Healing perfectionism by crying in words; a case study.

We all have things we do that speed up the the break down of our body and bring about the inevitable freedom of our soul from the confines of the meat-monkey-suit.  I always thought it would be my sweet tooth that has enslaved so many in my family and race(es) to the slow decline of diabetes and then heart disease.  Alas, as of this year I have finally sprouted a small gut who in its growth threatens to speed up the tendency in my DNA to insulin resistance and then diabetes.  I am wrong, that may be a mere footnote in my medical history.  The real cause as always lies much deeper.

I was innocently reading one of the extremely heavy novels I am apt to read (When I am stressed I like reading about situtations worse than my own and then I don't feel so bad) when I hit page 115, the final words of the chapter jumping off the page, slapping me across the face, bloodying my nose and echoing into my psyche... "You can't ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymptote toward which you are ceaselessly striving."  Shit that is me.  "When Breath Becomes Air" is a stellar memoir that will leave you reevaluating your life, its meaning, and what to do with the time we have on the planet.  The author Paul Kalithi is a Stanford Trained neurosurgeon who gets lung cancer during his residency and speaks to his epiphanies about life, death, and medicine as he alternates between being patient and doctor. 

Here is the sentence in context:

"Our patients' lives and identities may be in our hands, yet death always wins.  Even if you are perfect, the world isn't.  The secret is to know that the deck is stacked, that you will lose, that your hands or judgment will slip, and yet still struggle to win for your patients.  You can't ever reach perfection, but you can believe in an asymtote toward which you are ceaselessly striving."

His comment about perfection was profound to me because I think he was indirectly telling me that that was the ultimate cause of his death, yet he never comes out and says that.  In his book he never talks about the etiology of his lung cancer, however, I did find an article where his wife Lucy states that he was not a smoker and they worked with the Chris Draft Family Foundation to raise money for lung cancer research and to dispel the myth that lung cancer is merely a smoker's disease.  I wonder how much his having to constantly strive for perfection as a neurosurgeon ultimately lead to his early demise at age 37.

His line about perfection strikes me because it is the un-healed wound in my journey.  When I look deeply about my behaviors for coping one would see succumbing to sugar cravings, sex, exercise, and scouring the internet for the latest cancer theories and treatments.  The latter is largely responsible for some of my success as a doctor, I am a master of finding information and wading through data.  All of the above are attempts to jack up dopamine in my disappointed brain.   However, a deeper look and I see that my coping mechanisms in life come from a root in perfectionism.  When I fall short (or mis-percieve myself as falling short) I turn to cookies, which ruins my perfect physique, leading to obsessive exercise out of the fear that if my body isn't perfect i won't get to have sex and thus I should just be a perfect doctor to get love and justify my time and space on the planet.

There it is, that damn "I am not lovable thing" that has haunted me since childhood.  Rationally, I can see that this is all a crock of shit, but it is still in my tissue, aching my bones, tightening my muscles, draining my energy, weakening my immunity.   I can see it in the mirror in my greying hair, sagging eyes and growing belly; the physical embodiment of the stress of a wedding, of the potential loss of my daughter to a move out of state by her mother, totaling my car in the recent floods, and working with cancer patients.   Yes, things are far from perfect in my world.  Icarus falls from the sky.  I am human.

And Trump is not helping with is war on immigration, the planet, and everything else dear to me...  But maybe he is.  Maybe it is healing to know that I have never stopped watching my back despite moving to the one of the most liberal places in the US.  I am always aware of how much I stick out.  The Black Sheep.  Maybe this is all catalyzing a big healing crisis for me and for the planet.  Thanks Trump, you really have been good for business. At the next deeper level, I have never relaxed, never been at home anywhere, never fully exhaled and I fear it will prematurely take me off the planet should I not figure out how to heal that hole in the soul.  I have never fully belonged.

