The Assault

I almost didn’t go.

He threw punches hard – right at my face.  I kept my hands up to protect myself, but it took all my strength to stop the blows.  I focused every ounce of my attention on blocking his fists as they came barreling towards me.  He hit hard – he was the same height as me, but at least 50 pounds heavier – all muscle.  And I was still weak, recovering from the recent birth.

I wasn’t ready. The roast chicken was just finished and straight out of the oven.  The kids weren’t even fed yet and Husband was still at work.  There was no way I could go, even if I wanted to.   My phone buzzed – A message from Husband: Are you going?  I’ll meet you there to pick up the kids… Don’t worry, I’ll feed them later… I don’t want you to miss it because of me.

It was my turn now.  I finally got my opportunity to hit him.  I used all my strength, but there wasn’t much.  I wasn’t very coordinated either: punching someone’s face is just not something that comes naturally.  Left fist jab, right fist power… those were the instructions, I remembered.  All my power was barely enough to make him flinch.  He took them though. He let me hit him and I gained confidence in my ability.  I didn’t stop for a full minute.

I rushed up the stairs to change, leaving the golden chicken, half carved on the cutting board.  I yelled down the stairs for the kids to get ready to leave.  I packed up the baby and into the van we piled.  I was going to be late, but that’s better than missing it entirely.

I’ve met him before; a polite, older gentleman… it seemed.  He used to come with his son, but it’s been a while since I’ve seen the teenage kid.  We’ve exchanged polite pleasantries in the past, but we’ve never really spoken more than that.  Nevertheless, it was obvious that he was strong and that I would never stand a chance.

Husband arrived shortly after I did.  He ushered the kids out and left me there for my class, alone.  It was glorious to finally have my time to myself.  After a day of hashing out work issues and my recent discriminatory evaluation, I was deflated, exhausted, and feeling defeated.  I wasn’t really in the mood for conditioning, but I figured the physical activity would be good for me.

After I finished my round of punches, he started at me again.  This time he added in the elbow strike to the face.  Here was my chance!  He was stronger than me, but in his older age, he lacked the coordination to properly execute the move.  He was slowing down with each change of motion.  The blows were not as hard.  If I wanted to, I could have overpowered him in this weakness. But I didn’t.  I let him finish.

The conditioning circuit was a challenge, even after being back for almost two months.  Fifteen stations, one minute each, with a fifteen second break in between.  My heart was racing but I was starting to feel better.  I’m glad Husband forced me to go… this is what I needed.

Another minute was over.  I had gained confidence after seeing my opponent’s weakness.  It was my turn.  The elbow strike to the face was challenging, but I adapted quickly.  Now it was him who almost couldn’t keep up with me.  Left jab, right power, left elbow to the face.  Harder and Harder each time.  More speed.  More power.  I didn’t even see my opponent anymore.  Instead, I imagined hitting the face of the person responsible for all the stress and anguish I’ve been through.  It felt good… No, it felt exhilarating!  One minute was not long enough.

When the circuit was over, it was time for some partner work.  My usual partner is another woman similar in age to me.  We met up to start the drill.  However, we were separated because she was much shorter than me.  For this drill we needed to be similar heights. I was matched up with the older gentleman.  I worried that I wouldn’t be able to match his strength well.   The instructor then handed out the hand pads and explained the drill.

One last drill: him first, then me.  Left fist jab, right fist power, left elbow to the face, right elbow straight up under the chin.  Yes!  One more power blow to really drive it home.  I held the pads for my opponent while he struggled with the coordination of the drill.  I spoke the moves aloud to help him with his concentration.  I wasn’t vulnerable anymore.  I had the power.  I gave him the pads after his minute was over.  Now it was my turn.  With each successive drill I gained power and confidence.  That jerk, with that smug, “I have power over you” look on his face stood no chance.  With each impact my body made with the pads I imagined him struggling and reeling in pain.  YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME.  I AM STRONGER THAN YOU.  My minute was over.  My fists were sore, my elbows raw.  But in my head I saw his face, dejected, battered, and bruised.  I had won the fight.

