Carolyn Phelps, Ph.D

November 17, 2014

I am not a medical doctor. I didn’t go to medical school like the Dr. Steve’s who were on the show. So when my doctor tells me things like “You can return to skating – but you need to start out by not jumping and only being on the ice a maximum of 30 minutes,” who am I to say, “I really think I can manage 40 minutes and how much could a few jumps hurt?” Like somehow I know better than the doctor who is Board Certified in Sports Medicine, who is great, and whom I respect. That is what I used to do. Not anymore. Before my great AHA moment, time after time  - my knows nothing about sports medicine resume would trump his knows a whole heck of a lot one. And not because I was listening to my body. If I had been doing that, I wouldn’t have required his services in the first place.  Back then, I was doing what research says everybody else does: ignoring 85% of what a health care professional tells us to do. I would do so earnestly acting like I was going to follow 100% of what he said. Which is interesting because I probably didn’t even hear half of it because I was already deciding I wasn’t going to do most of what he was saying, and making my own plans instead. It is difficult to listen to and embrace what someone else is saying while you are coming up with a MUCH BETTER PLAN. Albeit, an uninformed, uneducated, doomed to fail one. 

I  know that my own clients do this ALL the time. I try to head them off at the pass by saying things like “If you’re not going to do anything I suggest, you could make it a whole lot easier on yourself and just not come.” But that’s part of the evolution right? I would go to appointments. I would believe I was going to do what was said. And then somewhere between the corner of healthy and happy* (Thanks Walgreens – It’s a catchy slogan. I’ll give it back when I’m done),  I would lose my way.

My next phase was to profess the errors of my ways after the fact. I would do this as if I was confessing a great jewel heist that I had pulled off years ago, and that would have remained unsolved were it not for my magnanimous gesture of honesty late in the game. Like this exchange I had with a dentist:

Me: I should tell you I haven’t been flossing.

Yoda masquerading as a dentist: Thank you for telling me! But your teeth have already told me.

That was the first important AHA moment: My body knows the truth. And so does my heart. And so does my mind. (FYI – same is true for you. Sorry.) Now, I don’t leave a doctors office without having an honest discussion about what I will and won’t do. And if it is a health care provider I know and trust (which frankly is the only kind we should be seeing) I mostly do what I am told. I am astounded by how much quicker I get better these days. I wish someone would have told me. Except they probably did – I was too busy doing it, as Frank Sinatra says My Way – to hear what they were saying.

It’s like I said at the end of the show: work with your doctor. If you’re a poor match, find one who’s a better match. But before you do the fire and hire polka ask yourself this: “What is the “me part” of this not very workable relationship.” Some still may need to be fired, but along the way, if we address the “me part,” we’re a whole lot more likely to find our way back to the corner of healthy and happy. (Nod to Walgreens again.)

So what do medications do in the treatment of mental illness? Nothing, if you don’t take them. If you don’t take them right, they either don’t help or theydo harm. If you take them right and they help what they mostly help with is our biology. They can help us sleep better, quiet our system, improve our energy and our ability to concentrate. They can turn down the chatter in our head (the worry voice) and they can turn down the volume of auditory hallucinations. They can improve the part of our mood that is biochemically driven. They play a HUGE role in the treatment of some mental illness. And for some people they are the difference between life and death. Or meaningful life and mere existence.

Here is what medications do not do:

They will not make you prettier.

They will not make your spouse love you the way you deserve to be loved.

They will not make your boss nicer.

They will not protect you from the mean, petty people in the world.

They will not make your job more meaningful.

They will not make you stop working 12 hour days so you can lead a balanced life.

They will not make you tell the truth to other people OR yourself.

They will not make you do things that you have been putting off, feeling guilty about because you’ve been putting them off, and so avoiding them more.

They will not stop people from letting you down.

They will not make you accept yourself as an incredibly flawed and equally incredibly wonderful person.

They will not help you to be more compassionate, or acknowledge the compassion that others show you.

Medicine has its place. And it has its limits. It’s always good to know the difference between the two. Both Dr. Sutherland and Dr. Bauer would tell you that the power that lies within each of us is the real corner of healthy and happy*.

*Thanks Walgreens, for letting me borrow this catchy little phrase.

Carolyn Phelps PhD LP

Host, Speak Your Mind

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