Suffering, blame & responsibility

This morning this quote caught my attention, it was discussed on another blog that I follow and because I'm in the midst of meditating on this subject for my yoga practice and in my personal life, I decided to share my own thoughts about it.

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Blame yourself for your poor life. I don't think I would ever say that to someone... Although I know I said it to myself more than once. It seems rather harsh and uncompassionate to blame ourselves for the things that happen to us. It can't be true that suffering, physical or mental illness, trauma, disasters, or poverty are all our own fault. To just say: "Well, think positive and all will change", that's just not right, is it? To deny the existence of suffering by only focussing on and sprinkling light and love on everything is a way of spiritual bypassing and avoidance of the pain. And however I feel blessed in so many ways, and most of us are, nobody can escape suffering.

The truth is, we ARE the creators of our lives. Although we can't decide what happens to us, we can choose how to feel, what to think or how to (re)act. In every bit of suffering also lies a gem. Sometimes it's very very small. Seeing the smile of a child after losing everything. Feeling the warmth of the sun at a bedside window of a sick loved one. Remembering the one time we felt truly held. Noticing a flower grow on the ruins of a burnt down home. Helping someone in a troublesome situation.

Those are the things that make us truly happy, that enrich our lives.

This is often forgotten in our world and herein lies the greatest source of suffering. Because deep down we know that we are the directors of our lives. But somehow, we feel disempowered, small, weak, sick, fragile, victimized. And we know deep down we are not to blame for life happening to us as well. So we choose to seek the cause of the suffering outside of us and not changing perspective. This is where we give our power away.

Instead of 'blaming' ourselves for not changing our reactions to the suffering we experience, we turn our blame towards others and make them into the very source of our suffering. This is polarity and this leads to separation, disconnection, and conflict.

We shouldn't blame others for what life throws at us. However, we are permitted to set boundaries when we are treated badly or when the behavior of other people is hurtful or leaves us scarred, shattered or destroyed. Likewise, when we are the blamed and made guilty by people who are seeking a perpetrator for their drama or life events, boundary setting needs to happen. This is key to protecting your sovereignty and your personal power. You don't have to take everything in out of gratitude for the lessons that are learned. To protect yourself and out of self-love and self-care, you shouldn't be forcing yourself to look for the gem in a garbage bin. 

We don't have to blame ourselves for what happens to us like there is no sense in blaming others. Both lead to more suffering and separation. But we can blame ourselves for only looking at destruction, pain, negativity, difficulty and lose track of the things that really matter to us, which is very personal and can't be defined by conventions, myths or societal rules.

When caught up in drama, caged by rules, not free to change direction or perspective, hearts close. We lose love and connection, to self and others, and that loss is the greatest suffering of all.

To heal from this, it is necessary to change perspective, see the gifts and express gratitude for what you have in your life, and to set boundaries to protect your sovereignty.

That's how we can be the poet to call forth our lives' riches.

Letter to my colleagues

Dear fellow doctors,

This letter is directed to two of you. We share the same educational background, we are all trained to be Medical Doctors. I met you last year during a difficult phase in my life where I encountered acute physical problems. This was not the first time for me, however, these particular encounters were part of a traumatic experience that changed my life. I should have written complaints to you individually 9 months ago. Unfortunately I was in such a bad shape that I couldn't force myself to do it back then. I was recovering from emergency surgery, could barely sit or breathe and I was suffering from arrhythmia attacks. So, consider yourself lucky that it took me too long to recover to file a formal complaint and that my story only makes it to be a letter on my blog today. And that I'm somehow grateful that you were part of my final eye-opener.

September 2016 - I came to the emergency GP office in the evening hours. I was suffering from severe abdominal pain in the lower right quadrant for 2 days and my regular GP was very worried. He did some lab work and we were waiting for the results to come in the next morning. He told me 'not too wait and go see the out of office GP during the evening or night whenever the pain got worse'. He also told me that however the next day was his day off, he would come in and see me. Doctors don't tell you that often. 

The pain got worse, I was keeling over at the couch. We left the children sleeping in their beds to go see the GP at 10 pm. You don't do that easily as a mother. The neighbour agreed to sit downstairs to keep an eye. 

The GP didn't listen. I told him it was something related to my ovary or uterus, that it reminded me of labour pains. He said that couldn't be true. He poked around in my abdomen and told me 'now it hurts everywhere, doesn't it?'. I wouldn't call it a decent physical exam. He refused to do an internal examination 'because I wasn't having so much pain'. He refused to look up the lab results. He told me I was having irritable bowel complaints. I have been suffering from digestive issues since I was a child, so I know what bowel pain is. This was different. He didn't care. I told him I was a doctor myself and that I thought it was something else. He seemed offended and asked me patronisingly 'what severe and very rare cause I was thinking about then'. And he laughed at me when I suggested a few not so unlikely things. And then he discharged me. 

The next day I was admitted to the hospital with a twisted and dying right ovary. I had to have emergency surgery right away. Fortunately they could save my ovary. This might not have been the case if I had decided to skip my morning appointment with my regular GP because the GP of the night before had installed a deep feeling in me of 'overreacting'. The only reason I went to the appointment was because my regular GP had told me to come and see me on his day off. I didn't want him to come for nothing.

In the hospital I told 9 people I didn't want morphine or other opioids after surgery because my body wouldn't take that very well. I told 3 ward nurses, 2 gynaecologists, 3 anaesthetic nurses and the anaesthesiologist herself. She told me just before I went to sleep 'we will see'. I woke up totally sedated and later found out I was given opioids anyway. I suffered from severe tachycardia from the side effects through the night - my heart ran the marathon while I was laying in bed unable to move. It tore my body to shreds and was the last push over the edge.

I didn't recover for months. I couldn't walk. I couldn't sit. I couldn't breathe. I was suffering from arrhythmia attacks - my heart rate would be over 160 bpm for hours. I was diagnosed with severe physical exhaustion, burnout and supra ventricular tachycardia. I couldn't sleep or eat. My BMI dropped to below 20. I was having panic attacks 24/7. I couldn't take care of my kids. I couldn't work, and that was the least of my problems. 

Why this letter? I sought medical help because I expected to be helped. To receive healing. To ask for support. But you, my colleagues, medical doctors, although you think you did, you didn't heal, help or support me.

You misdiagnosed and mistreated me. You harmed me. You made me sicker. You abused me. You made fun of me, you laughed at my pain. You dismissed my suggestions, my knowledge about my own body, my medical knowledge even. You almost let a critical organ die. You gave me medication against my permission that almost killed me. 

You killed my faith in the medical profession. 

So, tell me, how could a patient trust you? How should they put their life in your hands? They don't know about hospitals, or procedures. They have no clue. How do you treat the voiceless, the weak? 

Do you rely on your authority only? Forcing them in the name of medicine and science? Neglecting what they tell you about their symptoms, their bodies? The body THEY know best, because they have lived inside of it for their whole lives? 

Why did you go into medicine? To be an authoritarian figure in a sick patriarchal healthcare system? Or do you want to be a good doctor, a healer, a compassionate co-creator of health? 

Only you know your motives. But I would strongly suggest that you read this letter if you want to be a good doctor. Listen to your patients, take them seriously and put your ego away before you harm others too. 

For me, this episode let to a profound belief that the medical system should change. Their is no way back. We need compassionate healthcare. We need true healers who work with patients instead of harming them. I am now determined to help people find health and happiness through their own power. And I sincerely hope, that when they need acute intervention, you will be there to help them heal too.

Yours sincerely, 

Willemijn Maas, MD