The punching drills were challenging, leaving my arms tired and sore by the end.  Regardless, I felt great.  I dropped the pads to the floor and faced my older, male partner.  We shook hands and bowed towards each other.  I thanked him, and him me.  “You’ve got quite the power and coordination,” he said to me.  “Great Job.”  I felt a small amount of guilt imagining beating someone else to the ground, but I quickly shook it off. He deserves it, even if it’s only in my imagination.  I was thankful that I scrambled to come to class.

And in my victory, I went home to eat my cold roast chicken.  It was delicious.

Finding Myself

“One of the greatest tragedies in life is to lose your own sense of self and accept the version of you that is expected by everyone else.”
K.L. Toth

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Image Credit: Google Images

How do we know when we are on the right path in life?
How do we know that we made all the right decisions for all the right reasons?

I have come to a crossroads, perhaps a crossing of paths like the one famously described by Robert Frost’s most quoted poem.

I’m acutely aware of a dissonance in my life – the two largest parts of my life suddenly seem to clash with each other.  I am not a happy mother because I know that when it comes to my kids, I have sacrificed more of what they need of me than makes me comfortable.  I am not a happy resident because I’ve come to realize that perhaps the amalgamation of my parts – the very aspects of my life that make me the person I am – does not completely fit the criteria of what my superiors want to see.

I cannot take more away from my life at home – from my children; from me – and force myself to become someone who isn’t really the person I am meant to be.  If I continue down this path, I know that at the end I will be more unhappy than I am right now.

Unfortunately, the other path is scary, unknown, and not what I ever imagined in my life.  I don’t know what the end will look like or what I have to traverse to get to that end.

What I do know is this:
I am a mother to three beautiful children, and that should be celebrated.
I am a physician who is caring and compassionate, and that should be valued.
I work hard to bring balance to my life, and that should be what matters most.

I love my job, but do I love my job enough to let the other pieces of myself wither away?

Just Be With It

Yesterday was a bad day… It’s a really long story, the kind that requires knowledge of the background situation and a good handle of what my day-to-day job entails.

Originally, This blog entry included all the details of what happened. I decided to delete it all though, because it just made me feel so bad and I don’t want to give the situation that much power over me.

Ultimately, I received a poor evaluation for my last rotation before El was born. This shocked me for a number of reasons, but mostly because I felt that the rotation went very well and was no different than any other rotation I’ve done.  Also, at no point during the rotation did anyone tell me that they thought I was acting or performing so far below their expectations that I deserved to fail. In fact, I only ever got positive feedback from people.

I know this evaluation is inaccurate and untrue. I have my beliefs as to why this may have happened and I have started the process of appealing the evaluation. Regardless, it made me feel horrible about myself and it made me feel completely helpless in the face of the guy who seemed more than satisfied to give me a failing evaluation.

In light of my recent feelings of inadequacy at home, this certainly didn’t make me feel geat about myself at all.  I am trying to do a good job of everything in my life and I feel like I am falling short everywhere (even if I’m technically not). It just constantly feels like I’m doing something wrong.  This meeting completely ruined my day yesterday, and it ruined my night. I am trying hard not to let it ruin my whole week.  While this situation does need to be sorted out and rectified in some way, I’m going to try hard to just “let it be.”  There has to be something to learn from this situation.


