“Who are you to judge the life I live? I know I’m not perfect-and I don’t live to be-but before you start pointing fingers…make sure your hands are clean!”
– Bob Marley
In high school, I didn’t become popular until my junior year. I know, I know…hard to believe, right? LOL… No really…most students felt I was nice and reserved. The girls found me cool and non-threatening, which is important in the ranks of teen girls. The guys thought I was a cute nerd. My presence didn’t rock the boat too much. This one guy, however, would never hesitate to let me know how special I was.
He was a football player and an underclassman. This upperclassman thought, “what more juvenile combination could there be?” I found him annoying at first and would dismiss his advances as jock talk. But with time, I looked forward to the flirtatious banter and yes…eventually, I became his girlfriend. How sweet, right? To us, we were on our own planet. Yet, our social solar system somehow became misaligned by our union. Several teachers, administrators, and parents felt we were from “different side of the tracks.” At the time, I was being groomed to be school queen, and “guys from his neighborhood” were viewed as “troublemakers.” Veiled by the innocence of our affection, it didn’t become apparent that people were displeased until my popularity rose. That same year, I was elected school queen and “Student of the Year” by my peers. I saw the faculty sneer and heard the comments.
“Why him of all people?”
“How does it look?”
“What is she thinking?”
“Someone should talk to her.”
My world view began to shift. After all, these adults were my role models, instructors, and mentors. How could my choice in companion make such a huge impact on their perception of me? Their behavior led to cognitive dissonance in this young mind. As a result, I skipped prom to go on a date with him. TUH! That’ll show ‘em! Teenage logic is so wrong, but it seemed so right at the time. When the new high school queen was announced at prom, I was nowhere to be found. They panicked and called the authorities and MY PARENTS! I was mortified. Of course, everyone blamed him as a negative influence when it wasn’t even his idea. The truth is, his mom and stepdad took us to the movies to see Anaconda. We would have made it back unnoticed had I not “become popular” and required announcement at the prom.
This young man acknowledged me long before the crowd. To date, he is one of the most giving, protective and attentive guys I’ve ever known. Unfortunately, he has since passed away, but I think of him often. I reflect on the life lessons instilled in me from that experience:
1. We are often too consumed by the “book cover” that we don’t take time to read the content. This can occur in patient-provider interactions when assumptions are made based on ethnicity, gender, age or socioeconomic status. To do so is to cheat oneself out of the fullness and richness of an unbiased interaction. Also, these misperceptions can lead to misdiagnoses or improper and incomplete care.
2. Acting impulsively can have devastating consequences. If I could speak to my younger self, I would tell her not to skip prom because it would reinforce the fallacy of those adults’ message. Instead, I would instruct my younger self to challenge those myths with facts. In my career, I have witnessed some physicians’ socio-political commentary regarding patient care and watched interactions be marred by prejudice. Instead of attacking them, I listen respectfully and then respond with fact. Not all patients from that “certain neighborhood” respond a “certain way.”
3. Being in the spotlight has both perks and pressure. “To whom much is given, much is required.” The accolades are nice but admittedly, I haven’t always dealt with the pressure so well. Healthcare professionals are at higher risk than the general population for drug and alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety, and suicide. My sermon about self-care to my patients comes from a very real and personal place. Without it, the spotlight seems more like a heat lamp or frankly Hell. The ministry of healing is lost if first the physician is not kind to herself.
Dr. Dee is a board-certified neurologist with specialty training in clinical neurophysiology committed to educate the community on how to live more healthy lives.
*Cognitive dissonance, a theory described by Leon Festinger, is psychological terminology that refers to the inner conflict that arises when an individual is faced with information that contradicts core beliefs and values. #DrDeeMD