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?

 

A Different Decision

We face decisions everyday.  Some are those types of decisions that are made without even thinking: Starbucks coffee? Pants or shorts? Dinner in or dinner out?

But what about those decisions that feel impossible to make?  Those decisions that seem to have no right and no wrong choice? Each choice is equally good and equally bad… So the decision becomes an impossible one to make.

Or maybe there is a clear right and a clear wrong to the decision, but you are just unable to elucidate which is which.  There are those times when the wrong decision feels like the right decision and you get fooled into making the wrong choice.

Has this happened to you?

My maternity leave is coming to an end.  I specifically chose to only take 5 months of my full year leave because I didn’t want to put myself too far behind in my training.  I don’t want my surgical skills to wane, I want to write my exam on time, I want to stay with my cohort of colleagues, and part of me misses work.

The trade-off: I could spend a whole 7 more months at home with my kids.

I don’t feel ready to go back.  The time I have had off feels like it has been stolen from me because I’ve had to deal with work problems while I’ve been off.  We are losing our nanny and my husband doesn’t want a new one; therefore, our childcare situation going forward is rather precarious.  I feel, deep down inside of my soul, that going back to work in two weeks is going to cause my home/family life to spin out of control.

Lately I have been thinking more about extending my leave and taking off my full year.  The reasons I made the initial decision haven’t changed, but I feel like priorities have shifted.  Despite this shift, I find this decision is still impossible to make.  There is no clear right or wrong, and the advice I get from everyone I talk to is the same: Do what’s best for you and your family.

Unfortunately, I feel like what’s best for me and my family is not very clear right now.

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

lollipop

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?

Rampant Guilt

When my kids are sick, I am usually the one to push through the sleepless nights, make my husband mostly deal with them, and leave them home with the Nanny while I go to work.  I don’t have a lot of flexibility at my job to take days off (I get 5 sick days a year and 4 EDOs which need to be scheduled in advance).  This makes the decision when it comes to caring for my sick kids very difficult.  I almost always go to work when the kids are sick and spend the whole day worrying about them and feeling guilty for not putting them before my work.

I already have a significant amount of mommy guilt when it comes to dealing with my vomiting kids.  I have extreme emetophobia (fear or vomit/vomiting) and usually can’t be near my kids when they are vomiting or I think they will vomit.  I also fear that by being next to them, I will “catch” whatever bug they have and then I will get sock too.  I hate myself for it, but I can barely put my fear/anxiety aside to comfort my kids when they are sick.

Yesterday my son developed a horrible bout of gastroenteritis.  At least I figured it was gastro, until he could not stop vomiting (no matter what medications we tried to give him) his entire stomach contents, then bile, then just poor retching.  Even a sip of water to wet his mouth would lead to more retching.  Through this all he was complaining about a really bad stomach ache and the pain seemed to be  getting worse as the night progressed.  After already being awake all night and finally overcoming my vomit fear to lay down with him and rub his back (at this point he was barely even retching anymore), I began to worry more about his abdominal pain.  He wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t sleeping, and he was obviously dehydrated.  I felt like he needed to be seen in the urgent care centre, at least to check out his abdominal pain, and to possibly give him some stronger medication and rehydrate him.  Making the decision to do this meant that I for certain wouldn’t be able to go to work today.  So after weighting which guilt would be worse – that of not taking care of my sick son or that of calling in sick to work for the second time in the span of a week – I opted to take him in.

I put his cool little feet into his socks and piled him into the car with his blanket, giraffe, and a little puke bowl.  I drove across the city at 2:30am and listened to him moan in pain from the back seat.  I checked him in to the urgent care and waited for the nurse, then the doctor, then the medication, and finally the rehydration.  My 5:30am alarm rang and I made the call to my chief resident.  I felt horrible for that.  Eventually my son’s lips started looking less dry and his face less pale.  He was more talkative again, and we got the go ahead to leave.  We drove home and got into bed and slept most of the morning,  However, when I woke up, I felt an extreme amount of guilt for not being at work.

It feels like I can never win the battle against Guilt.  For every “good decision” that is made, there seems to be an equal and opposite “bad decision.”  I feel like I am always trying to decide which decision is actually the good one…

 

Reflections for a New Year

 Many of these types of inspirational pictures and messages have been floating around on my Facebook feed over the past few days. Given that I’ve been in a rather introspective mindset and contemplating changes in my life, they have really been hitting a chord for me. I know that I’ve been rather absent from the blogosphere lately and I think that has actually been a bad thing. This is a great place for me to come and let out my thoughts, fears, questions, and frustrations. While I’ve been very busy with work and home, I feel like the winter blues have been making me lazy and unmotivated to blog. The truth is,  though, I really miss it and I think my mental health is suffering because of it.  I really need o work harder on making blogging a priority – not because I want to promote my blog or anything, but because I know it contributes to my mental sanity. 