(Thanks to a wonderful blogging friend who posted this image on that other big social networking site… I needed to see this today)

Start From What You Know

b0446333f9307d0fc1fb22570b6c6885Over a year ago, when A. was diagnosed with autism and I took a month off work, I bought a puzzle because it “spoke” to me.  It was my goal to finish the puzzle that month.  Unfortunately, it didn’t happen: The puzzle was more challenging than I anticipated and I just didn’t have enough time. I stored the partly completed puzzle under my bed and worked on it when I had time.  A few months ago, though, the kids had some friends over and they were playing hide and seek – and under my bed was a perfect hiding place.  The puzzle was ruined.  I packed it up, preserving the assembled parts as best as I could and stashed it away.
A few weeks ago I decided to re-start the puzzle.  I started by counting pieces and I was disappointed to realize that I was missing 10 pieces.  I counted again.  Still missing 10 pieces.  How could I possibly think they would all be there?  I was saddened, as the message of the puzzle spoke to me and there was something inside of me that felt a sense of disappointment that this puzzle would never be completed and eventually hanging on a wall in my house.  I remembered buying it at a local bookstore, so I set out for a walk with baby El to see if they still carried it… but they didn’t.  I eventually found it on their website, on clearance for $10, so I snatched it up.  That small part of my inner being felt satisfied.

The puzzle arrived yesterday and I was eager to start working on it.  I began sorting the pieces and I immediately remembered how challenging the puzzle is.  I felt disheartened thinking about all the work I had done before that was now wasted:  There was the actual assembly of large chunks of puzzle, but there was also the immense work of sorting pieces.  There are only 2 colours: black and off-white, so sorting came in the form of the size of print.  Hours of sorting – gone.

With the new puzzle, I knew there was only one place to start – placing everything out in the open.  I proceeded to filter out the edge pieces… the only pieces that have a definite position in the puzzle, and the only pieces that are almost predominantly black.  And so, I put all the sadness of what I had done and lost previously behind me and I started again.  I started with what I knew to be true and I will only work forward from there.

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First Steps

Today I was supposed to be at a conference for work.  Initially, I was determined to go despite being on maternity leave; I wanted to show that I am hard working, committed, and engaged.  I also worked very hard all year to plan an important even that is happening at this conference – today actually.

Going to the meeting, however, would have meant travelling by plane, alone with baby El.  It would have meant staying in a hotel room alone for 4 nights and single handedly taking care of the baby, while also trying to attend the meetings and give off the vibe that I have it all together.  It would have likely been far from enjoyable.  So, I decided to stay home and enjoy this time with my family.

Staying home also means that instead of spending over $1000 to attend a conference, I can save that money and use it towards a family vacation.

Despite the overwhelmingly good reasons to stay home and not attend the conference, it was a difficult decision to make.  This is the first decision (I guess the second decision, if you count having a baby and taking a maternity leave) I have made in my career that puts my family ahead of my desire to be “the best I can be” in my work life.  This is like the first step in “retraining” myself to put my family and my role of Mother ahead of work and my role as Doctor.

This was not a hard decision to make, but it was difficult to execute, mentally.  I knew the right thing to do was to not go and stay with my kids and baby at home.  But I feel sad and I am mourning: I feel like I have thrown away an opportunity to show myself off as a dedicated, hard working, and committed resident.  Likely, it wouldn’t have made a difference to anyone but me.

Hopefully these steps get easier as the time goes on.  I feel it is imperative that I make this change in my life

A Good Tree Cannot Bear Bad Fruit

A few weeks ago, I was in the midst of “the perfect storm.”

I was still pregnant and close to giving birth to my (first) daughter.  I had just received yet another insulting form of rejection from a person whom I have kept in my life for far too long.  I spent that week’s therapy session discussing the role of this person in my life, the emotional importance her relationship served, and how welcoming my daughter into the world would likely change how I felt about that relationship.  Then, at the end of that week I attended our new church where the message of the sermon was about Matthew 7:18 – “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.”

I listened closely to the pastor that Sunday.  He said, “When things aren’t what they used to be, you have to change what you’re used to doing.” 

People love truth, and people love authenticity.  There is a low tolerance for the inauthentic in our society.  The tree that bears fruit is the perfect example of the difference between the authentic and the inauthentic.  Just as a tree grows and develops fruit over time, we as people grow and develop our habits and behaviours.  Just as a person would stop picking and eating rotten fruit from a bad tree, they would also stop dealing with or interacting with a person who routinely showed poor or inauthentic behaviours.

