Still Learning Why I Chose Psychiatry

I hope the link in the tweet above still works. It’s a blog post about why anyone would choose to become a psychiatrist. I’ve tried to answer this in a previous post. Because I’m still evolving, I suspect my perspective about this shifts over time. It’s also affected because I’m continually facing fresh experiences as a general hospital psychiatric consultant, the changing landscape of our health care system, and the feedback I get from medical students, residents, and colleagues.

I think one of the reasons I chose psychiatry and would still choose it today is because the work I do constantly reinforces the importance of and inevitability of change. After all, a big part of psychiatry is about helping others do just that–change. In order to do that, I’ve been working for a long time on becoming more aware of what I say and do, seeing how and why I must change too. It’s painful sometimes. I regard heroes like Dr. Paul Fink as role models whose achievements I can only admire and hope to emulate in a feeble way.

Dr. Fink died a month ago and I read a short piece in Psychiatric News about how his leadership changed other professionals, and even changed the course of psychiatry. He embraced change and was a change agent himself. The irony is that his own father thought his choice of psychiatry as a profession was “a colossal disappointment,” as he wrote a few years ago.

I have my bad days, as we all do, when I’m reminded of Maya Angelou’s observation: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

You know, I’m reminded of that on my good days, too. But sometimes for reasons that I find difficult to fathom, I can see only my flaws (“Hey, I’m just a geezer psychiatrist!”).

I’m not the only one bouncing back and forth between the rungs of the readiness-for-change ladder.

“What we most frequently see when the mind is focused and clear are the habits of mind that create unnecessary suffering, habits fueled by greed and hatred and delusion.  Over and over we struggle with our lives, resenting our experiences, blaming ourselves for not being other than who we are.  We are unable to see past the immediate, overwhelming drama of our personal story to find relief, indeed, liberation, in the consoling realization of an astonishingly lawful cosmos: paying attention to current experience stops the stories that create and recreate suffering.”–on The Wisdom of Discomfort by Sylvia Boorstein, from a Q&A from Tricycle Magazine.

I’m still learning how to accept myself for who I am, still moving on this path I so very much hope has a heart as described by Carlos Castaneda through the lyrical and very real Don Juan Matus, “…looking, looking breathlessly.”

2 thoughts on “Still Learning Why I Chose Psychiatry

  1. Jim,

    Also a big seasick Steve fan and that is his best song.

    My favorite Don Juan quote:

    “You think about yourself too much and that gives you a strange fatigue that makes you shut off the world around you and cling to your arguments. A light and amenable disposition is needed in order to withstand the impact and the strangeness of the knowledge I am teaching you. Feeling important makes one heavy, clumsy, and vain. To be a man of knowledge one needs to be light and fluid.”

    The reasons for choosing anything are always difficult to pin down. I think that a lot of what happens in life is a matter of luck. I don’t believe that you make your own luck, only that it happens. In the end you end up knowing a lot about life, people, and the brain.

    It turns out that will be more than enough from an occupation for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, there is always luck and I hope some room for choice…and passion. “In order to be a sorcerer, a man must be passionate. A passionate man has earthly belongings and things dear to him–if nothing else, just the path where he walks.”

      El Viaje Definitivo (The Definitive Journey) by Juan Ramón Jiménez (English translation in Carlos Castaneda’s “Journey to Ixtlan”)
      And I will leave. But the birds will stay, singing:
      And my garden will stay, with its green tree,
      With its water well.
      Many afternoons the skies will be blue and placid,
      And the bells in the belfry will chime, as they are chiming this very afternoon.
      The people who have loved me will pass away,
      And the town will burst anew every year.
      But my spirit will always wander nostalgic
      In the same recondite corner of my flowery garden.

      … Y yo me iré. Y se quedarán los pájaros
      y se quedará mi huerto, con su verde árbol
      y con su pozo blanco.
      Todas las tarde, el cielo será azul y plácido;
      y tocarán, como esta tarde están tocando,
      las campanas del campanario.
      Se morirán aquellos que me amaron;
      y el pueblo se hará nuevo cada año;
      y en el rincón aquel de mi huerto florido
      y encalado,
      mi espíritu errará, nostálgico…
      Y yo me iré; y estaré solo, sin hogar, sin árbol
      verde, sin pozo blanco,
      sin cielo azul y plácido…
      Y se quedarán los pájaros cantando.

      Juan Ramón Jiménez


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