Read This Book: An Unquiet Mind

11552857I love that more healthcare workers are talking about depression these days. It’s something I did not see while I was studying, and that meant that I felt very alone. You might even have seen (or participated in) #crazysocks4docs, which was meant to highlight the high rates of depression in the medical profession. (Some took exception to the term “crazy” – but I’m not going to discuss that right now.)

Anyway, more and more HCWs are doing their part to delegitimise stigma by sharing stories of their own depression. But some mental illnesses are still “off limits” – bipolar mood disorder and schizophrenia, for example; and it’s not hard to know why. For a doctor to get sad and burnt out? Most people can wrap their heads around that. But few are comfortable with the idea of an “unstable” doctor. Society hasn’t become comfortable talking about those disorders that may lead to losing touch with reality.

crazysocks4docsIt was on this background that I started reading Kay Redfield-Jamison’s “memoir of moods and madness”: An Unquiet MindWhat I like about it is that, although Kay is considered an expert in the field of BMD, this is not an academic text. Academic matters are mentioned only in passing; this is a tale of an academic with bipolar mood disorder.

The author traces her illness back to the first glimpses of it in her childhood – where, of course, she was not diagnosed. She was just very much like her father: mercurial, brilliant, curious, creative. It was not strange in her world, especially because she had an emotionally stable constant, namely her neurotypical mother.

“I have no idea how I managed to pass as normal in school, except that other people are generally caught up in their own lives and seldom notice despair in others if those despairing make an effort to disguise the pain.”

The benefit of reading Redfield-Jamison’s first-hand experience is in seeing how she fought, first against her diagnosis, and then against her treatment. How eye-opening to see that even an expert railed against her own mental illness.

Redfield-Jamison writes with such intricate self-awareness. It is as though she delicately unfolds her mind, displays its secrets, and then looks toward the reader, prompting, “Now, you.”

For a doctor with mental illness myself, An Unquiet Mind was a seminal read. The relatability is astounding – comforting, even. I want to give this book to everyone – those who have mental illness, and those who do not. Because people without mental illness do not understand. Many may try, but trying has its limits. I think An Unquiet Mind aides the understanding, just a bit more.

The writing is special in that it is simple. Unlike many memoirs, this reads smoothly, and is relatively short. It doesn’t try to be art. It just tells a story.

“People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you’re irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough.”

Suffer from BMD? Read this book.

Suffer from any mental illness? Read this book.

Love someone with mental illness? Read the damn book! (Please and thank you)

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Mental Health Begins With Medical Students

Every few months, the mental health of doctors/medical students makes it to popular media. It seems like these spikes in attention occur, and everyone shouts YOU SHOULD CARE FOR YOUR DOCTORS! and then we write blogs and we tweet and we make youtube videos and eventually we go back to work, and nothing has changed.

I think we are the missing link. And by “we”, I mean qualified doctors. And also, you, the older doctors. Continue reading “Mental Health Begins With Medical Students”

Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want To Do

You know that saying about readers having many lives through the books they read? I love it, because there are so many things I can’t do, but would love to. Then there are some things books have inspired me to do… or at least to dream about.

I’m linking up with Top Ten Tuesdays to bring you (some of the) things book have made me want to do.

1. Go to Boarding School

A la Malory Towers by Enid Blyton, Spud by John van de Ruit, Looking for Alaska by John Green and even Harry Potter, to name but a few.

5000b1238115345bee19d12384791a68625445af06153537b90254460bebb0df Continue reading “Ten Things Books Have Made Me Want To Do”

Ten Books Every Lifelong Learner Should Read

Linking up with The Broke and The Bookish for Top Ten Tuesday. Today’s topic is “Ten books every (X) Should read.”

fa06114a227c0d6d401a3473ca949b4fI have a million-bajillion lists about books every medical student or health-professional should read; so I decided to pretend I know something and suggest books for, well, almost everyone. On Semester at Sea, we had “Lifelong Learners”. These were slightly older voyagers who had already worked and gained life experience, and who sailed with us and audited classes.

