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Software Update: Introducing Leonard v2.0

Metamorphosis...only still dumb and fairly blind

By far the most read article I’ve written for this blog (Choose Survival First) has been one in which I describe my suicidal ideation. Now the negative person in me would have come up with this joke: “Dangit! What’s a guy gotta do to get clicks on this blog? [sees number of clicks on post about suicide] Ah. I see. Thanks, you guys.” But that would be if I were still the negative Leonard.

What you’re reading is the rebirth, the re-branding, the re-purposing of Leonard. Leonard v2.0. Alright alright, fine, I know you’re saying, “But Leonard you’ve promised you’re going to change your tone like 4-5 times on this blog only to go negative again.” Shush. Fine, let this be Leonard, oh I don't know, v1.09. What’s new? Yup, you guessed it. It’s yet another attempt at going #positive. Does this mean I’ll be an optimist now? God no, I hate those bastards. No what it means is that I’ll not focus/perseverate/obsess on or about failure. Rather I’ll try to convey a positive message moving forward. And by positive, I mean involving action, not just my usual musings on failure.

What message? What action? Well, as you’ve read in previous posts, my life’s a bit of a downer, so the action is going to have that as its context. But stick with me, it will have a beneficial effect if I’m successful at creating some sort of movement. You see, the action I’m promoting comes directly out of my story. You’re thinking I’ll go for the phoenix rising from the ashes tale. Nope. Too positive. What you do get is more of a buzzard rising from a dumpster fire story.

So what’s my positive message? It’s a direction. It’s a call to fix a system. My former system. Actually the problem exists society-wide. The problem is our attitude and stigma towards mental illness. Professionally in medicine it’s worse because of fears of further repercussions — tarnished reputation, fewer referrals from other physicians, feeling ostracized, and the possible loss of privileges or credentials or even licensure. Instead of seeking help, physicians will almost invariably try to barrel through the problems, ignore the problems, or may try to treat themselves. None of these are particularly effective solutions.

And I’m here to tell you this problem, untreated mental illness, exists in society, and most definitely exists in Medicine. And not just doctors. Caregivers: Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants, Medical Assistants to name a few.

The reasons aren’t fully understood, but I can definitely guess some factors. I already mentioned one: doctors not accepting help, and instead putting their heads down, keeping nose to the grindstone, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger and all of that drivel. Another factor is denial. We medical folk feel stressed, overworked, under appreciated, awash in student debt, and just plain burnt and tired. With all of these as negative feelings, it’s so easy to blame any combination of them.

Why don’t I have energy? Oh I’m just overworked.

Why am I so irritable? Oh I’m just totally stressed.

Why am I so sad? Oh I’m just worried about paying off my loans.

It is so easy to dismiss the telltale signs of mental illness as simple complaints. Just a moment of weakness that should be ignored. We doctors are so convinced of our infallibility that mental illness may not even be an entertainable option. Denial is a helluva drug.

Another reason I’ve already mentioned: Fear of reprisal. Several doctors have actually told me they have avoided so much as even talking to a psychiatrist or mentioning their feelings to their own doctors. They did so because of the fears described above. They most certainly don’t enter longterm treatment for their mental issues. There’s the clichéd story of a doctor driving to an entirely different town to see a therapist, using an assumed name, the entire encounter paid in cash.

Okay, so far this updated version of Leonard still sounds pretty frickin’ negative. Still stuck in the v1.x series. Still just doom and gloom. But for once I can recognize that. And it took telling my story to other doctors for me to see it. Whereas I have always seen my tale as a warning to others - Don’t Do What I Do - now I realize people see mine as an example of hope. The fact that I’m here to tell this story is in itself the lesson I’m teaching. There is life after the darkest of days. There are direction and purpose. There is a reason for people to hear your story. In my negativity I was unable to see myself as hope, only the embodiment of the edge of despair. Instead of a beacon of light, I was a “Danger” sign on the edge of a cliff.

But hope alone won’t solve the problem. There still needs to be actual change. That will be another phase. For now I’m just recruiting fellow Crazies into my ranks. Come my fellow head cases. We Band Of Others. Join me. Or don’t, whatever, I’m not supposed to get too caught up on metrics, says my therapist.

It gets back to Choose Survival First. I always assumed so many people read it because of me talking about suicide. They read it out of morbid curiosity. It never occurred to me that people read it because the hope in it actually resonated with them. Even the title, Choose SURVIVAL means the story didn’t end in despair. Just like I have no idea where this journey will take me; all I know for sure is that I’m going to move ahead on this path to find what’s in store. While I’ll always remember how bad it was, I think I’m ready to look forward. I’m finally exploring how good the future might be, rather than dreading how bad it’ll get. Huh. Imagine that. Me. Looking forward. With hope.

See? I told ya. Leonard v2.0

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