“It was the beginning of this lifelong love affair with this idea that we each have our own story to tell, we each have challenges that we face in our lives, and each of us is equipped in a different way to try to face them, overcome them, or manage them. And I think that the field of psychiatry is, in a way, about exactly that.”
I don’t often use quotes from my guests in these blog posts, but this quote from Dr. Elena Tuskenis was simply too well said to not share. It takes us through some of the main points of this episode, and the points that I’ll be musing over here. We discuss individual narratives, finding meaning in them and our ability to choose, and the importance of acknowledging these stories in the healing process.
Everyone has a story. Everyone has a life. Everyone has experienced, and will experience, their own suffering, their own range of emotions, their own ways of living. I think this is something we all intuitively know but rarely put into words. It’s easy to think that your story is only worth telling, only worth knowing, if you are writing a book about it and intending to share it with the world. However, this just ain’t true! Knowing and owning your story, whether or not you intend to share it with anyone allows you to meet yourself where you are. This is where the healing begins.
When I think about my story, I often find myself only accounting for the things that happened to me and completely ignoring the things I chose. Sometimes I even subconsciously reframe things that I chose as things that were “meant to happen” and essentially out of my control. Now, I do believe that there is a larger force at work guiding our intuitions and all that jazz, but we still have a whole lot of choices to make on our own. Elena and I spoke about how the ability to pause and make choices, whether that be something as small as deciding to get up for a glass of water or as big as committing to moving across the country, can be oh so powerful. The pause allows us to make intentional choices and to be aware of our current state. The ability to choose gives a certain sense of safety in our lives. Whether or not you make the best or the right decisions, the choices are yours and that is empowering.
Elena speaks about her mom’s journey with pancreatic cancer on this episode, and how that was a notable opening to mindbody practices for her. Her mom saw these practices, not as a way to find physical healing or some kind of miracle cure, but rather to find meaning in her story as it was. This was a novel yet inspiring idea to Elena. Everyone has their own unique story, as well as their own way of navigating life and finding meaning as they write their own narrative. It matters less what the story says than what it means to the one who wrote it.
So many of my thoughts on individual narrative can be summed up well with the word “sonder”, meaning: the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. This notion of sonder is integral to holistic psychiatry, and key to true soul healing. Elena once told me that “you have to know yourself in order to heal yourself,” and she was spot on. This aside, the experience of sonder is perhaps my most favorite part of hosting this podcast. I’ve always loved getting to know people and leaning into the vibrancy of their life as we talk. It is so often our stories that make us who we are.
If you love these topics as much as I do, be sure to give this episode a listen. We talk further about Elena’s story, ponder the myth of quick fixes, and the beauty of simple solutions. Find Psychiatria on your podcatcher of choice, embedded below, or at the links HERE.
If you’ve already listened – What did you think? Do you have questions you’d like to hear Elena and myself talk about in a future episode? Feedback on something that could be improved? Any questions, comments, or feedback are welcome! Email me at [email protected]. Want to keep up with the show and get a heads up on new episodes? Find me on Instagram (@PsychiatriaPodcast). I can’t wait to hear from you! Stay curious, dear listeners.
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- Panel discussion – Medicating Normal: https://medicatingnormal.com/
- Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt: https://www.cynthiavoigt.com/books.php
- Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows – “Sonder”: https://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/post/23536922667/sonder
- Mad in America by Robert Whitaker (history of psychiatry): https://www.madinamerica.com/robert-whitaker-new/
- Bernie Siegel, MD (pediatric oncologist/mindbody medicine): http://berniesiegelmd.com/
- Guided Visualization blog: https://freerange.org/using-the-mind-body-connection-guided-imagery/
- Progressive muscle relaxation: https://www.verywellmind.com/do-the-progressive-muscle-relaxation-exercise-2584167
- Barefoot benefits blog: https://freerange.org/sole-heeling/