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A mindset for life's struggles

How to take back the reins of your life after you have been triggered

I know some people resent the use of the word “triggered”, but this is what happened to me. I will tell you about a bad experience I had this week with a medical professional and how I managed to overcome the feelings of depression and hopelessness that he caused.

Some background on my situation

The past five years have been very hard for me. I have gone through depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, getting used to living in another country for the majority of the year, a very strenuous cancer treatment including five surgeries, high expectations, high levels of stress due to my studies, moving five times and living with countless roommates, some of my cats died while I was away at university, a couple of people I got to know through cancer treatment also died, the relationship with my mother was a bit rocky at times (but we are still very close), a friend I really loved gave me the cold shoulder, another moved to another country, another got diagnosed with cancer and is under treatment, anyway, you get the picture.

I believe it is quite miraculous that I am still sane, but I would not lie if I told you that I hung by the threads a few times along the way. I am ready for some stability and peace of mind, but it does not seem like it is going to happen any time soon.

As you can imagine, I am pretty burned out. I am on a well deserved “holiday” in my home country. In September, once I get back to Canada, I will be moving again, because all my stuff is in storage at the moment and my previous room has been rented out.

I am having a life crisis as well; I am trying to figure out if I want to finish my PhD or not. I am trying to regain my health, lose the 30 kilos that I gained during treatment (I have lost 7 so far), and going back to exercising and eating healthy.

Consulting a professional

Part of my health goals included consulting a holistic doctor. After having to wait for two months for an appointment, I finally got to see him on Tuesday. I was very excited to get his opinion. He is very famous in my country and everybody says he is great.

Here comes a rant, in case you did not sense it coming.

He did seem very knowledgeable and efficient at what he does, but he did not spend much time with me. He gave me a questionnaire, had me clarify a few things, but other than that he made it clear, through his demeanour, that he was not interested in what I had to say.

He started an acupuncture treatment and did not explain anything to me. Every so often he would take the needles out and test if the treatment was working. It wasn’t working. He would then shake his head at me and tell me that I was completely blocked, that my body was not responding. I could tell he was getting fed up and he even asked me, “what am I going to do with you?” As if I were being difficult on purpose!

How he triggered my depression (and didn’t care)

After five failed attempts at treating me, he finally gave up and told me to follow him into his office. He took out a list of foods, basically told me to become vegan, and gave me a hard lecture on eating meat and dairy.

He told me that my cancer would come back and would kill me if I didn’t follow his instructions. He scoffed at me for following the directions and prescriptions of my oncologist. He then proceeded to question my knowledge of an alkaline diet, when I could not answer, he explained things in a patronizing way, asking me if I understood what he was saying after every sentence.

He made fun of me for being in a graduate program but not knowing what causes cancer and what to eat to prevent it. The only thing he did not do was call me a “stupid cow”.

All through the lecture, I was crying. Who did he think he was to treat me that way? He does not know me; he does not know anything about my life and circumstances, nor does he care, yet he thinks it is ok to make me feel like crap?

I left the building and continued to cry for another half hour. He triggered my depression and suicidal thoughts. He made me feel that I was not good enough.

Needless to say, the last thing I wanted was to follow his instructions and see him after a week. I went to bed and slept all afternoon. It was awful to wake up at dinner time and realize that it hadn’t just been a nightmare. I barely ate and went back to bed.

The next morning, I had no idea what I could have for breakfast. I ended up having an egg, even though he had forbidden it. I did not have coffee, he forbid that as well.

I know that he has his reasons for wanting me to follow a vegan diet, but he did not offer much guidance on how to go about it. This is new territory for me.

He also expects results in a week!

Taking back the reins

Here is how I decided to deal with this.

Acknowledge that this has more to do with him than with me. He has expectations. That does not mean I need to react to that. I knew that he would probably forbid some foods that I like; that was not news to me. What really got to me was the way he treated me. He was brusque, patronizing, and incompassionate. I behaved very decently and respectfully, and my only regret is having broken down instead of standing up to him. Somehow I doubt that would have helped anyway.

Acknowledge my feelings. I got triggered. My depression came back in a sudden wave. I questioned my whole life and my reasons to keep going. It was a very powerful feeling. I had to draw upon to all my emotional tools, acquired during the past four years of therapy, to be able to see what was really going on. I had to console my inner self, that frail part of me that makes me feel I am not good enough, even though I know better. I had to put it in perspective, tell myself that he does not know me, that if he had known he probably would not have done what he did. I also had to remind myself that my peace of mind comes first, that I have had a very hard time these past few years, and that I do not deserve, nor desire, to be treated like that.

Remind me of my achievements. I had been fine, up until his harsh demeanour. I was feeling quite content with my progress. I was not anxious, I was not depressed. I had been eating better. I had lost weight. I had been running. I am closer to graduating. I managed to do all this in spite of everything I went through. I am strong. I have courage. I do not deserve to be treated like he treated me. He is wrong, not me.

Following his directions is my choice. I first felt defiant and did not want to do anything he said. I realize that it is a childish behaviour, but I also realize that it stems from having been hurt. Once I deal with my feelings I can evaluate what I want to do about his advise.

Seeing him again is also my choice. I do not need the pressure of having a deadline to become a vegan. I also do not need the stress of seeing someone who is going to judge me without knowing me and who is probably going to make me feel bad and trigger my depression and anxiety. I have control over seeing him again. The fact that he has expectations does not mean I have to bend over backwards to please him at the expense of my mental health.

Refuse to let him get to me. I may have cried, I may have felt depressed, I may have gotten upset, but I refuse to let him undo what I have worked so hard to achieve. I know how hard I have worked these past years, especially this past couple of months, to get to where I am today. I will not stop. What I have been doing is valuable and courageous.  I do not need to be up to His standards to be proud of myself. My life is far from perfect and I have a long road ahead of me, but I am proud of myself now and will continue to work for what I want.

The aftermath and some decisions

I went for a walk the day after the appointment. I did not have the usual energy, but I decided to show myself some self-compassion. I had been through a bad experience, after all, and was just starting to pick up the pieces.

I passed by a speciality store that sells vegan products and decided to go in. I ended up buying some new products to try. I had a vegan lunch.

I have too much to learn about veganism and have decided that I will slowly work my way to it. I have a little experience with vegetarianism, having tried it a while ago so I will focus on letting go of meat and poultry first. I will eat fewer eggs and dairy products, but won’t rush to stop consuming them.

I will cancel my next appointment with this doctor. I might consider seeing him again in the future. He is very good at what he does, but right now, he is not what I need.

I will continue to encourage myself to exercise and eat healthily. I will not let my being upset get to me and spoil all I have achieved this far.

I hope my experience helps you identify situations that might upset you, and also recognize that you have what it takes to overcome them. It is OK to get upset and feel depressed, but you can empower yourself and move on.

Keep going, my friends!

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