I like the concept of lifelong learning. I love the idea that you are not stuck with learning only about whatever you studied in college/university; I love the idea that you can gain knowledge about almost anything if you are inspired to do so (thank you, Google). I believe I am a life-long learner; and I believe that books are at least partially responsible for that.

The list, in no particular order: Continue reading “Ten Books Every Lifelong Learner Should Read”

Unrealistic YA Fiction Is Not Such A Big Problem

Young Adult fiction treads a fine line. On the one hand, it needs to be in touch with its audience. YA readers want to see protagonists who speak realistically, eat realistically, and act realistically.

On the other hand, reading offers us the opportunity to live different lives; to travel to places and settings and adventures that we may never have, and very few people want to read about a normal, boring setting. (Although I am told that Patrick Ness’ The Rest of Us Just Live Here addresses this very well, I’ve not yet read it.)

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Not the topic for this discussion, but I do want to read this book.

Continue reading “Unrealistic YA Fiction Is Not Such A Big Problem”

A Key To Disillusionment In Work And Play

disillusionment2The phenomenon of disillusionment is well-discussed in the world of medicine. Roundabout third year of medical school, students begin to realise that the medical world simply does not live up to what they envisioned.

It is easy to say, “Just don’t have such high expectations,” but in reality a doctor without vision becomes a mindless drone. Disillusionment is discussed so widely because even though by definition it seems simple, its origins and characteristics are complex.

Funnily enough, I began to really understand disillusionment when I started club-running. Don’t be mistaken: joining a club was the best decision I could have made. It introduced me to many like-minded people and provided ample opportunity to amp my mileage.

I joined a club because I felt that I loved running enough to do so, but not long after joining I started experiencing an emotion I recognised from the medical world. I was feeling disillusioned. Continue reading “A Key To Disillusionment In Work And Play”

I Left My Voice In Cape Town

Here’s one way I didn’t expect my first day back at work to go:

“Go home! You’re going to make the patients sick!”

Which I suppose makes sense since in the Orthopaedics wards, very few of our patients are actually SICK. They’re mostly just broken. And if they become sick we can’t discharge them and that spells disaster given our already-high patient load.

So here I am, in bed, drugged up on flu meds.

My break in Cape Town was wonderful. I spent time with my little sister and with GeekBoy. We watched West Side Story and ate wonderful food. On two separate occasions I managed to catch up with friends (one from school, another who emigrated to Australia) whom I hadn’t seen in over FIVE YEARS. I also met up with the lovely Lily from Lily Does Medschool.

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Sister, GeekBoy and I at Vovo Telo (awesome bakery!)

Continue reading “I Left My Voice In Cape Town”

Don’t Miss West Side Story at the Artscape!

I’m on leave in Cape Town and it is wonderful! As part of my effort to squish as much fun into a week as possible, my sister and I watched West Side Story at the Artscape Opera House.

It. Was. AMAZING.

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Image via The Fugard Theatre. Click for site.

What I knew of The Fugard Theatre Company going in: they stage the well-known Rocky Horror Show in Cape Town regularly and do it well. Their home theatre is fairly small, so the Artscape was necessary for a production of this size. Continue reading “Don’t Miss West Side Story at the Artscape!”

My Booming Frontal Cortex

Unborn Ideas by Catrin Arno
Unborn Ideas by Catrin Arno

I remember it clearly. I was twelve years old and one day, without any precipitating events, I looked at the world as if with new eyes. I felt as if I had been living in a bubble, and suddenly the world was big and I wasn’t a child. Or I was, but I didn’t want to be.

It was my first experience with “growing up” and I can only postulate that as it was roundabout the time that I hit puberty, my frontal cortex was busy myelinating like crazy. I of course believed that my brain was fully developed and that old people who claimed it was still developing were, well, old – but what would a twelve year old know, right?

It wasn’t so rapid this time but I think I may be having a similar experience now. I have been trying to put it into words but having largely neglected any kind of writing besides the odd blog post, that hasn’t gone so well. It started with a feelings of disconnect and then intense reconnection; and a lot of confusion about my role in society as a doctor, a daughter, a sister, a partner, a citizen. Continue reading “My Booming Frontal Cortex”