Tell Us A Little About Yourself –
I’m a practicing emergency medicine physician who came to Alaska full time 12 years ago. I first came to Alaska during college when I was a mountaineering guide and met my husband and we always wanted to come back. It has been an honor and a joy to live here and serve for the last year and a half as the state’s chief medical officer.
Are you a Lifelong Alaskan? What part of Alaska did you grow up in?
I grew up in Denver Colorado and spent my summers climbing and hiking. I have lived in Palmer AK since I moved up here in 2009.
At Careline, we want Alaskans to know that we are not only a suicide prevention hotline, that we are a someone-to-talk-to hotline as well. We want Alaskans to reach out to us to talk whenever they need help or someone to talk to. There are many barriers to reaching out, including many internal barriers. What would you say to someone who needs help and someone to talk to but may not like the idea of reaching out to ask for help?
We don’t think twice about asking for help to get our oil changed or fixing the plumbing in our house and I don’t think that we should hesitate to ask for help if we’re feeling overwhelmed or depressed. These are very natural feelings that are oftentimes exacerbated by stressful situations like the pandemic. Being able to ask for help is a sign of strength not a sign of weakness. I often times think of depression as a dark tunnel and we sometimes need to hold someone else’s hand or use their light to get through to the other side even if we cannot see the light ourselves.
I often times think of depression as a dark tunnel and we sometimes need to hold someone else’s hand or use their light to get through to the other side even if we cannot see the light ourselves.A. Zink
Alaska can be a challenging place to live. What are some things you do to cope and thrive in our unique Alaskan environment?
Being connected to my community, friends and family is critical to my mental health as is getting outside. When I’m outside I’m reminded of the natural ebbs and flows of nature and life and it helps to put my current life situation in better perspective. I also find that if I can walk, hike, bike, ski, run or just play outside I can lose myself in the adventure and that always helps my mental health.
During a time of great uncertainty and turmoil and transition, what gives you hope right now? And what makes you proud?
I’m incredibly hopeful by the promise of vaccines, the ability to reconnect and give loved ones hugs, have dinner dates with friends, to be able to connect without having to worry about this virus. I also have really focused on the many things that have gone well during this pandemic. By focusing on the positive it’s helped me stay positive. I told my children early on in the pandemic that this was going to be their year of resiliency. I asked them in what ways did they want to grow, what did they want to learn, what did they want to do differently than they normally would? And so instead of thinking about all the things we’ve lost we decided to focus on all the things we could gain from this unique year and it has been inspiring to learn from them as they have found ways to be strong and resilient and creative during this year.
I’m incredibly hopeful by the promise of vaccines, the ability to reconnect and give loved ones hugs, have dinner dates with friends, to be able to connect without having to worry about this virus.A. Zink
During difficult times, is there a mantra or some sort of touchstone that you return to? Something that gives you strength or offers perspective during challenging times?
I have a few mantras that have been very helpful. For work I always try to remember what’s right for the patient and remember that the rest is noise. Personally I try to always show up for the climb. This may mean showing up for something that may seem impossible but looking for the tools that I may need, asking for help and giving it a shot. I also have always asked my children to do two things and that’s be courageous and be kind. I try to bring that to every interaction that I have. I also have thought a lot about something we would often tell our kids on hard days and that’s that they could do hard things. I often remind myself that we can do hard things and it makes it feel more doable.
Many of us have experienced trauma in our lives. The path to healing looks different and follows a different timeline for every one. Would you feel comfortable sharing a story of healing or recovery from your own life?
My sister died by suicide. She was three years younger than my best friend, I was left shaken to the core. I will never forget that day and in some ways know that I will never move beyond it. When I was struggling with tremendous loss after her death a wise friend told me that grief is like having hole blasted into your soul and eventually healing does not mean filling that hole but learning to sit at the edge of it without falling in. I think of her everyday and know she would have been the most amazing aunt to my daughters and am so incredibly sad that they don’t know her like I did. I honestly believe if she would have seen how much she was going to miss out on by taking her own life she never would have. I have always been haunted with the “what ifs” but at the end of the day it was her decision. It breaks my heart that she struggled and died alone but losing her has taught me so much and I try to carry her strength, love, and her intense belief that she could make the world a better place forward into a world without her. She’s always made me a better person and continues to inspire me long after she left this world.
Looking back on times of acute stress and crisis in your life, what advice would you give yourself?
To keep putting one foot in front of the other. The mountain looks different as we move down the trail and so do life’s trials and tribulations. I count it as a win, when life is stressful, that the dishes got in the dishwasher, that I brushed my teeth or I got outside. Life is a journey and I remind myself how the hard times make us stronger and how you just have to get through the challenge and not avoid it or go around it.
Feeling joyful can seem complicated after times of crisis. What are some ways that you have let joy back into your life?
I actively look for joy. There’s so much to be found. Joy in vaccines rolling out, joy in seeing ways that people have thrived, joy in just the sun shining a bit longer every day. I remember reading this story about the Dalai Lama and how when he became ill, he focused on gratitude and suddenly his pain went away. I see it all the time in children that when they’re distracted with a story or a song or a movie – they don’t even feel me suturing their cut or reducing their arm. The mind is a powerful thing and if we can direct it towards joy and healing we literally don’t feel pain the same way. We have to keep looking for joy as an antidote for pain.
The mind is a powerful thing and if we can direct it towards joy and healing we literally don’t feel pain the same way. We have to keep looking for joy as an antidote for pain.A. Zink
In crisis or simply need someone to talk to?
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Thank you Alyeska Pipeline Service Company for sponsoring Alaskan Stories of Hope & Healing