I placed my book on the desk in front of Dr. F, slightly embarrassed. Despite all of my efforts and attempts to become friendly with vulnerability, it is still my greatest challenge. What I know now, is that vulnerability is not just about opening up and sharing that which feels dark or shameful to us. Vulnerability is also about sharing what feels most important, most special, most personal.
My instinct is to keep both the dark and the the special hidden from the light of day… leaving me safer, but most certainly less alive.
“Is this it?,” he asked. I nodded.
My book, “Saying Thank You“, published last week, is my second children’s book. These stories are an integration of my love of children, writing, and mental health. In psychiatry, and with my own little ones, I learn every day that the building blocks of emotional well being begin early in childhood. As parents, despite our best intentions, it can be difficult to begin conversations about gratitude, compassion, kindness, and mindfulness. Reading a book together is an opportunity to start the conversation, in a relaxed, connected way.
And while all of that makes cognitive sense, the visceral feeling of sharing my words still feels like a inexplicable mix of terrifying and exhilarating all at once.
It has taken years for me to manifest my love of writing. For years, I told myself that I wasn’t good enough to be a writer. For years, I told myself that children’s books aren’t “real” writing. For years, I told myself that it wasn’t important, because I had found something else–psychiatry–to be good at. I convinced myself that creativity was trivial compared to the science of medicine.
This was the voice of resistance, ultimately the voice of fear. I was afraid to put myself out there, not even quite sure what my exact fear was. Fear of failure? Fear of success? Fear of rejection?
And so it took years of sitting in front of the very desk upon which I now rested “Saying Thank You.” Dr. F has been my therapist over the last decade. Slowly, gently, he created a space safe enough to unravel those fears, amongst many others. In that unraveling, I was able to articulate what I wanted most: to write.
I wanted to write books that I would read with my own children, books that I would have wanted to read as a child with my parents. To write stories that will help children grow to be healthy, conscious adults. To write words that will inspire children and adults alike to live with a little more intention and presence.
As I write this, it feels strange that it was so hard for me to embrace and speak these goals aloud, first to myself, then to him, then to all the others in my life. I realize it was because of the deeper issue at hand–that I had to first believe that my desires were worthwhile, and that I was worthwhile enough to pursue them.
All along, I was waiting for someone’s permission, but ultimately, only I could give that permission to myself.
Dr. F picked up the book and opened it carefully. Inside of this book about gratitude, I had written a brief dedication: “I am grateful for you. All of my writing, all that I do, is because of what you have offered to me over the years.”
He turned each page, one by one, read the words, absorbed the pictures. He took it all in, as he always does. I won’t ever forget the care that Dr. F took as he turned those pages, a sixty something gentleman with grown children, holding a picture book in his hands.
It was the way he looked at me after he was done reading, how he saw the reflection of me in my story. It was the precision with which he listened to what was said and unsaid. It was nurturing, it was love, it was seeing and being seen.
In my self consciousness, I wanted to rush the moment along, move onto the next thing. But I wasn’t getting off that easily. We spoke of what “Saying Thank You” meant to me, what I wished for the book and those who read it.
Beyond that, he asked me to step back and recognize the journey that led me here, to this sacred place, whether it be this blog or these books. In the bigger picture, it was the journey towards understanding myself, what I truly wanted for myself, and ultimately believing that those wants were legitimate. It was the journey towards setting aside my fears and anxieties and allowing myself to write my words. It was the journey towards self expression.
I understand now the power and responsibility of both psychiatry and writing. In my years of therapy, I learned more about how to be a psychiatrist than I did in years of medical education and residency. As a result, I can understand and help my patients in ways that were previously not available to me. I can write words that will perhaps help children and their parents. My patients, these children, their parents, my readers, will hopefully then go on to live meaningful, mindful lives, live out their own dreams, speak their own words, and inspire others to do the same.
So today, and in the week ahead, I invite you to consider where fear and vulnerability show up in your life. Is there a step you can take, a step so small that you can’t not take it, one that will move you one step closer to manifesting what matters most to you?
With gratitude, Monisha