Speaking to Medical Professionals

Hello everyone my name is Linda Mthenjane. I am a clinical psychologist and an Imago Relationship therapist practicing from Rivonia.

How do we as South Africans even begin to thank you for this heeding this courageous call to stand in the front lines’ day in and day out and use your own body as human shields. The only way I can possibly think of is to say to you when I heard the quote that said – wherever the art of medicine is practiced with love there also do we find a love for humanity. That is what we call Ubuntu bangepela. As my kids would say – “You Rock!” Thank you thank you thank you.

So today we going to be talking about what undoubtedly you may be feeling as you ride this chaotic wave called COVID19. But what I want to focus on specifically is what I believe you can do to help you feel like you are keeping afloat. There are three key elements that I will be touching on. Firstly self-care – as I am sure you have heard said – you can’t pour from an empty cup – you must take care of yourself first. Secondly the space between us and our loved ones and or colleagues that we depend on are sacred. Especially during this time how our relationships whether with family or collogues need special care, because this is the well of goodness we want to be able to dip into from time to time to feel safe to feel affirmed and yes to feel loved. Lastly, I would like to touch very lightly on purpose, your purpose, your and yourself in relation to more than just your immediate surrounding, because the legacy you are building the history you are busy writing is something precious which from time to time I need you to remember. What is the meaning of all this?

So very often as medical professionals we are not expected to have normal human feelings – psychologists are not supposed to have bad marriages or their children are not supposed to be depressed, doctors are not supposed to be afraid or sad or powerless or out of control. But we know that the saying that doctor heal thine self-did not come from midair – probably came from the heavy omnipotent expectations’ society and our friends our families and even we ourselves have put on our shoulders. And often this means we don’t really have room to be vulnerable and really show and feel what we are being exposed to. So, I want us to start undoing this myth of omnipotence. Around you people are getting more and more sick this is the reality you are surrounded with


  1. Breathing and come into the present

So, first things first I’m just going to take a deep breadth with all of you and I encourage you to do the same, because this here want us to just close your eyes and take a deep breadth through your nose and breadth through your mouth. Let’s breathe again deeply through your nosex2. What is the point of this talk – is that we have to learn to ride this wave for as long as possible for brief time in our lives this is the new normal.

That’s what you must do from time to time during the day especially when you are feeling totally overwhelmed. Find a place, even a clean loo and just breathe just take 5 minutes to breathe. You know that slowing down your body in this way is the first step brining yourself back to your body.

For those who already have a prayer or stillness ritual, or mediate this one will be very easy for you.

Once again breathe – look around the room and name 5 things that you see – a well-worn bed, a brown filing cabinet, my white coat, my cold stethoscope, a picture of my Oath. Realize that in this present moment nothing you anticipated, you not sick, your children are not sick, your parents are safe. I have found that this really helps to lessen the negative feeling.

  1. Feel the feeling & Self Soothe

So how are you feeling? How are you really feeling? People often say stressed or anxious or depressed? What does that look like? What does it feel like in your body? Let’s ditch the big word and get back to basics. How are you really?

Sad for the loss of the world we knew, a world where physically touching a patient who was sad can bring a light to their eyes, routine of ward rounds?

Scared of this open tenderness when will it all end and will I be there when it does? I am having nightmares of walking into a ward of coughing people? Will there be enough masks tomorrow? What will happen to my family financially if I do get sick and am quarantined?

Guilty about putting your family through this, or not being there for your children during this time? I am sort of a pariah in my family – I am dipping myself in the swamp every day,

Excited yet guilty when you leave the hospital to go to your safe resting place? Overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of sick people to be looked after? Because when you name it, you can feel it and it moves through you? Did I wash my hands that time?

Angry to be away from your loved ones? Should I tell my partner where all the passwords are just in case….

Emotions need motion. It is important we acknowledge name what we go through. Not in relation to anyone else, not in comparison to anyone else but simply our feeling. Your work therefore in self-care is to feel your sadness and fear and anger. If we allow the feeling to happen and not fight or deny what we feel in our bodies this will empower us. Then we are not victims, but just normal human beings.

Does 2 things calm you and helps you move towards acceptance. This is my new normal this is what I have to do to cope.

  1. Balance your thinking by staying in the present

When you feel any of these intense feeling’s chances are your mind is racing you many even experiences what David Kessler called anticipatory grief. It’s that feeling you get when the future is uncertain, and what you then begin to do is paint with future with worst case scenarios. I have seen this time again in my rooms when clients say they have an anxiety disorder. There is something bad out there – and this breaks our sense of security. This fear of danger is unfortunately all too familiar in South Africa but this time the threat is absolutely nebulous. Our children spouses getting sick and dying whilst we are not there, we falling ill and never being able to return home, you goal should not be to totally ignore the images or try to make them go away but rather if you feel the worst image taking shape make yourself immediately thereafter to think of the best-case scenario for that same image. We will all get a little sick, but my family is healthy and strong we should be fine.

  1. Let go of what you can’t Control

Focus on what you can control, washing your hands, wearing your protective gear, Acceptance of what is where we will find control.

  1. Practice self-compassion

. Embracing self as you are warts and all. 3 things (Kristin Neff)

  • Treat yourself like you would a good friend, kindly. Watch the language you use towards yourself –
  • Common humanity – imperfect that’s what being human means – shared human experience – abnormal if I don’t achieve but this connect us to others
  • Mindfulness – being what is in the present moment – stop the self-critic you don’t need it to motivate yourself – you need kindness not judgement. Self-criticism undermines our motivation.

Definitely strongly related to emotional wellbeing and sense of connectedness with others.

And that is why I think Self care is an idea worth spreading.

So good people until next time stay safe, stay present and stay sane. Remember you Rock!