mental health, Uncategorized

Finding Happiness

I really thought that by the time I hit my forties I had it all figured out. I was done with the bullshit, little things wouldn’t bother me anymore. I was ready to be the real me, take it or leave it. I had found my inner zen; I was more confident and more secure. Well, that was sort of …maybe true…or…maybe not.

When Covid hit my initial reaction was a bit of disbelief and then shock and finally grief. Mostly because of some big milestones that weren’t going to happen, at least not the way we imagined. And as time went on the reality sunk in. I was sad, lonely and isolated. A a physician I was scared by the unknown and the loss of so many lives. I tried hard to justify my feelings, to normalize them, to name them. And then one day, I just couldn’t do it anymore… I couldn’t positive my way out of it, I couldn’t see the bright side. This feeling of anxiety grew within me, fear and doubt took a bigger and bigger hold of my heart than I would ever normally allow.

I am familiar with depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders as an observer, not as someone who suffered from it. But I was in the throws of it and needed to get out. But I didn’t know how. My thoughts went from numbing the feelings by numbing my brain (watching mindless TV mostly), talking to friends and family (venting), considering a therapist (asked for recommendations but never saw one), or hiring a life coach (didn’t hire one, but a dear friend/coach offered me support). The best way I can describe how I got out of what I was feeling is being in a deep, dark hole full of loose dirt and climbing out, sometimes slipping, but not giving up, until I saw a flicker of light. And I kept climbing and climbing. (Some days I still am.)

What Covid made me realize is that the happiness and contentment that I knew needed to be found within me was something I had lost because I took it for granted. And when the world was open I didn’t miss it’s presence because I filled it’s place with So. Many. Other. Things!!! But the quarantine left a void and it got quickly filled with negativity, with people bringing me down, with fear, and with anxiety.


I really want to make clear that although I came out of it without a lot of outside help, I know that for many people diagnosed with a mental health disorder just telling them to “crawl out of the hole” and “be positive” is not necessarily the answer. There is true value in professional psychiatric and behavioral help and at times medication. I do not want to minimize that.

I’m sharing my story, to say that we all need reminders that true happiness lies within us. That we can’t let the business of our lives make us forget that. That although being quarantined is hard, I should be able to find contentment within me, not from positive attention from the outside world. I learned that I must find joy in the everyday mundane tasks. I discovered the true importance of gratitude and that we must look for things to be grateful for ALL THE TIME. I learned that my mind like my body cannot be ignored. I need to feed it with positivity ALL THE TIME. I learned that no matter my age, I will continue to treat my inner happiness as a fragile newborn that needs to be attended to and never ignored. I learned the value of true inner peace. A lesson I do not take lightly and hope to never have to relearn.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
Mahatma Gandhi

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Grasping Our New Reality

I still wake up every morning and check my reality.  For a second I think it’s all a dream and I’m going to get up, get ready and get the kids up and ready for school….and then it hits me.  My new reality.  We are on  lockdown in our homes due to a viral global pandemic.  I’m sure soon it will not feel like a dream and it will be my reality but for now I’m still trying to wrap my head around it.

I get it… believe me, as a physician married to a physician working the front line, I really get it.  We need to social distance, we need to home school, we need to cancel all events, we need to shut down the economy to save lives.  But, I still don’t “get it.”  There’s so many layers happening.  We need to protect ourselves and each other and rather then fighting a war outside, we are being asked to fight this one from our couch.  It seems like a simple enough task, but so many of us are having a hard time.

We are being asked to cancel life events that we’ve been planning for months or years, we are being asked to home school our kids with no experience but fortunately with the help of amazing teachers virtually, we are being asked to distance ourselves from loved ones, we are being asked to give up our livelihoods and stop working, and some are being asked to risk their health so that they can provide essential care.  I get it…but it doesn’t mean we can’t be sad about it…all of it.

My son just had a bar mitzvah.  There were 10 people there; our Rabbi and our closest family. He was called to the torah… via zoom, he was watched by our friends and family…via zoom.  It was the most surreal and beautiful experience of my life.  It was the best worst case scenario.  Over 100 people watching and supporting us virtually.  Nine days before the event we were having a catered luncheon at our house with a photo booth and a game truck and slowly over the week as news of Corona pandemic spread we were asked to only have immediate family at our synagogue.  During that 9 day period, I was in denial, I cried, I bargained, I gat mad…I finally accepted and we tried to make it the most positive experience for our son.  We forged on and called it the “Barred” Mitzvah.  We made it work, and made some incredible memories.

But here’s the key element to my story;  I. Had. To. Mourn.  I had to grieve the fact that my reality had changed,  I had to mourn that what my son envisioned for his special day, for a day he worked so incredibly hard for, was not going to come to fruition.  And that’s ok. Many people applauded us for being positive, but before the positivity, came the overwhelming sadness and sense of loss.

