In my memories of childhood and early adult life, I didn’t always see my life in "technicolor". I suffered from severe depression through my preteen years and adolescence, due to the trauma of losing my mother at age 9, immigrating to the US, adjusting to a new stepmother, new family and new life in America, and learning English starting at age 10. I did not know that one could and should get help, and that it was not my fault to have suffered emotional pain.
For a while, around 2009-2010, I was experiencing a high degree of burnout and didn’t know it until a year later. I had physical pain, a significant sense of emotional exhaustion, anxiety over not being able to keep up with the overwhelming to-do’s: professionally for academic and career development efforts on top of seeing countless patients and performing thousands of surgeries, and personally trying to do everything I could in what little time I had left when not working on work stuff at the hospital or at home, to be a devoted mother and wife. I had reached a state of feeling that I just needed “out” from my own life. I couldn’t breathe, I wanted to get off the treadmill, and stop the nonstop “doing”. Everyone wanted and expected something from me every day, my patients (their parents and families, as they should), my colleagues, neighbors, and friends. People needed my help and I loved giving it except I couldn’t stop the unending asks of me from others.
I demanded “perfection” from myself at work, at home, and frankly every second of my “being”. Making a mistake during surgeries was not acceptable, but worse, being “human” was not acceptable for physicians. I could not call out “sick”, well, I could technically, but no doctor was "raised" to dare inconvenience patients and others who had waited weeks to get an appointment.
What others don’t see about me—about all physicians and health care providers—is that we are all human just like those we serve. The human being that leaves the hospital, after giving EVERYTHING he/she has, also goes home, sometimes exhausted, often carrying sadness from the empathy of experiencing human suffering that doctors can’t always “fix”, sometimes physically sick, dehydrated, hypoglycemic, struggling with our own marriage, struggling with fertility, etc.
Personal well-being is shaped by a sense of purpose and balance, but I don’t like the word balance. It comes from Latin meaning equal parts of two things. In America, we use the words “work/life balance” now almost excessively, but without clearly stating that “balance” is different for each individual, and is not based purely on “time” allotted to work or to “life”. The problem is that there is so much work and not as much life, so I don’t use the term “work/life balance” because it’s not reflective of the life myself and most of my colleagues live. The work doesn’t end, even after we come home at night.
Back to my experience in 2009-2010. I was so burnt out, and the years of not taking care of myself which likely caused my infertility and reaching menopause at the mere age of 40, took its toll. I didn’t feel the joy and the love of being a pediatric ear, nose, and throat surgeon, or to the degree I could as a mother and wife. I am extremely lucky that after recognizing what was happening to me, I spent the next year reflecting, understanding my journey, and instead of doing something unthinkable to end the pain, I was able to make a commitment to love the life I have been given, the career I have worked so hard for, and live my life every day in “technicolor”.
For the past 7 years or so, I have been and continue to be hyper focused every day on the gift of vision, smell, life and the ability to take each life-giving breath. I take deep breaths and focus on what it is I smell. I focus on the sensation of the warmth from a shower, the love and joy from a hug, the incredible taste of a great meal, and the laughter at our dinner table. I see and look for every “color” on my morning walks: all the trees, lakes, grasses, birds, and always the various colors of the sky. There are so many kinds of blue. The colors I love are not only in nature, but those of every object I encounter and what I call the color of life made up of the “color” of different people, their personalities, the “color” of their laughter and tears, and the incredible never-the-same colors of sunrises and sunsets. The former reminds me of the gift of another day to positively impact as many humans around me as possible, the later lets me feel gratitude for a good day’s work and simply “showing” up and bringing my best self to the world and infusing positive energy into this incredible universe.
There is so much color all around us. Every day, every moment, I relish and savor the “technicolor” or enhanced colors that I see and remember. May you see the amazing “technicolor” of your life.
Learn more about my journey by watching my recent talk on burnout below. Visit and subscribe to my YouTube channel.