Walking Tall

This month I’m traveling around the country to check out fellowship positions. It is exhausting, trying, lonely, and often confusing. Most of all, I miss my kids.

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how fellowship and moving to one of these places would fit into the current, ideal, little life of mine, but it’s hard to do.

This morning, as I walk to the clinic, I am in awe of my own strength. This is not an easy task

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Happiness, Please

Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth.  We are happy when we are growing.

~John Butler Yeats, 1909

Is there a difference between pleasure and happiness?

I had never really thought much about it until today.  My husband sent me an interview by Dr. Robert Lustig, who just recently published a book on this very topic.  He is actually quite well known for his stance against sugar and processed foods (which, as a side note, is something I wholeheartedly agree with) and it seems that this is where this topic stems from.

I encourage you to watch the interview HERE.  But if you don’t have the time, let me summarize his main idea:

Pleasure is not Happiness.  In fact, pleasure is the opposite of happiness.  Pleasure can never lead to happiness.

Does this seem counter intuitive?  Well, perhaps it is… until you understand the mechanisms in the brain that control these experiences.  One experience is rooted in need and addiction; the other stems from satisfaction and contentment.  Can you guess which one is which?

I’ll keep it simple, because this idea spoke to me today on very simple terms.  Pleasure is a quick fix that leaves as quickly as it comes: it always leaves you longing for more.  Happiness, on the other hand, is a state of being and can only be realized when you stop searching for that fix.

 

Hiatus Reveles

If you’ve ever lost yourself  amidst the chaos of daily life, then you might understand why I stopped blogging.  There was a long stretch of time where I felt that the person I use to be was missing, or maybe stolen… and that was the person who loved to blog.  I gave up when the posts I wrote felt forced (you should see the number of drafts collecting dust in that folder) and blogging wasn’t fun anymore.  That person who opened up her soul to an online world of similar soul searchers was slowly choked away; It started with the abrupt demise of The Cranky Giraffe and culminated with the realization that I no longer wanted the life I was living.

Today, I admitted to someone that I used to blog.  It hurts when I say “used to.”  She asked me why I stopped and I didn’t have a good answer.  Maybe I did have a good answer for why I stopped: “Because I wasn’t anonymous anymore and I lost my mojo and I was unfairly judged.” But the real reason was because I wasn’t the person I used to be.  I was sad and lost, and I wasn’t recovering.

In obeying the rules and expectations from some external force, I watched as my very essence slipped through my own fingers.  However, I grasped the last fray before it was completely gone; as if I could see in slow motion that the last piece was falling to the ground.  What started as an epiphany has progressively blossomed into a path of courage, strength, and disobedience.  I’ve let that last fray grow back and intertwine through my fingertips and up to my chest.  I breath it into my lungs and pump it out through my body.  I feel like I am finally recovering.

I’ve found myself called back to the blog.  I’ve found myself called back to many things I used to love and I have slowly been re-discovering the person I am (not used-to-be).

Daily Post

 

Paradox

When I was in medical school and considering my specialty, someone said to me: “You can train anyone to be a good obgyn.  What you can’t do is train someone to be a caring, kind, and compassionate human being.  People will see that about you and above all, that will stand out.”

Last week I had coffee with one of my current preceptors.  This man interviewed me when I applied to residency.  When I was accepted into this program, he told me that I was his favourite applicant that he’s ever interviewed.  He said I had a passion for life and a light about me that made him know instantly that I would make a great obgyn.  At our little coffee date last week he said to me: “Aggie, I have noticed that you are not the same person today that you were when I interviewed you.  I am so disheartened to see that our program has stripped away the best parts of you in an attempt to make you a good surgeon.  I don’t know why we do this to our residents.”  He continued, “I just wanted to tell you to not let residency win.  This is finite and when it is over, I hope that you will go back to being that person I remember from your interview.”

Both of these people, people I’ve respected and considered mentors, have spoken such true  yet conflicting statements.  In training to become the type of physician I want to be, I have lost the aspects of myself that would make me the kind, caring, and compassionate physician I imagined becoming.  Within this paradox lies my problem.  Can I ever come back from this?  Do I turn around now and work on nurturing myself back into the person I used to be, or do I risk continuing down this path I’m on and perhaps never recovering what I’ve lost?

