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We Are All Perfectly Fine: A Memoir of Love, Medicine and Healing

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When we need help, we count on doctors to put us back together. But what happens when doctors fall apart? Funny, fresh, and deeply affecting, We Are All Perfectly Fine is the story of a married mother of three on the brink of personal and professional collapse who attends rehab with a twist: a meditation retreat for burned-out doctors. Jillian Horton, a general internist, ha When we need help, we count on doctors to put us back together. But what happens when doctors fall apart? Funny, fresh, and deeply affecting, We Are All Perfectly Fine is the story of a married mother of three on the brink of personal and professional collapse who attends rehab with a twist: a meditation retreat for burned-out doctors. Jillian Horton, a general internist, has no idea what to expect during her five-day retreat at Chapin Mill, a Zen centre in upstate New York. She just knows she desperately needs a break. At first she is deeply uncomfortable with the spartan accommodations, silent meals and scheduled bonding sessions. But as the group struggles through awkward first encounters and guided meditations, something remarkable happens: world-class surgeons, psychiatrists, pediatricians and general practitioners open up and share stories about their secret guilt and grief, as well as their deep-seated fear of falling short of the expectations that define them. Jillian realizes that her struggle with burnout is not so much personal as it is the result of a larger system failure, and that compartmentalizing your most difficult emotions—a coping strategy that is drilled into doctors—is not useful unless you face these emotions too. Jillian Horton throws open a window onto the flawed system that shapes medical professionals, revealing the rarely acknowledged stresses that lead doctors to depression and suicide, and emphasizing the crucial role of compassion not only in treating others, but also in taking care of ourselves.  


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When we need help, we count on doctors to put us back together. But what happens when doctors fall apart? Funny, fresh, and deeply affecting, We Are All Perfectly Fine is the story of a married mother of three on the brink of personal and professional collapse who attends rehab with a twist: a meditation retreat for burned-out doctors. Jillian Horton, a general internist, ha When we need help, we count on doctors to put us back together. But what happens when doctors fall apart? Funny, fresh, and deeply affecting, We Are All Perfectly Fine is the story of a married mother of three on the brink of personal and professional collapse who attends rehab with a twist: a meditation retreat for burned-out doctors. Jillian Horton, a general internist, has no idea what to expect during her five-day retreat at Chapin Mill, a Zen centre in upstate New York. She just knows she desperately needs a break. At first she is deeply uncomfortable with the spartan accommodations, silent meals and scheduled bonding sessions. But as the group struggles through awkward first encounters and guided meditations, something remarkable happens: world-class surgeons, psychiatrists, pediatricians and general practitioners open up and share stories about their secret guilt and grief, as well as their deep-seated fear of falling short of the expectations that define them. Jillian realizes that her struggle with burnout is not so much personal as it is the result of a larger system failure, and that compartmentalizing your most difficult emotions—a coping strategy that is drilled into doctors—is not useful unless you face these emotions too. Jillian Horton throws open a window onto the flawed system that shapes medical professionals, revealing the rarely acknowledged stresses that lead doctors to depression and suicide, and emphasizing the crucial role of compassion not only in treating others, but also in taking care of ourselves.  

