can you smell the monkey on your back

Can you smell the monkey on your back?

Disclaimer: This post contains some hard truths. It is less inspiring and comforting than our usual style, but it packs a power-punch of sobriety. So, I invite you to brace yourself, read it all the way to the end, and ask some hard questions.

“Mom, Dad, I give up. I know I only have 6 months of government service before I’m a qualified medical doctor, but I simply CANNOT do this anymore. I quit. I’m coming home.”

This was the phone call I made in April 2010, after another rough night at the rural clinic. A family had stormed into the emergency unit the night before, frantically dragging their pale, dangling sister between them. It was chaos. Blood everywhere. Wide, white eyes.”Help her! Doctor, help her! She was stabbed! She’s dying!’ The resources I had at my disposal? A few paediatric intravenous lines, a bag or two of resuscitation fluid, and a team of disinterested and under-trained staff.

The system had failed me.

In turn, I had failed her.

She died.

During our studies, medical doctors in South Africa are exposed to thousands of severe trauma cases, HIV-related deaths and the worst incidences of malnutrition and abuse. Neonatal fatalities, neglect and suffering are all standard ingredients in our struggling health system. Not to mention the odd needle-stick injury followed by a course of preventative Anti-retrovirals. At least, these were the ingredients to my story.

On that fateful night of April, the woman who I could not save, broke me. And broke through to me.

I went back to my parent’s home for a week on a mental health break, to reconsider my place in the world.*

What dead bodies are you dragging around?

If a baby monkey dies you’ll often see the grieving mother dragging his limp body around. It’s a deeply moving and sad sight: days after he has stopped breathing, she clutches his tiny body as if he’d wake up at any second. But he doesn’t.

For most of us, the idea of ‘giving up’ is just as hard. We need to hold on juuust a little longer – and the longer we do, the more difficult it is to let go. Back in the day when posters still existed, there was this cheesy, popular one of a frog’s body in the beak of a hungry stork, his hands still free and strangling the bird’s neck. The caption: “Don’t Ever Give Up!”

I disagree. At certain points in our lives, we simply HAVE TO give up.

Letting Go

Life only follows after death. This is a universal truth. We subsequently die to old dreams, bad habits and stupid choices. This means that you drop that dead-weight relationship; you pull the plug on that brain-dead business-deal; you bury your reeking carcass of unrealistic expectations; you stop enabling his abuse. You give up, you grieve, you let go and you Move. On.

“But then what?”

It doesn’t matter. Unless you get to the dead-end of truly letting go the thing/person/situation/decision that has been holding you back for so long, you will never find freedom.

It is painful to admit failure, but it is deadly to avoid truth. I’ve seen too many friends, patients, colleagues and clients dragging around dead bodies of bad choices and dysfunctional relationships under the illusion of “one day, things will get better; he will eventually wake up; she will come back; it will make money; they will promote me,” until it never happens.

So: The big question:

What corpses are keeping you back from living a full life?

Maybe it’s time

to give up.


let go.

and be free.

*After my mental health break, I made some massive adjustments in my career. I decided to do medicine differently, and – after years of exploration- found exactly what I was looking for in health coaching. “Giving Up” was my first step to true, transforming growth.

Do you need help letting go and moving forwards?

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