I AM Well, MD Blog
Walk with me as we discover the many paths to wellbeing.
“Kintsugi is the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold — built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. Every break is unique and instead of repairing an item like new, the 400-year-old technique actually highlights the "scars" as a part of the design. Using this as a metaphor for healing ourselves teaches us an important lesson: Sometimes in the process of repairing things that have broken, we actually create something more unique, beautiful and resilient.”
I think this is such a beautiful art form. Many of us walk with deep scars. We hide them. We hope that no one will notice them. We shy away from talking about them.
What if these scars... and the vulnerability and growth they represented... were actually our greatest gifts? What would happen if we all shared our pain, our hurts, our lessons - what would that world look like? I can't help but imagine that there would be a place where we would all feel a little less lonely. We would all feel a little more supported. There would be more compassion. It feels like a world in which we can breathe just a little more easily.
For those of you who may be carrying scars - seen or unseen - I'm sending you love and compassion.
I had my second child at the end of 2019. I returned to my job in pediatrics after my maternity leave ended in February of 2020, and COVID was labeled a global pandemic at the end of March.
Like many, I was filled with worry and fear.
What if something happened to me? What if I brought it home to my family? What if something terrible happened to one of us?
It brought up a sense of fragility. It also helped me to see what a miracle life was, and, though I've always been glad to have the life I have, I was filled with even more gratitude.
It got me thinking.
Many people who have had a serious diagnosis - a heart attack, a stroke, cancer, etc - and survived it.... they suddenly view life through a new lens. They suddenly have the strength to make big, sweeping changes in their lives. Their connections with their loved ones grow deeper. They live life more fully. Little things don't seem to bother them as much, because they're able to look beyond them towards the 'big picture.'
But... why do we have to wait until something terrible happens for us to get that "wake up call"? Do we need something like that to happen to suddenly make changes in our lives that will allow us to be happier, healthier, more connected, and more aligned with our greater aspirations?
And the answer is: We don't need to wait for that sudden wake up call to make shifts in our lives.
When it comes to our needs and wants, we often tell ourselves that we'll do it later, or that it's not important right now. Maybe we tell ourselves that we'll wait until ____ happens. In my case, I was planning to build this very business when I retired, when the kids were grown... but my personal aspiration was to help as many people as I could in whatever lifespan I had... who knows how long I will live? ... and so it prompted me to more forward with creation, 20 years before I thought I'd be "ready" to.
What is it that you want out of life? Whether it's a BIG goal or a little one, what have you been putting off? Who have you been meaning to call or text, and just haven't made the time to? What would it take for you to start working towards that goal?
Some time ago, I was talking with a boy and he said, "Sometimes I get so angry... and when I get angry, I do things that I don't mean to do. I can't help it." He paused, looked at me with vulnerable eyes, and asked, "Can you fix me?"
I was surprised by his question. I was moved that this young man had a level of self-awareness regarding this issue; I was also thrilled that he was motivated to start making changes in his life for the better. I will also admit, in my human-ness, that my heart broke a little, too, because I knew this kiddo had gone through a lot in his life already.
Can you relate to this little boy? I know I can.
It's easy to lash out when you're angry. It sometimes feels good to say and do things to hurt someone else when you feel that they have wronged you. It's easy to be passive-aggressive and drop little remarks here and there. But the satisfaction doesn't last, and is detrimental to yourself and your relationships with others.
I replied to him, "I can't fix you. But I think I can help you find tools inside of yourself to work on your anger. The most important question to ask yourself is, 'Why? Why am I angry?' Many times, anger is an emotion that rises up and takes the stage when you're actually feeling sadness, embarrassment, guilt, loneliness, fear, or some other feeling. Someone may say or do something, never actually meaning to make you angry in the first place. But if what they say or do sparks something in you that reminds you of something bad that happened in the past, then you might try to protect yourself.... and sometimes we protect ourselves by pushing people away with our words or actions."
