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A Radical Love Conversation with Dr. Katie O'Grady

Throughout the year, I will have ongoing conversations with various people who practice radical love in their lives on a daily basis. My first conversation is with Dr. Katie O'Grady, a family medicine doctor and author.

[Dr. Katie O'Grady in her office. She is smiling and wearing a red sweater]

1. How do you define radical love?

Dr. O'Grady: For me, radical love is a pause and a breath after feeling a strong emotion. There are so many moments throughout the day when I feel annoyed or tired or frustrated. When I react quickly to these feelings, that's when I tend to lash out at others and then ultimately feel bad about myself. When I pause and try to find space for love and compassion, I almost always feel better and those around me feel better too. Getting my daughters ready for school in the morning can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. There are many days I lose my patience and I'm rushing my daughters to put on shoes and get out the door. Other days I'm able to sing a song about putting on shoes or we play a game about getting ready. That gives us all a moment to laugh and leave the house in a better mood. Radical love isn't perfection, but just a small moment of choosing love over negativity.

As a primary care physician, I have to be completely honest that sometimes I do get annoyed and frustrated with my patients. Unfortunately, many patients know this feeling from a doctor. I never ever want my patients to feel this energy from me. These feelings come up when I prescribe a medication and the patient hasn't started it. Or they tell me they can't sleep and they are drinking coffee at 6pm. Or they say they are eating fast food every day. What I try to remind myself is that in almost all cases, there are systems failing my patients -- my patients are not failing. Some of my patients live in food deserts. Some maybe can't afford their medication or their copay and they are embarrassed to share this with me. Some people truly don't know not to have caffeine after a certain time! What I see in many cases, is patients have had a very negative or traumatic experience within the healthcare system and they have baseline mistrust. I do not blame them. Before I walk into every patient visit, I put my right hand on either side of the closed door and I ground myself to be as present as I can and as tender as I can with the human in front of me. It can be really scary going to the doctor. Modern medicine is often so focused on the newest technology, the gamma ray knife or maybe a fancy new drug, but we can never underestimate the power of someone being truly present who listens and loves their patients. I really try to be that for my patients. 

2. What is one lesson love has taught you in the past 5 years? Explain

Dr. O'Grady: Love is not control. When my kids were younger, I did everything for them - decided everything they ate, what they wore, how they did their hair. Now that they are getting older, of course they are blooming into amazing young people and they want to make their own decisions about everything they do. Sometimes this is REALLY hard. As a woman I think it is really easy to think, "I know what's best for everyone in my life!!" The truth is I do not know!

In my marriage, I think we are very good at navigating the every day stressors and the labor that comes with parenting. It is not easy. ("You think it's easy!?!" my grandparents used to always say.) Dividing household labor with love involves a lot of relinquishing control. A perfect example is that my husband usually gets my daughters dressed (with their input now as well!). Some days I honestly do not like what they are wearing. But practicing radical love doesn't mean criticizing every domestic or household task my husband does. He does it in his way and I am thankful for that. 

3. Are there moments when you struggle to love yourself? Why?

Dr. O'Grady: ALL THE TIME! When I make a mistake, when I react quickly to negative emotions, when I don't follow through on my goals, when I stay up too late on Tiktok or watching TV. It is so hard to learn that loving myself has absolutely nothing to do with accomplishments, looks or habits. I have done a lot of UNlearning!! What's always funny to me is that the better I feel about myself and love myself unconditionally, I actually end up making better, healthier choices for myself.

4. What is one piece of advice you would give to someone who is struggling to love themselves?

Dr. O'Grady: You were once a little tiny baby! You are still that little tiny baby, in your heart and in the universe somewhere too. I'm sure at some point things got messy, but it is never too late to cradle that little version of yourself and let love lead the way. The hard truth is that no one will do this for you and the more you seek validation and love from others, the less you will be able to love yourself.

5. How do you make time for desire in your life?

Dr. O'Grady: I make time by making desire and pleasure a priority. There are a lot of competing factors in modern life! But listening to my body and knowing what I need is something I try to tap into daily. The times I have felt the most down in my life, I realized I was not making time for my own desire and pleasure and I was focused solely on caregiving -- whether for my family or my patients. I realized the hard way that I could not care for others if I was not finding room for joy, desire and pleasure in my life. My husband and I are also really lucky to have a good support system so I don't feel like I am at my limit every single day!! I am so grateful for my extended family, especially my parents and my sister.


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