How I Came to Be a Holistic Psychiatrist, Part I
Updated: Mar 1, 2020
This is my story...
You can learn the basics of my background on the "About Me" page of the website. But, there is a pretty interesting story that underlies that quick summary. Many people ask about it, so I thought I'd tell... Part of it, anyway.
What is your dream? What do you love? How do you want to use your precious time here? (All questions I've been continuously asking myself all my life...which I now also ask my patients...)
Bit of History
I was born in swampy South Georgia to a quintuple Aquarian (quite the visionary in his own way) real estate developer and his Libran wife (also a real estate broker-developer, previously an English teacher). My town was pretty small relative to city standards, and I had to create ways to entertain myself. One of the things I did was art. I was an extremely crafty kid. I loved to make little pompom creatures, jewelry, and other quirky art objects, and I painted on pretty much anything that contained blank space. I painted stools, tv stands, light switch plates, tissue boxes, containers, photo albums, picture frames, etc. As a child I can remember saving my allowance to go to the art store.
I am a sensitive person--Scorpio with Cancer rising (double water sign). I was and still am quite easily overwhelmed by intense energy, sounds, situations, etc. My family are all air signs (my one sibling-a younger brother is a Gemini). Air signs are more about ideas and mental energy. They are amazing in their own way but generally not as intuitive or emotional as water signs. So, I was the different one in my family from the beginning. I also felt like the different one in my community as I moved about socially, as well. To help myself deal with my incredible sensitivities I spent a lot of time in nature. I would have really loved the cultural diversity and opportunities a bigger city presented, but one advantage of being from somewhere pretty small is at least nature was nearby. It was not too noisy or chaotic. This was helpful for my fragile nervous system.
So, I didn't have theater class or orchestra, but I did have trees. Big, beautiful live oak trees that seemed to wear Spanish moss like Southern women wear pearls... Graceful strands of moss, abundantly trickling down long, knobby limbs. So charming is that moss. So soothing are those trees. (And easy to climb!!) They were my favorite thing about growing up in the South. And they still are my favorite thing about visiting there (besides my family). I literally spent hours every weekend exploring the wooded areas near my house looking for new trees to meet, climb, and sit with. They were calming to me and inspiring. They often seemed to be twirling. Grounded with a hint of movement. And they often have branches low to the ground, as if they are inviting you to be in their arms. It's so generous! I have always appreciated that quality about them. I really still am completely smitten with old growth live oak trees.
The photo that is on the homepage of this site was my all-time favorite live oak from back home. I called it "Dancing Tree". It was cut down a few years ago, which I consider one of the bigger losses of my life. Few can understand that, but it is how I feel. It (she) was a real friend and inspiration to me, which is why I feel honored to use her image to support my work.
So, I was the quirky kid who loved oak trees and art. I also made up and played LOTS of games (5th house suns, which I am, usually do). I was obsessed with varieties of hide and seek, especially. I have always loved mysteries, and hide and seek was a kind of thrilling mystery-type game. And playing dress-up. I have been obsessed with fashion since I was very young. My grandmother and great aunt owned a women's boutique in my town, and I used to model for it, work at it, go to the big apparel market (in Atlanta) to shop for it (with my family), etc. I loved trying on old but very stylish clothes I would find in my grandmother's house, and getting new clothes was always a fun opportunity for self-expression for me. (I was voted "Best Dressed" in my yearbook many years of childhood through high school.) That's another 5th house sun thing. It's all about self-expression.
If you don't know what I'm talking about re: the 5th house, I'll explain a little. Depending on what time you were born, the sun is in a certain position in the sky>>which correlates to a position in your astrology chart. Astrology charts are maps of the sky, and these maps are divided into 12 "houses" which correlate to regions of sky. At the time I was born, the sun was below the horizon in the area of the chart called the 5th house. The 5th house is associated with creativity, self-expression, games, play, love, parties, and children. Most people born with planets in that area of the sky/chart will have some bit of focus on those things in their life. The sun is the most important planetary body in astrology, so... 5th house suns almost definitely have a kind of "karmic" (destined) focus on those themes.