He nodded in understanding and said, "I do that."
I told him that it was important to create some space for him to understand himself better - in a loving way, without judgment.
This was a new concept for him - I could tell that he felt anger and disappointment towards himself when he had outbursts.
I also normalized some of his emotions - it made sense that he would want to protect himself if he felt that someone wronged him. But... did they really wrong him? Did they mean to wrong him? Were they just playing or being silly? Perhaps they didn't understand that they were pecking at one of his pain points.
If we gave the other person the benefit of the doubt and they didn't intend to hurt or anger him, then how would this inform his reaction to what they were saying or doing?
What if, instead of reacting, we could pause in the moment and ask which emotion we were really feeling? Irritation? Fear? Maybe he felt misunderstood. Maybe he felt unloved, or unappreciated.
His face lightened.
"I do feel safe where I am now. I didn't always feel that way."
"Maybe they don't understand what I've been through. Or maybe they can't help the way they act." (He was referring to a friend who had ADHD and was a little intrusive and impulsive at times.)
This is where the real inner work begins: addressing the negative...
I once got a 47 on a test in Home Economics in 7th grade. I thought it was a joke because I was a high-achieving student and it happened to be April Fool's day when I got my results back.
My parents, my dad especially, was generally pretty hard on me about my academic progress. When I looked at the test more closely, it wasn't a joke. It was really a 47. I thought I studied well enough... but... perhaps a part of me was like, "It's Home Ec. I'm good at Home Ec. The test won't be that hard." I cried when I got home. I showed my dad the test results. I was filled with shame and embarrassment. Home Ec! Usually when I brought a test home it would say, "90," or "97," or "99," to which he'd always ask "where are the rest of the points?" I always hated when he'd say that, and I dreaded his response this time. He looked at the test, almost expecting me to fail at some point or another, and laughed in a care-free sort of way.... which, as you can tell, 13-year-old me was not expecting. He said something to the effect of, "Congratulations, you've graduated!"
What he meant was this:
Failure is a part of life.
Failure reminds us to be humble and to always value the learning process.
Failure teaches us how to become better at what we do. We rarely forget a lesson that's taught by failure.
Failure is, in fact, one of the greatest teachers you will ever meet.
Contrary to what people normally think, failure doesn't need to fill you with shame, embarrassment, fear, or dread. Perhaps we can actually shift our thinking and be grateful for the lesson. (Admittedly, sometimes we need a little time and space from the event to allow ourselves to process what has happened). Failure can be one of the greatest stepping stones to success, if you allow it to be. If you don't allow it to be a lesson, it can become the invisible thing that holds you back from your own greatness. If you can accept that failure is part of the process to reaching success (and that it's not going to be a streak of success all the way through life), then this will carry you far.
Here's to Success... and here's to the Failures that allowed us to reach it!
Many of us have a standard to which we hold ourselves. This can be related to any number of things. For some, it's work performance, and/or academic performance. For others it is appearance - their personal physical appearance, the appearance of their home, or even the appearance of looking 'in control.' For others, it may be related to parenting and how high-achieving their children are. It can be a combination of these things.
Sometimes, we set the bar so high that it can be impossible to reach. What happens when we don't reach that bar? Do we get down on ourselves? Beat ourselves up with our self-criticisms? Tell ourselves that we will never be 'good enough'? What does 'good enough' even mean?
When we were kids, the game was so easy. Study hard, do well on the test, and you get a sticker and a smile from your teacher. When you go home, you get a hug from your parent. If your parents are the type to share your accomplishments, then you get to overhear them say wonderful things about you.
What about when you're older? When we are 'perfect,' we praise ourselves internally. Many of us still seek that external validation and when we don't get it, we repeatedly try to go above and beyond again and again until we get it.
Our idea of what is 'perfect' is not a fact. It's an opinion. It's sometimes also a social construct which we have adopted without even realizing it.
A 'perfect' meal.
A 'perfect' piece of art.
