This is a really nice interview with psychiatrist Dr. Suvrat Bhargave. We talk about lessons that he has learned in his practice including how to let go of shame and why you don’t need to hit rock bottom to have important moments of insight. He is very personable and cares about meeting people where they are at rather than speaking in jargon and working hard to seem like the expert. He challenges the stereotype that psychiatrists are unapproachable and only want to focus on medication management.
Getting to know Dr. Suvrat Bhargave
Dr. Suvrat Bhargave is a Psychiatrist and author of the new book “A moment of insight“. He lives and works in a suburb of Atlanta, where he has been practicing for about 20 years. Suvrat opens by talking about what his work involves.
A psychiatrist can be someone that focuses just on med management or someone who does therapy as well. But Suvrat calls his work therapeutic medication management as he values the connection between psychiatrist and patient – so he enjoys having conversations about emotional wellbeing in addition to helping with the pharmacological side of treatment. Suvrat talks about this in more detail and explains how sometimes patients say “you don’t act like other psychiatrists”, which he’s come to recognize that as a compliment. Rather than having a professional barrier, he is able to be honest and connect with patients. He strives to be “a relatable expert”.
If he only has 2 minutes to explain what he does, he usually starts with being an educator. He doesn’t see himself as smarter than others, just that he has information which others don’t have and it’s his place to be able to share that with the patient and work with them until they find a solution that works for them. Suvrat shares a great story where one patient thanked him for talking to their child, indicating that they had other experiences in which other providers only seem to talk to the parents. We talk a bit more about how working with kids in psychiatry is naturally a little more sensitive. Suvrat takes time to think about what it’s like for children to come and see him for the first time. He set up his office to have lots of comic book art on the wall, which helps children understand that he is approachable and helps them to relax. He also highlights the importance of how he talks to children, referring to the tone, body language and the words you use, which have to be relatable and easy for them to understand.
A moment of insight with Dr. Suvrat Bhargave
We move on to talk about Suvrat’s new book “A moment of insight”, what it’s about and his motivation for writing it. Suvrat talks about how his experience of sitting with people and having real conversation fueled the creation of his book. He noticed that often people struggled and doubted over the same things. The cliche of being more alike than different is true, especially when we arrive at our lowest points. Suvrat talks about this in detail and how the book is a way to thank patients for being raw and vulnerable with him, while also giving him the opportunity to share the wisdom with others.
Shame is a topic that comes up a lot, so Suvrat dives into this a little deeper. He explains how coming in to see a professional at a low point often carries shame in itself and this needs to be talked about first. You can’t address issues like depression or anxiety without understanding who someone understands themselves to be. Ultimately, we are all burdened by not feeling good enough in some way. I talk about the 2nd layer of emotion. You have a feeling and then you have your feelings about your initial feeling. Your reaction to your feelings is often the real problem. We discuss this in more detail and how this in itself can cause shame.
Anxiety is the disease of doubt
When writing his book, Suvrat actually hated the first draft once he read through it. His intention was to have a conversation with the reader, just like he has in his office. In the first version, it was too clinical and heady. He feels that it was his own anxiety that caused him to try too hard to be the expert in this case. So he scrapped it and started over. Now he talks about his own shame and doubt as a way to connect with the content. Suvrat talks about how he was an anxious kid and realized it later on as an adult – he was always doubting and worrying. On top of that, he was also bullied which served as “proof” that he wasn’t good enough. Suvrat shares in his book that he was also sexually abused which cemented his thoughts and feelings of being “defective” and “broken”.
In his 20s in college, Suvrat got to his lowest. He realized that he worked so hard to be who everyone wanted him to be and yet still wasn’t good enough and doubted what everybody thought of him. It came to a point that he had to figure out how to understand himself, disregarding everyone else and starting over as he knew he couldn’t keep going in the same way. Suvrat shares how he started to move forward and explains that the title “a moment of insight” refers to the moment that allows you to put emotion aside for a second and see things with a different degree of clarity, something he believes needs to happen in order to make progress.
Suvrat had his moment of insight during this difficult period while riding a bus from one side of campus to the other. On that day, he was thinking that people on the bus were thinking that he was ugly. For the first time, he answered himself back in a calm way and said, “Do you really think that everyone on this bus is thinking about you and your hair?” After looking around the bus, he realized that nobody even noticed him in the first place because they are all in their own little worlds. Amazingly, he decided to stay on the bus for an hour to prove this point to himself. In a sense, he was testing his hypothesis that everyone thought he was ugly.
