Here is the full transcript of neurologist Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq’s TEDx Talk Presentation on The Powerful Secret of Your Breath at TEDxFargo conference. To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio here.
Romila “Dr. Romie” Mushtaq – Neurologist
Doctor, lawyer, Jaguar, whoo girl, are those Manolos? President of the PTA. We often walk through life mindlessly, defining ourselves by the careers we choose, the things we buy, degrees — or in my case, designer high-heeled shoes. I click clack these Jimmy Choos right into the hospital room and announce myself: “Hi, I’m Dr. Mushtaq, your neurologist. I was consulted today, because I understand you’re having some physical symptoms that may be related to your brain function.” Oh us doctors, I know! You know, well that was the conversation I was projecting to the external world, internally my own mind was processing a little bit of a different story: “Oh oh oh, get me out of here! It’s 6:49 PM, and I had 22 more in-patient consults to see after a full day of clinic. Focus Romie! Oh gosh, I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe! Huh, clearly, I wasn’t happy.
So I would go home, stuff my face full of dark chocolate, buy another pair of high-heeled shoes online, and get up and do the exact same thing the next day. Honey, let me tell you it is not easy running on that hamster wheel and stilettos. You know, I didn’t know that these feelings and physical symptoms that I was experiencing actually had an official diagnosis: physician burnout.
You see, only us physicians are neurotic enough to make up an entirely new diagnosis for something that exists in the entire world: career burnout. I thought my problem was that I was a complete and total failure.
According to a 2012 Medscape study, almost 50% of physicians in the United States are feeling burnt out. But seriously, do we need another study to tell all of us how burned out we’re feeling from our jobs? Yeah, I know that this audience is full of teachers, accountants, and small business owners and all other professionals who have felt the exact same way. How did this happen?
You know, as a society we have upgraded from golden handcuffs to platinum shackles. How? We’ve chained ourselves to soul-sucking jobs for the sake of a paycheck, prestige, or pride. How and why? Career burnout occurs when our external world is not in alignment with our internal soul compass. Our life purpose is tied to this internal soul compass. What is it? It’s that place deep with inside of you where all the answers reside. You know, some call it your gut instinct, your mother’s intuition, your inner soul wisdom.
You know, when our life is not in congruence with this internal soul compass, it leads to stress in our minds and our bodies. According to the Center for Disease Control, 80% of doctors’ office visits are due to stress-related illnesses. And I know firsthand that the stress can kill. None of us are immune to the negative effects of stress from our careers. These common symptoms that occur are anxiety, depression, ulcers, difficulty sleeping, right?
While I was working 80 to 90 hours a week helping others in a hospital, I started to develop this disabling chest pain and this inability to swallow. You know, with my stressful lifestyle it was no surprise that the symptoms slowly got worse. It had to progress to the point that I was waking up in the middle of the night choking on my own saliva and vomit and getting frequent pneumonia. I really couldn’t breathe anymore.
It took almost seven years for a diagnosis of a rare medical disorder to be made called achalasia. By this time, the prognosis was grim. I was going to either end up disabled with an inability to swallow or even possibly had esophageal cancer. And while I was laying on the gurney at the University of Washington in Seattle in pre-op holding, waiting to undergo surgery, I can honestly tell you I wasn’t focused on the possibility that I could have cancer or become disabled. Instead I was in this deep pain and sorrow wondering who am I and how did I get here? And then from the pain and the sorrow, I blacked out.
You see, when our lives are consumed with mindless distractions, we sometimes have to lose consciousness to see the light. You know, I woke up after successful surgery and thank God there was no cancer. It turns out that my internal soul compass was so far off course that the stress was eating away at my mental and my physical health. You know, all I could do in that moment was muster up the courage to ask: “Oh my gosh! You mean I’m alive!”
And my surgeon Dr. Carlos Pellegrini just peered down at me and said, “Of course, you are. So what are you going to do about it?”