There are a lot of healthcare professionals adorning the halls of HU. You name a profession, it’s probably here. Strangely this helps me feel fair-minded as it reminds me that educated people have this disease too. I know, how ignorant of me…but it’s the truth. But sincerely speaking, on the topic of education, whether I had a high-school diploma or a PhD, no amount of education could have stopped the predisposing factors of addiction I inherited throughout my life, nor could it have sheltered me from PTSD. In the text-book of life, there are no answers to some important questions no matter how hard I study. For example, my ever curious brain wonders, does my education and passion for my career help or hinder my recovery? Why do I crave being back on the road when it hurt me so much? Will I ever be able to return to the road and not risk relapse? My doctor’s educated mind has informed me that, right now, these questions don’t have an answer at all. Allow me to elaborate…

The question as to whether or not my health-care education helps or hinders my recovery, rages war in my mind with its double-edged sword. Deceivingly it fools me into thinking that I have more control over my disease than an uneducated person would. Knowing what I know must surely curb my addiction and automatically heal my PTSD to some extent right? Wrong!  But on a positive note, my education grants me temporary serenity when I’m embarrassed about being sick because I understand the disease process behind my addiction and mental health illnesses, and know on a pathological level that weakness isn’t a causative factor. But with all that being said, like society, I still have so much to learn about my disease and illnesses. Thankfully genetic research is advancing in this field. According to a study published in the Psychiatric Clinics of North America in 2012, gene discovery is being facilitated by a variety of powerful approaches, but it’s in its infancy. (Ducci, F & Goldman, G.) In other words, we are still light years away from fully understanding this part of the brain, but education is the key to healing.

Being so passionately enmeshed with my career and education transfixes my minds on one particular question. One which I have heard many other healthcare professionals ask as well; when can I go back to work? But why are we so eager to rush back into our uniforms? What is it about healthcare professionals that makes us confuse our careers for our lives? You may be reading this blog and saying to yourself, “my health care career isn’t THAT important to me.”…but I challenge that statement. Whether it’s for financial or self-pride reasons, I would wager a bet that any of you would feel lost if I said your healthcare job was gone tomorrow. Think about it – it’s become so much of who we are. No wonder I dream about going back to the road as a paramedic even when relapse may dangle over my head like lethal Christmas mistletoe. I don’t know what the future holds for me, just like I didn’t know what my next call would be. So for now I need to just focus my attention on my recovery in the present.

During an interesting discussion today, our doctor tried to encourage us to explore who we truly are minus being a healthcare professional. What the heck would that look like? So one by one we would start to follow his direction, but then, one by one our minds would always wander back to the same career-based thoughts and concerns. “If I don’t go back to work will I be able to afford my lifestyle? Will I be viewed in the same light now that people know I am sick?”…and on and on. I watched as the doctor would sit and grin as we slowly made the conversation about work again. We couldn’t remove our healthcare psyche. At one point a comment was made that someone didn’t want to have a minimum wage job. An atrocity!  “How could we possibly live without our salaries?” they asked. The doctor’s response was crystal clear; security and money didn’t stop us from getting here now did it?

The doctor asked “what’s the rush?” again and again when we talked about going back to work. Why did we not want to use this time to learn how to live? Why couldn’t we see that our careers weren’t the center of our lives? Then he had us do an activity. He told us to look around the room and choose the person we would save in a disaster. Everyone scanned the room and started naming names. Then he suddenly stopped us. He let the room go quiet, and spoke in a serious tone. “I knew you would all be ready to save each others lives. Now it’s time to save your own.” Touche doctor. Touche.

Reference: Ducci, F. & Goldman, D. The genetic basis of addictive disorders. Psychiatric Clinic of North America. 2012 Jun;35(2):495-519. doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2012.03010.