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MY OWN STUBBORNNESS ABOUT ASKING FOR HELP

This blog on the Club HOPE website has explored my own struggles with burnout, depression, and hopelessness that were the result of my ex-husband’s addiction while I was a practicing addiction psychiatrist in a major healthcare system (for example, see “Dangerous Hope vs. Daring Hope”). Fortunately for me and my patients, I did not make clinical mistakes during this hard time in my life: I did not incur disciplinary action nor was I put on leave. However, I did suffer a lot through this hardship and that suffering did rattle my belief in the healthcare system and in my own confidence about and commitment to my career path.

Believe me when I admit that I would have agonized a lot less if I had had the courage to say "I need help" a lot earlier than I did. Speaking those three words to some trusted colleagues did change my life in positive ways I could have never imagined! I got connected with a mental health counselor, with an Al-Anon support group for family members of persons with addiction, and with the Gestalt training program in Cleveland. Through these therapeutic and non-therapeutic supportive experiences, I stopped hoping my ex-husband would change and started to look at how I might, instead, make some hard changes for and about myself.

"I encourage each of us to start taking care of ourselves first, so we may do a better job of taking care of others—with more energy, enthusiasm, and love for the work. Healthcare systems will not make these changes for us. We must take the initial first steps."

A GREAT LESSON LEARNED

Three months ago, I had a planned surgery followed by complications, which resulted in an additional emergency surgery and an extra eight weeks in recovery. As an otherwise healthy 50-year-old, I was devastated by my body’s betrayal. I had always trusted my body’s ability to stay well, heal, and work in all the right ways. I certainly did not expect a near-death experience that required three blood transfusions, more days in the hospital, and a prolonged outpatient recovery process. My internal outrage sounded like this:

  • Doctors are not supposed to get sick!
  • I am not supposed to get sick!
  • I don’t have time for this.
  • I am getting ready to start a new job.
  • This is not the way I had planned my life to go.

Though it was difficult for me to ask for help, this time I did it immediately, and I am convinced that the assistance I received advanced my recovery. As I was healing, I was unable to do many things that I take for granted, like driving, walking two flights of stairs, participating in yoga, lifting heavy objects, and running simple errands. In my head I felt fine and ready to tackle the world, but my body needed to pause and rest.

Almost overnight, I became dependent on other people. My doctor advised that I spend most of my time sitting down or lying down and doing very little physical activity. I had to ask my 70-plus-year-old parents or my 18-year-old daughter to pick me up, drive me around, and drop me off like a 12-year-old. I even had to use a stepstool to get in and out of my car. Imagine the horror! I had to ask my sister to do the grocery shopping. I had to ask my daughter to take the dog on my share of the walks every day, to pick up my share of the chores around the house, and to take out the trash each week. Other family members and friends brought me food, flowers, and offered to help around the house. Thankfully, I accepted.

In addition, because of this intense and prolonged recovery, my new job at OhioPHP got delayed by almost two months. This was extremely difficult. I hated asking my new boss for extra time off before starting the job: she was so kind and gracious about the whole thing that for some twisted workaholic reason it made me feel even worse. I realized how much I need to be working and doing in order to feel worthy and useful. I was angry at myself, at my doctors, and at the world. It had been a long time since I felt this upset. In short, I was afraid. If I could not do my job, then who was I as a person? What good was I? How was I contributing to society?

WE CAN CHANGE THE WAY WE TREAT OURSELVES

My new job at OhioPHP involves helping healthcare professionals in Ohio who are struggling with burnout, addiction, emotional suffering, mental illness, and other behavioral conditions. I realize that my difficulties with asking for help are not unique. I hope that my experiences with managing feelings of denial, shame, and unworthiness related to asking for help will be beneficial to other healthcare professionals who may be in a similar and very vulnerable space.

Please believe me when I say that asking for help has the potential to radically change your life for the positive in ways you cannot imagine today. I continue to grow in my attitudes toward asking for help. Truthfully, I still hate to do it. Yet, it gets a little easier each time, like exercising a muscle group. I believe more than ever that my needs and wants are important, and that I am worthwhile even when I am struggling with an illness. I am more willing to accept support and compassion from others. I used to consider asking for help to be a weakness. I know now how much strength it takes to speak those three hardest words.

ONE WAY TO ASK FOR HELP

If you are a healthcare professional who needs help, the Ohio Professionals Health Program (Ohio PHP) provides a compassionate, supportive, and safe environment for you to receive confidential services to improve your health and well-being. For more information, contact us today:


REFERENCE:

  • Rebecca J. McCloskey, Gretchen Clark Hammond, Kathleen Gallant, Robert Santucci, Justin Koralewski, Michael Kocinski; Ohio Physicians’ Retrospective Pre-Post COVID-19 Pandemic Reports of Burnout and Well-Being (2022). Journal of Medical Regulation, 1 October 2022; 108 (3): 8–17. doi: https://doi.org/10.30770/2572-1852-108.3.8

Editing by Paul M. Kubek of PMK Consulting, LLC.

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