Catherine Calderwood: Nobody is perfect and we should all embrace that

This time of year it is traditional to reflect on the past and perhaps make some resolutions for the future.
Dr Catherine Calderwood, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland. Pic: John DevlinDr Catherine Calderwood, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland. Pic: John Devlin
Dr Catherine Calderwood, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland. Pic: John Devlin

Reflect on what has gone well, not so well, what you might do differently given another chance and what you wouldn’t change at all.

‘Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness’ as Sigmund Freud said many decades ago.

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So is this true? Do we all need love in whatever shape it may take? Science tells us that loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Work – or another purpose in life, keeps the mind active and interested and is protective against mental health problems.

Many will not agree with me - as work brings with it many sacrifices as well as many benefits. Many of my colleagues in NHS Scotland, those in social care, Police Scotland, the Fire and Rescue Service and many others will have spent Christmas away from their families and many more will do so in the next few days – both daytime and night shifts.

Yet many readers will look back and feel grateful for NHS Scotland and other public services - the emergency services which are ever present, the local pharmacy, the GP, the Scottish Ambulance Service...

Who is caring for these workers? Where is the love here? Indeed I was recently horrified to hear about the amount of abuse nurses receive on the wards, in the emergency department - on a daily basis.

Yet one of the great pleasures of my job as an obstetrician was to receive cards and flowers when I had been involved in the birth of a baby - I’ve kept them all; many of those babies are young adults now, but I still sometimes meet couples who remember me and say thank you all over again. What a privilege that is.

Those simple words- ‘thank you’, said with a smile - again research would tell us that this has an important impact - both for the recipient and the giver of the praise - yet costs us nothing.

Books, papers, academic articles are written about our emotions – the sophistication of the brain and the impacts of endless communication and social media. The significant anxiety and depression rate in teenage girls rises year on year in part, we think, due to toxic use of social media. ‘First world problems?’ No – not when they lead to mental illness and even suicide in our young people. Yet social media is a great connector - I know the news stories of the day before I get out of bed, Twitter followers can be reached at the click of a button.

In contrast we all know people who are lonely, for whom the day is long and a smile and a thank you will make all the difference.

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The quest for ‘perfection’ at this time of year seems pervasive. Busy, too much to do, families, friends, excess. All of course a great time which we celebrate. The rest of the year?

The walk in the park, the friendly hello, the thank you to colleagues at work, the amateur sport/coaching children/volunteering (you have always meant to do), the hobby you enjoy, the ability to spend more time with your children and grandchildren – these are all to be celebrated.

These are not perfection in an airbrushed Instagram, television world but they are a reality for most of us and perhaps an achievable New Year resolution. All of those steps done around the local streets or park - you are lapping those who are sitting on the sofa...

Oh – and let those close to you know that you love them - it’s good for your (and their) health. Wishing you a Happy and Healthy 2019!