How do I keep going?

Over these last few weeks I’ve met so many patients who have come to see me to discuss their mental-health. And honestly I am so drained.

Now I don’t say that to be rude or dismissive of these patients at all. I actually find these consultations the most rewarding because I feel like it’s an opportunity for me to make a difference simply by being human: by being present and listening.

But I think the reason why it is really draining is: 1. the sheer volume of them and 2. because I’ve never really experienced significant adversity myself. Sure, my parents did because they were refugees and we grew up poor- but really, nothing painstakingly bad has ever happened to me.

So when a patient comes to me for help, and describes the excruciating hell that they are enduring, I feel notably unqualified to give them advice as a fellow human being (rather than as a doctor). So I then have to compensate for this by imagining myself in their shoes, imagining what emotions they are experiencing, and really just trying to feel whatever they are feeling.

And it takes a lot out of me. Obviously it’s nothing compared to what the patient is actually feeling, but when you’re having to do this for multiple patients each day it gets to be a bit much.

And I think the reason for the sudden influx of mental health consultations is because people have really kept their mental health issues to themselves over the last two years because of COVID. But now that society is getting back to some kind of normality, everyone is coming to the doctors with the same intention: to get help and purge themselves of the feelings that they’ve been suffering from for so long.

And although it can be a bit overwhelming from a service point of view, I’m glad that people feel comfortable enough to talk to their doctors about these issues. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and open up to someone you barely know. And that’s why it’s also so critical for doctors to look after themselves and not get burnt out- so that these patients can be met with a doctor who can be really present and give them their undivided attention.

Although I feel like a bit of an imposter-unqualified to give advice based on my personal life experience; I do feel like I have learned a lot from my patients over the years… and with my doctor’s hat on I give advice based on the collective wisdom and experiences of all of them.

So to them and to you I say this: Years from now you will look back on your struggles and be amazed by how you got through it all- how you survived, how you endured and how you conquered. But for now, keep going… take things day by day and know that one day you will get there.

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