Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA, FAAP. What do these letters mean, of themselves, and what do they mean to me? Why do I use them, here on Bipolar For Life? What, if anything, do they have to do with bipolar-ness? And most importantly, why do I insist upon using them when the professional qualifications they symbolize are now meaningless?
MD: Medical Doctor. A passion since childhood, hard-won. I put myself through college (oh yes, another set of letters: BA, Bachelor of Arts) by holding down three jobs while taking a full course load. I know, I know, hypomania. But it was fun, and I would have graduated with honors except that the required Honors Seminar conflicted with one of my jobs. Oh well.
The MD turned into a combined degree program in Medicine and Medical Anthropology, six years. Graduated with a perfect grade point average, 5.0. Number One in my class (actually shared with my then-husband, who also had a 5.0), inducted into the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society.
My first year in practice as a Pediatric Emergency Physician, I was inducted as a Fellow of the American Association of Pediatrics, and added FAAP to the collection.
All that stuff, including the wisdom garnered while cocktail waitressing as an undergraduate: I used it until that very bad day, April 4, 2000, when I locked my office door for the last time, drove home, and went into a catatonic depression that resulted in my permanent disability.
All those letters, lost.
OK, yes, I did earn them, every one of them. And it could be argued that in so doing, I earned the right to keep them after my name, forever. No one can ever take them from me.
On the other hand, I feel lost when I look at them. It’s as if–no, it isn’t as if–it’s the reality, cold and hard, that I am no longer who I once was. I no longer go to the ER or the office every day. I no longer practice Pediatrics, or anything else. I live moment to moment. My energy goes into keeping my mind in a reasonably healthy trajectory, and it takes every once of energy I have just to keep living from one moment to the next.
For a long time I used the letters after my name as a reminder of what I have achieved in this life. But now I feel that they have become a burden. I look at them and cringe. This is not what I wanted for a life. This is not what I worked 20 hours a day during my undergraduate years, who knows how much during my Medical and Graduate School years, 120 hours a week during internship and residency–I did not work all those hours to be sitting around like a bump on a log just trying to keep my shit together so I don’t start screaming and scare the dog.
I look at those letters, and I start to cry. I think about the people who read this blog, or my comments, and think I am a practicing physician with oodles of money, knowledge, and perhaps power. And I think I am misleading them. In fact, I know that’s the case sometimes, from comments I’ve received.
Those letters weigh upon my soul. They sit on me like an elephant.
It’s not that I don’t want them anymore. I earned them with my sweat, blood, and tears, dammit. They’re mine.
It’s just that right now I’m feeling the grief of my lost life, and I don’t want them staring me in the face every time I look at my blog or my email signature.
So I think you will see the letters after my name disappear. Not today; I don’t have the energy for it. But soon. Maybe tomorrow.