When Things Go Pear-shaped – Self-care when the going gets tough

Sometimes in medicine, as in life, things don’t go according to plan – our sphere of life gets bent out of shape, or goes pear-shaped, as we say.

But no matter what we do, or don’t do, or what happens to us or through us, we are all still people, worthy of love and care.

This can be difficult for us to remember, let alone put into practice, as feelings of failure, self-doubt, lack of self-worth, anxiety, depression and burnout tend to creep if not flood in, being the perfectionists that we have learned to become.

But life is not perfect: it is messy and imprecise and we are dealing with ourselves and other imperfect people and unexpected things can happen, sooner or later, which cause us pain and stress. It is not just about us making mistakes…the people we work with can make them, we can fall ill, or those around us can, human beings can behave in mysterious ways which make life more difficult than it need be…sometimes even ‘success’ can come with its challenges for us…

Developing a practice of self-care when all is going well in our lives prepares us for the times of pain and stress which almost inevitably come, in whatever form, over the span of our lives.

This series of articles looks at ways we can all care for ourselves when the going gets tough, offering some practical suggestions. We will look at self-care in relation to situations such as making errors of judgement, being sued, being burnt out, personal loss and grief, being concerned about ageing and when we ourselves are patients.

While the principles of self-care remain the same, each situation has its own special needs. You may never need these tips, which would be great, but just in case you do… it helps to remember that we are not alone; that many people have been in times of trouble before us and many will again; and we are all in this together, to learn from and to help each other.

In our collective years in Medicine, we have experienced many medical and personal ups and downs, which we have learned from. There is wisdom to be gained from sharing one another’s lives, so if you have had such an experience, have come through it and learned from it and are ready to share it, we would love to hear from you too…

By Dr Jane Barker and Dr Anne Malatt

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