Why do we find it easier to look after others?
My own thoughts and experience over the years have made the above title somewhat of an enigma. How are we able as therapists to put everything into our work and the wellbeing of patients, athletes and others, yet are unable to recognise, gain help or follow our own advice? I guess the old adage of "do as I say and not as I do" comes into play here, but I question how I have been able to push my own limitations at times to the extreme, for the benefit of doing my job and ensuring the upmost priority of my athletes.
A memory from a few years ago. I was working with an endurance camp in the mountains looking after an elite squad and we were struck down with a sickness bug which managed to take hold of 70% of the athletes. Maybe just adrenaline, but maybe just a pure will and drive to ensure these athletes were looked after to the best of my ability, led me to remain completely symptom free over a 3 week period. On my return home I was then bed ridden for over 7 days with sickness which I had managed to suppress over 3 weeks. I don't think this is unique and many people I guess are able to cope under pressure, which may, in turn make us successful, but to what cost?
For me, the ease at which I could push physical symptoms aside for the benefit of others became so easy, the mental issues became almost second nature to bat away and dismiss. We feel sometimes as Physios that we are invincible at times and due to the nature of the work and the pressure of performance sport, it is too easy to focus and forget the affect it is having on our physical and mental wellbeing. I don't think I ever intentionally meant to hide my anxiety for so long, but my commitment and passion for my work took over to such a degree that I didn't even recognise the problem until it was too late.
I have had some amazing messages and comments since I first shared my storey, one of which from a colleague struck a cord. He expressed the difficulty and even perhaps cowardly nature of not coming forward to speak to me at times, for the fear of possibly admitting some of his own issues and pondering why he found it so easy to discuss wellbeing with his patients and not consider himself or close colleagues. I for one, know I have defiantly been guilty of that on a few occasions. I have often pushed all my emotion into that of my patients and athletes, making sure they are fit, well and able to compete, train and help address wellbeing issues within themselves.
My initial Twitter post has been viewed 12,000 times in 24 hours, so this is clearly a topic that resonates with many as I'm sure we are all aware. Why then are we able to read, learn and develop ourselves to be better therapists and provide excellent care, but not invest the same amount of time and effort into ourselves?
I'm not sure I have the answer ;), hence the blog, but I know as passionate, caring and intelligent therapists, we can surely start to address the issue of mental health, talk to each other and start to look after ourselves as well as we look after others.