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?

 

Advertisements

The “No Time” Life

Everyday I come up with some great thoughts and ideas that I want to blog about.  Everyday, however, I never find time to sit down at my computer to write them out.  Right now I have borrowed some time: baby El is awake but content in her swing.  A is at school.  E is distracting our Nanny.  I am sitting at the kitchen table drinking cold coffee, awkwardly holing my breast pump in place with my forearms as I type this post  (I’m still waiting for my pumping bra to arrive from Amazon).  I am lamenting the fact that today was A’s year end party at school and I missed it … because it it totally escaped my mind after I read the notice sent home last week.  I am not looking forward to explaining my absence to a sullen little boy when he gets off the bus in about an hour from now.

Yesterday I eagerly sat down on the bed, ready for my marathon afternoon of nursing El to get her to sleep, and I placed my computer within reach – hoping that maybe I could blog about one of the many thoughts that have been floating around in my head.  Unfortunately, El wasn’t going to cooperate.  After an hour of struggling to get her to sleep, I decided to wrap her up in the carrier and take her for a walk.  While on my walk I came up with a great idea: I could make a voice memo of my blog ideas and then transcribe them another time. So that’s what I did!  I walked and I recorded some great blog ideas.

But this morning, with my borrowed time to blog, I didn’t feel like listening or transcribing any of my ideas from yesterday.  I felt this overwhelming sense of sadness and disappointment; like the emotions that go along with the posts was missing and I was just transcribing some sort of task.  My sadness was extended because I didn’t want to listen to or write down my thoughts from yesterday (really, for the past week or so that have been neglected).  Instead, I decided to write about these feelings of disappointment.

My lack of blogging is just one place that I have been feeling disappointment.  For weeks now I have been trying to find time to add some breast pumping sessions to my day with the hopes of increasing my milk supply.  I want to do this slowly in anticipation of my return to work in 3 months, and also to counteract the likelihood that my supply will decrease when I have my IUD inserted in a few weeks.  Alas – that hasn’t been happening reliably.  Let’s also not forget about my unfortunate omission of A’s celebration today.  And then there is the complete lack of time (and energy) to get back into an exercise regime.  The weight loss has slowed and it’s time to kick it up a little, but there is no time.  My only form of exercise comes as leisurely strolls around my community with a fussy baby strapped to my chest. Oh, and there is also a serious lack of quality time that I spend with my other two kids… I feel like an epic failure.

I know that;s not the case; but it doesn’t stop me from feeling that way.  I want my life to go back to having some reliable structure and from, even if that structure is different than what it used to be.  Like most, I am a creature of habit and I thrive on routine and schedule.  This daily routine of “no/poor sleep – nurse fussy baby all day – maybe eat – maybe drink coffee – maybe shower – maybe do something I want to do” is really starting to eat away at my will.  I’m not sure what to do to change things up…

First Failure

After almost 6 years as a learner in Medicine,  I have received my first failure. 

A few weeks ago I wrote a surgical theory exam. This exam was annoying and difficult both to wrap my mind around as well as to study for. The exam is not designed for Obstetrics and Gynecology residents, but in an attempt to align us more with other surgical specialties, our program enrols us in the program for this exam. Since it’s not designed for us, it’s difficult to study and prepare for, and since it’s not required that we actually pass the exam, our program doesn’t make a huge effort to help us adequately prepare for it. Regardless, we all want to pass and most people do. 

Except me. I got my results today, and I was “unsuccessful.”

I have had failures in my life – some bigger and more consequential. However, this is the first time I’ve failed at something in Medicine. 

Why should I care that I failed an exam that I didn’t even need to pass?  I made a decision to prioritize my family and my health in this pregnancy over preparing well for this exam. Regardless, I did spend some time studying… And I think I hoped to actually pass. 

For my entire medical training I have maintained that I can do this “Mommy in Medicine” thing well. I struggled endlessly with feelings of guilt that I was only ever a mediocre mom and a mediocre medical student/resident because each role was competing with the other. Up until now, my kids have survived and have done okay, and I’ve always done okay in my assessments and very well in my clinical evaluations: there has never been a reason for me to believe that something was really suffering. Until now, that is. 

Now I am weeks away from having my third baby, all under this illusion that I can do it all. But maybe I can’t, and I find that reality upsetting and worrisome. Life is only going to become more difficult with anther child and the increasing demands of my training program.

 My confidence is shaken and I’m just not sure I can pull this off anymore. 

The Bench

  

“Visualize yourself sitting somewhere quiet and peaceful,”

the voice in the exercise tells me.  I imagine a park bench on the side of a walking path and there I am sitting with my feet planted on the ground, Forrest Gump style. 

“Imagine an area of white, glowing light in the centre of your chest, and an ever so slight smile across your face.”  

I do.  I see the white light emanating from my chest and it appears to be intimately tied to the slight smile that is barely noticeable across my lips.  

As the meditation continues, I’m supposed to watch as the white light expands and eventually fills my body – beginning from my chest and radiating outward until even inch of my body is glimmering white light.  As the light expands through my body, the smile on my face expands.  I’m reminded by the voice on the recording that the light brings with it happiness and joy, and these emotions infiltrate my whole being.  The smile on my face an indication that the worry, stress, and anxiety of my life is being replaced by joy, excitement, and happiness.  Eventually my body on the bench is replaced by a  shining light that is almost too bright to look at.  Just the light and an overwhelming smile is all I can see.

“Now, bring your attention back to your breathing.  Make yourself more aware of your body.”  

So I do.  I concentrate on the feeling and sound of my breath going in and out of my body.  I predict the natural progression of the meditation.

“Now imagine that white, glowing light in the centre of your body – in the centre of your chest.   Feel that ever so slight smile across your face.”  

And I do.  However, unlike the vision of myself sitting on the bench, I can’t visualize the spread of light through my real body.  With each inhalation I permit the light to radiate a small bit further, but my mind gets caught and an unwelcome thought comes floating down the river of consciousness in my mind.  As I am distracted by each thought, I prevent the light from spreading beyond my chest.  I label the thought as “worry” or “anxiety” or “feeling” and let them flow back out of my consciousness with at little disturbance as they arrived.  But then I am stuck with the light, still unable to shine beyond the depth of my chest.  I take a deep breath and start the visualization again – but the distraction comes again, and again, and again, and again.  When the end of the exercise arrives, the light hasn’t spread beyond my chest despite the recorded voice suggesting that it has overcome my entire body, like it did when I imagined myself on the bench.  

There is something preventing me from experiencing this full body feeling of joy.  I can visualize the white light and joy engulfing my body from afar, yet I can’t allow it to happen when it is my real self.  It seems as though the possibility of experiencing such freedom of the mind is only ephemeral, but I cannot ever be the one to experience it. Such is my exercise of the mind; such are the mental roadblocks that prevent me from experiencing freedom.