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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: A job well done in the year gone by

Rika Kayama

In December every year, I have more opportunities to ask the patients who come to my consultation rooms, "What kind of year did you have?" No doubt many people assume, "They're visiting the doctor regularly, right? Well then they couldn't have had a very good year." But remarkably, it's not uncommon for these patients to give such replies as, "It was all right," or "I had a relatively peaceful year."

    One patient told me, "I have the drive and energy to visit you once every few weeks, like I'm doing now. Considering that last year I couldn't even visit the hospital when I ran out of medicine, that's major progress."

    I nodded at those words with heartfelt empathy, and in my heart, I told myself, "You've tended to think only unpleasant things, like, 'I wasn't able to do that,' or 'I'm still at odds with my friend.' You should be able to think like this person does, saying, 'At least I've been able to come to my job at the hospital.'"

    We may barely be getting by -- somehow making it to work, managing to go to school, or having a meal. In such circumstances, we are hard to satisfy, and tend to lay blame on ourselves, thinking, "This is not good enough." In this day and age, whether we're "somehow" managing or "using every trick in the book," it's not easy to survive day in and day out. And surely there have been times when we feel like we're about to give way, thinking, "This is the end." But even in those situations, we encourage ourselves, saying, "No. Let's hang on a little longer," and somehow we manage to keep living. If we've reached the end of the year in spite of all this, we should be able to stand tall and tell ourselves, "Good job."

    In my consultation rooms, people often say, "I'm never praised by anyone." They confide that neither their parents, their husbands, their bosses, their colleagues, their neighbors nor anyone else tell them, "You're working hard." That's sad, but it doesn't mean that they're inferior at all. Everyone has their hands full looking out for themselves, and they don't have the time or energy to notice and praise the efforts of those who are very close to them.

    During the year-end season in my consultation rooms, I make an effort to tell patients in a loud voice, "Look at how hard you've tried this year." And then I tell myself, "There've been many failures and things left undone, but you've survived. You've somehow made it. Isn't that enough?" I encourage readers, too, to pat themselves on the back with those cheerful words. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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