Don’t skip that step!  We have all lost something, whether or not you had to cancel an event, our reality changed overnight. And in the end, we all need to be positive and look at the beauty of it (yes, there is beauty in it!), but before that we must mourn the loss of the reality we had a brief time ago.  We must let ourselves feel the grief, we must let our loved ones feel the grief and then get to a place of acceptance.  I have overwhelming gratitude for the way our son’s bar mitzvah turned out but it all came with time and perspective.  Give you and your loved ones grace and be okay with feeling sadness and grief, go through the stages to get yourself to acceptance and hopefully to the place of joy and love. One day at a time.

Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming.  All we can do is learn to swim- Vicki Harrison

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Faces of Womanhood

We have a photo wall in my house of black and white pictures from different important stages of our lives.  I love the pictures, I love how the wall looks, and I stare at it often.  It’s on a wall between our 3 bedrooms and the laundry room, so let’s just say…I pass by it…a lot! Sometimes I take a moment to really look at it, not just fly by, and I usually just look at the kids but the other day I stared at my face in each picture.  No idea what prompted me to do that, I hate looking at myself in general let alone analyzing a photo of myself but each face told a story and this is how it went.

My Wedding Day:
I was ecstatic!!!!! It was hands down the best day of my life.  It started with the usual stresses, but the wedding was immensely fun!  The picture is of me with my husband during our first dance.  I’m beaming with a smile ear to ear…I’m truly happy.  We had no time to choreograph our dance, we were barely in the same city, let alone the same room before we got married.  But I didn’t care how lame we looked just holding each other and swaying like teenagers.  I was married to the love of my life and I was the happiest girl in the world!!!!  Plus I felt like a princess in that wedding gown!

The Birth of Thing 1:
It was exactly 7 days after he was born, his Bris (a religious circumcision ceremony).  Probably the most stressful event for a new mom.  In the picture, my husband and I were holding him and kissing the top of his head.  I look terrified! A complete look of self doubt and uncertainty. Am I holding him too tight, too loose, is he okay, will he be okay, what happens if he cries, what happens if he doesn’t cry, is he too hot, too cold?  I literally was worried about everything and felt responsible for every single emotion he may be having.  And I was certain I was going to mess it all up!

The Birth of Thing 2:
The pictures were taken 2 weeks after she was born, Thing 1 was 2.5 years old. My husband and I had a house, a mortgage and 2 kids and I felt like a real grown up.  We could actually afford a fancy studio photographer, and fancy birth announcements.  I now had 2 little people counting on me… and I was… exhausted.  In this particular picture of the 4 of us, I looked impatient.  I looked like I had a fake smile and I remember thinking, please everyone just look at the freakin camera…just one decent picture.  Hoping my naked baby does not poop on me. Hoping Thing 1 doesn’t tantrum and refuse to be in a picture, hoping we can get the perfect birth announcement…..Thinking:  Just keep it together people….!

So then I thought what would my current self tell my past self:
On My Wedding Day:
Remember this day and this feeling forever!  The love you have will literally carry you through some dark times.  You will be challenged, beyond the point you think you can endure and you will doubt yourself… a lot. Some days will feel like it’s too hard to keep going.  You will walk through fire, sometimes alone, sometimes with your husband by your side, sometimes him holding you and sometimes you holding him.  But you will come out the other side holding each other and completely in love! You are stronger than you think.

The Birth of Thing 1:
You have so many doubts, everything in you is unsure and worried. That’s okay, your son doesn’t see any of that.  He doesn’t care if you nurse him or give him the bottle. He knows you love him with all your heart and loves you right back.  You’re his rock, the one he comes to when things go wrong and you figure sh*t out and tell him it will be okay.  And he believes you ’cause you’re mom.  You got this, and…You are stronger than you think.

The Birth of Thing 2:
The next couple of years will be tough.  You will feel like you will never have your sh*t together… again…like ever! Your kids will get hurt and you will feel like the worst mom ever.  Sh*t gets real.  But things get better, they always get better.  You walk through fire again…and again…and again, but you get through it, stronger everytime.  You will meet many guardian angels throughout the way. In many different forms, just be open to it, to all of it. Life is messy and unpredictable and so hard for your controlling personality but you gotta let it go girl!  Just let it go and enjoy these fleeting moments.  They don’t last.  Be present and don’t worry about the perfect picture, the memory behind the picture is so much better….Oh…and you’re stronger then you think.

You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think- Winnie the Pooh

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Dear Patients

Dear Patients,

We have failed you.  The medical system that you deserve no longer exists.  The time of personal relationships, long conversations with your doctor where they learn about your family and you know about theirs, those times don’t exist. Current visits are timed to the second.  If you or your doctor are 5-10 minutes late the whole schedule is thrown off. If your doctor has to deal with an unexpected emergency, you will likely be waiting for quite a while and your doctor will have no control.  If you book a visit for a cold there is no other topic that can be mentioned, not even if you have an acute concern.  For that you must schedule another visit because of the delicate and overbooked schedule.  Nothing could be squeezed in.

No, I cannot look into your other child’s ear, my schedule is booked and I can’t squeeze him in, I’m sorry.

