Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 4, 2013
The United States of America celebrates today its independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. The liberty in this country speaks to a freedom of speech, a freedom of thought, which we cherish, both individually and as a country. Thinking, using our own brain, to analyze, consider, and weigh options is the pleasure of human existence. Getting to know one’s brain is the journey of life. Being encouraged to do this, depends both on a country that allows this freedom and a family that nurtures it, as well. Gina, forty-two, a fictional patient, reminds me of how hard it is to get into one’s own mind, particularly, if one is frightened about what’s in there. Gina did everything her mother wanted her to do. She went to medical school, she married at a young age, she had four children, all without any sense of ownership over these decisions. When I ask her why she became a physician she says “because I got into medical school.” Similarly, when I ask her why she had a big family, she says “because I came from a big family.” All of her answers speak to a person who did not actively make hard decisions in her life, but rather behaved in a way in which she passively took the path that she felt was expected from her. It is not that Gina is unhappy with her life, it is only that she feels confused as to how she got to where she is. “Maybe you needed to make your mom happy,” I said. “Maybe,” she responds, “but all I knew was that if I had the grades to go to medical school, I would be a fool to turn it down. I never thought about what it would be like to be a doctor. I only thought that I should try to get into medical school.” “Where do you think that came from?” I ask, wondering how she took pre-med classes without thinking about whether she wanted to be a physician or not. “My mom thought I was not smart enough to be a doctor, so I wanted to see if she was right or not,” Gina responds. “So you were reacting to what your mom was thinking and not taking charge of your life.” I said, feeling bad for Gina in that moment. “Yes, I was not independent,” Gina says. “I was a little girl in a big body.” Gina says, in a way in which she begins to see how she came into her current life. “Independence can take a long time,” I say, thinking of the long journey towards insight and understanding.