Is there a right answer?

A Break From Authenticity

Last night I picked up my copy of Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. This book has been sitting on my shelf, unread, for almost three years.  My mandate to begin “Living Authentically” started shortly after I read Brené’s earlier published book, The Gifts of Imperfection. Since moving, starting residency, and having another baby, my goal to read Daring Greatly kept getting pushed to the bottom of my list.  Within the midst of my current existential life crisis, I decided it was time to pick up the book and stare Wholeheartedness right in the face.

I didn’t even get through the prologue before realizing that I no longer live, or even embody, the qualities of wholeheartedness and authenticity.  Maybe I used to, but in the struggle to keep up and keep going, I’ve let these important aspects of my life fall to the side.

Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection

~Brené Brown, Daring Greatly

The one thing I know for sure is that right now, I have no clarity of my purpose.  I am filled with fear and disconnection from my life and my purpose.  I feel confused and I lack direction because my viewpoint on life is clouded by outside expectations, judgement, and comparison.  My internal dialogue is lost and disguised by everything that defines fear and vulnerability.  These definitions were very well delineated by Brené Brown in The Gifts of Imperfection and I know that reading that book changed my life.  I blogged about that change on the old blog and I will find that post to re-post here in the coming days.

Ironically, The introduction to Daring Greatly literally reminded me of these imperfections and what needs to be shed from my life:
1. Letting go of what people think
2. Letting go of perfectionism
3. Letting go of numbing and powerlessness
4. Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark
5. Letting go of the need for certainty
6. Letting go of comparison
7. Letting go of exhaustion of a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
8. Letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle
9. Letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”
10. Letting go of being cool and “always in control”

Each of these ten imperfections, every single one of them, comprise the mental roadblocks that I am struggling with right now.  These imperfections are preventing me from committing to the decisions I am faced with in my life today.  I need to lean-in to my fears and rediscover my vulnerabilities.  I need to embrace them and re-discover my own authenticity

 

Queens Don’t Fail

 

 

Last week a friend of mine from medical school send me this snapshot from a book she’s reading: Constance Halls, “Like A Queen.”  She felt that this sentence embodied me.  Just the day before I told her that I was considering a specialty change.  I confessed that one of the feelings holding me back was that of failure.  In my mind, switching means failure.

The past few weeks have been a challenging time for me.  For years now, I have thrown around the idea of changing specialties in medicine.  Initially, the idea started because I struggled greatly with my work life balance: there is no room for family life in a surgical residency.  When A. was diagnosed with ASD, I took some time off and realized that I needed to give more to my family.  Despite that, I tried for a long time to convince myself that as long as I loved my job and enjoyed what I did while I was at work, the sacrifices at home would be worth it.  I honestly believe that, even now.  However, as more time goes by, I wonder if I really do enjoy my job as much as I tell myself I do.

Lately I find that I haven’t been as interested and engaged in my work.  I do my work and I take care of my patients, but I haven’t really been enjoying myself.  I wake up in the mornings dragging my feet and I spend a large proportion of the day waiting for it to come to an end so I can get home to my family.  Surgery is technically challenging and pleasurable, but I don’t feel passion when I am in the OR – Just a sense of obligation.  My call shifts are becoming more and more onerous, especially as they stack on top of each other: all I want to do is sleep.  When I think ahead to the heavy rotations, the year of being chief resident, and the studying that is going to have to happen, I cringe.  I know that not too far from now, I will have to neglect my family even more than I do now for an entire year if I want to pass my board exams.  And, I just don’t think I’m willing to make that sacrifice.

So, does that mean I need to change my goals?  Or am I just experiencing a bad case of burnout?  Maybe a little bit of both?  Is this really a good time to make a change in career paths?

I feel dissatisfied at work and I feel like I am falling short as a caring and engaged mother when I am at home.  I know, for certain, that these two feeling are not exclusive of one another.  Together these feelings play into a vicious negative-feedback cycle: I dislike my job because of how it affects my family life, and I feel guilty about what happens to my family because of how much I commit to my job.  Inadequacy in all aspects of life make for an unhappy life.  Despite all of this dissatisfaction, I feel frozen and unable to make a decision on how to move forward.  Staying in the same place, expecting things to get better feels like the wrong decision.  Yet, committing to change, admitting that I’m not happy, and taking a new path is frightening and feels like failure in disguise.

