About Catherine Cheng, MD

I am a general internist in Chicago, Illinois, mother of two, almost native Coloradan, and Northwestern alum. I want to leave the world better for my having lived, by cultivating the best possible relationships between all who know me, and all whom I influence. Join me on this crazy, idealistic, fascinating journey! Look for new posts on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of each month. Opinions posted here are entirely my own, and in no way reflect the opinions or policies of my employer.

Decompress

NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

Life often turns out not—so not—how we want.

How do we cope?  Over and over, ad infinitum?

Between hope, expectation, and reality,

Where creep the fissures?

When they propagate into crevasses,

What do we feel?

Disappointment

Guilt

Shame

Anxiety

Rage

Resentment

Resignation

Drop in there, name it.

Spelunk the caves, Shine the light.

Allow, contain; then soothe the hijack.

Find the way out—it may be different each time.

Run; in place if necessary.

Punch, lift, kick, jump, yell, throw—just do no harm.

Talk, but only to someone helpful (if that’s not you, find someone else this time).

Write.  Anything, everything.  Doodle, scribble, jabberwocky.

Take that pent up, swelling, potential(ly negative) energy,

Held under pressure like a great balloon of hot gas;

Expel it.

Aim it to propel you, ya?

In the direction of your meaning, your purpose, your mission,

Or just your peace for now.

Life may be an exercise in elasticity, among other things.

Practice holding strong tension, then releasing it fully.

Repeat.

Condition and train this discipline.

We’ got this.

Always Be Learning

NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

There is always something to learn!

Every encounter, every event, every conflict.  Every book, movie, article, conversation.

It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, and we don’t have to brag or talk incessantly about it every time we learn something new.  It’s just good to notice when we find something we’ve never seen/heard/known/expected before.  File it, save it for later, make connections in experience for broader perspective and application.

I think it’s a mindset, really; one that encompasses curiosity, humility, and systems thinking, among other things.  This is the second time my NaBloPoMo life ‘action mantra’ says to ‘be’ something rather than do something.  And it’s okay.  Donna reminded me today of the Being::Doing polarity.  Learning is something we do; we can choose to do it actively—I bet the lessons stick better this way. 

But a Learner is something we are.  We can also choose to see ourselves as such, and I think it makes a difference in our attitudes, behaviors, and relationships—for the better.

It is how and who we are that manifests in what we do.

Persist

NaBloPoMo 2021:  Do Good, Kid

 “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Thankfully, growing up I never heard adults say this too seriously. It was always tongue in cheek, almost with a wink, acknowledging the inevitable inconsistencies between parental admonishments and actions. I took the implication as, “Be better than us; we want better for you.” There was also a sense of unfairness, a double standard lurking. But I think I forgave it quickly, understanding that parents are imperfect beings doing their best.

“Shame on you,” a patient once said to me when, in an attempt to empathize with his perfectionism, I admitted to some lapse in discipline I had committed around some health habit. It was early yet in my study of self-compassion, but I managed to not take his shaming as a reflection of my own character. He might be ashamed of himself if he were me, but I did not have to accept that projection.

Hypocrisy: Oxford Languages defines it as “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.” The opposite of ‘walking the talk’. A friend very gently challenged my current sleeping patterns, pointing to the inconsistency in what I practice with what I preach (nightly blogging does that to me, and I’m a night owl in general anyway). Does that make me a hypocrite?

I have always been a hoarder. I buy clothes I love and don’t wear them, in case they get dirty or ruined. I stockpile stickers, stationery, stamps, journals, essential oils, socks, scarves, washi tape, and now, (*sigh*) sourdough starter (seriously, that realization today was eye opening).  Ever since I read The Art of Possibility, I have honestly embraced an abundance mindset, evangelized for it.  There is enough of everything; we can all get our needs met.  And yet, if I look at my habits and patterns of behavior, it is quite obvious that I live in an internal world of scarcity. Otherwise why would I hoard?  Is it because I’m a hoarder, I know it, and I don’t like it, that the message of abundance resonates so strongly? Maybe this is another example of cognitive understanding and acceptance, coupled with considerable lag in limbic apprehension and realization? 

So do I still get to speak and write about abundance, even as I grapple to live into it fully in my own head?  Do I have the right to counsel patients about healthy habits in sleep, exercise, nutrition, stress management, and relationships, even as I fall down every day in each of these domains? 

Yes, I do.  Because I persist in my own efforts, continuously, courageously, despite my recurrent failures.  I’m getting better—last week I wore ‘new’ skirt, boots, and coat (ranging from 2 to 7+ years old) to afternoon tea.  I can slow and divert from hoarding impulses better today than a few years ago…sometimes.  Progress is detectable over the long arc of my lifetime thus far, and I’m confident I can stay the course.  Persistence pays rewards, even if long delayed.

We are all in the same boat here.  Old, entrenched habits of thought and action are hard to break.  Perfection is a myth.  Outcomes vary according to so many factors, and intent still matters.  Despite my humbling realization today (I now have a plan for using my copious Discards of Sven), I believe I still walk my talk.  Because my talk is not, “Do as I say, not as I do.”  It’s, “I know how hard it is.  I struggle too.  I’ll keep going with you; we are all here doing our best.”