Recognizing the Dementors in your Life

Remember the last time you felt like all your joy and happiness had been sucked out of you?

That, my friend, is a brush with a Dementor.

Yes, I’m a book dragon (not a book worm…too wimpy) and love the YA genre. So, the Harry Potter series hangs high on my top read list.

‘Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth. They infest the darkest, filthiest places, they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope and happiness out of the air around them. Even Muggles feel their presence, though they can’t see them. Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory, will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself – soulless and evil. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.’  (excerpt from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

These dark creatures consume human happiness, creating an ambiance of coldness, darkness, misery and despair. Because of their power to drain happiness and hope from humans, they were set as guards at Azkaban and prevented the prisoners from having the will or ability to escape.

J.K. Rowling did an amazing job personifying exactly how I felt at my lowest of lows in the form of dementors. Being so drained of happiness, joy, purpose, satisfaction left me feeling empty, isolated and numb. In the medical world, we sometimes call this burnout or moral injury (don’t get me started on this discussion).. Others refer to these types of feelings as the prison or pit of depression. However you term it….it’s suck-ville!

First and foremost, if you feel so trapped/stuck/defeated that you are contemplating suicide, I implore you to TELL SOMEONE and FIND HELP.  Studies are suggesting that around 40% of early career female physicians have had some suicidal thoughts.

So, if you are in this dark place that the only way out to you feels like ending your life, YOU ARE NOT ALONE and THERE ARE OTHER SOLUTIONS!!!

I will no longer stand by as a physician life coach and tiptoe around this issue.

My friends, colleagues, peers ARE KILLING THEMSELVES BECAUSE THEY FEEL THEY HAVE NO OTHER ALTERNATIVES. Physicians should have access to mental health resources and should be able to step forward unafraid.

So, why do we get so squirmy in this situation of a suicidal doctor? You know the “go to” answer, “If you are having suicidial thoughts, please go to your nearest emergency room for immediate evaluation” then we walk away and say to others, “well it’s handled now.” That feels like a cop-out to me.

I mean, I’ve been the ED provider that does the medical clearance for suicidal ideation and how is it typically handled…quick set of questions, quick exam, call in the mental health team to decide inpatient or outpatient treatment.

I believe my physician colleagues deserve more. So here’s my quick tips on how to help a colleague besides just rushing them to the ED:

  1. Provide a safe space and respect their trust in talking to you
  2. Help them name it. The “what” they are feeling, the circumstances that surround them.
  3. Acknowledge this is not their fault and not their forever reality. This can change.
  4. Anchor a support system (who else needs to be involved?)
  5. Contract for safety. Emphasize they WILL have to get immediate professional help but that you will not abandon them
  6. Support them in one small step where they can make a change or gain control (removing the possible ways (guns, drugs, etc) they have considered using for suiciding is a good one to start with. Next, deciding where to get help.)

Why is this so important…Because when a physician decides on suicide, there are no second attempts. We understand the body, we know how to get it done.

Went on a total rant there…but hey, it’s important. Ok back to to dementors…

Here’s the great news, just as Harry learned to banish Dementors using a patornius spell so can we stop up these emotional and physical energy leaks draining us dry. Here’s a visualization to use when you feel the dementors

  • Start by taking deep breaths. Breathe in for a 5 count and out for a 5 count. Pause at the end of your exhalation.
  • Keep doing this breathing cycle until you start to feel yourself relax or shift into a different feel.
  • Now, start visualize yourself in a bubble or shield. (I’m a child of a Star-Trek The Next Generation fan so my shield looks like the new USS Enterprise. Other examples I have heard of: a bubble of thick material, sphere of mirrors, network of energy. Whatever fits your fancy)
  • Your shield is surrounding your entire body and fits comfortably around you. Think about your shield as a complete protection, completed sealed around you (100% strength) See the color of your shield, sense the completeness of your shield for a few moments and feel the strength of your shield.
  • Start to check your shield. Any negativity coming at you is deflected of your shield. Anything friendly or positive gets to come through your shield to you.
  • Sit with how the shield feels like. (This will make it easy for you to bring it back into existence whenever you need it)
  • A few more breaths then drop your shield.
  • Expert tip #1: learn how to pull up your shield when you need it.
  • Expert tip #2: maintain your shield. If you perceive that there are any gaps, cracks or holes, just repair it by replacing the gap with new energy or mirrors.

By having a protective shield, you can bring awareness to what you are feeling. This should next help you to identify what activity, action, person, task, or situation is the dementor.

By getting really clear on what EXACTLY is pulling your emotional and physical energy can help you STOP THE SUCK!

Let me know if you found anything in this blog helpful! And, hey, I got your back!