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If I were a lumberjack would I have been OK?

11 June 2019 - Dr Jan Orman

On my desk there is a very messy notebook (actually, if I’m being very honest my entire desk is very messy but let’s stick to the subject!)

In a moment of renewal this morning I decided it was time to get rid of all the detritus on my desk that was unlikely to be of any future use. The miscellany that has been put aside just in case I need it, that, when the time comes, is forgotten or unfindable. In the process of my spring clean (quite early in the process actually) I found the notebook that has kept me occupied for several hours. It is full of unfileable gems of wisdom that I just don’t know what to do with.

Here’s the thing that caught my attention most. It also made me wonder what was going on for me when I thought it important enough to write down:

“Doctor’s experience chronic and unrelenting grief (often other people’s)”

My messy medical handwriting means I can’t read the attribution, but I can say that, without a doubt, this is my experience

I feel bad about saying it already. I have not had the kinds of experiences that warrant “chronic and unrelenting grief” in my own life but I have heard many sad and desperate stories from many mouths, and they are engraved on my mind, the despair of others making a shadowy backdrop to my own life.

Its been good to have helped the people that I know I have helped. Occasionally an email or a call or even a special visit from a former patient tells me that their pain has passed, and that they are in a better place in their lives – a place that they say they could not have reached without my help. But there are many more people that I know did not benefit much from their relationship with me. They continue in their struggles, with or without me.

How do we cope?

Working in mental health we learn to manage the feelings engendered by our patients’ stories. We all use different strategies. We may depend on supervision, peer support or our own therapist. We may write our grief away, paint it or sculpt it into something beautiful, practice mindfulness or sweat it off in the gym. We may focus on improving our knowledge and skill to give the people we see the best possible chance, we may get politically active and become vocal advocates for the mentally ill or we may turn to God.

Whatever it is we need to find the thing that helps us manage our grief.

We need not to ignore it.

Sometimes I wish my natural talent had led me somewhere else entirely – but it didn’t, and perhaps I just need to learn to accept that and stay committed to my path. Or perhaps I just need to take more holidays!

Besides, I’m not much good with an axe.

( and based on the premise that every blog post should include a link to Monty Python here’s the Lumberjack Song again for your enjoyment )

Helpful resources:




Dr Jan Orman
Dr Jan Orman

Jan is Sydney GP, private psychological medicine practitioner in Sydney’s inner west and a GP educator for Black Dog Institute.

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