Have you ever found yourself beating your head against the wall? Acting out the definition of insanity (doing the same thing over and over expecting different results)? Feeling that you just can’t solve a problem no matter what angle you attack it from?


King Kong versus Godzilla. An irresistible force meets an immovable object. 

Do doctors get frustrated? Of course they do.

One of my online friends, Dr. Mike Sevilla, got so frustrated that he recently decided to bow out of social media all together. Another friend, Dr. Jordan Grumet, has gotten so frustrated and fed up with the status quo in medicine that he has launched a new type of practice, a concierge model of sorts, and is now sweating the details in hopes that it works for him. A third friend, Dr. Rob Lamberts, is a few steps ahead of Dr. Grumet in establishing a different kind of practice that focuses on his patients, their needs, and how he can give them excellent customer service with a limited amount of external oversight and hassle. 

Me? Well, you know what I’m struggling with. I don’t like the way psychiatric patients are treated in emergency rooms, in clinics, in hospitals, by the medical establishment. I’m trying in my small way to make a difference, to effect change in my small corner of the universe. 

Frustration is an emotional response to opposition. Whether one is trying to change a system, change an attitude or create a new paradigm, meeting with resistance and seeing that one’s will is not going to be easily imposed leads to an inevitable state of frustration. The greater the external obstruction and the greater the internal will to get it done, the bigger the frustration. 

Now, I happen to believe that with doctors, myself included, the frustration is often internal and self-imposed. We doctors are prone to putting on hair shirts disguised as button-down Oxfords in the morning. We self-flagellate with stethoscopes instead of cat o’ nine tails. We poison ourselves slowly with alcohol and drugs and food instead of quickly with cyanide. 

We doctors are taught that everything can be understood, parsed, categorized, and diagnosed. By extension, it can then be wrangled, manipulated, excised, zapped, and annihilated.

Doctors are healers. Fixers. Doers. Changers. 

Sometimes, the irresistible force of our indomitable wills and boundless energies rush headlong into the immovable objects of government oversight, social change and inertia.

We want to turn the aircraft carrier on a dime, to change course one hundred eighty degrees now. A big ship can technically be turned around in just a few minutes. The problem is, the deck will pitch at an angle of thirty degrees and everything that’s not tied down will slide off into the sea. 

How do you handle the day to day frustrations in your life? Are most of them external or do you fight internal frustrations that only your closest friends see? Do you really expect to turn your ship around, and what things in your life will slide into the sea and be lost if you turn things around too fast?


13 thoughts on “Frustration

  1. When I was a young woman my ship was running headlong into an iceberg. It required quick, precipitate action if anything was to be saved. Youth’s lack of insight was probably a blessing at that point because I did what was necessary, paid the price, and my life has been growing unimaginably better ever since.

    Now there is a new challenge. The irresistible force of my fundamentally happy, basically optimistic outlook is up against the immovable object of metastatic disease. I know how this will end, but I don’t know how the end will play out. I do know that I won’t blink first.

    Thanks for this personal look from the side of the desk with the comfortable chair!


  2. It’s a good day and a triumph over frustrations if I can get to humor before going grim and cranky(er). Although I have the blessing of working from a home office, I work in an industry that makes the healthcare look progressive and speedy. As an act of consciousness, I try not to internalize the external frustrations. Too much.

    Great post — content and writing.


  3. Great post! When you want to change the direction of a ship you can only nudge it and guide it slowly. Trail blazing is fun but it definitely can result in frustration. I also love the metaphor about eating a whale one bite at a time. One thing your piece makes me think of is the matter of influence. Wanting to steer the ship but having no power and influence is a source of tremendous frustration.


  4. Nadia,

    Great point.

    It is indeed very frustrating for me personally to be on the front lines every day, seeing some of the things that need to be fixed, and yet not being in a direct position to make the necessary changes happen.

    Are you speaking from personal experience here?


  5. I have an active coping style, which is great when in some situations but results in unproductive impatience at other times. It just depends on who can carry out the solution and how much time it might take to do so. I found myself being struggling with patience re: my wonderful but absent-minded husband. I actually made a section of my yard into a “serenity garden” to help me focus on what can change and what can’t. Life experience has helped a lot. I am much more calm in my forties than in my 30’s or 20’s. Cancer and raising a fireball teen gave me a can of “whoop ass” that resulted in the need to find a new equilibrium in my life. Mindfulness meditation, exercising every day, working reasonable hours, and spending time with my family have raised my frustration tolerance quite a bit. But I still get frustrated and if it is important, I tend to keep problem-solving until I can find a way out.

    Oh yeah, and sometimes I yell at people. 😉


  6. Great post. I am frustrated that I can’t change my bad habits – for good. I went through a major life change – being widowed – all of the books I read say I will be different, will be a changed person. I see some changes but I am still me. It’s been 3 1/2 years and I don’t see a major transformation. Unfortunately there is no one that sees my internal struggles.


  7. Very kind of you to say…. thanks. I love this blog, hearing about residencies, and medical schools, struggles, successes and affordable healthcare, and whatever else-I love it!,…I’m learning here and takin’ mental notes, will be passing a long as much information as I can to a friend. Thanks again for posting this blog- so awesome, and so helpful. Thanks again.


  8. Several years ago, I was calling my daughter to get in the house. I said (with a combination of affection and correction that we parents so love), “Zoe, get your butt in the house.”

    Then I remembered that I was supposed to be a pillar of the community. 🙂


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