30 review for We Are All Perfectly Fine: A Memoir of Love, Medicine and Healing

  1. 4 out of 5

    Canadian Reader

    Jillian Horton's memoir about her five-day Buddhist mindfulness retreat reminded me a great deal of psychologist Caroline Elton's book from a few years back--Also Human: The Inner Lives of Doctors--which concerns doctors' personal struggles and mental anguish as they practise and sometimes decide to leave medicine. Initially strangers to each other, the participants who attended the retreat in Chapin Mill, New York along with Dr. Horton were similar to Elton's clients: doctors on the edge, all o Jillian Horton's memoir about her five-day Buddhist mindfulness retreat reminded me a great deal of psychologist Caroline Elton's book from a few years back--Also Human: The Inner Lives of Doctors--which concerns doctors' personal struggles and mental anguish as they practise and sometimes decide to leave medicine. Initially strangers to each other, the participants who attended the retreat in Chapin Mill, New York along with Dr. Horton were similar to Elton's clients: doctors on the edge, all of whom were experiencing some degree of personal and professional "failure to cope." Many physicians, Horton included, enter medicine for unconscious reasons, to right wrongs or address unacknowledged suffering in their own early lives. Horton's elder sister, Wendy, was diagnosed with a life-wrecking brain tumour in childhood. After surgery to remove the mass, Wendy developed meningitis, which further added to her brain damage. She was profoundly mentally and physically disabled, and the lives of all members of the Horton family essentially revolved around her care. Horton's other siblings also experienced great hardship. Her brother, Christopher, descended into psychosis in his teens. He spent the next twenty years--right up to the end of his life in 2020--in a psychiatric institution. Jillian's other sister, Heather, also had trouble making her way in life. She inherited the Lynch-Syndrome genetic mutation and developed cancer. Jillian was supposedly the "lucky" one. But was she? In a way, she was scripted to save them all. A gifted and musically talented student, she didn't inherit the faulty gene, and would likely have succeeded in any number of careers. After gaining undergraduate and master's degrees in English literature, she won a full scholarship to pursue a PhD at Oxford, but she opted to attend medical school instead. Her memoir opens many years into her successful practice when she is experiencing debilitating burnout. Horton tells many compelling stories about her training and her patients. She acknowledges that some of the reasons for her reaching a point of despair are personal ones, but that flawed, dehumanizing, competitive medical education also played a significant role. The idealistic, perfectionistic, and driven young people who train to become physicians are conditioned to become increasingly divorced from their own emotions. Working punishingly long hours, they also learn to disconnect from or deny such basic needs as sleeping and eating. They compartmentalize, too, closing off many rooms in their own psyches--rooms that hold memories of failures, mistakes, and shame. Horton's book explores how the retreat helped her to open some of those doors in order to understand how she'd ended up in such a dark place. This is a brave book that humanizes doctors. I can't imagine putting myself "out there" in the way that Dr. Horton has. Having said that, I do feel her memoir is too long and repetitive. Trimming it by a third would have made it a finer book. I'll admit, too, that I'm not fond of first-person, present-tense, play-by-play tellings. I don't care to hear about giggles, chuckles, and who raised her hand to "share" at the retreat, so a fair bit of the text just felt like filler to me. I grew impatient reading page after page about mindfulness exercises, sitting and walking meditation, the group sharing, and the hugs and tears at the retreat centre. While I understand why Horton set the book over a period of five transformative days, I personally would've preferred a more conventional chronological approach. Horton's frequent free associations, under-the-breath quips, and sardonic asides also became somewhat tiresome to me. Thank you to Net Galley and the publisher for providing a free digital copy of the book for review purposes.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Fei Fei

    Strong 3.5 stars. Dr Horton writes beautifully and her stories are both heartbreaking and eerily familiar. I just wish she spent longer in her final few chapters reflecting on the steps she took towards healing, self-acceptance and mindfulness and how they are reflected in her current practice of medicine.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Mcleod

    This book was presented to me at a time of life and in moments most needed. The words of a poem read near the end of the book helped the cracks in myself and in my heart today. With the mounting pressures of hospital work, of life, and after the unexpected and sudden death of not just a patient - a beloved person, the words are like a tender and healing balm applied where most needed. “One winter’s day A crack appeared in all your lives We tried to stop it from spreading It was too late .... Wh This book was presented to me at a time of life and in moments most needed. The words of a poem read near the end of the book helped the cracks in myself and in my heart today. With the mounting pressures of hospital work, of life, and after the unexpected and sudden death of not just a patient - a beloved person, the words are like a tender and healing balm applied where most needed. “One winter’s day A crack appeared in all your lives We tried to stop it from spreading It was too late .... What I had to learn myself: You could not save her And yet You did not fail.” Thank you, Jillian! We did not fail...and although none of us are perfect and life in all its beauty and joy is filled with loss, grief, suffering, and many far from perfect moments.... We are all perfectly fine. My heart and soul are grateful for your reminder!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Anne Day

    This book really made me think about the pressure we place on doctors - in ordinary times, let alone during a pandemic. Jillian is authentic in all that shares, including the challenges facing her family with her sister's brain tumour and much later, her death. At times the emotions are raw and you feel her pain and how hard it is when patients die. This book really made me think about the pressure we place on doctors - in ordinary times, let alone during a pandemic. Jillian is authentic in all that shares, including the challenges facing her family with her sister's brain tumour and much later, her death. At times the emotions are raw and you feel her pain and how hard it is when patients die.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rosie | rossiereads

    I loved this memoir from Dr. Jillian Horton. Going into the read, I was expecting a tale of burnout recovery, specific to the medical profession, however what I found was that the shared experiences were extremely relatable, even for non medical professionals. The tale is told with humour and wit, and I look forward to more of her writing in the future. Many thanks to Harper Collins for the ARC copy in return for my honest review.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Clara Annabelle

