Dr Andrea Peddingtion, in her presentation at TEDxPeterborough, speaks on the subject of self-love. She explains her struggles for achieving this mental state. Demonstrating to her audience how society brands individuals, Dr Peddington presents the challenge of openness and self-acceptance.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: My journey to self love by Dr Andrea Pennington
Dr Andrea Pennington – Physician & Author
Could you look yourself in the mirror and say: I love you, me?
A few years ago, I couldn’t. Saying those four words would have been really difficult. I did not love myself, and I didn’t see what could possibly be lovable about me.
Well, I’ve come a long way since then. And now not only will I say those words, but I will also sing them for you as well.
Today I’ll share a bit of my healing journey from self-hatred, to real self-love. It’s the true story of how music saved my life and set me free from several diagnoses, including depression.
I was born in Nevada, and when I was three years old, my parents got divorced. My mother then moved our family to Denver, Colorado so she could finish medical school. When she got into private practice, I was shuffled between school and the babysitter and my older sister.
When it was the weekends, I begged my mom to go to the hospital with her. So while she did her patient rounds, I would hang out in the gift shop. And I was always very quiet and well behaved, mainly because at home, my mother repeated often, ‘children are to be seen, not heard,’ just as she was told when she grew up.
Now the conversations on the phone with my father were mainly about how I was doing in school. He came from the generation that believed that with an education, you could get a good job, a pension, and a secure future.
So when he found out that I was performing in a music recital, or a school play, I often heard the tone of disapproval in his voice. He told me I needed to focus on my grades. Successful musicians and actors are just one in a million.
My dad grew up in Tennessee. It’s one of the United States known for country music. And many people travel there to look for fame, but very few people find it.
Now my dad is actually an excellent guitar and banjo player, and he excels in photography. So it’s really not surprising that music and creative arts are natural passions for me. But he always discouraged me from pursuing them as a career, because he had seen too many people try and fail at that.
So I worked really hard at school so that I could keep my dad’s approval so that I could keep performing in theater, band and choir. It was through music and theater that I could move and release the emotions that were bottled up inside of me. And it was on stage that I was finally told it was good to be seen and totally acceptable to speak up and sing out loud.
So, when I got to university, I performed in community theater, I discovered video production, and I became the general manager of our campus TV station as a pre-med student.
And this is when my father told me that I was a dilettante, just like him.
Enter diagnosis number one: dilettante, a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts without serious commitment or knowledge. Synonyms include dabbler, tinkerer, trifler, amateur, non-professional, non-specialist. Pretty negative, right?
Isn’t it amazing how quickly we slap a label on anything that’s outside of the box, instead of encouraging the individuality within each of us?
Once again, my father urged me to focus on my studies so that I could get accepted to medical school. And I felt that need to hide and downplay my true passions and interests. I didn’t want to be seen as not serious.
So from childhood to early adulthood, I became a chameleon. I did everything I could to look, sound and behave in serious, acceptable ways.
And over time, I noticed this growing sense of unease. I never quite felt comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t feel like I was good enough. And I was terrified that someone would find out I wasn’t smart enough.
And sadly, I never got to enjoy the fruits of my hard labor. Getting all A’s on a report card or a standing ovation. Didn’t make me feel good about myself, or proud.
In fact, my self-worth never increased based on the things I did, but I still tried really hard to be perfect. And I remember feeling intense shame, anytime that urge for creative expression bubbles up inside of me. It was not a fun way to live. And I was pretty sad and alone.
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.
First, I saw a total life review, where each and every decision I made, whether consciously or not, logically led to that point of depression. I saw that when we come to earth, it’s up to us to decide who we will be and what we will become, not our parents, society or even religion.
And when I understood that, I have the power to choose, and my choices impact my experience and my feelings. That’s what I was shown a vision of just a beautiful, sparkly future. That inspired me to say yes to life.
I came back into my body and that depression was gone. I came out of that experience, knowing that no matter the drama and trauma we endure or the karma we accumulate, at our core, we are pure, truly lovable. And we deserve to be celebrated for our uniqueness; not crammed into some box of conformity.
Thanks to the awakening, inspired by my musical epiphany, I was able to surrender my ego and reconnect with the essence of my true self where all of my past programming was replaced, and I left Caen, a changed woman.
The last city I visited before returning was Barcelona, where once again I stood on stage to sing, and it’s where I met this beautiful singer-songwriter named Meritxell, the Latin Queen of Soul.
And we found out that we lived not 30 minutes apart back in DC, and we pinky swore that we would get together when we returned.
When I got back home, I started to dismantle the life I once knew and hated. And I began to design my diamond life, as I now call it. I deepened my spiritual practice with yoga, meditation and Qigong. I started singing and writing music more. I performed with Meritxell, and we got together to work on a song, which I will sing for you today.
Reconnecting with music saved my life. And it allowed me to live as my authentic self. I was able to replace that heavy dark cloak of depression with a light cape of creativity. It also inspired me to launch a not for profit, real self-love movement, to freely share resources for healing and self-love tools through books, documentaries, events, and of course, through music.
So before I sing for you, please know this: I don’t think that you need to move to a foreign country, perform on stage or even have a mystical out of body experience to learn or remember that you are truly lovable and accepted as you are.
My experience was quite a convoluted adventure. But I know now there’s a gentler path to reviving the authentic self. It’s about returning to your true home.
So what about you? Have you been wearing that fake ‘I’m fine mask’, but deep down inside you feel that urge, that rumbling inviting you to be truly you? Have you been placed into a box of diagnoses that don’t quite fit? Is there a part of you that you have denied or disowned?
I invite you to reclaim those lost or hidden parts of yourself. Reconnect with what makes your heart sing. And it doesn’t have to become your career. But it may be the catalyst for your rebirth, giving you the courage to step up and live as your authentic self.
And remember, you don’t have to look like anybody else.
Now, I’m not sharing my story today to put any shame or blame on my parents. They loved me, and they did what they knew based on their upbringing. But my experience has inspired me to parent my daughter differently.
Now, many people ask if I regret becoming a doctor, I don’t. This line of work really satisfies my nerdy left-brain level of science. And it’s part of what makes me authentically me. It hasn’t stopped me from launching a branding media and publishing company to satisfy my right brain creative side.
Now, we’ve been told that diagnoses like ADD, depression and anxiety are these terrible brain diseases. And I don’t deny that they are real conditions and I’m in favor of effective treatments.
But I believe they may be symptoms of disconnection with the authentic self, losing the connection to your true essence and having your power to choose stripped away through early childhood experiences, may be part of why you feel so bad. I wasted so much time and energy, trying to give the word dilettante, a positive spin.
But I realize it’s an archaic, outdated term. It’s so much healthier for me to embrace my true nature as a multipotential Renaissance human.
I believe we all need to embrace all of who we are to be truly healthy, happy, whole, and fulfilled. It’s my deepest desire and my highest wish that you can also look yourself in the mirror and say, I love you. Me.
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