Psychiatrist Vania Manipod's Self-Discovery Lessons on the Value of Sharing Your Story

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What advice would you give to a young professional who is just starting out? What tool could change their world?

When starting out as a professional, I had an idea of what I wanted to pursue as a career but I couldn’t find anyone in my local network to talk with.  So, I created a blog to expand the conversations to a global network. Through sharing my random thoughts, I developed a powerful community of mentors and peers who really understood me and helped me grow. That is the root of The Self-Discovery Retreat. The blog was a tool that fostered positive change in my life.

Blogging nurtures self-growth; new Southern California psychiatrist Vania Manipod, DO, showcases this. I learned about her blog, Freud & Fashion, a couple months ago through the WordPress blogging community. Vania created her blog while studying for psychiatry, as a therapeutic outlet in her personal and professional development.  Her story is a shining example of how blogging can create positive change in a young person’s life. Today, you’ll hear from Vania herself how blogging nurtured her personal and professional growth as a new young mental health practitioner.

 (c) Vania Manipod, DO

(c) Vania Manipod, DO

Tell me your story. I'd love to hear how you turned your idea for the blog, Freud & Fashion, into action.

I started reading fashion blogs in 2010, which inspired me to come up with a blog of my own with the goal of giving a glimpse of the life of a new doctor. I always enjoyed writing but put the hobby aside because I was too busy with medical school and residency; however, I figured blogging could be a way to bridge my two interests in writing and psychiatry. My blog’s name, Freud and Fashion, was inspired by my fascination with fashion at the time and Freud being an iconic figure in Psychiatry, so I felt the combination of the two encompassed my interests while also sounding catchy and memorable. Since I’m far from a fashionista, my blog evolved into one that focused more on self-care, self-awareness, and promoting the overall importance of mental health.

Where did you come up with your blog’s tagline, “Because it's stylish to talk about mental health, especially how we maintain our own”?

I took a hiatus from blogging for about two years because my personal life and responsibilities during residency took precedence and left little time to write.  Once my job search was over and I approached graduation from Psychiatry residency, I felt the need to restart blogging because writing has always been a therapeutic outlet to express my opinions of the practice of Psychiatry and also to vent my own frustrations.  During my two years away from blogging, I learned a great deal about myself - not just from practising psychiatry and seeing patients - but also by participating in both group and individual psychotherapy. I knew that I needed a catch-phrase to encompass my blog’s goals to decrease stigma and create an openness to discuss mental health.  And what better way to address the “fashion” portion of my blog title by saying that it’s “stylish” to talk about mental health!  I also didn’t want people to misinterpret my blog as a fashion blog upon their first visit to my website; so once visitors read the tagline, I’d hope they would know right away what to expect when they enter my blog.

How did you develop the courage to Stand Tall: to share your story and start a blog?

For those who knew me at any point in my life prior to when I first started my Psychiatry residency training about 6 years ago, they’d probably be shocked or surprised to find me writing about my personal experiences so openly in my blog.  I started blogging in 2010 after I moved to Oregon for residency and the move initially turned out to be harder than I expected, yet the best thing that ever happened to me in terms of personal growth.  I struggled to adjust to life in a new area with no established support system; so in order to feel less isolated, I turned to blogging as a means to feel more connected with others.  I started blogging anonymously because I felt ashamed for putting my story out in public, then eventually added more photos and my first name (there aren’t very many people named Vania out there) and somehow my residency program director found my blog online!

When he told me that he enjoyed reading my posts, I felt validated that my writing actually had some worth.  Needless to say, he encouraged me to keep blogging.  Of course there were times when I would draft emotionally charged material based on what I was experiencing at the time, then felt too embarrassed to post.  I’m fortunate to have my siblings (my sister is a marriage and family therapist and my brother is very psychologically minded) as “editors” of some of my posts.  Also, I have an amazing therapist who helps me process topics weighing on my mind before I write about them in my blog.  And lastly (and more importantly), I have wonderful blog followers who let me know how much they appreciate my openness to share, because my posts often validate their own experiences. Receiving such a positive response from my followers has motivated me the most to keep writing.

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Why do you believe self-expression (speaking from the heart) is important?

