While Gloria Steinem said it first, no one texted it louder this week than than Dr. Sharon Fieldstone.
Anyone who knows me knows a few basic things about me. I grew up the youngest of four in a Catholic family in Kansas City, Missouri. After medical school, I followed a boy to Birmingham, Alabama where I have been ever since. I have had so many gains and losses over the years, but here are some of the highlights:
- I was fortunate enough to gain the best medical training anyone could ask for, from the absolute best in the business, and I was able to trick those same people into keeping me on as faculty once my training was complete.
- I gained a healthy case of imposter syndrome and let me tell you, that is hard to treat.
- I lost my dad along the way. He wasn’t perfect, but as a daddy’s girl, I idolized him despite his flaws. And I miss him every day.
- I lost a 17 year marriage.
- They say friends are the family you choose. And I gained a family so awesome you couldn’t even begin to imagine.
Obviously, a lot more happened over the years. But one gain that snuck up on me little by little without me realizing it was a sometimes crippling anxiety and depression. When I was in medical school, learning about self care ranked right up there with how to run a practice. And in my very traditional Catholic Italian family, feelings weren’t typically openly discussed. That’s not a criticism…it’s just how it was. That’s how my parents grew up and that’s what they knew. And they did the best they could. But it left me scared. Scared of the feelings I couldn’t explain. Scared to ask for help. Scared because I didn’t know what to do.
As a pediatric emergency medicine physician, I see children every day with anxiety and I realize I was that kid. I had the functional abdominal pain. I remember getting the upper GI and the abdominal ultrasound, and blaming it on eating too much peanut butter. I remember taking antacids every day and sometimes feeling like I was coming out of my own skin. One patient of mine put it best…”I just feel like I want to run.” Yep. I totally get it.
Fast forward 10, 15, 20 years. Same symptoms but now expected to function as an adult. So many days I felt like I was drowning and so many nights I wished I could. For those of you who have been there, you know exactly what I mean. And for those of you who have never been there, I hope with every fiber of my being you never are.
The journey is long. And hard. And dark. And scary. There are days you wonder if you will ever see the light at the end of the tunnel, and other days you wonder if you even want to. Some days you wonder how you got through the day, reminding yourself to breathe and put one foot in front of the other. Other days you are completely numb, and you wonder if you will ever feel anything again, painful or otherwise.
I took a chance and asked a colleague for a referral. And that was when I met my Sharon Fieldstone. Her name is Laura and I thank my lucky stars every day that we clicked from day one. I joke that she is my most stable relationship (in my head I hear Coach Beard saying “Most stable relationship in 12 years, babay!”), but jokes aside I owe her my life. I like to think it has become a give and take relationship…she gave me Shitt’s Creek, I gave her Ted Lasso, we gave each other support through the Trump years…but the truth is I could never repay her for what she has given me.
I have a feeling my friends get tired of my continued championship of therapy (“We get it, Annalise. You have a great therapist.”), but it really does my heart good to see shows like Ted Lasso at least attempt to destigmatize mental health issues. They are focusing on sports. I am focusing on medicine. But no matter our walk of life, we are all just people. All flawed. All trying to survive. And hopefully all trying to be the best we can be. There’s nothing wrong in asking for help. It’s what we tell our patients to do every day.