I used to think that I was the person with the poor our inauthentic behaviours: Why would someone be so hurtful towards me and make such an effort to exclude me from their life?  I have worked hard over the years to overcome this thought, attributing it to my low self-esteem that developed from my difficult childhood and poor relationships with my parents.  It may have taken years to believe this truth, but I am not a bad tree – I am a good tree that bears good fruit.  I really am.

However, even good trees have branches that are heavy and burdensome – branches that are overgrown and don’t produce any fruit.  These branches take up the resources and energy of the tree and prevent it from producing abundant fruit.  This idea reminded me of the advice I received from a fellow gardener last summer when I asked her about her fruitful tomato plants.  She told me to trim off all of the branches on my tomato plants that were not growing tomatoes.  This way the plant would stop wasting energy on the branches that weren’t growing fruit and instead would use that energy to grow bigger, more healthy tomatoes.  I used her advice and sure enough, my tomatoes grew bigger and faster.

If a tree is a metaphor for my life, it is only natural that I would have these heavy, burdensome branches that are weighing me down.  It is only natural, then, that I should need to prune my own boughs with the hopes of removing those parts of my life that are only causing me grief, so that I can concentrate more on the best parts of my life.  The pastor continues on in his sermon, addressing the need for pruning in our lives.  Like the gardener’s advice for my tomato plants, he quoted another part of the scripture: “The farmer cuts off branches that bear no fruit and prunes the ones that do bear fruit so that they will be more fruitful.”  He continued on, addressing all of us and saying rather matter-of-factly: “Most of us know exactly what areas of our lives need to be pruned.”

Despite all this advice, pruning is not easy; It is the targeted removal of something from our lives.  It isn’t fun – it cuts to the core, it is invasive, painful, and it is cutting something out of your life that needs to be removed.

For 18 months I have let myself hold onto the idea or illusion that Kay would come back into my life and that we would, gain, have some kind of friendship.  The timing of this sermon immediately after the mix-up/rejection from Kay was nothing more than perfect.  And, what better time to prune something so heavy and fruitless from my life than right before I prepare to welcome my daughter into my life.

My relationship with Kay initially sprouted from a need to fill in the missing mother-daughter relationship in my life.  It may have worked for a small while.  But there is never a replacement for the real thing – and now I am at the beginning of the best most real opportunity to develop this type of relationship… With my very own daughter.

 

 

The Oxytocin Effect

If you google “Oxytocin,” you will learn that it is a hormone that has many functions.  Primarily, it is the hormone responsible for contractions during labour, as well as for milk let-down while nursing.  It also plays a major role in human bonding – between newborns and mothers, between men and women, and even between friends.  It is quite an amazing and versatile hormone, and all of these hormonal effects has me thinking about what can happen when the different hormone effects cross paths and boundaries.

After giving birth 9 days ago, I immediately felt strong feelings of kinship and admiration towards the doctor who delivered El.  I found that in the days immediately post-partum, I was sad to think that I wouldn’t be going to see her anymore for my weekly appointments.  This seemed like a strange response for me to have, given that most of our appointments were a quick 5-10 min and were really just about the “business” of my pregnancy.  I did choose this doctor out of all the obstetricians in the city because she has a good reputation of being liked by her patients, she is one of the few people who does all her own deliveries 24 hours a day, and I also really enjoy learning from her and working with her as a resident.  Despite these reasons, my feelings towards her after my delivery felt out of proportion to what they should have been.  You could almost say that the feelings I had were bordering on those of maternal admiration, and I was mourning the loss of this type of care and concern in my life.