All these thoughts, ideas, and stressors have caused havoc in my mind.  Just a few weeks ago, after decideding to move ahead with the change, I felt empowered and giddy with excitement that I was taking control of my life.  That excitement has now completely dwindled away to leave only more anxiety and fear over the decision.  I fear that I am making this decision for the wrong reasons and that one day I will regret not “sticking it out.”  But I also fear the perception of failure.

I know I could finish this if I tried (and if I wanted to).  But is it what I really want?

 

Impressive Has No Value

“There is no value in being impressive,” I said to her while gazing at the baby in my arms. “I used to care about impressing people, about being the person that people would take a second look at. But, people don’t care about impressive. They care about themselves.”I punctuated the last thought by starting right into her eyes. I have never said something more true in front of her. It was the first time I said it aloud; the first time I actually believed it to be a real truth.

“You’re right.” She smiled back at me.  

I looked back at my baby, who was holding my hands while tentatively attempting to explore the world around her. El had been to every appointment in this office since she was born. I sat on this very couch while I was pregnant, agonizing over how a third baby was going to fit into my already hectic and hard to manage lifestyle. And before that, I sat on this same couch weighing the pros and cons about the decision to even have a third pregnancy. Over the years, these conversations with my therapist have been plentiful, yet none have been more revealing to me than this one.

My gaze became out of focus as I explored this new truth that spilled from my lips. I thought back over the past few years and over the decisions I made that brought me to where I am today. I felt a sense of sadness and anger come over me. The desire to impress had taken over my whole life. It had distracted me from the aspects of my life that were most important to me. I lost track of what I should have cared most about, and instead, I moved to impress other people. I never, however, impressed myself.  

The past few years of my life have been a whirlwind of stress, anxiety, unhappiness, and discontent. And, I can’t take that back. Maybe people were impressed with me at some point: “I really don’t know how you do it all…” they’d say. But that moment only lasts for a second before they go back to caring about their own lives.

Caring about their own life: Something I should have been doing this whole time. I looked at baby El and realized that she and her brothers are the only ones who deserve my efforts to impress. And ironically, they don’t need to be impressed by me to love me and want me, and for me to the he most important person in their world. 

I regret the years I’ve wasted trying to impress other people. I know where the desire came from and that it was something engrained early and deep in my childhood insecurities. This epiphany – the sudden absence of my desire to impress – is a sign that those longstanding, deeply seeded issues are slowly being resolved. I walked away from the appointment with a renewed sense of clarity and purpose about how to move forward in my life. I stepped over the threshold from treatment room to a new world with a completely different approach to living my life. 

That simple sentence. One simple thought. An enormous truth that has remained hidden from my reality for far too long. My acceptance and belief in that one thing has already affected change in my life that I never thought would happen. I already feel happier. 

Connected to Her

Even before I was pregnant with El, I dreamed about breastfeeding her. There is nothing more engaging and powerful, in my experience, than sharing this experience with my children. There were times when I thought that maybe the only reason I wanted another baby was because I wanted to breastfeed. 

Breastfeeding is also one of the most difficult things I have ever done for my children. To ensure they get as much breastmilk as possible, I pump while I am at work and on call. Breastfeeding my baby means that most of the time I am attached to a machine – not my baby. This is the part I hate; but I am reminded of why I endure it when I lay down at night with El by my side, her little body pressed up against my chest, listening to her suckle as she falls asleep. I never want it to end. 

A few weeks ago, the “brelfie” (breastfeeding selfie) began trending. I loved the idea of having a picture of my experience feeding my baby. I have many photos of me feeding my baby, but they are all from far away, or with covers, or even just for me to see. I was delighted to create something that I could share with the world. This is my life; what matters to me the most – giving myself to my children. 

Breastfeeding is so much to me: it is food, but it is also comfort, bonding, sharing, and love. I wish my babies didn’t grow up because I will never get tired of this amazing experience 

Tales of Tired

I could start off the New Year on my blog by saying that I’m going to blog more often.  Or perhaps, it might be more appropriate to apologize for disappearing and not blogging for an inordinate amount of time.

