It took a traumatic spinal cord injury in 2008 to transform my life.
The experience was a radical awakening.
I was told that I would never walk again.
On one fine Spring Day in 2008, my life changed forever. I was walking to work when I was hit by a car at high speed.
My body was flung into the sky, and as I hovered, like a slow-motion movie, a few thoughts ran through my head.
See, a few years earlier in my late 20s I had ticked all the success boxes:
● I was working as a doctor in a reputable hospital
● I was happily married
● I had my own house and car, and
● I had a great network of friends.
You may be wondering how someone who seemingly had it all lacked self-worth.
How did that happen?
Being a perfectionist, I used to beat myself up for making the tiniest of mistakes.
I didn’t listen to my own needs when work got busy. I did my job on autopilot. running around from ward to ward, doing my charts.
As a doctor, I was programmed as a lone ranger. I did not seek help because that meant I was weak, not capable and not competent. My lone ranger programming made me feel isolated, disconnected, and helpless.
Isolated, disconnected, and helpless…..
Which was exactly how I felt flying through the air after being struck by a 3000-pound vehicle traveling 40 miles per hour. I landed with a Earth-shattering thud. The impact left me a paraplegic, confined to a wheelchair and told I’d never walk again.
But I was resilient and never gave up hope.
I spent three years in Project Walk, San Diego, United States and I did learn to walk again with grit, determination, and the support of my husband, family, and close friends.
At first I thought that the state of art technology was what was going to help me but after spending three years there I realised that my experience at Project Walk taught me a far more powerful life lesson: self-compassion.
See, my experience to learn to walk again was the exact opposite of my life as a resident doctor.
Instead of being on autopilot wishing that I had a catheter to not think about going the bathroom, I had to be mindful of each step I took.
Instead of being a lone ranger struggling to seek help, I connected with fellow spinal cord injury survivors, bound together by our common humanity and our common suffering being spinal cord injury.
Most important of all, instead of being a perfectionist beating myself up for every mistake I made, I learnt to accept myself for who I was.
Mindfulness, common humanity, and self-acceptance.
These are the 3 pillars of self-compassion, and these were the things that gave me self-worth – Not walking again, and definitely not the initial success I had earlier.
I’d learnt what it was like to be a patient on the other side of the healthcare system, and when I returned home to Melbourne, I threw myself into my new private practice in rehabilitation and pain medicine.
I became a mum and continued my studies. I managed to advance my career as a dual-trained rehabilitation medicine and specialist pain medicine physician.
I overcame my imposter syndrome: https://drolivialeeong.com/imposter-syndrome-pdf/ by using mindset mastery, and I stepped up as a clinical leader at work using my compassionate leadership skills.
If I can do it, you can do it too.
You are not alone.
Dr Olivia Ong is a physician from Melbourne, Australia. Dr Ong is also the Founder and CEO of drolivialeeong.com, The Heart Centred Doctor. Dr Ong is currently writing her book “The Heart-Centeredness of Medicine” which she has written it because she has not only seen and heard about way too many doctors who are verging on burn-out due to stress and overwork – she has actually been one of them. She has written her book in the way that she has to help doctors to find their way back home to their heart. She wants them to be able to lead the heart-centred lives they truly deserve.