There’s an old joke that a doctor’s life-work only delays what is its inevitable failure.
In the end, the patients are all mortal. This is the story of a GP – or family doctor – who often said this, smiling happily as she accepted that delay was, indeed, her life’s work, and when her own life was in jeopardy, and she felt less able to cope than she wanted, she came to a clinician in ELK-Health.
Let’s call her Deepinder. Deepinder came to us through a programme specifically for health professionals after one of her own patients, Simon, had told her that he had been supported by ELK-Health and that had been a major factor in him coping with a long period of dialysis prior to a transplant.
Simon had explained to her that he had been taught to recognise that when anyone experiences something bad, there are two separate elements to be identified, if you are going to be fully able to cope with it. Firstly there is “the difficulty”. This might be someone bullying you at work; it might be, as in this case, being diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. Like everyone, Simon needed support with “the difficulty” but this is, of course, what is traditionally provided by medical teams. So he received that support more or less automatically.
Secondly, though, Simon explained to Deepinder, there is your reaction to “the difficulty”. Sometimes this can be more overwhelming than “the difficulty” itself. Mindfulness-centred therapists call a negative reaction to difficulty “suffering” – so Deepinder’s patient had been diagnosed with “the difficulty” – which meant feeling unwell and a great deal of inconvenience – but his major problem was that he found himself unable to cope with “the suffering” – his negative reaction to it. Simon rarely drank, exercised regularly and watched his shape, and felt that getting kidney disease at his age was unfair and wrong. He became angry. The most convenient person to be angry at was his partner, and this then made him feel guilty. The guilt nagged at him and he began to enter a spiral into depression.
Simon came to ELK-Health and received a short course of treatment which was delivered initially face-to-face, but also over the internet. This was particularly important to him as he was the family’s main bread-winner – as his partner was “having” (though not “suffering from”) a difficult pregnancy – and frequent 10-15 minute online sessions could be done on his phone or laptop using a secure video link, without having to absent himself from work.
Very quickly, Simon saw that there is a big difference between “having” chronic kidney disease and “suffering from” chronic kidney disease. He told Deepinder that the choice was simple. “Having” chronic kidney was quite enough to deal with, so not “suffering” was, clearly, the route he wanted to take. ELK-Health could give him that choice. With support, Simon found that getting rid of “the suffering” was actually very easy.
Deepinder took all of this on board – particularly that Simon felt very strongly that his support from ELK-Health had helped him get better more quickly and, therefore, he had needed less visits to the GP and had been signed-off as fit more quickly, saving resources and getting him back to work sooner. Then she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Deepinder quickly realised that there were, indeed, two elements to the situation: firstly, the disease itself together with the everyday changes needed to find the time and energy to deal with it, and, secondly, the emotions she felt about having the cancer. She told her therapist that she was surprised, and rather ashamed that she wasn’t dealing with the situation better. It is very common for people in crisis to have a low opinion of themselves – and that can often be a warning sign that one is “suffering with” rather than just “having” something difficult. She asked her therapist: ‘Can someone always remove “the suffering” bit from the actual “difficulty”?’ The answer was ‘yes’.
And so it was. Deepinder loved the group sessions, and although she was initially rather shy to be seen in public, she was soon inviting patients from her practice to come along. She learned how to be able to cope, come what may – and found a huge relief in no longer simply “hoping for the best”. She was a joker, as we have said, and soon she re-acquainted herself with the pleasure that giving laughter brought to her life. ‘It’s magic in many ways,’ she told us ‘my surgeons have removed the tumours from my body, and you have removed disappointment from my life. I was never that fond of it, but found disappointment a habit that was difficult to shake off.’
Depender continued to come to our group sessions and then moved away. She was a frequent user of online meditations though. ‘I now have a resource to deal with almost anything. I can cope and that means I have control, not for its own sake, but as a resource in my life.’