You don’t have to hit rock bottom
A moment of insight doesn’t always have to be “a rock bottom” – You can have a moment of insight every day. It doesn’t always have to be a huge dramatic moment. It could be as simple as a song stuck in your head with lyrics that teach you something about your situation. Suvrat chats about this in detail and offers a challenge and advice on how you can be open to the experience when you’re not at rock bottom.
Challenge: go through part of your day where you might see something objectively different.
How? Train your brain to be more aware to moments of insight through mindfulness training.
For example, if you’re going to dishes, rather than doing them while thinking about everything else, instead just be right there in the moment and focus deeply on the task. Think about what you’re doing and what you’re feeling, seeing and hearing at that moment. You’re essentially training your brain to settle itself down. We chat about how this can be different for individual people and that different forms of content resonate in different ways. Suvrat shares how he never intended to create an audiobook for “A moment of insight”, but after reading a chapter out loud to his wife, he realized that it reached another level of meaning and became a true conversation.
Suvrat’s book is essentially a collection of lessons, one of which is letting go. The book takes on big concepts and talks about them in simple, relatable ways that you can actually do something about.
Letting go with Dr. Suvrat Bhargave
Letting go is actually a chapter toward the end of the book. Suvrat explains how letting go means you have to sit with emotions not only with what you’re feeling now, but what it’s triggering from the past. He calls this “fraying cables” – every time you don’t let something go, you set an anchor in it. Now, each time this arises, you feel just enough, but then back off from the emotion, ultimately reinforcing those cables, strengthening the grip of that emotion.
In order to let go, you need to work through the emotion and determine what you are actually emotionally responding to that might not be in the present. Going through one by one, you can eventually release the emotions and move forward. Using examples, Suvrat explains the importance of this and how it applies to all emotions, including positive ones. For example, if not released, heavily anchored joy can become desperation.
Even if the primary emotion protected you in the past, you now have the power to decide what you do with it. And this is empowering. Suvrat also highlights how it’s important to not judge yourself for having an anchor in the first place. At the time it was needed and you did the best that you could. But now you have a choice on how you let that emotion rise. Suvrat shares how he used this technique to deal with being sexually abused when he was younger. In the case of abuse, Suvrat feels that changing the way in which you experience emotions from that time is empowering and it does not let the other person win. Ultimately, you are in control now. Suvrat opens up about his own story of fraying cables and reclaiming the emotions related to his past abuse.
I’m freer than I’ve ever been
Suvrat talks a bit more about the book and how it’s not purely a memoir but also contains a collection of five patient’s stories. He wanted to put in stories from many different people, along with his own, so that people can know they are not alone. Suvrat talks about how in a world where we appear to be more divided, it is actually the opposite – we are incredibly similar. While our stories and circumstances are different, our feelings are universal.
Life transitions and mental wellness
We talk a little bit about transitions and Suvrat gives some advice for people going through a transition in life. To him the core of dealing with anxiety is recognizing that the doubt or the physical sensation is in itself the anxiety. Whenever possible, rather than fleeing or seeking reassurance when you have a false alarm, try working through it. For example, say you start to have negative thoughts about transitioning to a new school. The thoughts you are having are the false alarm. See it as a false alarm and expect that there will be false alarms more often during transitions. It’s not that you are unprepared, it’s that the alarm wants you to THINK that you are unprepared. You need to recognize that it is a false alarm and find ways to help you manage this and calm yourself down.
Doubt will make you believe the negative thing you are thinking because doubt speaks to you in your own voice. Therefore, you think it’s just instinct and you don’t challenge it. There is a huge difference between intuition and fear, but on their most basic level, they feel the same. They’re both gut feelings. But intuition and fear couldn’t be more different. Fear is an overwhelming emotional response to something. Intuition is when you can put emotion aside and you just know something. Suvrat talks about how we mix these up all of the time and the consequences of doing so.
Suvrat highlights his new book, “A moment of insight“, which is available in Hardback, Paperback and on Kindle. You can also find the book on Audible! He really hopes you will connect with it and would love you to reach out to him on social media and share your thoughts! You can find Suvrat on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, or over on his website.
I’d like to thank Dr. Suvrat Bhargave for coming on the show and chatting with me.
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