From Agony to Epiphany – The Hope Series, Part I



People often ask why I go by the user name hope101.*  At the risk of betraying this blog’s title, and its inherent promise of cynicism, I thought I’d explain. It’s a bit of a meandering tale, and I’ll warn you: at times it gets a little “deep”.  However, at no point will you be forced to endure a group hug.

A few years ago I was working in the wrong profession–family medicine. And being the inherently stubborn person I am, I couldn’t just acknowledge I’d made a mistake and move on. To be fair, that might have had something to do with the twenty-one years I’d invested in my education and career, and the financial security I’d be leaving behind…

But I could feel something bad creeping closer. I’d had too many nights on call, too many days of impossible choices, not enough gorgeous babies to deliver, and one person too many that had died. Still, despite all the warning signs, I pressed on.

Then came an afternoon when I could no longer deny I was in trouble. I looked across my exam room at a good person – who’d come to me, quite rightly expecting my help – and do you know what my inner thoughts were?

“Fuck. Off.”

Terrible, huh? Unacceptable. Especially if you’re a person who tries her best to live by the Golden Rule. But that’s what compassion fatigue and burnout do to otherwise decent people, folks. That’s reality. And regretfully, I’m hardly unique in having gone through this. Burnout happens to many people in the helping professions, particularly those who invest the most of themselves.

It was also what made me walk into my own physician’s office that night to get put on medical leave. Quite frankly, I could no longer stand the person I’d become.

The good part about this story is two-fold. First, I knew enough to seek help, rather than drink, do drugs, or verbally abuse patients, as many another previously caring physician has done.

The second is what happened when I returned to work.

Have you ever had an experience that allows you to see your former life with beginner’s mind? One of those defining moments that shifts your perception, so that you never see things quite the same again? Well, that’s what happened to me.

I walked in the door of my office, a little timid, a little scared about how I’d be received by my colleagues. (That might sound odd, but there’s still a lot of stigma regarding mental illness, and the medical profession is no different.) I was concerned my partners would think I wasn’t up to snuff, and that they’d be watching my every move for evidence of a pending relapse. You know what I found? They were emotionally worse off than me. To a person.

I stood there, dumbfounded, one in a crowd of healers who needed to be healed, and I thought, “Oh, man, something’s wrong with this world.”

And really, is there any other conclusion that could be drawn? These were kind-hearted people who had forgotten their own way to wholeness, yet who were trying their hardest to bring others to that same place? Is that not a recipe for insanity?

So now I had a problem. Although I was the youngest in my clinic, I couldn’t rely on the older doctors for an example of how to get through this and return to my job. Nor could I expect support from them as I navigated the changes that would keep me well, particularly when that would mean renegotiating our workloads. In fact, unless something changed, and fast, there was a significant chance I would be covering for one of them as they departed for their own medical leave.

And that’s when a miracle happened. At a faculty meeting a few days later, she walked in – all willowy, confident, five foot-four of her.  One hour later, I had a mentor, a friend who made me understand the kindred spirits of which Anne of Green Gables spoke, and a whole new idea about how to approach the medical world.

And if you turn in to Part II, I’ll fill you in on more of the story.   🙂

In the meantime, how about you? How did you pick your username? And have you had any epiphanies you’d care to share with the rest of us?

*Okay, it was one person, once, and he might have been a tad inebriated at the time.

6 thoughts on “From Agony to Epiphany – The Hope Series, Part I

  1. Heart warming post, Jan. Thank you for your honesty and candor.

    I can relate to burn out. I now have a day job that is pretty slack and allows me to help kids with literacy – a dream in some ways. The pay sucks, but the flexibility is critical.

    Two years ago, I was the communications manager for a hectic industry. I worked 60-80 hour weeks, sometimes slept at my office, alienated my friends and family, and eventually, burnt out. Awesome pay. Wonderful benefits. So not worth it.

    I admire people who follow their heart and chase their dreams – just another reason I adore you so much.

  2. Aw, thank you, Dawn. And how interesting that we have yet another thing in common. Wow. Meeting you was really meant to be.

    The interesting thing is that I believed leaving medicine behind would lower me in the eyes of many people. In fact, the opposite has been true.

    I hear all the time how I’ve served as a role model for a significant life change and it’s humbling. I can only imagine how my mentor must feel given that she’s me, only times one thousand. 🙂 But there’s something about living from a place of integrity that people do admire. All I know is I’m not there yet, but I’m trying.

  3. Aw, Hope. I’m really looking forward to the next part of this post!

    We’ve been talking about burnout here, too…I worked in Pharmacy for a number of years and while not as … hm … immediate as family medicine, still a very large percentage of face-to-face people time. Andd mistakes can be made.


    1. Do you know, jaekaebee, for all the years I worked in and around hospitals, I had very little contact with pharmacists. But you’re right. I imagine those who work in the community, in particular, would know their clients well and probably see even fewer success stories than I. People who get well just don’t come back.

      Thank you for raising a good point!

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