* * Anonymous Doc: It gets to me, sometimes

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It gets to me, sometimes

I'm not saying that life seems miserable, because it doesn't.

I'm not saying that people can't be happy-- that I can't be happy-- because I can be, and I often am, and I know people who are, often or even just about always.

But it's hard to be around illness all day.  Hopelessness.  Poor prognoses.  Death.  Sadness.  Pain.  You get used to it, and in some ways that's a good thing, because if you didn't get used to it, you wouldn't be able to get anything done.  But in some ways, it's a bad thing, because you start to see the world through that lens, and you forget that there are lots of people out there who aren't sick, who aren't sad, who aren't in the hospital.  That there are lots of people out there living their lives and enjoying them, and not waiting for the next shoe to drop.  People who aren't professional patients.  People who aren't just biding their time until their diagnoses come to get them.

Yes, we will all die, and most of us will get sick before then.  It is inevitable.  And that's why it's hard to talk yourself out of thinking about it.  It's not accurate to say it may not happen to you, because it will happen to everyone.  It's not accurate to say you can prevent it.  You can try and live a healthy life, and act responsibly, see doctors, get screenings, live carefully... but you're still only tweaking the odds a little bit.  Healthy, responsible people get terrible illnesses too.  Things that they did nothing to bring on.  People die young.  People die old.  People die.  And even people who don't die often live in pain and with disabilities, limitations, and struggles.

Everyone has struggles, whether health-related or not.  Everyone has worries, everyone has problems, everyone has their own issues they're forced to deal with.  Even people who seem to have it all, from the outside, usually don't.

And it's so easy to dwell on that side of things, to reduce it all to pointlessness.  What's the difference, if we're all going to die?  What's the point if you can't control your fate, and you could be struck down at any moment?  Why even try if any happiness you achieve might all be taken away?

But where does all of that get you, if, at least right now, you're okay?  Intellectually, I know it gets me nowhere.  I know that happiness is possible, that life can be satisfying and rewarding, that relationships can be satisfying and rewarding, that the day to day can be satisfying and rewarding.

Not everyone loves what they do, but some people do.  Not everyone has a rich, full existence, filled with friends they care about and who care about them, activities that bring them joy, families, things to look forward to, meaning-- but some people do.  Not every day can be perfect-- every day isn't perfect for anyone.  Not every day can be happy, not every moment can be filled with something worth filling it with, but that doesn't mean none of them can.

There are days I don't remember what about this path was supposed to bring me joy, what about this path was supposed to motivate me to be excited to wake up in the morning.  I hate those days.  I hate the way those days make me feel, about myself and about my life.  But I'm also tired of feeling guilty for having those days.  I'm tired of feeling guilty or ashamed for feeling sad, for feeling like I'm failing if I succumb to those kinds of thoughts sometimes.  Because it's not every day, and it's not every moment, and there is happiness, and there is joy.

I just wish it was easier to grab it sometimes.  Easier to remember how to grab it when I most want to find it.

It sounds silly, but I've thought about writing down the things that make me happy.  In the moment, the things that make me smile, that make me feel good about the world and about the path I'm on.  So I can look at that list when I need to, and remember that sometimes all it takes is a cookie to feel okay about the world.  Or an e-mail from a friend.  Or crossing something off the to-do list.  It's not big things.  It doesn't need to be big things.   It's small things.  And I think it's just when eight, nine, twelve hours pass without any of those small things that the whole world starts to look a little bleaker than I'd like.

I know a lot of people have disappointment, and don't get the positive feedback they're craving.  I know a lot of people suffer a heck of a lot more than I ever have.  I know I have control over my own life and what I spend my time doing and how I feel about it.  I'm just saying that sometimes, when everyone around you will be lucky to make it through the month, it's hard to remember that life can be about more than the road to eventual suffering.

Hospitals need ball pits and bounce castles.  For the doctors.


  1. for the nurses, as well.

  2. I've heard Xanax helps.

  3. Know the feeling. Sometimes it keeps me up at night, thinking when will something like that happen to someone I love, when will cancer take away everything like it already did so many times. But you can't live like that and fighting that negativity, as reality as it, is an everyday struggle.

  4. I make lists. Regularly. "Things that are making me happy today." Just spending the time to think about it helps, because the brain is a creature of habit, and habitually thinking about good things is better than habitually thinking about bad things.

    It certainly doesn't solve it, but it helps.

  5. I am about to enter my 4th year in medical school, and I wanted to thank you for this post. It is easy, even this early in my training, to feel jaded. Medical school and residency are requiring me to live a 4hr drive from my husband and all my friends, and sometimes that gets me down. People have the cliche response, "It will be worth it in the end" - which of course is their way of implying that I deserve this since I will make a lot of money some day (albeit not as much as they think). I spend time with patients and treat them each as individuals, only to hear people complaining about how some doctor only spent 10 minutes in the room for their viral URI. It gets old sometimes. Anyway, thanks for touching on how grimm it can be sometimes, and the hope that we can find the small things to keep us going in those darker hours.

  6. Maybe a curly-Q slide. Way faster for codes.

  7. Thank you for this. You should know that someone (me) just read this and felt a ton better because I was feeling kind of similar after what I have seen recently at the nursing home. Sometimes I wonder if I was better off before nursing classes, when I didn't realize just how hopeless life can be for some. I am certainly glad I didn't know what I know now before all the surgery and cancer I have had. I would definitely been terrified. As it was, when I was clueless to real medical knowledge I felt confident that my doctor 100% knew what he was doing and I would be 100% fine for absolutely sure. That blind faith is gone now. I still trust my doctors an amount that seems absurd now that I know just how much is really up to chance and luck, but I am definitely more cautious and see the real-ness if life and dying now. A patient I had grown to be quite attached to died last week and it hit me hard. She was 103 so it wasn't unexpected and yet I was surprised how sad I was about it. Reading this was nice, really nice.

  8. I feel this way recently too. I love your idea of "happy" lists. I relocated to new area where I do not have personal friends after 2 years, and forced to study for re-cert board for the last 18 months, while tackling full time job and 2 active kids with tons of home work that I have to spoon-feed, and kids activities. There is little to no time left for me, plus I have not found the circle of friends/activities here yet. Then it all starts to feel like meaningless marathon. What I found helpful is sports, movies (even at home), good books, plans to go out to dinner with peers. Those pharma dinners where you meet new colleagues even though only for 2 hours, but discussing what's understood by all are so rejuvinating to me. Try it. Talk to a rap and ask them to invite you to next event.

  9. "I've thought about writing down the things that make me happy. In the moment, the things that make me smile, that make me feel good about the world and about the path I'm on. So I can look at that list when I need to, and remember that sometimes all it takes is a cookie to feel okay about the world."

    Sounds like something you could post to a doctor blog.

  10. I share your feelings exactly. As a healthcare professional, it sometimes seems you are constantly surrounded by a preview of all the awful ways that your life might end. Sometimes it is hard to push those thoughts out of your head and just live life. I am frequently jealous of those that can just live obliviously and be happy. Maybe I think too much. Or I just think about all the wrong things. But the small things are really what life is. An accumulation of small things that add up to the greater whole.

  11. It's not a silly idea to write down a list of things that make you happy. It can be an ongoing list, ranging from the trivial to the most significant of things. I've made these lists before and they are helpful - not always at the time you intend, but sometimes later, upon revisiting. Whether it's a list of happy things, a list of gratitude, whatever flavor - it's nice to stop and consciously acknowledge the good, the smiles, the inspiration all around and within. It's so damn easy to get dragged into the muck of a heavy career/environment.