It’s a Perception

As a predominantly controlling personality type, I like to believe that planning, preparing for the future, checking and double-checking everything, having a second plan, a third plan, a seventh back-up plan and so on… all these are good things. When working in the mental field, you deal with danger and you deal with immensely delicate problems, and showing self-restraint and being meticulous are important aspects. It’s about danger because any patient, without warning, can kill you or leave you severely handicapped. There are few other jobs similar to psychiatry where prevention and anticipation are crucial, and if you are not afraid then you are probably self-delusional or stupidly confident. Careful planning for each possible outcome is a good idea. Then, you also need to have a plan or some structure when you deal with gentle things, especially in psychotherapeutic interventions, when not knowing what to do or say, or doing the bad thing or saying the wrong word, can do a lot of harm. It’s like walking in a porcelain shop.

There are other types of psychiatrists. I am not the standard. In fact, I am rather the exception. I am a predominantly thinking person working in an emotional environment. I was and still am extremely lonely yet I do a job where relationships are practically the daily routine. I have an impulsive temperament, yet I show huge patience and surprising endurance to the lack of treatment compliance and the perversity of the patients. And finally, I am extremely judgmental and wicked, yet the job description includes tolerance, openness, kindness and compassion. I belong to a minority of specialists who live their professional lives as a continuous paradox, being challenged to be the opposite of their true nature. Being controlling and yet working in an unstructured environment is hard, but it can be learned and can be done.

When a controlling person is facing pressure – psychological pressure – she tends to go into 2 extremes: hyper-reflection and hyper-control. I don’t know the exact terms in English, but it’s about thinking too much and controlling too much. To the extreme, this means that pragmatic thinking transforms into dry and impractical analytical thinking (you tend to do less and to think more about many concentric plans). As the pressure mounts, the tendency to exaggerate increases, until you reach a point where you are truly neurotic. More of that and you get burnt out and you need to stop. There is however another way to deal with that, and it implies you know a bit more about the human psyche.

When I was training as psychotherapist, our mentor taught us during the hypnosis seminar that the more relaxed you are, the harder it is for someone to put you in a trance, which is basically focusing your attention. When you are angry, furious, or simply too obsessively focused on something, you are easily manipulated. When you are relaxed or if you manage to calm yourself, you are surprisingly tougher. Since that time I formed the habit to relax when things go beyond a certain point; the worse it gets, the calmer I get in response. The hotter it is, the colder I become. The more feelings go high, the less human I become.

To be truly efficient means to be well relaxed. This way, you can see alternatives, perhaps you can be creative. Feelings are nothing more than an unwanted noise at some point, and they destabilize more than they help. They are often a bad navigation compass to use, at least for my personality type.

I am surrounded by Coronavirus everywhere at my workplace, in the hospital. The patients are afraid. The staff is afraid. Some patients are sick with Covid. Some staff is sick with Covid. For me, it is simply another day at the office. I am under this pressure since I’ve chosen psychiatry. It’s true, I noticed that I have a different perception about danger when I discussed with so many people who said that they would never be able to do psychiatry. But on the occasion of this pandemic I could see that it is true; people see danger differently. Death and the perspective of being disabled following an attack of one of my patients have always been part of my professional life. I never had a strong illusion of safety. An unstable violent psychiatric patient or the coronavirus… it’s quite the same thing for a psychiatrist… This doesn’t mean I am not afraid.

You know… we are actually always in danger of dying or being disabled, no matter if we are psychiatrists, at risk of Covid infection, or simply isolated somewhere far away. The fragility of life has always been with us. The difference now is that most people begin to perceive what was always the case (and what was always the reality). We are not closer to death or handicap now compared to any other moment in the past. It’s only the fact that our perception is now clearer and, due to the abundant publicity of this pandemic (and due to the real risk), we are a lot more focused on this. From a certain perspective, we live now (well, those who can think) in a more authentic way.

For some time I use a new deodorant. It’s an expensive one, a present from 3 years ago. I kept it for “a great occasion”. I didn’t want to use it on a daily basis, to “waste it”. Seeing what happens at the hospital and how things evolve, I decided to use it. That “occasion” has arrived. It smells heavenly. As long as I can smell it… it’s okay…

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