On a similar note, I have been reflecting on some goals for the new year. Last year on the old blog, I set 11 goals for myself over the year. I met most of them by half way through the year, and a few of them fell to the wayside. In July, right before I closed down the old blog and started anew, I revised and reset some goals but with the blogging fiasco, I never kept up with them. I really want to start some new goals for 2016 here on this blog, much like I did last year. I have been reflecting on  some reasonable goals given that I’m struggling with decisions surrounding my career, I am 4.5 months pregnant, and I feel like I am starting from “zero” most days.  I’m hoping that by the end of this weekend I will have delineated some reasonable goals and will have posted them here for accountability. 

In the meanime, in will make a shot-term “pseudo goal” to get back into the blogging world.   
    
 

Together in Pieces

“It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”
~Suzanne Collins

Image Source: ldsperfectday.blogspot.com

Over the past year, I have slowly been working on putting myself back together.  In last year’s post on this day, I spoke about making an attempt to be more positive and figure out a way to start moving forward.  Here is an excerpt from The Old Blog’s post from last year:

As I child, I remember my mom always getting so angry when something fragile would break because she could never glue it back together without it looking perfect.  This gave me the idea, from a young age, that you are never as good as you were before you were broken.  Anytime I got in trouble or got hurt in some way, I just imagined that it made me less “valuable.”  When I came across this Japanese idea of accentuating flaws – because it makes something more beautiful – I suddenly felt so much less “broken.”

I took the small pieces of myself that I had left and assembled them into a new life.  This really started to materialize in the new year, when I made multiple goals that I wanted to meet – most of which I did accomplish by the mid point of this year.  I am proud of my accomplishments – I ran a half marathon, I made great progress on my goal to read 12 books this year (I read 9 whole books, and I have 3 books on the go… the year still isn’t  over yet…).  I made some new friends, joined a taekwondo club, where I have attained a green belt (that is on hold now while I grow a tiny human), and I’ve got another year of residency completed and under my belt.

The most important part of all of this, though, is that I haven’t been pretending that everything is always okay.  I’ve admitted to difficulties and mistakes – and those are the gold seals that show up in this new and re-formulated life of mine.

I’m Not Always Okay, And I’m Okay With That

“I’m not okay, you’re not okay, and that’s okay.”

~Elizabeth Kübler-Ross

Reflecting on last year’s post thta accompanied this quotation, I realized that it still completely stands true: In our world, we have to get better with being “okay to not be okay.”  I struggled with the a lot recently, especially as I went through many internal difficulties but had no choice but to push through on the outside and act like everything was just fine.  In the past 12 months, I’ve lost an important friendship, come to terms with the idea that people aren’t always who or what we think they are, I had to say goodbye to my longtime and cherished blog, I decided to have a baby, and then I’ve made it through a horrible ill first-trimester.  Not all of that was okay… and that’s okay.  It really is.
(I’ve also realized that in the last little while I have drifted away from Brenè Brown and I need to get back into her books and philosophy)

From The Old Blog, November 3, 2014:

Do you ever notice how everyone is always “okay?”  I find it a little sickening, and irritating, and unhealthy that no one ever admits to being not okay.  Sometimes you can tell that people are struggling or having difficulty with something; yet when you ask them about it, they insist that they are okay.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why do we do this to other people?  I feel that by pretending that we are always coping well with our lives and not facing any challenges, we are perpetuating the idea that it is abnormal to struggle with life’s challenges.  We all struggle with life sometimes.  Some people have more struggles and some people have less.  Regardless, when we constantly feel that the people around us are coping well all the time, it only makes us feel bad about ourselves for not coping well.  And you know what’s worse?  When we feel like we are the only people struggling, we become isolated and we don’t reach out for help.  Similarly, when we know people are struggling and they don’t reach out to us for help (even when we offer), we feel isolated from them in just the same way.

