Welcome to the August issue of WonderWell, a newsletter intended to gather the most groundbreaking research and insightful commentaries in evidence-based medicine, wellness, healthcare leadership, writing, and innovation to help you live and work in alignment with your purpose and well-being.
So…it’s been awhile! I took a few months off to focus on the first deadline for my book…yes book! Details at the end. Oh, and I broke my wrist (ironic, given the title of my book). Let’s say that the experience was eye-opening, as I had a first-hand glimpse into the American healthcare system! I also left beautiful New York City, a place that I got to know well, & fell deeply in love with, in sickness and in health. As mentioned in my last newsletter, we are living in very strange times currently, so the newsletter has pivoted slightly to include the same themes, but with a COVID19 lens.
Some things that had me wondering this month:
1. Can pandemic boredom be…Good?
Perhaps. At least according to a piece in the New Yorker and another in the New York Times Opinion Section. Perhaps some of our anxieties involve having to sit in deep contemplation — whether we like it or not. But what possibilities might this afford us? I loved this quote from the NYT Op-ed:
“This suggests that self-reflection can be intrinsically aversive…Sure, boredom is a signal that we’re underaroused, but if we sit long enough with our uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, boredom could provide us with an opportunity to rethink whether we are spending our lives in a way that is rewarding and meaningful to us. What things might we change to make life — and ourselves — more interesting?”
2.Election things and Current events
A big month in the U.S., as Kamala Harris was chosen as the Vice Presidential candidate, marking the first time a South Asian American and Black American was chosen for the role. This is a great article on what it means for many women who identify with parts of her heritage — myself included!
We also marked the passing of actor Chadwick Boseman from colon cancer, at the age of 43. This is a form of cancer that has seen an uptick among young (20s-50) people, and it’s a disturbing trend that serves as a reminder to take the signs and symptoms seriously, and to get screened. It’s also a reminder that we never really know what strangers, and sometimes even our loved ones, are facing privately — so kindness is key. There were lots of tributes over the weekend: this one from the New Yorker is especially good, as is this essay by Marvel director Ryan Coogler. What’s clear is that Boseman was motivated to use his platform and his work to advance social change, particularly as it applies to racial justice. His work speaks for itself, and he left a legacy — both in his work and all of those he impacted (the consistent theme is his humility, grace, and kindness) — which may inspire us all. This quote below, from the New Yorker article, sticks out as it reflects how often the industries we find ourselves in reward the conformists over the trailblazer. Personally, I’d much rather blaze a trail.
It is, perhaps, this very sense of history, of responsibility, of implicit but intensely personal political commitment, that also inhibited the acclaim, while Boseman lived and worked, from his timid and stumbling Hollywood milieu.
3.Are Doctors People?
I dug deep into the archive for this one, reflecting on burnout and the struggles many doctors are facing during his pandemic. Roger I Lee was an incredibly accomplished physician leader who also served in WWI. He also had a little mischief and sarcastic streak, which makes him even more interesting. This short essay is worth the read. His books are hard to find as they’re out of print — this one is next on my list, and sitting patiently on my nightstand.
4.Our memories and our attachments and….a contrariwise state
The theme of “attachments” has preoccupied me since January, for many reasons. I just gave a talk framing this idea within the context of the Biblical Book of Job, and William Blake’s rendering of it. This season finale episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History, builds on this theme in a slightly different way, and it will move you to tears. It’s well worth a listen, especially as we mourn many loved ones this year. After you listen, read this, from the Globe and Mail — a beautiful reflection on how we might mourn our old [pre-COVID] lives.
Sometimes the biggest attachments we have are to our opinions — so the challenge then becomes understanding how these opinions form (the best understanding I have is that it’s a confluence of information and our values), and what it might take to change our minds. I’m in the process of changing my mind about something quite significant (I’d share but am still cocooning it), and so this essay, on Medium, which touches on Heraclitus and Jung and the idea of “contrariwise” — that eventually we gravitate towards our opposite mind-state, is fascinating.
5.A book I’ve been enjoying
On my pandemic wish-list, since around March, was that someone, somewhere, might write an anthology — short stories and essays and images — about this ‘time of COVID.’ A written and visual “time capsule” of this moment, in other words. Well, Bill Hayes has done just that with “How We Live Now,” just released this month. Hayes is an amazing writer, whose subjects generally focus on medical nonfiction (everything from an exploration into the man behind “Gray’s Anatomy” i.e. the textbook not the show! And his own struggle with insomnia). He is also the partner of the late, great, Oliver Sacks (and this lovely piece describes their love story). I’ve been enjoying his latest book as a way to integrate my own reflections of this time, some of which will make their way into the last chapter of my own book. It’s worth the read.
6.Best tweet of the month goes to...
Adam Grant — with his tweet on which opinions we decide to share. It might especially be relevant for forums like Twitter.
“Not every opinion needs to be voiced. Not every emotion needs to be expressed. A key question: does what you’re about to share align with your values? It’s good to be true to your thoughts and feelings in the moment. It’s better to be true to your guiding principles in life.”
In My Own Words…
This month I gave a talk to the National Partnership for Hospice Innovation, on grief and attachments during COVID. I’ll link to the video next month. I also moderated an important discussion for Ellevate, on mental health, with a focus on this challenging period. Last, I’m pleased to share my formal book announcement — it’s slated for publication in 2022. Thank you for joining me on this journey!
Have a wondrous & well (and healthy, and safe!) month,
Amitha Kalaichandran, M.D., M.H.S.