I’m sitting in front of a group of 30 internal medicine residents, having agreed to participate in a panel discussion for our residency program. The program directors recently incorporated a wellness curriculum, including content on mindfulness, meditation, and stress reduction. I am a part of an experiential component made up of willing faculty who are here to share their personal journeys with burnout, mental illness, and, in my case, substance use.
I have never spoken publicly outside of the cloistered rooms of recovery about my past struggles with alcohol. Physicians tell patients substance use is a chronic disease, like diabetes or cancer, but my past experiences of sharing my illness with colleagues have not always gone well. Some were supportive and kind, but there were also whispers, rumors, and quickly averted gazes in hallways. Some colleagues subsequently avoided me or have never treated me the same. The hidden message was clear: silence was better.