Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a new column focused on physician wellness. Articles will run quarterly and be authored by Jennifer Villwock, MD, and Julie Wei, MD.
Explore this issue:September 2018
Beliefs are strong. Once, when I was about 4 years old and riding the waves of nausea that came with the flu, my dad told me, “Just lie down on your right side. You will feel better.” As I rode those waves, I clung to those words—repeating them like a sacred mantra—and internalized their message as absolute truth. So completely did I believe that I would lie on my right side in any unwell situation, from stomach bugs to sinus infections to, later in life, heartache. I continue to do so to this day.
When I was in my twenties, I encountered something that not even lying on my right side could fix: severe and debilitating depression. For six months, I slept on a friend’s couch because I was terrified to be alone. Up to that point, I had only been aware of people not successfully recovering from mental illness. No one was openly sharing their experiences, and my internet sleuthing was indicating that one severe episode of depression meant lifelong medication and disability. My internal dialogue told me I would never be OK again. My friend told me I would be, and that she would tell me that every day, over and over, until it was true.