My plan to approach 2020 with tolerance and acceptance (mainly aimed at my job) got derailed after 2 days as shared in previous post. Talking it over with C brought some insights that I thought worth sharing.
As we talked over what is bothering me I was lamenting how every time I try to manage differently I end up irritated and discontent again. I try to focus on the positives – the young people, the team, the good salary but it doesn’t last. C asked what I’m not letting go of; and pointed out that I’m spinning between frustration and blame and attempts to be ok without addressing the real reasons it’s not ok. I’m still attached to an idea or belief that is unresolved but hidden from view but powerful in its effects. What was I holding onto? I feel unsupported and unappreciated at work was my first thought. After a moment I remembered that things had changed following an incident over 2 years ago that involved a MHA assessment where the young person was not detainable but the home said she couldn’t come back. Having just spent an hour negotiating with her how we would manage her coming back I then had to tell her at 4pm on a Friday she couldn’t. I didn’t agree with the decision and I broke down with her as she screamed ‘you’re making me homeless’ repeatedly in my face. In her eyes I was the doctor and I had the power. I left in distress, emailed my resignation in tears from my car and came home. I don’t remember but I almost certainly will have got very drunk that night.
I didn’t resign and we did have her back that night until another placement was found. I carried on but something shifted. A lot of my complaining centres around having all the responsibility and little power or influence over what happens. It’s not hard to see the link with this experience; or why my recent MHA assessment triggered me so much. Rather than talking about it I did what I have always done when I feel very threatened – withdraw. I feel overlooked and undervalued at work but in truth I’ve isolated myself from senior management as I don’t trust that they have my back. It doesn’t take much for these unresolved feelings to present themselves around minor issues; excessive irritability that makes me unreasonable and difficult to work with. It’s easy to construct a narrative around these things that perpetuates the negative feelings and the real reasons become buried and inaccessible. When you add alcohol as your primary coping strategy what’s underneath becomes harder and harder to access. Onwards you spin – blaming others for being crap or yourself for not coping. Neither position helps you deal with anything constructively.
I think a similar process happens a lot in families and other relationships. When a family can’t get together without things kicking off you can bet someone is stuck in a spin cycle around an old grievance or hurt; unable to talk about it directly or accept it. If you grew up in a family who were unable to talk things through then it doesn’t come easily; you have no model for it. Much of therapy is about learning to communicate your feelings more directly and experiencing being truly heard. I can do this for my patients most of the time but when myself or my loved ones are involved and I feel threatened I revert back to the spin cycle – blaming and bargaining with myself and others.
Of course there is a deeper layer. My drive and motivation for the work I do comes from my own experiences of being a child who’s needs weren’t adequately met and who’s environment was often unpredictable or frightening. When I think about myself as a child I picture myself alone with my dog. Perhaps this young persons’ experience tapped into my own feelings of abandonment and neglect with me cast as perpetrator? No wonder I couldn’t bear it. In truth after 30 years on the frontline I feel less emotionally equipped to deal with others pain now than at any point in my career. I’m more aware of my own inadequacies as well as the systems inadequacies; I’m more sensitive now I no longer numb it with alcohol and I no longer thrive in or crave high stimulus, high risk reactive environments.
Usually when I get to this point I take a day or two off and then get back to it as too long doing nothing makes me more depressed. This time I’ve stayed off work and I’ve booked onto a yoga retreat this weekend. I’m going to stop spinning, allow my feelings and take care of myself.