I tried working on this for a while – while I was reading Brené Brown’s books on Shame and Vulnerability.  As Dr. Brown alludes to in her books, we don’t admit to being “not okay” because it feels shameful and we are afraid of being vulnerable.  I tried overcoming my own shame and allowing myself to be vulnerable.  However, there is an overwhelming majority of people who are not ready for this.  We have all been hiding our shame and vulnerability for such a long time that when someone reveals it, we are unsure of how to deal with it – so we push it away like we do with everything else that makes us uncomfortable.  Brené Brown is ahead of her time – and trying out her advice can sometimes make life a little more isolating.

You have to pick the right people  with which to be vulnerable.  There aren’t many people I will open up to and admit that I’m not okay.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any of them here with me now.  I need to go back and revisit the world of Shame and Vulnerability, I think.  In the meantime, I just hope that more people will read Brené Brown’s books and realize that there is a whole world of human connection that is waiting for us if we would all just admit that sometimes we are “not okay.”

Taste in Music

My taste in music has varied widely over the course of my life, as I’m sure it has for most people. As a child I grew up listening to my dad’s extensive collection of classic rock and alternative music. It was not uncommon to witness a 6-year-old me belting out the lyrics to The Resevoir Dogs. Then there was the time, at the ripe old age of 10, when I nodded my head to the new Red Hot Chili Peppers’ album and pretended to understand how the lyrics of those songs had “saved my dad while in drug rehab.”

I went through a pretty intense Smashing Pumpkins phase in middle school, and that somehow morphed into a tamer Dixie Chicks / Pop-Country phase by the time I graduated high school.  I feel like in my early adult life, it was easy for me to settle into a life of enjoying popular country music, especially since I was living in a place where country music was popular and listened to by many people.  When I moved away, however, that was no longer the case and given the fact that there was no good country radio station to listen to anymore, I began listening to “whatever I could find.”

Over the past 7 or 8 years I would say that I’ve predominantly listened mostly to pop music (which I am a little ashamed to admit).  However, I haven’t really had much time to listen to music, to be honest.  With the proliferation of iTunes and apps like Songza, I branched out a little more and was able to customize my own play list a little more.  I elicited some advice from fellow bloggers for good running music, or relied on song list concierges on phone apps to pick some upbeat running songs.

When I’m not running, though, it seems like my car radio is often found on my local Virgin Radio station.  This has become rather annoying lately, as I’ve gotten sick of hearing the same 5 songs (two of them Justin Bieber songs) multiple times a day (I’ve also been spending too much time in my car)! Therefore, I’ve started experimenting with listening to different stations again and I’ve found myself drawn back to the country music station (now that I am living back where more people like and listen to country music).  I came to the realization that this is a good and necessary change in my life after this exchange happened between me and my older son over the weekend:

*Driving to Soccer Game*:
A: Mommy, can you put the radio station on [Virgin radio], please?
Me: (Hesitantly) Okay, just for a little bit
*Changing the radio and hearing… Justin Bieber…  The next song starts: “Hotline Bling” by Drake
A: YES!  My favorite song! (As he throws his hands in the air)
Me: *Promptly changed the radio station.*

Sorry, My 5-year-old’s favourite song is not going to be a song about late night booty calls.  I guess it’s time to really re-evaluate the music I choose to listen to!

Mixed Emotions

Tomorrow is D-day (or P-Day, really).  I can’t decide what result I’m hoping for: Period or Missed Period. 

Over the course of the last 3 months, I have been becoming more confused about my decision for baby #3.  I’ve thought about it extensively over the past few years, but having my IUD removed and then my life getting so much busier simultaneously, I’ve been feeling more anxious about the decision and the effort to get pregnant. 

I feel like I’m on a 2 week up and down rollercoaster of emotion. I am disappointed when I realize I’m not pregnant and then I determine that I’m going to try harder. But then I’m post ovulation and I spend 2 weeks stressing out that I’ve made a mistake.  Finally, I get to this point where I’m mere days away from an answer and I really don’t know what I want. Last month when D-day came early, I remember not feeling as disappointed as I had in previous months. I also don’t think I’ve been “trying” as hard this month (and maybe that’s more schedule related than anything, but hard to be objective). 

These last few days I’ve had waves of mild nausea and a prominent gag sensation (but I’m always nauseated so I can’t rely much on that). I’ve been having moments of feeling hot and sweaty every morning for the last few days.  I’ve been getting a gross metallic taste in my mouth on-and-off for 2 days.  I’ve been more exhausted and falling asleep earlier at night. Today, it’s not even lunch time and I’ve already peed 5 times. 

I have a signed requisition for a blood pregnancy test sitting in my pocket and while I want to get it done, I’m scared of the result.  I really, really don’t know what I want. I don’t know if this is normal.