This I Believe

Elizabeth - Baltimore, Maryland
Entered on October 30, 2007

I believe in the separation of work and home mentalities.

Don’t get me wrong; I love my job, and, as a budding psychiatrist, often find myself thinking about my patients and about various to do lists in my off hours, few though they may be. It is more the work mindset that is my pitfall, and one I must struggle against in my personal time. As a resident at an academic center, I am exposed to a fascinating panoply of psychopathology and am learning a vocabulary to describe it. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to leave the vocabulary in the office.

My husband’s moods? Maybe not so benign. Perhaps he has Major Depression. My sister’s compulsive checking rituals? Maybe not so quirkily cute. Perhaps she has Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder. My friend’s mother’s behavior that we chuckle over? Maybe not so amusing. And so on. Everyone in my life has recently acquired a patina of neuroticism, a whitewash of jargon I employ in my excitement to explain, well, everything.

Until a recent trip to the grocery store with my husband. In the middle of what I thought was a well reasoned argument for the diagnosis of an eating disorder in a mutual friend, my husband noted, “You know, since starting residency, there has been an explosion of people with ‘disorders’ in our lives.” His comment stopped me in my tracks. I was initially defensive; was he suggesting that I was satisfying some need in myself by hunting for labels I could paste on people? We had talked about all these people for ages and agreed they had issues. How could he now disagree just because I had names for those issues?

He didn’t disagree. Those issues all still existed. But did they really need names? My husband’s moods and artistic temperament contribute to his writing prowess. My sister’s scrutiny of all things minutiae is well utilized in her job as a Human Resources Manager. My friend’s mother? Well, maybe she’s actually a little bit nuts. But just a little. The important point was that none of these people were significantly impaired. And perhaps more notably, none of them had asked for my opinion.

My husband and I still gossip, and I don’t hesitate to voice my opinion, solicited or not, when I think someone is unsafe. But the rest of the time, I keep my thoughts to myself, and leave the white coat mentality in the office, where it belongs. You can’t treat your family or friends, and I prefer to keep the ones I’ve got.