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I was drawn to this book because I’m a first year medical student. I thought I better learn how not to burn out. I expected to be more of a self-help type book but instead I found a story of a woman learning to save herself. Learning that life doesn’t owe us anything. That to be mindful doesn’t mean being calm and ignoring the negative but to be aware of your emotions and to deal with them as they come. I’m really happy I finished the book because of the stories of doctors carrying their guilt a I was drawn to this book because I’m a first year medical student. I thought I better learn how not to burn out. I expected to be more of a self-help type book but instead I found a story of a woman learning to save herself. Learning that life doesn’t owe us anything. That to be mindful doesn’t mean being calm and ignoring the negative but to be aware of your emotions and to deal with them as they come. I’m really happy I finished the book because of the stories of doctors carrying their guilt and regret with them. It was powerful and I think it’s important for med students (and anyone who holds on to regret a little too tight) to hear about mistakes and to hear that just because a patient didn’t make it-doesn’t mean you failed. That last tragic yet beautiful story makes it all worth the read. Dr. Horton thanks for sharing your story!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Ben Rogers

    Had high hopes for this, but didn't enjoy it. It was a memoir, which is a touch-and-go genre for me, and this one wasn't great. I found it particularly rambling, slow, and not very interesting. Not for me. 1.9/5 Had high hopes for this, but didn't enjoy it. It was a memoir, which is a touch-and-go genre for me, and this one wasn't great. I found it particularly rambling, slow, and not very interesting. Not for me. 1.9/5

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    I was drawn into reading this book by reading the free ebook preview, but I quickly lost steam. I found it frustrating and pretentious at times, like the author felt being a doctor meant you simultaneously were more important / smarter / better than non-doctors, and also had bigger, more valid problems than non-doctors. I almost gave up at the halfway point, but ended up finishing it, and I’m glad I did. Learning about the mistakes the doctors made with patients and how those still gripped them I was drawn into reading this book by reading the free ebook preview, but I quickly lost steam. I found it frustrating and pretentious at times, like the author felt being a doctor meant you simultaneously were more important / smarter / better than non-doctors, and also had bigger, more valid problems than non-doctors. I almost gave up at the halfway point, but ended up finishing it, and I’m glad I did. Learning about the mistakes the doctors made with patients and how those still gripped them made the book meaningful in a way it hadn’t been until then, and the final therapy-esque realizations the author had were relatable whether or not you are in medicine. I suspect the people and concepts from this book will stay with me a long time.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    This is a beautifully vulnerable book that is worth reading by anyone, and especially people who work in medicine. I hope that it will be part of the slow culture shift that is happening within the field towards more compassion and life balance for the healers.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paul Sutter

    Being a doctor is not the easiest profession at the best of times. Now at the worst of times, during the pandemic, has really pushed the medical profession to the limit day in and day out. One must definitely give a massive amount of praise and applause to these dedicated people saving lives, while their own lives are at risk. It is always an inspirational moment when these doctors talks about their world and lives. It gives us a better understanding and appreciation for them. In the book WE A Being a doctor is not the easiest profession at the best of times. Now at the worst of times, during the pandemic, has really pushed the medical profession to the limit day in and day out. One must definitely give a massive amount of praise and applause to these dedicated people saving lives, while their own lives are at risk. It is always an inspirational moment when these doctors talks about their world and lives. It gives us a better understanding and appreciation for them. In the book WE ARE ALL PERFECTLY FINE, Jillian Horton, who is also a musician, talks about her world and how the massive pressure finally got to her. When her own world was crumbling and job burnout was a possibility, she decided to go on a meditation retreat for doctors who had seemed to reach their limits. She talks in detail about that time and how it did more than recharge her batteries. It brought semblance and sanity back to her life and world, as she dealt with other people who found themselves in the same stratosphere. They all were present at Chapin Mill which is a sort of Zen Center in upstate New York. She met many other doctors during the five day retreat, many in the same circumstances. She was a bit cynical in the beginning because the accommodations were so sparse and the fact that communication devices were forbidden and even what they ate was controlled, it was more like a prison than an exercise in unlocking all the negatives of life and work. When she heard the from the heart stories from dozens of doctors, surgeons, psychiatrists, pediatricians and more, the stories resonated within her own psyche and she understood the necessity for such a retreat for her wellbeing and future. Horton holds nothing back in her story of her life, the trauma and drama that were a trademark of the medical profession. There is humor at times, but more importantly, there is honesty and warmth and what in the beginning was not something she welcomed, by the end, her life and world were in greater balance and filled with more positives than ever.

