This is me in Sydney with my gorgeous friend 7 years ago today. You wouldn’t know it but behind my big dazzling smile lurked the Black Dog of depression.I didn't know I was depressed yet I did know that this was not my normal way of being and that somewhere between 2007 & 2011 I was slowly being consumed by a heaviness I couldn't shake regardless of the healthy eating, frequent exercise, active social life and stable family connections.
What this photo doesn’t show is that after it was taken I had a short nap that turned into a 5 hr sleep, and I still felt exhausted when I woke up. I was sinking slowly into darkness and gloom and sleeping it off wasn't a solution.
I hated where my life had taken me. My career path in health research was paved by unconscious bias & publish or perish incentives which created more distance between myself & those I wanted to help heal from their health crises. I was burned out by an institution who cared little for the wellbeing of their employees & enabled abusive behaviour to persist throughout. An institution that wanted innovative thinking only if it fit within the pre-existing models that were getting funded. It wasn’t just the institution - it’s a problem within the industry much like any other. I was no longer stimulated by that type of intellectual pursuit alongside the abuse I witnessed were deafening signs that I no longer belonged there and needed out of the Ivory Tower. But what’s a burned out scientist to do when it’s the only path I knew?
So rather than remain another day, I hung up my lab coat for good. Then I sank into the depths of darkness & depression.
It remained until I stood up and shouted to the heavens that I'd had enough of this life and demanded that the life I'm here for to show itself. I shook my fist repeatedly at invisible forces in the air making endless demands until a text message (from the beautiful woman on the right) made me stop. Within 24 hours I was with two physicians who took me to a meditation class that they facilitated. When I opened my eyes at the end of that class, the heaviness, density & exhaustion were gone, replaced by clarity, lightness, hope and a knowing that life part 2 had begun.
Nothing magical happened. I wasn’t cured, rather I woke up and found a different path that was waiting for me all along, I just didn’t listen or trust my intuition enough to see or pursue it any sooner. I know now that what I believed was depression might have also been a prolonged existential crisis that created a lot of suffering for me.
Having the veil of delusion lifted from my eyes meant that I became open to infinite possibilities for my career path. I wanted to learn about meditation, healing emotional & spiritual issues that influence physical & mental wellbeing, spiritual philosophies and ancient practices, discovering the characteristics of therapeutic relationships that facilitate healing for both practitioner and patient, and see where that would take me.
I would discover that my skills & qualities were needed to support physicians, other healthcare professionals & hospital administrative staff to recognise & get real about the toll their relationship with work, distress & human suffering was having on their satisfaction. I would shadow oncologists, surgeons, multidisciplinary teams, nurses, genetic counselors, scientists and hospital executives and discover the behaviours, assumptions & workplace conditions that were harming their wellbeing.
I would learn about Ballint groups, reflective practice and supervision, mentoring, coaching, group facilitation, public speaking, Schwartz rounds, designing workshops, qualitative research, best practice evidence, outcomes-based therapy, ethical practice and adult learning principles. I would learn how to help people rewrite the stories of themselves to include their strengths, triumphs, capabilities and power to continually learn from life, increase their ability to love & transform themselves.
Most importantly, I learned that I could help many many professionals in healthcare settings to become more free to be themselves and lift them out of the fog of their own existential crises so they too could see clearly & feel joy again.
Looking back on this photo of myself 7 years today, I'm reminded that we never know what's beyond the moment. We could be in darkest depths of our own hell and a request declaring readiness for a different reality along with the right action & support can be the catalyst to change the trajectory of life. I can chuckle now at how ignorant I was to the realities that exist beyond what we currently see as truth.
My message to you all who have read this far: keep going but don’t keep going in the same place in the same way expecting something different to happen. Try something different daily - a new route to work, a new topic to learn about, learn something handy you can’t yet do, create a community or join a community. Something, anything. Just do something else even if it means walking away from a career path to preserve your wellbeing. Don't do it alone. Arm yourself with solid and stable people who will escort you from your old way of seeing yourself across the chasm of the unknown into the new world that feels more right for you.
If this resonates with you and you've been entertaining thoughts about trying something new to get you out of a rut, I'm running a 31 day meditation experience using the style of meditation that pulled me out of my own personal hell.
10-20 minute guided, themed meditations that are easy to follow and participate in every single day for 31 days. You'll receive a new recording everyday along with tips on how to apply the principles into your daily life to create a new healthy habit.
Book in and discover what else is possible.
Blessings to you all for a peaceful & joyful life,