But just a quick peak, you plead.  And here’s what runs through your doctors head:  what if the child has a another illness and I don’t fully evaluate them and miss something serious; what if I miss something and get sued, I’m not documenting this visit; what if they have an ear infection and I need to write for antibiotics…how will I find the time without delaying every other patient today?

This is the reality of medicine today.  I would love to spend 30 minutes with each patient and let them chat and answer every possible question they may have.  To reassure them about every vaccine, to tell them all the wonderful things they have to look forward to, and to assure them the guilt and doubt they feel is normal and they are actually doing a great job.

But the insurance companies only allow for 10 minutes at best, maybe 15 for a well child visit, and many visits are double booked. The result is doctors that are overworked and having a harder time caring.  Because if we cared the way we did when we started, if we cared the way we wanted to, if we cared too deeply, we would break so much faster than we already are.  We would not be able to withstand the onslaught from administrators, insurance companies,  and patients while maintaining an income to pay the overheard and our bills along with our student loans.

I too have experienced this as a patient.  I experienced it when my daughter’s pediatrician asked us to book a longer visit next time if I needed to discuss another issue with her.  I experienced it when my own doctor refused to see me when I was 10 minutes late because I drove to her prior office by mistake.  Even though she had canceled on me at the last minute the week before.  I was upset but I completely understood the delicate nature of the schedule.

Dear patients, we have failed you and the medical system has failed us.  We want to be there for you in every way but it has become physically and emotionally impossible.

The physician should not treat the disease but the patient who is suffering from it.-Maimonides

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Goal Setting: My Journey From Zero to Half Marathon

I’m not a runner.  Training and subsequently running a half marathon was one of the hardest things I’ve physically done.  I did not choose this race because I love to run.  It was actually the opposite, or almost the opposite.  I didn’t HATE running but I severely disliked it.  And it was really, really hard for me.  Especially in the beginning.  So why did I do it?  Because I knew it was time for me to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself,  because it had been on my bucket list for years and  I had been too afraid to commit, because I had to prove to myself that I could do hard things!

Throughout my training journey, I shared quite a bit on social media.  I had many epiphanies during my long runs.  Lots of motivational shit going through my head.  And I realized, this goal was just like any other really hard goal we set…physical or mental and decided to share what got me through it and how it applies to all things we set to do.

1. It’s ALWAYS hard at first.  If it was easy it wouldn’t help you grow.  My first month of running was torture.  I thought no way am I going to be able to run 13.1…I couldn’t even do 2!  But I learned to trust the process, that I had months of training ahead of me and not to think about the final steps.  Just to focus on the next step.  I tried not to look ahead or think about those looming 10 mile runs, but just to follow my training day by day, week by week. I just had to take the first step, and then the next step, and the next step, and so on.

2.  Realize that your first steps will be the hardest.  Even in my very last training run, the first mile or 2 was so incredibly hard.  It just took time for my body to loosen up and fall into a rhythm.  In the beginning I so badly wanted to quit, but kept going because of my partner and because of my stubbornness.  But over time, I realized, it will get better if I just ride out the first mile or 2 no matter how rough it seemed.  It always gets easier!

3. Find a running partner, either a person literally by your side, a virtual one from far away, or someone you can turn to for support and guidance.  Thank goodness for my hubby.  I needed to know he was with me so I could have the confidence to even start this process. In the end, he didn’t run many of the training runs with me and knowing that I was able to do it by myself was priceless.  But just knowing that he had my back made a huge difference.  And on race day, his pacing made all the difference.  So whatever you’re trying to attempt, make sure you have your person to help guide and support you…even though you’re doing it all yourself!

4. Break down your goals into attainable smaller goals.  When I had to run my long runs, I didn’t think about getting to the final distance.  I only thought about the halfway mark.  Because I knew once I was more than halfway, I couldn’t turn back.  The distance was the same both ways.  So with any goal, we need to figure out our half way points, the point of no return so that we keep going.

5. Set your goal to music.  I really resisted this in the beginning and told my hubby that I just wanted to listen to my thoughts.  He urged me, (begged and pleaded with me!) to get a good motivating play list.  He was right! (I don’t say those three words lightly)  Music made a huge difference in running but really it’s good to have a soundtrack or just a motivational song with any goal.  Something that will get you to do all the things you don’t want to do, but you know you have to!  Or just something fun to move and destress with when a deadline is looming!

6. Share your goals with EVERYONE! Once I decided to run, I started posting about it on social media.  I wanted to be accountable.  It’s a lot harder to back out of something if everyone knows you’re doing it.  Although, there is a caveat to this…if you have people in your life that are not supportive, maybe don’t share with them.   Only people below you can bring you down, anyone ahead of you will lend you a hand to try to lift you up! Once I was accountable, it was harder to back track! Sharing with my network of people also had another unexpected benefit, I had a huge support group. This was especially remarkable on race day and so appreciated!!! If your people don’t support and lift you, it’s time to find new people.

We all need to do hard things in our lives, and whether we succeed or fail is really not the point.  Because if you just do it, and do it again, and redo it…you will eventually succeed, and you will only fail when you stop trying.

 

A goal should scare you a little, and excite you A LOT –  Joe Vitale