A 'perfect' body.
A 'perfect' employee.
The list goes on and on.
Have you stopped to ask yourself what 'perfect' really means to you and whether this idea of perfection is serving you versus harming you?
Let's take the 'perfect' parent. I'll give you a personal example. I always strive to cook fresh, healthy meals for my kids. I used to get frustrated when I didn't feel like I had enough time to make the meal just the way I had imagined it. But what do my kids actually want? "Mommy, can you play with me?" "Mommy, watch me!" Hugs. Kisses. Attention. They want my attention. To them, their idea of the perfect mom is not someone who can cook amazing meals. It's not someone who is smart. It's not how much money I make. It's simply my loving attention and unconditional regard. When I stepped back and realized this, it not only changed my idea of what a 'perfect mother' is, it also transformed my relationship with my kids and what elements I prioritized. When I took this greater understanding to other areas of my life, my ideas of perfection started to fall away, and out came a truer version of myself. This was a version of myself that I was actually more proud of because of how much more expansive and willing I was to grow in a greater way.
I recognize that my appearance precedes me.
I know that when some people see my name in writing, they aren't always quite sure what to think, and may question my ethnicity, gender, citizenship, way of life, and so on.
I am "me." I'm not scary, and I'm not weird. (I am, however, a little lovably quirky.)
I stand with one foot in American culture and one foot in Indian culture.
I love pizza and I love paneer. :)
When I was little, I was made fun of because I was vegetarian. I was in 2nd grade. I didn't understand why that even mattered, but the damage was done: I was 'different.' There weren't many of us Indian kids at my school. I was born stateside, but this sort of rhetoric made me think that I'd perhaps feel more at home in India. However, when I went to India for the first time, I found that I was even more of an outcast there than here. I was the "American" child.
I know that many of my friends and family who are first and second generation Americans can relate to this. Sometimes it's a struggle to bridge the gap between two cultures - for instance, balancing family values versus individuality; tradition vs pop culture. Sometimes, there is no gap at all (is there any culture that does not love food??)
Stereotypes still exist. Day by day, year by year, we chip away at them as we learn more and more about culture and diversity. The only way to learn about each others' cultures is to speak about them.
And the only way to learn about you is to tell us about YOU. 'YOU' are not solely defined by your culture, family, upbringing, geography, morals, religion, or interests. These are processed and filtered by you. The amalgamation of them as they reside within you - this is your unique signature. No one brings these all together in the same way that you do. While some things may never change (ex: ethnicity), other pieces, like your thoughts and beliefs, can evolve and grow. (An example might be some of the beliefs on gender roles that your parents and grandparents passed down to you.) You have the ability to analyze some of these deeply embedded, seemingly innocent beliefs. You have the power to choose what to embrace, and what is no longer working for you.
What are some beliefs that have been passed down by culture, society, or family that have empowered you? What are some beliefs that have been passed down that have limited you?
The moment we enter this world, we are destined to pass away from it.
Not trying to be morbid - but it's true.
We, in healthcare, see our patients go through illness. Most overcome it. Some don't.
Some illnesses give us "time." Time to reflect. Time to reevaluate our lives, to adjust, to 'show up' for our lives in the way we wish we always had. Time to nourish the relationships we thought we should have nourished all along. Time to do the things we always wanted to do, but didn't make time for because we thought we had all the time in the world.
The reality is that we enter the world at point A. We leave the world at point Z. Most of us think we're at point J or M or even Q... and that there will be time left to really "LIVE." And so we put life and joy off until there's a 'better' time. Why do we continually deprioritize ourselves in this way? Are there more important, more pressing things to do instead? Like charting? The dishes? What is it that seems to get in the way of you living your life from a place of purpose? From a place of deep love, joy, contentment?
I've watched family, friends, and even patients leave this earth... I don't know what their last thoughts were when they left. Did they feel like they got to do all the things they wanted to do? Did they love deeply? Did they have any regrets?
