My father died of leukemia when I was very young. My mom remarried a man who was verbally and physically abusive. When I was only thirteen, I’d have to call the cops because I’d hear screaming and hitting behind closed doors.
One time he chased me around our home. Another time he threw an answering machine at me. He convinced my mom she was crazy. He’d threaten to leave her and drop her off at a psychiatric institute on his way. I can feel my heart beating faster even now as I think about these stories.
My home life was traumatic, so I looked elsewhere for a sense of empowerment. Ballet was an important escape.
My home life was traumatic, so I looked elsewhere for a sense of empowerment. Ballet was an important escape. I’d dance three or four hours a night. I had support from a good friend who would drive me home from ballet class. She knew about my family life and would ask me each day if I was okay.
I left home when I was thirteen to attend a performing arts boarding school. I loved that experience. There was a camaraderie amongst artists that helped me feel safe.
I took a deep breath or two, committed myself to living, and journaled to process my emotions.
Still, in the midst of the family chaos, I wanted some sense of control. I became anorexic. At one point I weighed eighty pounds. To an extent, ballet fueled it. We were weighed in class and our weight was announced. My best friend was admitted to the hospital for anorexia and weighed four pounds less than I did. I was shocked. I took a deep breath or two, committed myself to living, and journaled to process my emotions.
I’m now a doctor, and I try to bring insights from my childhood to my work. I approach patients with absolute humility. If a patient greets me with anger, sadness, or silence, my role is to stay empathically curious. I have no idea what’s going on in their life. I’m just seeing one sliver of their experience. They just might be undergoing all sorts of suffering and difficulty that I don’t know anything about.
I ask questions to learn more about their suffering. Most of the time, my patients’ strong emotions are grounded in fear. I’m always trying to understand that fear.
My work is a privilege and makes me feel grateful every day. When I leave the hospital, I tell myself how lucky I am to be walking out. Because I’m walking out of a building many people won’t leave today. Or ever.
I practice gratitude at home as well. I am intentionally creating moments of joy with my family. I’ll start dance parties with my kids. In what can be a heavy world, we have to seize every little moment of happiness.