I am sorry that I haven’t been around.  I am sorry that I haven’t been reading everyone’s blogs.  I know how it feels sometimes when bloggers “disappear” and you never really know why.

I’d like to think that this year I will get back to blogging more regularly.  The truth is that I do really miss it.  I think often, usually daily, about what I would write on my blog if I just had the time to make it here… If I just wasn’t so tired.  My phone is filled with notes containing one line thoughts and ideas that would make for good blog topics.  I have pictures and interesting nuggets that I imagine sharing.  But I also miss writing – and being a good writer, at that.  I used to be an amazing writer and I used to have profound things to say.  Now I don’t know where that all went.  I want my blog to mean something, even if it only means something to me.

The real truth, though, is that I’ve been so tired.

Since I started back at work, it’s been a inordinate effort to ensure I am giving off the right message of interest, commitment, and hard work.  I can’t afford for even one person to think I could do better, and that is exhausting.

Three kids is a whole lot of tired, too.  It’s been an exciting ride, and little El is already 8 months old.  I’m not sure how that amount of time has flown by, but it has and I am still managing.  I find it a challenge to really give each of my children the time they deserve.  I especially feel bad for E, my middle child, who is at that horrible age of 4-5… he’s straddling the line between toddler and kid and he embodies the worst characteristics of each one.  It is not my favourite age; I did not like it when A was that age and I suspect I will not like it when El is that age either.  And so I feel that I fall short as a loving, attentive mother to E.  Feeling like I need to do better is tiring.

Breastfeeding while working an 80 hour week with call shifts… now that is a whole new level of exhaustion.  I love breastfeeding.  I am already sad thinking about the possibility of it ending.  I still exclusively breastfeed El when I am home and I pump all the milk she drinks while I am away.  Finding time to pump between clinic patients and OR cases is like trying to solve an impossible puzzle.  Amazingly though, I leave each shift with enough milk to fill El’s bottles for the next day.  It is fulfilling, even though I loathe being attached to a breast pump each and every day.

Not having time for myself is also… just tiring.  I haven’t been running.  I haven’t been reliably going to Taekwondo. I haven’t been getting pedicures, or going for massages, or blogging, or doing anything other than working, mothering, and pumping milk.  I want to do better and hopefully (paradoxically) this will lead to less “feeling tired.”

I will set some goals for this year, like I did the past two years.  I’m optimistic that this will help with getting me back where I want to be.  I was extremely successful with this endeavour in 2015 (which was documented on my old blog, before I had to close it down), but looking back at the goals for 2016, I was very far off the mark.  I still need some time for reflection on what these goals will be, but I know they will follow a similar pattern of fitness goals, wellness goals, and personal life goals.

Maybe the first goal will be: “To be less Tired.”

And to achieve that, I should probably get to bed.

In My Absence

It’s been weeks since I’ve been here… and three weeks have passed since I’ve been back at work.

It’s been months since I’ve been at work… and it’s taken 3 weeks to get back to some kind of normal. 

I’m happy to be back at work, but I miss my baby. I also miss my “free time” and I miss everything else that is important to me. 

The last three weeks have been a whirlind of breastfeeding in the night, pumping milk between surgeries and baby deliveries, leaking breasts, making bottles, sleeping, cuddling with baby El, and maybe some sleep somewhere in there.

I still have mixed emotions about my decision to return to work early. I love my job and it feels great to be back, but I miss my baby – even more than I imagined I would. 

In my absence she seems to be doing well. So far I have been able to continue breastfeeding. Although, I can sense her getting impatient at the breast when the milk doesn’t come as quickly as the bottle. My milk supply is having a hard time keeping up and I’ve had to start some supplements. Hopefully it will pick up in the next little while. 

She is excited to see me when I finally get to her after a long day of work. Even at 5.5 months, she had begun to give little hugs and bury her face into my shoulder. Then she opens her mouth wide and dives into my face – her idea of a kiss. It doesn’t take more than 5 minuets before she is suddenly pushing to lean back and rooting for her comfort. She still loves her special mommy and El time, and for that I’m so thankful.