A lot can happen in a year, even with a pandemic occurring. Time compressed and expanded in a strange way this year. I had forgotten about so many of the things I did as the months went by, but fortunately I keep records. So just in time for the holidays, and also for making 2021 plans, here are the best and worst things I read and did this year.
Books are such a big part of my life. Books were partially responsible for getting me into naturopathic medicine, and they continue to provide me with new insights for practice. Here are a few favourites that I read this year.
- Change: What Really Leads to Lasting Personal Transformation by Jeffrey A. Kottler (2014). Every day, I talk to people about making changes in their lives. Sometimes the changes are small- like starting to take supplements each day- and sometimes the changes are big- like starting to exercise. Reading this book broadened by perspective on how people change. As a clinician, I’m often focused on persuading people through solid reasoning. However, often people make big changes because of moving stories, or because of an intense moment of clarity.
- Untamed by Glennon Doyle (2020). Glennon Doyle has an interesting life. She had a lot of success with her books and speaking tours on the topic of staying in a marriage with an unfaithful husband. After that, she fell in love with a woman. Her new love was more intense and real than anything she felt before, and she made the difficult decision to leave her marriage and risk her career. Untamed documents that transition, and I love the message of following what is in your heart. At times she veers into preachiness, but overall it’s a great read about authenticity, pretty much guaranteed to draw out some tears.
- The Joyous Recovery: A New Approach to Emotional Healing and Wellness by Lundy Bancroft (2019). Unflashy and inexpensive, this book was probably the best money I spent all year. Bancroft talks about how recovery from mental illness and trauma does not need to be a painful slog, as we usually picture it. He argues that it feels good to get better. He touches on an important reason for an illness that frequently gets overlooked: oppression. He talks about ‘the emotional immune system’: crying, trembling, raging, laughing yawning. His next book will be entirely about that and I’m looking forward to reading it.
- The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk MD (2015). Exposure to trauma is very widespread. Even when patients do not tell me about trauma they have experienced, often we are dealing with its physical aftermath: fatigue, chronic pain, digestive issues, and insomnia for example. I was searching for more information about why physical symptoms arise from trauma and what to do about it, and this book delivered. It is a very difficult read though because it describes many of the traumas van der Kolk’s patients have related to him over the years.
- Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth (2016). Grit is very well-written and entertaining. I enjoyed particularly the chapter about creating an overall professional goal. In my career, and I’m sure in many, the day to day details can sometimes overwhelm the bigger picture. It was nice to have a reminder to zoom out and remember the why. There is also a great chapter about raising gritty kids, which affirms the approach of being very loving while also maintaining high standards.
There was also one book that annoyed the hell out of me this year.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (1988). The Alchemist is a story about a young man who goes in search of treasure and learns many lessons about life along the way. There were so many things I enjoyed about the story and many of the lessons resonated with my beliefs, but all of that was overshadowed by the very problematic portrayal of the female character in the story. Santiago meets his dream girl Fatima in a desert village. He has to leave her behind in order to find his treasure and Fatima says, and I’m paraphrasing, “No problem, you are my treasure and I’ll happily wait until you either come back or don’t.” Which is just such bullshit. I did not expect to find such offensive gender roles in a supposedly enlightened book that has apparently ‘transformed the lives of countless readers’. Hugely disappointing.
I did do a few other things besides reading this year, some of which I would recommend and others I canceled. Here’s a recap:
Things I tried this year, loved and will stick with:
- Working way, way less – The pandemic lockdown temporarily ground my practice to a near-halt. Without childcare, I could only work for 2-3 days per week. It was not a sustainable situation, but it did open my eyes to the feasibility of having planned periods of working less, in favour of spending more time with Forrest. The sky did not fall, and we spent lots of time at the beach. Well worth repeating on purpose.
- Downhill skiing – on New Year’s Day, my friend Michelle took Forrest and I skiing and it was the absolute most fun. We didn’t make it out again last winter, but I will try to make it happen this winter, as long as the slopes are open.
- Co-counselling – In Joyous Recovery, Bancroft describes co-counselling, aka time splitting. It is when you pick a partner and set a regular time to alternately talk about yourself and listen to your partner. You help your partner clarify their thinking, validate their feelings, and act as their cheerlead and they do the same for you. I started doing this in April and have been doing it faithfully almost every week since then. It has been extremely helpful, especially through the stress of the pandemic.
- Ordering groceries online – Ordering groceries for pick-up saves so much time and prevents impulse buying. Excellent use of $3. Combines very well with meal planning.
- Chatbooks – I used to never, ever get around to getting photos printed. Chatbooks is an app that will collect photos either from your social media, or your favourited photos and stick them all in a book and automatically print and ship it to you. Amazing. Beautiful. Memories-DONE!
- Creative co-working – I frequently drone on about the benefits of accountability. As far as I can tell, no one has ever listened to me about the importance of it. I follow my own advice sometimes, though, and it really worked in this case. I love creative writing. When I do it on a regular basis, I’m a happier person. But it is very easy to continuously avoid it for any number of very rational reasons. This summer, I found two buddies who also wanted to write more and met them twice a week for two-hour writing sessions. It worked beautifully. One buddy stopped when college classes started up again and the other moved to Montreal, but he found a new buddy for me before he left. Stay tuned for my upcoming bestseller.
- Contact lenses – So glad I organized contact lenses before we had to start wearing face masks.
- Inverse goal – In terms of work-life, instead of setting out to reach certain targets, I made it a goal to avoid burnout. That resulted in some important changes behind the scenes. The biggest of those was increasing the number of office manager hours. I tuned into the fact that, when I have my office manager in, I feel like I could see patients all day. Doing all the administrative stuff is very draining and the biggest burnout risk for me. Taking the perspective of avoiding a bad instead of attaining a good worked well.
Things I tried, and loved, and then got canceled
- Gym membership. I even had a workout buddy. We got two weeks into our new routine and then lockdown began.
- A new planner called The Self Journal. I loved it and got used to it and felt ready to commit for life. . . then they changed the layout. You can imagine my grief.
- Online discussion group. We had fun with the Better Together zoom calls but it was just too much to keep up with.
Looking over all the things I did this year, I feel uplifted. This year has been difficult. The pandemic prevented and hampered so many plans from occurring. It has been like a giant weight holding us back. I’m sure you have seen the articles trying to find a silver lining, talking about the benefits of slowing down, the peacefulness of a simplified schedule. I say to that – hogwash. We did not want this. For most of us, it has been a hardship, not a chance to rest. Not knowing when it will end has been an additional layer of difficulty.
And yet. Despite the setbacks and frustrations of the pandemic, I’m still the same old me- always trying to do my job better, and squeeze more of everything out of life. And always spending a ton of time reading. Resilient as heck.
My optimism and enthusiasm is alive and well. New experiments continue to occur. I bought an exercise bike that syncs to live classes. I will set it up this Saturday. I’m learning how to make espresso-based drinks at home.
I have some plans in the works for next year. In January, I have an excellent continuing education day devoted to measuring progesterone levels for various purposes. I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into that. I have literally been waiting years for the presenter to create her course. In July and August, I’m going to work less, just like I did during the lockdown phase of the pandemic. I’ll have to work harder either side of the summer months, but the time with Forrest will be worth it. And in October I will finally get to see the new Dune movie, which was supposed to be out this month.
Well, that’s 2020 from the perspective of your friendly Kingston naturopathic doctor. I would love to hear from you about how 2020 went for you, what you read, what you tried, what was good and what was bad.