This piece is offered by one of the dear MSC participants, who wishes to remain anonymous.
I decided from an early age my best armour was to be perfect, to show everyone I was doing fine. Appearances were deceiving: I was tall, blonde, slim and outgoing. I had friends, I was good at running, and I got into medical school. And, inside I was continually beating myself up; I bullied myself into being the best. Most importantly of course, I had to keep up the pretense that this was all easy. That I wasn’t trying so hard to hold myself together.
Then I started work as a Doctor. Life got harder. I had less time to work at my perfection. The more I began to perceive myself as failing the more I reprimanded myself for it. I gained weight and I wasn’t sleeping. I was failing at The Perfection Game. I couldn’t tell anyone I was struggling to keep up because then I would have to admit that I had been pretending all along.
I am a kind and compassionate Doctor, and I like to think generally a good person. I would never hold my family and friends with the same iron grip I use to try to keep hold of myself. I would never speak to another human being the way I speak to myself.
I was at work when a colleague told me I didn’t seem happy. He is a fascinating guy – part Doctor, part Buddhist teacher (a great combination!) We began to talk … a lot. He was the first person to introduce the idea that I could be kind to myself, I could encourage myself through life. This was completely alien to me. I had always considered the way to success was to hold myself to ransom; to show myself some “tough love”.
Over the next few years I slowly began to incorporate mindfulness in my life. I went to a few introductory courses and listened to a few podcasts. Generally I try to do a short meditation for at least ten minutes a day. In the past year I have tried to focus more on self-compassion; as I still find this concept the most foreign.
It’s not as all my problems are in the past and I have found refuge in mindful self-compassion. But I have finally recognised my cruel inner ego and unreasonable critical voice are the cause for much of my own suffering – and I want to change that. I have to remind myself – as do many in my profession – that I am not super human. I struggle with anxiety, binge eating disorder and continually holding unrealistic expectations of myself. I have accepted these issues I need to address are not my fault and I am giving myself permission to heal myself with kindness.
This is a bit of a revelation for me. I’m the kind of person that, if I’ve had a bad week, starts “fresh” on Monday mornings. I make a “to do list.” I start a new diet, I go to the gym, I tell myself I will go to those 6am classes every morning, assure myself that I will be a better friend/partner/daughter. Inevitably my ridiculous rescue plan fails and I fall flat on my face – beat myself up – then the whole cycle starts again. I am constantly fighting an inner battle with myself, and striving for something that I think will make me happy. It is exhausting, and I give up.
Time to change tack.
So this is the stage that I am at – I am embracing Mindful Self-Compassion wholeheartedly. I am being as open and honest as I can be. There seems to be an unwritten rule amongst the medical profession that we do not show weakness and we do not get unwell. That we are somehow separate from our patients. I am living proof this is not the case.