It really irritates others when I speak of my death, as if talking of it is enough to will it into existence.  How much more powerful is writing about it?  I don't really subscribe to that belief, working with cancer patients has taught me that death comes for us all despite my perfectly imperfect attempts at a perfect treatment plan, that power is not in my hands.  My body will die whether I speak of this, write of it, ect.  I do think that HOW one does it can set things in motion faster or slower.  So no I am not suicidal, morbid, depressed or dying.  I am merely aware of my death and that is truly the gift of working with cancer.   The awareness that time is precious and life is an amazing journey.   It makes all the long hours, all the hard decisions, all the tears shed in my office worth it.  I am aware of the strangle hold this perfectionism has on my life and health and will strive to heal it in a slow and imperfect manner becoming a patient.  I have made an appointment with my doctor to begin this journey.

So thank you for listening, for I cry in words and in doing so release the emotions and tension from my body from a hard year.   Bear with me as I learn to accept the imperfection, root out the disease of perfectionism,  and embrace the humanness it brings me.

Explaining Slavery to a Six Year Old...

Kids pick up everything.  I was listening to an interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates on his new book "Between the World and Me" on Democracy now when they went to break playing the song "Slavery Days" by Burning Spear.  Penelope my daughter turns to me and says "Dad... Do you remember the days of slavery"? (Which happens to be the chorus of the song.)

I answered "No, I wasn't alive back then, but my great grandparents were slaves and indentured laborers". 

"Dad, what's a slave?"

"A slave is someone who is forced to work for others but is not paid for the work they do"

"That's not right".....    "Dad, If I had slaves I would pay them!"

"Then they would not be slaves, they would be workers"


Our little dialogue tonight, brought up a lot of pain as I thought of all the Black people killed at the hands of our society recently.  I say society rather than police, because we as society sanction this.  We sanction it with our subliminal messages in media, we sanction it by ignoring the news stories, we sanction it with our silence.  Most tellingly we sanction it by paying the police with the collective's money.   This is the legacy of slavery of African Americans.   It will continue until we as a society own it.  Look it square in the face and say what is.  We must confront our shadow.

Slavery has not ended.  It has merely changed form.  It looks like predatory lending by Bank of America. It looks like higher rates of school loans for minorities. It looks like the millions of women and children trafficked for the sex and pornography trades.  It looks like those picking my organic strawberries.  It even looks like my beloved iGadgets that I am writing this blog on.   The legacy of slavery lives on in all the recent deaths.  God rest their souls, they have took on too great of a burden in this life.

Chances are pretty good that my daughter will become a slave.   Struggling with paper shackles that are quickly becoming digital ones.   Unless of course, we act.  Unless we conquer our thoughts of complacency.  Unless we "Emancipate ourselves from mental slavery" we shall not be free of the burden of enslavement.

I think the Lakota concept of "Wasichu" explains the mindset of slave holders. (Takers of the Fat, the nickname the Lakota gave to Whites because of their propensity to take the best cuts of the buffalo rather than giving it to the women and children as is the norm in traditional Lakota Culture)  It is this constant taking of the fat that leads one to the mentality that their life has greater value over others.  Once I elevate myself (or my people) any number of things may be justified.

I just got back from spending time on the Pine Ridge Reservation with my Lakota family participating in the Sun Dance.  It is hard to miss the remnants of the unspoken genocide that has occurred on this soil.  You are not forgotten by me.  I see you.  I hear you.  I bleed with you. The medicine to heal fat taking lives on in the Dance.  Maybe the prophecy will be true, people from all corners of the earth will come together and learn Lakota medicine and it will save the world.

For it is this fat taking consciousness that is destroying the world.  It lies behind global climate change.  It lies behind white collar crime.  It lies behind empire.  We have a sickness, a mental disease.  We take for ourselves with no thought of what the future of our children will be as a result of our actions.  We must stop taking the fat of the land.  We must stop consuming our children.

I hope to see the real promise of America in my lifetime by seeing appropriate cultural recognition of the legacy of the genocide of indigenous peoples, slavery and the grinding generational poverty it has produced, and the rectification of these wrongs.  I hope to see global healing of our mental disease.  I am actually crazy enough to think it can happen and that we can and will reach that tipping point in my lifetime.  I believe we can heal, there is no pill for this.  We have to work and work together.   We have no other choice.  So let's have these conversations that are hard.  We will become closer, more intimate as a result.  Let's learn to love one another and our differences.  Let's celebrate the global wealth of human knowledge that lies in other cultural practices.  Let us stop being Wasichu's.

