2020 needs no introduction.
In September 2020 I had bizarre neurologic symptoms that made processing inputs from the environment difficult.
Among other things, I felt in motion at rest, disconnected from my body, dizzy, and had severe motion/visual sensitivity.
You know when you are looking at your computer screen and that wheel is just spinning indicating it is “thinking” and “processing” – but really, it is not processing?
Well, that was how it felt.

It made me still.

Or else I dealt with the consequences.
Disequilibrium. Dizziness. Headaches.
I could no longer trust my body… or at least the signals it was giving me.

In truth, my body was and remains infinitely wise.

I have not always appreciated its wisdom or listened to its whispers for love and compassion. So it shouted.
Only then did I listen, when it physically lay me down, unable to process motion from stillness.

My body was lovingly forcing me to listen in the only way it knew how.

The fluidity of stillness was imperceivable from the outside – while my body was absolutely still to an outside observer, I felt motion. Uneasy. Unsafe. Disconnected from my body. My brain rendered unable to integrate all the sensory inputs as efficiently, effortlessly and seamlessly as it once did.
Suffice it to say, I could not run around L&D, operating and delivering babies.
Some days I could not be doing much at all.
I really would like to be able to ride my bike and be able to Irish dance again.
I really miss dancing.
I’d love to be able to trust my body fully and the information it’s giving me, but that is the issue with these conditions – those inputs and processing are not reliable.
I didn’t choose to stop practicing obstetrics. My body stopped me in my tracks.
And that has not been easy to manage as it has made me confront lots of thoughts around my identity, as you might imagine.

As I have had to learn to navigate vestibular/balance dysfunction I have also had to re-learn a lot of subtle skills I had taken for granted.

This has created many challenges and also many opportunities for me to question how I want to show up in those moments when it is not easy.
I learned very quickly that my vestibular recovery is incredibly nuanced.
If I don’t challenge it enough, I don’t recover.
If I push it too hard, it easily becomes overwhelmed and shuts down, rendering my vestibular physical therapy ineffective.
Sometimes, it needs to pause so that other aspects can be cared for.

Why am I sharing all this?

Because I learned that viewing my vestibular recovery through the lens of a dimmer switch changed everything for me.
I could turn it up just enough to get the system revved to make meaningful progress, but not so much that it was overwhelmed.
Overwhelm would leave the system unable to pave new neural pathways and relearn how to reintegrate all the balance information my brain receives.

With a dimmer switch: dial it up, dial it down.

Fine tuning it in real time.
And I started to notice my recovery started to move, albeit ever so slightly, in the right direction.
So then I wondered, how might this apply elsewhere in life?
Owning the dimmer switch of my life allows me to adjust to where I am on any given day, in any given moment.
Intensity up. Intensity down.
It allows for grace.
It anticipates changes are coming. So I am ready to respond as it feels right.
And there is power and peace in knowing I can control:
  • up/down
  • on/off
  • subtle/fierce
  • harsh/soft
That element of subtle control in a dimmer switch restores the power back to me in a situation that had me feeling so powerless.

Throughout this time, I have had to learn how to manage my emotions around all of this.

I have learned to allow myself to just be.
To allow myself to feel what I need to feel and then to choose how I want to show up moving forward.
Because it is in fact a choice.
My choice.
This has been the greatest gift to know that I have some agency in a time of disconnect and mistrust between what my senses gather and what my brain registers from my environment.
It is as I will have it be.

Using my dimmer switch, I can still be frustrated by the circumstances, but I can consciously turn down the frustration.

Or allow to be as it is.
Then I can dial up my self-compassion.  My creativity.  My calm.
What’s also interesting is that when feelings like self-criticism or judgment come up – I can notice them and try to dim them.
I do not expect these negative feelings to go away.
I don’t even have to turn them off necessarily, but maybe I can just try to dial them down a little bit to allow space for something else.
Perhaps a little kindness.

And so I offer you this notion of the dimmer switch and wonder how you might consider using it in your life?

Right here, right now.
Is it possible to turn up your self-compassion?
Can you consider dimming the self-criticism or the judgement when it appears?
You don’t have to turn it off completely, but maybe you can try dialing it down – even just a little.
What do you notice?

In my forced stillness I have found a gift.

An opportunity.
I found the glorious gift of time to learn what it is to offer some kindness and compassion to a person who was in overwhelming need: me.
And in my own stillness, my own kindness and compassion moved me.
To begin a practice of kindness.
To begin a journey.
To repurpose my pain.
I am a person who is still learning how to show profound kindness and compassion towards myself.
My recovery and healing requires this and I now know that I deserve this.
We all deserve our own kindness and compassion.
We can dial down the urge to be busy and be doing.
We can choose to be still. Even if just for a moment.
And so my stillness sends off a purposeful motion of change into the world.
Dial up those self-kindness and gratitude dimmer switches – and offer yourself the opportunity to shift perspective, on your terms in a way that feels right to you.

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