Interestingly, I don’t remember having such strong feelings of maternal admiration towards her before going into labour.  They only started after my delivery.  The timing of these feelings got me thinking about how the hormonal changes in my body may have affected my emotional attachment towards my doctor while she delivered El.  I also thought about how my feelings and admiration towards my old friend Kay developed after she delivered A all those years ago.  Finally, there is the most important consideration in all of this: the lack of close maternal bond and relationship with my own mother throughout my life.  All of these factors got me thinking about how the high levels of oxytocin in my body while I was in labour may have affected the “relationship building” pathways in my mind; perhaps my subconscious mind was trying to lay down or replace the maternal bonding-like relationship that I never really had growing up.  It makes me wonder if I would have had this response if I developed a normal mother-daughter relationship with my own mother as a child.

I have been trying hard to reflect on how I’ve been feeling in the last week and a half.  Specifically, I have tried to separate out logical from illogical feelings and evaluate what would be considered “appropriate” or “inappropriate” in terms of “normal human behaviour.  I have also been reflecting on what parts of my subconscious still need work and attention.  It is a little disappointing to think that after all my years of therapy trying to overcome the issues surrounding my childhood (and my relationship with my mother specifically), deep down there is still something missing.  Perhaps the fact that I am able to identify this change in feeling and attribute it to “something” suggests that I have made some progress in my therapy, but I’m not really sure.  Regardless, I will continue to reflect on my feelings and figure out a way to navigate through this mess and make it meaningful – both for my emotional recovery, as well as my future working relationship with my doctor (who will continue to be a teacher and mentor for me in my training).

What’s The Reason?

Last night I watched the movie “Sisters” with my husband. It’s not often that we get a chance to watch an adult movie together and we were both in the mood for some mindless comedy. I am also a huge fan of both Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. I enjoyed the movie enough, yet something about the last scene of the movie struck a sensitive chord with me.

This scene, which extended into the rolling credits, sees both women dancing with each other, obviously havin a good time just goofing off and enjoying the best parts of their friendship with each other. Watching this reminded me of the chapters in each of their books where they talk about the development, importance, and significance of their friendship with each other. I was reminded that I don’t have this kind of friendship or relationship with another woman. It makes me sad to realize that. 

This realization was significant for me at this moment. Over the past few days I have been having more dreams and pervasive thoughts about my old friend Kay, whom I’ve mentioned a few times here on this blog. While she is often on my mind more than I would like to admit, I don’t know why dreams of her and I becoming friends again seem to come back in waves and bounds and overwhelm me, with little explanation. Sine the middle of last week, I have probably dreamt about her 3 times and then spent the proceeding days fixated on why they are plaguing me, or what those dreams mean.

This week, however, has been different from the previous times I’ve thought about her. This time I have an overwhelming feeling that I should be acting on my thoughts: reaching out to her and somehow telling her how she’s been on my mind. I almost feel like there is some kind of “force” that is telling me that she needs to hear from me. 

But why?

When I am sad about how our friendship failed, I try to find solace in pictures, quotes, and memes that circulate through social media: Those ones that encourage us to let go of the people in our lives who hurt us, or to recognize when people are causing distress in our life and decide to remove them (as I try to understand why she ended the friendship), or just simply accepting that the sun sets on some relationships even when we don’t always know why.  So, I don’t understand why, after so long, I still feel compelled to reach out. What good will it do?

Besides likely lead to more rejection, what could possibly come from this? What do I think is going to happen?  It’s not like anything will ever be close to what it was before – it’s not like I will ever have the valuable closeness and sister-like relationship that I saw in its purest form at the end of the movie last night….

However, I can’t stop thinking about the one time, far back at the beginning of our mentoring relationship, when I took a step out of my comfort zone and sent her a letter of kindness and support. I feared, for weeks, that I had steeps over a boundary; yet it turned out that my letter was the exact offer of kindness and compassion that she needed in her moment of struggle.  It was that letter that really paved the way for what Our friendship did become. Are these dreams and thoughts just some calling that she needs this kind of compassion now?

I don’t know.  It’s doesn’t make sense to me. And mostly, I am just confused about what I am thinking about and why I feel so compelled to reach out to someone who hurt me so much an showed such little compassion to me in my time of need. 