I drank the kool-aid...

Tony Robbins is a genius.  This weekend I was down in San Jose to attend a Tony Robbins Seminar called "Unleash the Power Within".  I really had no idea what to expect.  I had seen him around on TV in the past as well as on the internet.  When I was in medical school, one of our instructors had us listen to one of his CD sets for a practice management class.  Many people have also seen the TED talk where he calls out Al Gore for losing the election.  Which by the way has almost 12 million hits as of today.  Talk about virality!

So what is all the hype about?  Brilliantly applied psychology!  I have never seen so many psych techniques packed into 4 days.  Not to mention the effect of having 6000 people sitting through an infomercial disguised as a concert.  Yes, I said concert.  The whole thing was like a concert!  Music, dancing, high energy; hell I even feel hung over and I did no drugs or alcohol.  The drug was TONY! 

But no seriously, I am HUNG OVER today!  I have a massive headache, I am tired, achy all over, my eyes are red, pillow over the head... And here is why...  Top Ten highlights of the weekend...

First of all I am an information junkie,  I love to learn, I love info, I get high off of it!  It jacks my dopamine like no other which makes me a great researcher.  Man Tony really blasted my receptors with constant info.  (Most days only had one 40 min break and we went from 8am to midnight!)

Second I feel like I just ran a marathon and played a game of tackle football because every 20 min or so we were jumping around, dancing, and generally acting crazy.  I have runners high and I barely left a 5 foot area for 12 hours or more.

Third my man Tony (yes we are on a first name basis despite never having met) elicited massive oxytocin through my touched starved body by giving me multiple massages, hugs, and high fives from strangers! (Ha!  Ironically the spell check wants to change oxytocin to oxycontin!  I feel like I was on oxycontin!)  I truly feel bonded to Tony and the 6000 strangers I attended the event with.

Fourth my Serotonin has been massively up-regulated.  I am undepressed and I did not even know I was depressed.

Fifth I had every known psych technique applied in mass from neuro associative conditioning, hypnosis (pretty impressive hypnotizing 6000 people at once), affirmations ("I freaking rock!!!"), emotional mastery, guided imagery, and I am sure there were a plethora of techniques used that I was not even aware of.

Sixth  Did i mention I walked on hot coals!  Not that impressive, those of you who know me know I do crazier shit all the time.  However, I did have a moment where I dropped out of the
"state" I was in and thought "these are not so hot" and then I burned my left foot! (I am fine).   A further reminder that pain gating is an illusion of the brain.  That night I calmly told my foot that I no longer needed the message of burning as there is no more fire now and the pain went away and I slept fine.

Seventh  Spiritual experience... It was like ayahuasca, a pentacostal church, and a concert all rolled into one.

Eighth  Seeing all the sheeple blindly consume lots of Tony Robbins stuff after being hyped into a massive emotional state where you almost could not help buying tons of stuff.  Almost.  Luckily I only sipped the kool-aid so I won't be going to Fiji with him just yet... But if I get enough withdrawal I just may!

Ninth  Great information on the Battle of the Sexes.  Clear examples of how masculine and feminine have different wants and needs and strategies to speak a common language.

Tenth Deep healing, removed some major belief systems that were getting in the way of my being able to thrive.  I feel like I have both rewired these things out of my brain as well as rewired my brain to express a full range of emotions.  When I was younger I had a brain injury playing sports that pretty much ended my contact sports career.  I have been somewhat emotionally flat since.  This is a common sign of chronic tramatic encephalopathy which is making the news as many NFL players are getting it.  I have lately been afraid that I would get it to as I get older.  Something has shifted this weekend as I am no longer afraid of it and am considering researching treatments to help the affected players.

Me on drugs...  I smoked Tony!

Me on drugs...  I smoked Tony!