So, I was an artsy, fashion-loving, tree-lounging little swamp dweller when I was young. I was also a pretty good athlete. Kind of a strange combination, but that seems to be a consistent part of my "thing". I'm still a fairly strange mix of things! Ayurveda and WESTERN astrology (not Vedic). I love nature AND fashion. I love camping and fancy galas. I am definitely a paradox. I love travel and exploring, and I also am a homebody!! Being me is definitely a curious experience!! I have learned to be very inquiring: always asking myself "what do you most want to do right now...?" Because it is honestly hard for me to predict. Everything about me is moment to moment flow because I never know which part of myself wants expression in the moment until it shows me.
To leap ahead a bit to how I ended up being a holistic physician, I hope you are getting that I was fairly unique/different from the norm, creative, diverse in my interests/abilities, and also curious. I was especially curious about other cultures. I loved (and still love) interacting with people who have slightly or significantly different backgrounds. From another country, especially, is instantly enchanting! I've always found differences compelling and interesting, rather than threatening. I loved learning different languages, trying foods from different cultures, and exploring the different habits of people from different social groups. All of these traits/interests are part of how I ended up where I am now.
In 7th grade I decided to become a doctor after falling in love with biology (esp as it related to the study of nature) in an especially compelling science class taught by a lovely man we called "Coach". I guess he must have coached something at some point, but I'm not sure what. Football, probably. It is huge where I'm from. He also taught science...and beautifully. Turns out his brother was a physician working at Duke (where I later went to college). I ended up meeting his brother when I was there, and he mentored me a bit and helped me get plugged into some awesome pre-med type volunteer opportunities. It was a really special synchronicity. I found it very curious that these two brothers seemed strategically placed in my path to kind of help me along at pivotal moments.
I graduated from Duke, but I didn't start there. I actually initially went to the U of Georgia on an academic scholarship for 2 years. The fun-loving side of me really enjoyed that! But the more ambitious side of me eventually surfaced (after a series of, again, interesting synchronicities), and I wound up transferring. I was in the honors program at Georgia and even won an award for "Most Outstanding Biology Student" in the whole entire Freshman class (which is huge there). I really did love learning about how nature functions, and still do...
At Duke I took advantage of the more progressive curriculum, and I took a class that would change my life and pave the way for where I am today. Religions of Asia. It was def one of my top few favorite classes in college (I also really loved my Intro to Modern Art Class--I have an Art History minor. Intro to Jazz, Cultural Anthropology, Mythology, and Surrealism also make the list). Strangely, after UGA I didn't love biology as much. Duke opened my eyes to all my other interests... And the science classes at Duke were extremely competitive/intense. I still majored in biology. I just found it less enriching or stimulating than these other courses...
I took Religions of Asia my junior year, and during that course I read Rumi poetry and learned to meditate and do yoga. I learned Tai Chi/Qi Gong. I read the Bhavagad Gita, the Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Tao te Ching, and part of several other sacred texts from Sufism, Hinduism, Taoism, and Buddhism. I was completely transfixed by the information coming out of my professor's (who dressed in all green every day--the color of the heart chakra in Hinduism) mouth. Strangely, I rarely had to study for this class. I seemed to grasp the information very easily, intuitively (as if I was simply re-learning it). I made the highest grade in the class, the teacher told me (and for me it was the class which required the least amount of effort--interesting). I read everything and went to every class and "lab" (where we did yoga, meditated, etc.), but I didn't have to spend time "studying". I just learned everything on the first pass, and then I knew it. In my science classes at Duke, I studied and studied--putting in enormous effort for often barely a B+. Curious detail as it seems to show where my gifts/interests really are...
So, I learned to meditate and do yoga in college. I read some profound sacred texts full of thought-provoking ideas (I was raised Methodist, btw.). This was a time in the South where yoga was not yet a part of the culture. There were no yoga studios in Durham then (or even in more progressive, nearby Chapel Hill) or yoga classes on campus. So, I didn't go full-steam ahead into yoga/meditation and a more holistic lifestyle right then. This was partially because it just wasn't widely available (unless I was to do it on my own), but it was also because I didn't really NEED it yet. That would come later...in med school.
In college, despite loving so many classes other than science, I still felt committed to becoming a doctor. It seemed that nothing else rose above that intention in my heart. I was open to the possibility that something could. But nothing did. So, I kept heading towards med school. As I explained before, I have a 5th house sun, which means I have a connection to children. So, I started volunteering in the pediatric wards of Duke hospital. I actually found my heart really opened through the experience (a pretty classic realization for someone with Cancer-rising in their astrology chart...we are natural caretakers), especially with the pediatric oncology patients. I ended up creating an art therapy program for children with cancer while I was at Duke (and recreated it again in med school at U Michigan). I found children with cancer so inspiring in their vulnerability. They really did not know if they would live or die, but they were often so brave, so loving, so present. It was profoundly touching to get to spend so much time with them. And my favorite way to interact with them was through art. So, that's what I did... I learned how healing making art could be (I always knew this for myself, but "Art Outreach" was a larger-scale experiment with definite evidence for how it clearly was also helping others), how soothing, how connective.
