When I got to medical school, I studied day and night. And for the first time, I had no time for all of the artistic things on the side. And that underlying sadness, well that turned into really dark moods.
So I went to Student Health Services to get some help. And that’s when I received diagnosis number two, depression.
The doctor gave me three prescriptions, one for antidepressants, one for sessions with a therapist. Now the therapy sessions were actually helpful. It felt good, to finally confess how stressed and sad I was.
The antidepressants, though, they just made me feel numb. Instead of low moods, I felt flat.
But the third prescription she gave me was the most effective and the most surprising. When I applied for medical school, this same doctor interviewed me, and I was surprised that she remembered that I play classical piano.
She asked, ‘How often do you play the piano now?’ I looked at her like she was crazy. Who has time for playing music when you’re surrounded by brainiacs who seemed to know everything already when I have to study constantly. She suggested that I play the piano for 30 minutes a day.
And when I looked at her like she was off her rocker, she said 30 minutes a week. To this doctor, it seemed completely logical and totally acceptable, that I should engage in an activity that brought me joy. And expressing myself through music always felt good. Yet I denied myself that pleasure when I needed it most.
My mind had been so programmed to deny, shut down and belittle myself for my creativity that I was really suffering. Well, I took her advice, and I started playing piano more. And I’m convinced that this is what got me through med school alive.
Now, I wish I could say I graduated with total self-acceptance. But no.
When I got to my medical residency, I basically threw myself into the 100 Hour Workweek with gusto. And I also studied acupuncture and Chinese medicine. And once again, I heard a judgmental voice telling me I needed to seriously focus on just one thing. But it wasn’t my dad.
Apparently, the people around me were confused by my integrative and holistic approach to wellness and my multiple interests. I heard things like ‘Are you a doctor, actor, singer, acupuncturist?’ The assumption was that I was unfocused, not serious.
But why do we have to be only one thing? And why can’t we celebrate all parts of us? Have you ever felt a little bad because you have a lot of ideas or interests? Yeah, thank you. Lots of things you want to explore? Well, these people told me they thought I had ADD. Welcome to diagnosis number three.
Once again, I felt the need to suppress my authentic self even more. I became an aggressive go-getter, intensely driven to build up my credibility through advanced degrees, licenses and certifications. The joke in the family was: Andrea has more degrees than a thermometer.
All of the shiny wealth that I earned did not spark any joy. Instead, I had these constant thoughts that it was never enough and nothing really mattered. And I woke up every day, feeling totally empty. I dreaded leaving the house, and it was only a sense of obligation that motivated me to put on that happy face and rally for the daily grind. I was a functional depressive.
Just three years into my professional career, I had published my first book, appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show multiple times. And I regularly stood on stages, flashing a smile from ear to ear. But that smile did not reflect true happiness.
On the inside, I was miserable, but nobody knew it because I hid that too. The price for driving myself so intensely and constantly searching for approval had given way to feelings of self-hatred and burnout. And like a dark, heavy cloak, depression became a constant presence in my life. It was as burdensome and constricting as a tight coat soaked through from the rain and dripping in black sticky tar.
And this cloak of depression had an oversized hood that would droop over my eyes, blocking my vision, it compressed my ears, muffling the rich sounds of life in the music of my heart. And worst of all, it allowed sad thoughts of hopelessness, to sink into my mind.
Then I hit rock bottom.
In 2005, I asked God to take my life. Now, I was not suicidal. I had no plan to harm myself. But I did not want the life I was living to go on anymore.
While I was on vacation in the Mediterranean, I was invited to sing at this glorious hotspot in Saint-Tropez. As I’m on the mic singing my jazzy soul tune, I watched as a sea of people moved and swayed. And I felt free. I felt as though I were being received as me.
And when I got to my hotel in Caen, I woke up the next morning thinking, ‘What just happened?’ There I experienced pure bliss and total flow.
And in two days, I’d have to go back, back into that dark, depressing box of conformity. And that’s when I lost it. I cried out to God saying ‘take it, take my body, my talents, my business, I don’t know what I’m doing with it’. And as I cried, I was shaking, I flung myself onto the bed, and I felt my body melt into the bed.
There was this intense bright light. And I felt myself being drawn into the light. And as I left my body, I thought God was answering my prayer. And that’s when I saw several visions that completely changed my entire perspective on life.