It’s as if I’m in the wrong body

After the initial novelty of my non-medical career subsides, and I slip back into every day life, I’m almost surprised how quickly this new situation has become ‘normal’.

Was it really just six months ago that I was trying to decide whether to quit Medicine? Did I seriously stay up all night agonising over my wasted education, questioning my life decisions and wondering how I could live outside of my career?

As unpleasant as all the drama was, life now feel strangely drab without it. My mum and I are now taking advantage of my new-found freedom. She’s been filling my weekends with fun wedding planning, and booking me in to sing at various concerts, which I’m really enjoying. I think she’s actually glad I’m able to do such things now, and it’s nice to spend more quality time with her.

My dad, who I think was deeply affected and disappointed when Medicine didn’t work out for me, and whom I could hardly face for the shame of it, seems to have recovered somewhat too. He grabbed me when I visited last weekend to help him set up a website. He and my mother are renovating a property in Sri Lanka and turning it into a little boutique hotel in the Hill Country. Since online business is ‘my thing’ now, it’s nice to know I can use my new skills to help them. I’m also relieved that my relationship with him hasn’t suffered – he still talks to me about his interesting cases, discusses the latest radiological developments with me, and shows me interesting pathologies on MRI or CT scans that he’s reported. I feel like, through him, I still belong to the medical world in some small way.

This is the first time I’ve come close to missing Medicine, but at the same time, I know that I’m not missing it for the right reasons. I don’t yet feel that it’s calling me back – I just miss the familiarity of that part of my identity. It sounds awful, but before, my stressful state of being made sense to me; being a doctor is inherently stressful, and now, although I’ve left the profession, that mindset persists. In fact, I’ve been so highly programmed to cope with pressure that I’m inventing stressors for myself, mostly unintentionally, but partly in a vain attempt to replicate what I have left. I just can’t stop feeling ‘on edge’. The anxiety follows me around like a shadow, and I have to consciously remind myself that no one is going to die. It’s worrying that the NHS makes doctors feel this way – it’s not healthy.

Last night I rang one of my best friends, who is a high school teacher, and lamented a trait that she and I both seem to share: we crave the ‘buzz’. An addiction that started in our school days, the need for achievement has become central to our lives, yet it is horribly unsatisfying. It’s like a hit of heroin – reaching that top grade or winning that prize gives us a fleeting hint of pleasure and pride, but it doesn’t last. In mere moments, the achievement is thrown into the pile of our success and we move on to seek the next high. Combine this trait with a high-pressured, under-resourced job and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Now the buzz is gone. No more cardiac arrests, no more emergency surgeries, no more on-the-spot decisions to be made. I’m not the doctor in the room any more, I’m just me, and a marketing manager. I can’t even play the ‘rebel’ card any more, as my family seem to have accepted the change and adapted to it. I feel a selfish longing to be important again, to be valuable, even though as a doctor, I felt anything but important or valued. It’s all so paradoxical, I’m confusing myself. After all, most psychiatrists or dermatologists don’t deal with medical emergencies any more than I do – if I had become one of them, would I still miss the buzz, or would it be enough that I was helping people and changing lives? Who knows. I’m starting to think that, with my current way of looking at things, nothing would ever be enough for me.

I suppose I must learn to be content with life as it is, and to appreciate the wins more. I have now managed to cut my to-do list down to just four things: job, blog, novel and wedding. And if I think about it, life is still exciting. The adrenaline rushes may be considerably reduced in number, but there are plenty of interesting and wonderful things going on, even if they are happening gradually, over weeks and months instead of minutes and hours. I need to change my approach, and since the NHS environment isn’t really conducive to this kind of personal development, perhaps I needed to step out of it in order to grow.


6 thoughts on “It’s as if I’m in the wrong body”

  1. Hi Peach, this is interesting and I can relate to it in some ways! Some of this sounds as though you are still looking and waiting for a reason to go back to medicine- maybe I’m way off the mark there.

  2. Interesting question… Yes, I suppose I am expecting to miss it. It just seems odd to me that I don’t want to be a doctor anymore when it is such a great career. I’m waiting for the day when I wake up and regret my decision or change my mind.

  3. I think this blog hits home to anyone that has ever got very involved in an area, only to then walk away from it. Myself – I spent 8 years on one path, which I’m guessing isn’t far off the medical route. It is almost true to say that there are five labs in the world that could do the research I did (mainly because I both set up and subsequently ruined the fifth). It wasn’t medicine, but it was involved.

    Believe me, as someone that has been out of it for a year, that walking away is hard. It sets your brain. My current job I often lament that I’ll walk into the office and there being no risk of an explosion. Things are and continue to be very alien to me – I always promised myself I’d never work in an office.

    Having read your blog from the most recent backwards to here, it at least sounds like you’re still working in a similar area. It may not be as exciting – there are no emergencies (explosions in my case) but…

    You will miss it, maybe not yet, fully, but you will.
    Being out of what I did for a while is possibly the best choice I ever made – I now remember why I loved what I did. Still not going back.

    1. It’s nice to be able to connect with non-medics via this blog! Thanks for your comments. Maybe it’s human nature to define who you are by what you do… There’s something comforting when you settle in a certain sphere, and you can’t imagine losing that way of thinking, and being with those kinds of people. I’m glad you’ve found something you enjoy doing. And who knows what’s round the corner? There may be explosions awaiting you yet, or maybe something entirely different again! But having transitioned once, it shows a certain amount of courage, resilience and adaptability, and with that combination, you’re sure to go far 🙂

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