RICHARD SPEAR , MD , MEMORIAL ESSAY CONTEST
IN-TRAINING / STUDENT CATEGORY 2021 RICHARD SPEAR , MD , MEMORIAL ESSAY CONTEST
the breakup happened , it was as if this were the final test for me to choose how I would cope . Would I return to the ED once again , or would I embrace a new way forward ? Without even realizing recovery was what I was doing , I did it . My only focus was nurturing myself and all of my needs during a time of intense sadness . I gave myself the freedom to eat whatever I wanted , any time of day , with no rules . I moved my body in whatever way I felt motivated to move and I did not force it . I distracted myself with puzzles and podcasts and books and FaceTime with friends . I allowed myself to feel everything that came to the surface without judgement or shame . Before I knew it , two or three weeks had passed and not once had I fought an urge to engage in ED behaviors . It had been years since I ’ d managed to do that , and never before had I lived in such freedom . Thankfully , I continue to live in that freedom today .
For years I lived my life entirely under the reign of an eating disorder . I would attend lectures and small group case discussions , but my mind was always plagued by intrusive , relentless thoughts from my ED ; my illness claimed as much mental space and energy as it could . I was not able to put my full self into medical school or other aspects of my life . Recovery has allowed me to reclaim myself and my well-being , allowing me to be fully present for my patients , friends , family and medical colleagues . I have a newfound awareness of the mental battles people fight that smolder and linger on , often hidden from our medical gaze . I have newfound self-awareness and insight into the everchanging currents of my own soul . Recovery has helped me lift away the weight of self-judgement and shame . I see clearer now . I see my patients clearer , my life clearer .
I often wonder if I ’ d have had the same outcome in the absence of last year ’ s pandemic . It took the situation I feared the most to push me towards recovery , but ultimately it was an act of radical self-compassion that broke me free from the ED . We talk about compassion with respect to health care constantly ; it is how we build trusting and successful patient-provider relationships . How can we expect to be genuinely compassionate with our patients without first learning to show ourselves compassion ? Furthermore , is self-compassion an essential element in preventing the burnout that we see in the medical community today ?
The events of last year , though devastating and isolating , were a critical opportunity for growth for many of us . Everyone was forced to take pause . Uneasy emotional currents had enough room to rise to the surface and demand attention . Our busy lives out in the world had provided the perfect distraction from the complex struggles we carry within , which was certainly the case for me . Almost every day , my patients tell me about the hardships they ’ ve endured from this past year and how they have changed . Health care workers everywhere were pushed to the edge of their capabilities by the pandemic , and they continue today with the same grit and tenacity as before . They have learned about their own personal limits , fears and who or what they must lean on in times of great adversity .
With every personal and collective difficulty , we have strengthened our connections with ourselves and in turn with one another . My personal battle with an eating disorder brought me to my lowest depths and only under the pressures of the pandemic did I learn to let go . I reconnected with myself after many years of being completely lost . Most importantly , I discovered the importance of compassion , self-awareness and forgiveness . I hope to continue to pour these skills into my life and medicine . I look forward to being present for my patients and colleagues through all of our shared experiences . The human connection after all is the analog heart of medicine .
Liz Smith is a rising fourth-year medical student at the University of Louisville pursuing a career in Emergency Medicine .
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