National Suicide Prevention Week starts today.
For nearly 10 years, I’ve run a doctor suicide helpline. Most frequent question I get: WHY?
Short answer: I was a suicidal doctor and I survived.
This year I wrote my memoir. Now I’ve got way more insight.
Here’s my mom’s favorite quote: Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Here’s the version she wrote across the drywall before she left Dad: Those who do not remember the past are doomed to relive it!!” (see video)
I’d never seen graffiti inside a house. Not in our neighborhood. Do all psychiatrists scribble on the walls with their kids’ Magic Markers? Or just Mom? On the surface, Mom was warning Dad of our impending exodus. But what if her words were meant for all of us? What if I lack understanding of my own past, and my lack of insight has led to habituated behaviors that no longer serve me? As a control freak I’d like to at least voluntarily choose my behaviors rather than be doomed to unconsciously repeat the familiar psychopathies of my past. I’d also like to fully unpack my obsession with physician psychology and suicidality.
As a child, my primary parental figures were Mom (a psychiatrist) and Dad (a philosophy major turned pathologist). I also spent years without Dad while living with Mom and her lesbian partners, one year with Vera (a psychiatric social worker) and four years with Elena (a child psychotherapist).
Since I was raised by a suicidal psychiatrist, a psychiatric social worker (who died by suicide), a child psychotherapist, and a philosophy major with failed marriages to two psychiatrists, a psychiatrist friend suggested I read Children of Psychiatrists and Other Psychotherapists—the first book to “explore the paradox”— of why “the very group of people who ought to be the best prepared for raising sane, mature, ‘normal’ children is reputed instead to fail at a spectacular and grotesquely comical scale.”
I’ve read the book three times and stalked the author to thank him by phone. Now I get why I’m trying to save doctors’ lives. To survive my childhood, I had to master physician psychology—to save my physician parents from their own psychopathologies. Now I’m helping my colleagues.
I guess my history IS repeating itself.
Repetition compulsion is a defense mechanism in which we unconsciously & habitually repeat an event over and over again—until we consciously decide to stop. So why compulsively repeat our most painful events? In our quest to gain a belated mastery over our own trauma, we yearn to relive it so we can finally create what we’ve always yearned for—a happy ending.
It’s why my dad married two psychiatrists.
It’s why I’m compulsively helping doctors.
I’m just trying to have a happy ending.
If I can help save a doctor, maybe I can somehow save my parents.