I joke with my siblings that my litmus test for confirming that a topic is worth posting is if writing the post makes me cry. This statement is actually quite true because the posts that have received the most views are those that have the most emotional material, especially related to topics such as grief, patient loss, stress, burnout, etc. I believe that people connect most to a topic when the words evoke a sense of emotion and authenticity.  Too often people censor and suppress their emotions; so as scary as putting yourself out there can make you feel vulnerable, it can also be quite liberating.

How can seeing the stories of others change lives?

Personally, I am motivated to share my story even more when I see others courageous and brave enough to share their own.  Knowing there are others whom you can relate to can build a sense of community, even if it’s someone you’ve never met in person.  Ultimately, I feel sharing stories provides a sense of connection and can be inspiring, motivating, and help alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

How do you practice self-care in your daily life?

Over the years, I have become more self-aware of activities that I need to prioritize in my schedule in order to maintain self-care.

During the work week (when it’s a bit harder to practice self-care), I make sure I set limits on my workload (for example, stop charting and leave clinic by 5:30 pm, etc.) and take small breaks throughout the day.  Every week, I also plan out my exercise routine for the week because I’ve found that I need to work out at least 3 days/week in order to keep my energy levels up and maintain my mood (I get irritable if I don’t exercise regularly).  I also have to maintain connections with friends and family on a regular basis, so I try to get together with family or friends at least once a week (and if hard to coordinate, a phone call to connect is better than nothing!).  On weekends, I kick off my Saturdays with a fun exercise class and attend a therapy group every Saturday.

 (c) Vania Manipod, DO

(c) Vania Manipod, DO

What does the term ‘self-discovery’ mean to you?

My definition of ‘self-discovery’ encompasses the following: find acceptance in the ups and downs of life, find meaning and learn from both successes and failures, be open to new opportunities and experiences, appreciate the lessons that can be learned from each person I come across, and grow to feel comfortable with each aspect that makes me who I am as a unique individual.

How important is social support in overcoming obstacles?

Extremely important!

How did you find your support group?

I am fortunate to have a supportive family.  And when I moved away from family and friends during residency, I found a way to create a “surrogate” family of support by reaching out to my co-residents and mentors, making new friends.  Aside from family, I found my current support group by joining a therapy group, being referred to a great therapist, fostering friendships with co-workers, and reaching out to friends I haven’t seen in awhile (via social media, making a phone call, etc.).

Creating a solid support group does take time and requires being proactive, which can be difficult sometimes. Other methods I tried involved checking out a local meet-up group, joining a community-based gym (such as Crossfit), and signing up for a photography class (in hopes of meeting others who shared similar creative interests as me).

What advice would you give to a young professional who is just starting out in the mental health profession? What tool could change their world?

My advice to young professionals just starting out in the mental health profession would be to seek out mentors, supervisors, or people whom they respect in the mental health field, who can provide guidance and answer questions about the field when needed.  Even after graduating residency, I maintained contact information for my most influential mentors during medical school and residency and still continue to reach out to them on a regular basis.

Thank you so much, Vania, for sharing how blogging changed your life and for developing the courage to let yourself be seen online!  You are being the change you wish to see in the world - through showcasing your authentic self and expressing your thoughts. As I always say: ‘When you share your story with others, you give them permission to do the same.’

Thank you all for reading and for your presence at The Self-Discovery Retreat.You rock!

After putting together this article, I was reminded of another of my sayings:

Many of my readers are helping professionals who put the concerns for others above their own; but they need help too! Through my conversations with many of you over the years, one overlying concern is your struggle with being judged negatively by professional peers and employers when you aren’t perfect.  So, many of you don’t share your journeys - online or offline - for fear of hurting your reputation by sharing something that may jeopardize your career. Also, some of you still see a stigma with talking about personal mental health issues. 

But helping others can be stressful and exhausting - physically and mentally. And no one is perfect. We all need support along the way.

Therefore, in this safe and non-judgemental space of The Self-Discovery Retreat, let’s start talking: What would help you feel supported in your professional journey? How can you help fellow professionals cope with their occupational stress?

I’d love to hear from all of you about the questions I just asked. Feel free to share in the Comments section below, or you can send me a private message using the contact form above. We can all learn from hearing your stories and advice!

See you at the beach!

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