Distressing Dreams

The past has been coming back to haunt me.

Over the past few weeks I have been having a series of distressing and upsetting dreams about people and events from the past.  I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to process and accept the misfortunes that serve as the basis for these dreams, but clearly, they are still stirring around in my subconscious, waiting to haunt me at the least opportune times.

It is coming up on that time of year again: the residency matching saga where medical students scramble to apply to, interview, and eventually get offered (hopefully) a residency position where they want.  If you followed my old blog, you will know how distressing of a time this is for me.  If you are new to my blog, I’m sorry that this post will make less sense to you – I will try to find a way to explain the terror that this time of year was for me when I went through it a few years back (perhaps in another blog post).

Intertwined in the match saga is the surge and then eventual demise of my relationship with my old friend and mentor, Kay.

Unfortunately the dreams that have been occurring lately have all involved Kay or other people that elicit the painful and undesirable memories that this time of year holds for me.  I know that my current levels of dissatisfaction and confusion about my career choices makes these memories and events even more difficult to tolerate.  After all, if I was very happy in my current situation it would be easy to say that “this was the best thing that could have happened to me.”  But, I can’t say that.  So, my subconscious continues to dwell on the “what if” and “if only” byproducts of my past misfortunes.

One dream that is recurrent, but seems to be more prominent now, involves the resurgence and reconnection of my friendship with Kay.  It plays out exactly how I wish it would have long ago.  It is a beautiful dream filled with honesty, forgiveness, understanding, and starting anew.  However, too much time has passed now and having this dream only causes pain because I know it will never come to be.  I end up asking myself why I still dream of having her back in my life as a valued friend, after everything that’s happened.  I want to believe that she is a good person who either did what she needed to do at the time, or realized she made a mistake with how she treated me.  Unfortunately, as more time passes, I come to believe more and more that she feels that she made the right decision by removing me from her life.

I have “recollection dreams” about how important Kay was at this time in my life, those few years ago.  I recall her supportive words and her sympathy and empathy over the catastrophic events.  I re-experience all the good and wonderful times we had in our friendship and I wake up to the sorrow of knowing that something so wonderful no longer exists.  And to make it worse, that sorrow is filled with feelings of guilt and anger towards myself – reminding me that I am at fault for the absence of this beauty in my life.

Last night my sleep was riddled with variations of the same dream: This one involved interactions and observations of the people who didn’t experience my same misfortunes.  These people are, in essence, living the career life that I had imagined for myself… The life that was shattered for me with little explanation, but that was given to them as they expected.  I watched them as they expressed satisfaction and happiness with where their lives are going, all while I am lost in the confusion and distress of my own life.  The variations involved them coming into my world, and me going into their world, and regardless of where we were, I felt resentment and anger towards them and the system that allowed this to happen.

It is not helpful for me to experience these types of dreams while I am in the midst of trying to overcome negativity in my day to day life.  It is difficult for me to get out of bed after a night of distressing dreams and say to myself, “today is going to be a great day!”  It is next to impossible to keep looking forward and push through my day -to-day challenges when my subconscious continues to drag my back into the past I am trying to overcome.  I can’t control what I think about when I sleep, and I have no solution to overcome this problem.

Cultivate Positivity

How do you cultivate positivity in your life?

I sometimes feel like I have an eternally pessimistic attitude. I like to think I am being positive, but deep down I think I fail at that. I feel like I am constantly on the defence – like something bad is always going to happen to me. Or like people’s actions against me are always “bad” when really they are just neutral and I see them as negative. Or maybe I’m not looking for the good in most situations.

I know that the lack of exercise in my life lately may be somewhat to blame for my more pessimistic attitude. But there has to be more! What do those eternally positive people do or think that makes them so upbeat and ambitious?  I really wish I knew what was needed to stay on the upslope all the time. I don’t like appearing negative all the time. 

I need to change. Any suggestions?