Sometimes you need to heal yourself to heal others
Are you familiar with the expression, “Physician heal thyself?”
I find it valuable to review in today’s newsletter, because recently I have had to take this to heart.
It has been a few weeks since I last wrote. Life seems to get a little out of hand sometimes. Commitments pile up. We travel. Family members get sick. In short, life engages us in fits and starts. The joys and difficulties that we encounter seem to ebb and flow.
Recently, I have had my greater share of ebbs, and have seen fewer flows. We can always hope to have more sunny days. But there can be no flowers without at least a little rain.
Learn to know your rhythms
Generally this physician stays pretty healthy. I have always been an advocate of good food and exercise, and I am generally able to maintain these basics. One secret to health is to recognize when things have started to slip, and to intervene before things become really problematic.
We all have our personal metrics. What are yours?
Some patients tell me that they measure their health by their belly size, and how many notches it takes to fasten the belt. I have had women tell me that as their weight goes up, they need to break into different collections of clothes.
Others measure their health in more objective ways. Higher blood sugars, blood pressures, and increasing inflammation all reflect an ongoing decrease in one’s health. We each have a metric, or maybe several, that let us know that we need to pay more attention to our health.
These stumbles from optimal health can be transient, or they can be progressive. We can learn to choose which path we will take.
A large part of health is being present in your health. A conscious self-awareness is a powerful tool. The first step to being really well is to be mindful of where you are now.
When a doctor’s health slips: the awakening
This is not intended to be a pun. I was spending too much time awake, and my body and mind started to remind me of my own personal metrics.
As my stresses, commitments, and responsibilities went up, my ability to sleep went down. A concussion following an automobile wreck last year really upended things.
I allowed myself to tune into my body’s needs, and I listened to my body. It was clearly saying: slow down.
Part of my professional training may have prepped me for this. In my six years of postgraduate surgical training, I spent about every third night awake caring for patients in the hospital.
A hundred-hour work week was common. On some services I routinely worked 120. I recall one week on a neurosurgical service when I was in the hospital for 140.
I learned to fight fatigue with vigilance and accountability.
Making healing intentional
Some time ago, I made a conscious decision to get my sleep back on track. To do this I made some modifications in my lifestyle choices.
Never a big drinker, I stopped alcohol entirely for a period of time, and currently consume it minimally. Alcohol consumption promotes a degree of withdrawal with each sip in everybody. As we metabolize the drug, the body gets amped-up, even with a short pour. I wanted to eliminate this contribution completely.
I also stopped drinking caffeinated coffee, and am maintaining a once-daily, early morning decaf. Again, I made a conscious choice to behave in a way that I knew would optimize my sleep.
I had hoped to go to an 8:30 AM yoga class yesterday morning. Instead I rested. I slept in, something I haven’t done for more than a year.
The other night I uncovered some newer research about the influence of our gut bacteria on our brain function. I could have easily hit the literature and stayed up late. Instead I chose to rest.
The research, science and the journal articles would be available on the Internet the following day.
Physician, heal thyself
With this letter comes an apology. If you enjoy reading my newsletters and blogs, and have missed them in the past few weeks, I am sorry. I have needed to let my brain quiet down a bit.
There is so much stimulus in today’s society, we could all use to heed this call. Whether due to electric lights, cell phone screens or unending distractions, we are forgetting how to rest.
Our body and brain need sleep to grow, regenerate and repair
With more hours asleep on my bed, and fewer hours in my head, I will begin to become healthier. It is a process. And while I am doing much better, I still have a ways to go.
I woke today, and for the first time in a long time felt like it was the right time to write. Two weeks ago I couldn’t do it. The time wasn’t right.
The process of healing
All healing is a process. Sometimes circumstance drives us, and defines our direction. Other times we are in control. Remember that sometimes we simply need to heal. Here are a few ideas that might help to make you feel better, with less fatigue, better sleep, and greater energy.
- Decrease excess stimulation. Turn off the TV and cell phone; listen to the sound of nature; take a long walk.
- Make sleep a priority. Allow yourself time to physically be in bed. Honor your body’s internal clocks. Consider Ben Franklin’s adage of “early to bed, early to rise.”
- Exercise less. Yes, I said less, and I meant it. Strenuous exercise stresses the body, it wears us down over time. Modify your routines.
- Eliminate all processed foods. Foods that contain MSG, or promote histamine release, can be excitatory. Remove these from your diet entirely to help your body relax.
Over a year ago, my healthy life was derailed by a hit and run automobile wreck. I am continuing to try to make my brain fully whole again.
The first most critical step towards my healing, towards our communal healing, is to sleep.