“Cured: A Doctor’s Journey from Panic to Peace” was published by Central Recovery Press.
Balancing motherhood and medical school is a challenge, but panic attacks and memories of childhood trauma make the path all the more difficult. With therapy, Dr. Anne McTiernan found her way through. Now she discusses her experiences in an intimate memoir, “Cured: A Doctor’s Journey from Panic to Peace.”
McTiernan is a research professor of epidemiology in the University of Washington School of Public Health and professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She studies diet, obesity, exercise, and risk for cancer development and prognosis. “Cured” was published in February by Central Recovery Press.
Anxiety and stress were not her only challenges. The book, publisher’s notes say, also “calls out the … stigma surrounding the mental health of physicians, sexism in the medical field, and the imbalance of the health care system when it comes to race and class.”
UW Notebook asked McTiernan about the book and her experience writing such a personal story.
This is a deeply personal memoir. Why did you decide to share your story, and was the writing process difficult emotionally?
The major themes in “Cured” — motherhood, sexism, mental health — are as relevant today as when the story takes place. Unfortunately, women still struggle to balance taking care of children and taking care of their careers, and have to handle work while dealing with the belittling effects of sexism.
And medical students, residents, fellows, and physicians still have to deal with their mental health with little help because the system requires them to keep their issues secret and encourages them not to seek professional treatment. I wanted to bring all this to light.
Some of the writing was emotionally difficult, especially when recounting the panic attacks, because in order to give the details I felt like I was reliving them. Other parts of the memoir writing were very enjoyable, such as recalling the joys of mothering such wonderful children.
Dr. Anne McTiernan
What writing habits proved successful? And how did you know you were done?
As a researcher, I have learned to work very well with deadlines. Everything has a timeline — grants, conferences, journal papers. So, having a timeline from my publisher was very helpful. I was also lucky to work with a developmental editor (Jennifer Munro) who provided early feedback which helped me make early progress.
It’s always a challenge to know what to put into a memoir and what to leave out. I’ve taken several courses on memoir writing, including through UW Professional and Continuing Education, that taught me how to craft life story into an arc.
What do you hope readers will take away from your memoir?
I hope that readers will understand the importance of balancing various aspects of life, to realize that it’s not critical to be best in everything. This is especially important today with the challenges people have in trying to work, stay healthy and take care of loved ones. It’s important to give yourself slack.
During COVID, it’s a major accomplishment just to continue to put food on the table and follow public health guidelines to curtail the virus, and to keep yourself relatively sane.
I hope the medical community will realize the critical importance of supporting mental health for physicians, realizing that the expectations for trainees and physicians put people at high risk for stress-induced symptoms.
For more information, contact McTiernan at [email protected]