In the 3rd grade, my teacher rolled out a life-sized skeleton and I had a major aha moment. I realized for the very first time that skeletons are not just for Halloween costumes and decorations, but actually are the infrastructure that supports our bodies and at that very moment, I decided I wanted to become a physician, and so I did.
Fast forward…I spent 15 years practicing Diagnostic Radiology. I couldn’t have imagined anything more amazing than having the privilege of using “x-ray vision” to peer inside my patients’ bodies in search of the etiologies behind their symptoms and illnesses. But over time, I felt incredibly stressed, anxious, imbalanced and overwhelmed and I developed many symptoms and illnesses of my own that I couldn’t put all together into one diagnosis. These included migraines, bleeding gums, tinnitus, vertigo, body pain, reflux, and intermittent parasthesias. My hands would actually go numb at the most inopportune times including during breast biopsies. I could barely sleep, completely exhausted, falling apart, and was convinced I had a debilitating neurologic disease. I became completely burned out and, although hard to admit, even had suicidal thoughts. I consulted with several medical specialists, took many medications, saw a therapist and…. I only got worse. Frightened for my own life, I knew I needed to find another avenue to improve my health. It wasn’t just for me. I owed it to my wonderful husband and children to find a way to get well.
At this point, I was willing to think out of the box and try anything. My life truly depended on it. It was up to me and only me to save my own life. I had been hearing and reading more and more about the benefits of yoga & meditation and was really quite skeptical. I was and still am a “gym rat “and I always thought that yoga & meditation were for “those other people” twisting their bodies and turning upside-down in ways that anatomically as a radiologist, I thought weren’t safe….and sitting still uncomfortably for long periods of time…. But I decided I had nothing to lose, already at rock-bottom, so I gave it a try and signed up for a yoga & meditation 101 series. After the very first class, I felt an unbelievable shift. I experienced a sense of calm and peace that was palpable. And everyone noticed: my family, colleagues, staff, patients…..even my kids’ friends. Our home became the “calm house” and they wanted to come over even when my kids weren’t home as it felt so good to them to just be around me.
Over time, every single one of my symptoms and illnesses completely resolved. It was so truly mind-blowing and my left brain was hungry to understand the “why” behind it all. I dove into the medical literature and was surprised to find numerous published papers documenting what I had experienced firsthand.
What I learned is that we all have the innate ability to take control of our own physiology and shift how we feel in any given moment. In addition to controlling our physiology, we also have the ability to control our mindset. In working with life coaches, I learned how to manage my mind which was best accomplished from a place of calm.
So, looking back…
What was my diagnosis? A severe case of chronic stress
What was the cure? Self-Care
It was so simple that it was profound!
Yoga Therapy & Meditation & Life Coaching = the prescription we were never taught to write.
I felt this newfound knowledge was too important to keep all to myself. I became certified in yoga therapy, iRest®meditation and life coaching, deeply passionate about sharing what I had learned with as many physicians as possible as these negative statistics are astounding:
Pre-pandemic, 1/2 of all of physicians were burned out and now during the pandemic, 2/3 are burned out, 89% are on the depression scale and suicide which was already 2x the national average is expected to climb. I personally have lost three physician friends to suicide. All were incredibly kind to me. All impacted my life in positive ways. And all were silently suffering…
#1—Overdosed and drowned in hot tub
#2—Overdosed in a hotel room during a medical practice retreat
#3—Jumped off a bridge and drowned
The COVID pandemic of 2020 made me see 20/20. As I listened and watched the upward curve of physician suffering, I began to feel incredibly selfish not heeding to the call. So many busy physicians over the years have asked me to create an online self-paced self-care program to give them access to self-regulation tools 24/7. But my answer was always “I don’t know where to begin to do that”….So up until this point, I never did. Bursting with the combination of a strong desire to serve and a deep sense of selfishness to not, I took several courses and learned how to download all of the content from my brain into an online platform and created Rx Inner Peace, a CME accredited physician self-care program so physicians could actually receive credit for learning how to care for themselves.
Yes, my heart felt happy as I began to hear how the physicians in my program were transforming their lives for the better, but, at the same time I felt a there was another deep hole to fill: medical student education. My online program helps physicians relieve their suffering. Now it is time to prevent it. This education piece needs to be available at both ends of the spectrum: prevention & relief.
When I first read an article in JAMA in 2016 that reported 1:4 students experience depression/symptoms of depression and 11% have suicidal thoughts I seriously lost my breath. These are our seedlings! Most are the same ages as my own young adult children, early to mid 20’s, already depressed and suicidal!
These seedlings are our future. They are entering this tornado with a deep passion to serve and deserve to learn how to take care of themselves first before caring for others, otherwise, they will end up as another negative statistic. This is important for their own well-being in addition to the well-being of their future patients.
I firmly believe that self-care education including yoga therapy, meditation & life coaching skills should be part of every single medical student’s curriculum beginning on the very first day of orientation as they are sitting amongst their classmates with a heavy dose of imposter syndrome: Everyone here is smarter than me….I don’t belong here….I am never going to make it through…How did I even get accepted….They are going to find out the truth….
It is imperative that in that very moment, this education begins. It is time to change the culture of medicine, one breath, one movement, and one thought at a time.