I realized, and I think more so when COVID began, that my life was quickly passing by. Am I living a life congruent with what I always wanted? If I'm not, how can I do that? Most importantly, can I create a life that I will NEVER have regrets about when it's my time? No matter how suddenly that time pops up? I never want to question whether I gave my kids enough kisses and cuddles. I never want to question whether I nurtured my relationships with my family in the way that I wanted to. I never want to question whether I 'showed up' for this world in a way that enriches it and leaves it even an ounce better than it was when I entered it.
What are the things that you want for your life?
My first experience with burnout occurred as early as my first year of medical school. At that point, I felt like much of my education was essentially body mechanics. I felt like the 'humanity' in medicine was just not part of the curriculum. Would that come later? I hoped so. I had gotten through half of the academic year, when all of a sudden, I felt this strong thought came over me. "Run away."
"Excuse me?" I thought to myself.
"Go. Go as far as you can from this place."
"You have got to be kidding me."
"This life that you are creating for yourself is toxic. Look at yourself."
I knew it was true. I was in the school library. It was 2 am. There were maybe 1 or 2 other students there.
The impulse was so strong, I couldn't even concentrate. I gave in, and started looking online for options. Where do I go? What will I do? Can I tie this in with medicine? My young world had already revolved so long around creating my future career that I had a hard time separating from it.
Night after night, I took breaks and looked up various options. Long story short, I came across an organization called Child Family Health International. I managed to obtain grant money from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation to help pay down my travel. I got to see a totally different side of medicine. It enlivened me. We hiked from village to village in India and worked with the underserved and (often) uneducated. I learned about different, complementary modalities, such as Meditation, Ayurveda, Yoga, and Naturopathy, where the focus was on wellness - not just of the body, but of the mind and spirit. The balance between longevity through wellness and treating acute illness was much more obvious. I recognized that there was a difference between being a doctor and a healer, and one could become both. Understanding this seemingly small, but fundamental truth, was life-changing. It helped me to become who I was meant to be.
Sometimes, we hear these whispers in our mind. While the ideas may seem wild at times, maybe there's a reason that the whisper is there in the first place. Pay attention, because it's coming from you... perhaps a side of you that you might be fearful of.... That same side of you holds many profound gifts if you're willing to listen. You don't always need to act on the things that are said, but don't be afraid to ask yourself what that whisper is about. Allow the answers to come without judgment. You might be surprised at what you find.
Welcome to the Integrative Approaches to Mastering Wellness blog. My goal is to create a home where healers can rest, heal, and recharge. While there is so much reward in helping others, we sometimes give of ourselves a little too much and become depleted.
My interest in medicine started when I was 5. I saw a physician deliver a baby (in a TV sitcom, not real life!) and I thought that was just the coolest thing. I could play with babies as soon as they came out! How lucky for both the baby and myself!
As I got older, I recognized what a service and gift it would be to have a hand in raising the next generation of adults. Truly, these children would inherit the Earth and create a ‘new world’ of sorts. How incredible would it be to empower these young people? To help them craft a life of their own and integrate into society in a way that is expansive and growth-oriented? To inspire them to stretch beyond their perceived boundaries?
I went into Pediatrics to do just that. I’m so proud to have the privilege to play even a small part in these kids’ lives. I’ve now been doing this as an attending for over 10 years.
But… there is a place for empowerment in the world of adults, too. There’s an ongoing need for it as we move through various stages of our adult life.
People seem to think that because we are physicians and we are supposed to know how to heal others that we must be good at taking care of ourselves, as well. To an extent, that’s true. But in large part, the culture of medicine has been that of service and perfection. Self-deprivation in the name of treating our patients was and continues to be a quality that is looked upon favorably. It serves the bottom-line, but this doesn’t serve us, and it certainly doesn’t serve our families.
It's time to breathe life and growth back into the physicians who so dedicatedly care for the world. It’s time to make changes in our lives to allow for such growth. Are you ready?
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