  11. 4 out of 5

    smalltownbookmom

    Told with humor and heart and oh so relatable for anyone feeling overwhelmed, fatigued or burnout from life - you don't have to be a doctor to be able to connect with this memoir from Canadian internist, Jillian Horton. Growing up with a sibling with a severe disability, Jillian gave up a scholarship to study literature in Oxford and pursue her dream of being a writer in order to go into medicine in way to help people like her sister who were treated poorly by the medical community. Mid-career, Told with humor and heart and oh so relatable for anyone feeling overwhelmed, fatigued or burnout from life - you don't have to be a doctor to be able to connect with this memoir from Canadian internist, Jillian Horton. Growing up with a sibling with a severe disability, Jillian gave up a scholarship to study literature in Oxford and pursue her dream of being a writer in order to go into medicine in way to help people like her sister who were treated poorly by the medical community. Mid-career, she recognizes how burnout she feels - like many health care professionals (especially right now): "The one person I seemed totally unwilling to help was myself." She goes on a week long meditation retreat trying to find ways to connect more with herself and her dreams deferred: "There wasn't a way to be everything to everyone...and the easiest dreams to abandon were my own." This is a great read to feel more empathy for the pressures physicians are under (I really enjoyed the patient stories she includes) and for anyone looking to find ways to prioritize self-care. Highly recommend, especially for fans of The white coat diaries or The beauty in breaking by Michele Harper.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Erin Toor

    This is a memoir of an internist..an honest and heartfelt account of the grief and burnout she faced while working in Medicine. She describes many incidents of suffering experienced by patients and their loved ones. How she internalized their suffering and grief and carried that with her. Her compassion and humanity shines through in this book. This book resonated with me on many levels. There were a few parts that so accurately describe the trauma and grief that stay with us, as physicians and This is a memoir of an internist..an honest and heartfelt account of the grief and burnout she faced while working in Medicine. She describes many incidents of suffering experienced by patients and their loved ones. How she internalized their suffering and grief and carried that with her. Her compassion and humanity shines through in this book. This book resonated with me on many levels. There were a few parts that so accurately describe the trauma and grief that stay with us, as physicians and Heath care workers.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Julia Alleyne

    As a physician, I found Dr Hortons experiences resonated deeply with me. I am not sure others would understand the sub cult of medicine in the same way. You could feel her mind ruminating and sometimes this was anxiety provoking for the reader. Her ending was worth the journey to realize that she was able to use her skills and still find balance.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Johanne

    I almost didn’t finish this book. I’ve been going through a lot, culminating stress and pain and I didn’t want to add more hurt, more tears. It’s a well-written book and I enjoyed interviews with the author and her Twitter contributions, so I kept on. Worthwhile reading, wish I had someone like her as a doctor.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Julia Christina Dewolf

    Memoir told by looking back on her life as she’s at a doctors retreat. a Canadian dr who’s grown up with a sister who had a brain tumour when she was young then severely disabled due to its aftermath. Book was enjoyable and well written overall. Liked, but not in my love pile.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    A physician writes about her life, from childhood to the present day, when she is at a retreat for medical professionals experiencing burnout.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Smith

    Loved this personal raw story of burnout. Maybe hits a little close to home these days. Beautiful writing!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Penny Wilson

    This book came to me at a time when I really needed it. Everything Dr Horton writes is brilliant.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Carla

    3*-3.5

  20. 5 out of 5

    Monique Courcelles

    I absolutely loved this book and strongly recommend it! Dr. Horton's writing style and wit kept me engaged from the very fist page. I absolutely loved this book and strongly recommend it! Dr. Horton's writing style and wit kept me engaged from the very fist page.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rhona

    Heartbreaking, funny, so well written!!!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    Winnipeg Free Press Book Club March 2021

  23. 4 out of 5

    Giuliana Guarna

    Can I rate this 10/5?? It was AMAZING! a must read for anyone that has gone through medical training - you feel seen and understood and see that there is hope yet

  24. 4 out of 5

    Karen Gadd

    Though raw, moving and heart wrenching, ultimately hopeful. I couldn’t put it down

  25. 4 out of 5

    Emily R

    I adored this book - it's brilliant, funny and devastating all at the same time. On the face of it, it's a book about burnout in the medical profession, but it's really about burnout in any field. And not just professional burnout from being overworked, it's about recovering from the emotional burnout from the wounds we carry our whole lives. This book is incredibly funny - Dr. Horton's sarcastic wit play a central role in the narrative and provide a counterpoint to the profound reflections and I adored this book - it's brilliant, funny and devastating all at the same time. On the face of it, it's a book about burnout in the medical profession, but it's really about burnout in any field. And not just professional burnout from being overworked, it's about recovering from the emotional burnout from the wounds we carry our whole lives. This book is incredibly funny - Dr. Horton's sarcastic wit play a central role in the narrative and provide a counterpoint to the profound reflections and healing she experiences at "doctor rehab". I recommend this book for anyone who is going through any kind of crisis of the heart and every single person working in the medical profession.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Samantha Lam

  27. 4 out of 5

    scott maclean

  28. 4 out of 5

    Anna Chalmers

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ruthie

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