So here it is, New Year’s Eve, and 2016 is coming to an end. It’s been a bit of a disastrous year for the world in many respects, but for me, I can truly say this has been the best year of my life. As well as getting married, this was the year that took me away from my life as a doctor and threw me onto a less comfortable, but much happier path.
“I can picture myself sitting exactly where I am now, one year ago, my mind racked with anxiety and guilt, my confidence shaken and my direction lost.”
When I think about myself this time last year, I wish I had a Tardis – or some such other time travelling contraption – because I can picture myself sitting exactly where I am now, one year ago, my mind racked with anxiety and guilt, my confidence shaken and my direction lost. I sat here crying, in the wake of my resignation, terrified of what I’d just done but too repulsed at the idea of going back to even consider locuming. It was also around the time that the new junior doctor contract stuff was kicking off, and I couldn’t imagine returning to the ever increasing frustration and uncertainty.
I was traumatised, I think – not only from my experiences as a doctor, but also from the illness that gave me a seriously big reality check earlier that year. I was still recovering from it in body and mind, and I didn’t feel equal to coping with the changes in my life, even though I had been the source of them.
The last pay cheque had been spent on Christmas and rent, and I was living off my savings and what seemed like borrowed time. I felt like a failure. I felt that I had let everyone down – a burden to my fiancé, a disappointment to my parents, and worst of all, a disappointment to myself. I listened to the same songs over and over again – holding onto my reasons for leaving (Gotta Go My Own Way), trying unsuccessfully to convince myself I would succeed against the odds (Hall of Fame) and waiting desperately for some distant day when I could look back and say I survived (Survivor/I Will Survive).
I was sitting here thinking that I was ‘nothing more than a doctor’, with no other skills or abilities, not realising just how many superhuman capabilities one has to develop as a doctor. I was wondering who on earth would employ, what on earth a failure like me had to offer. My mind was toxic and I just wanted to withdraw from the world, too ashamed to raise my head again. It may sound melodramatic to me now, but those feelings were real at that time. I was in a dark place.
And yet , despite being so down, there was something inside me that was determined to fight. I almost can’t believe it still – I walked into another job with a good salary and a senior position. I picked up my new skills from scratch and did my job well l. I remembered that I had other talents. I grew as a person. I healed. I felt special, unique, proud. I had the time and space to be there for my best friend as she got married, and to plan my own dream wedding. And I learned – my goodness, did I learn! It was an educational kaleidoscope. I discovered a world of things I had no idea existed, and finally jumped out of the box I had been sitting in for so long.
I once again attended the Medic Footprints ‘Alternative Careers and Wellbeing for doctors’ event that I went to last October. It was just before my wedding, but I was determined to go, because last time I was there as a frightened and unsure delegate, and this time I went as a mentor and team member, with a spring in my step and the desire to give some inspiration back, after having received so much.
My husband and friends tell me now that they’ve ‘got me back.’ I am sad to think that I ever let my career take away any aspects of my personality, and I think that if I had my time in the NHS again, I would do things differently. But it’s so easily done – when you’re in that bubble, it’s hard and sometimes too exhausting to change things.
I think there’s part of me that will always miss being a doctor. It was such a fundamental part of my life, and I can’t deny that I still sometimes wish that I could have made it work. But I have no intention of going back. I see now that I just didn’t belong there – it didn’t suit me – and that’s OK. It’s not for everyone. You can’t change who you are, you just have to embrace it. Of course, things aren’t all plain sailing and rosy at the moment, but I am happy notwithstanding. I feel more in control and that things are more as they ought to be. I went into medicine because I wanted to help people, but this year has taught me that there’s more than one way to make the lives of others better, and I am finally using the gifts I have been given to do just that. If nothing else, this blog has helped other doctors, and for that I am profoundly grateful and humbled.
I have also been learning a particularly hard skill – not to be too hard on myself. The side effect of being driven and diligent is that there is a strong tendency to become complacent about one’s achievements and dismiss little progressions and successes as unimportant. The ‘good’ things don’t count as much as the failures, and this leads to the deeply dissatifying feeling that you’re never quite good enough. Self-praise is hard for people like me, but I’m going to do it now: while I was learning my new trade, I didn’t have the brain space to work on my novel. But now that I know what I’m doing at work, I’ve smashed out another 20 000 words or so. It might never get published, but it’s a project that is important to me and that is taking a lot of work to produce, therefore it’s something to take pride in.
If only I could go back to my last year self and give her a glimpse of the things to come. If only she could see that the outlook is not so very bleak, that she will harness all her resources and that the risk will pay off. I won’t say that I’ve ‘made it’ – my high ideals and expectations of myself continue to push my ambitions in a different but equally demanding direction – but it doesn’t matter. I’m doing things my own way and learning to trust my intuition.
And perhaps more importantly – I’m not just surviving. I’m living too.