But, I never thought of being an art therapist. That career did not even really exist then. Plus, I knew I wanted to understand the medicine-aspects of caring for people. I just also wanted to do art with my patients. I wanted to be a doctor who did things differently--who served the creative/emotional expression needs, as well as the biological needs, of her patients. I def was unusual in this way, but it was my truth, so I just kept moving towards it.
College was hard (all that science that wasn't completely resonating) and really took a toll on my sensitive physiology, so I decided to take a year off before med school. I won't go into too many details, but it is an interesting little side-eddy of my story. So, I'll say a few things about it. I spent the year in Breckenridge, Colorado...teaching snow skiing (part-time) by day (and working in a boutique (part-time) by night). I am a Southerner who skis. Really quite well. It's a curious thing because my parents do not ski. I had to beg them to take me skiing for the first time when I was a teenager (around 14). We went to Breckenridge, and I really just intuitively knew how to ski. I did not require lessons. I took one to learn how to "hockey stop", but even that I'd kind of figured out already. After only skiing a few weeks in my teens and on college vacations, I was advanced enough to try out and be chosen to teach skiing to others. That was a really fun chapter of my life! Wild and free on skis.
( What an Initiation That Was ... )
After my year off, I decided to go to med school at the U of Michigan because it was one of the more progressive schools in the country at that time (it was also the 6th or 7th ranked med school in the country then). UMichigan was one of only 2-3 schools in America that included some "integrative medicine" curriculum. I know because I definitely looked. I was still planning to be a pediatrician when I entered school, but I was already starting to think holistically and to want to incorporate a broader concept of healing into my career (inspired by the art therapy and yoga/meditation experiences I had in college). I loved that Ann Arbor was such a liberal and progressive town--with a wonderful "co-op", farmers markets, book clubs, drum circles, coffee shops, cultural events, a Green Party mayor, extensive recycling programs, large arboretum, trail system for running, etc. I mean, it's the birthplace of the Peace Corps. Ann Arbor is definitely an inspiring place (though it is cooooold in the winter!!). Medical schools tend to lag way behind their communities in terms of progression, but still, U Michigan Med School was a reasonably progressive place for the time with at least a few faculty interested in and teaching about holistic alternatives. There was even a small "Center for Integrative Medicine" within the Family Medicine department. This was a big draw for me.
So, most "holistic doctors" these days found integrative medicine recently. It's quite en vogue. Not so for me. I was an early-adopter, desperately seeking mentorship in an area that was largely looked down upon. But, I didn't consider naturopathy or osteopathy because quite honestly I'd never met an osteopath or naturopath. There weren't any or at least not many at Duke or in the South when I was there. I'd never even heard of those things before I went to medical school!! I imagine they existed (in small numbers); I just wasn't exposed to them. I trust this is because it wasn't the way I was supposed to go. If I'd known about them, I would have probably been confused.
This is getting long... I'm realizing I probably am going to have to include all of this in a book, hopefully sometime soon! I think I'm also going to break it up into two parts here, so it's not so overwhelmingly long as a single post. I so love to inspire others to follow THEIR very own unique paths, to learn from the experiences of their lives, to follow the synchronicities, and trust that life will always guide us to our unique destinies... That is really why I am sharing this story. It's kind of interesting to know the steps that lead a person to become who they are, especially if who they are is a bit different from the norm. But, my main intention is to be inspiring to others... with this and all things I share.
All my life I have been a bit different, and I've had to honor (and sometimes stand up for) those differences. At times I've had to fight for what I believe. It's been hard, but it has taught me so many wonderful things. In a way, I was kind of born to be a way shower. I have the planet Uranus (eccentric, creative, progressive, free-thinking) right next to my sun in my astrology chart. I also have the planet Mars (independent, assertive, courageous, bold) on my ascendant (coming up on the horizon at the time I was born). Jupiter (teacher, spiritual guide) is in my house of career. It is literally my destiny to be different, do different, and teach different to others...
To be continued...