Life the last few days are feeling more settled. 

Background story: My last job came with a M-F schedule + light call 2 weeks per month. No weekends. Occasionally surgery ran late or I had to round on a patient at the hospital, but for the most part I knew what my days would look like. It wasn't perfect, but it was predicable. Side note, I have to wonder how you fellow every weekday workers get your teeth cleaned or go to the chiropractor because I never mastered that level of organization. 

About 9 months into the job, the surgeon I worked with accepted a position out of state. Because we were a team of two in a surgical subspecialty, once she left my role was going to be temporarily eliminated. I managed all of our post-ops for a month after her departure, then I was shifted over to General Surgery. We shared the same hallway and I'd assisted them before on certain cases so there was some familiarity, but it was a different schedule, different skill set, a different dynamic. It wasn't what I'd signed up for. A candidate to replace my boss interviewed then declined, so there was no immediate prospect for her replacement. 

I had all but decided to move on at that point—I'd hit the one year mark and the situation was much more nuanced than I feel comfortable sharing—which led me to reach out to another organization's recruiter to inquire about a job posting I'd come across. I had to reschedule my interview twice because of last minute scheduling changes at work, which was a clear indicator that the boundary between my work and home life wasn't what it should be. To be clear, I didn't mind getting called in to assist with middle of the night surgical emergencies and other less convenient aspects of the job. The fact is, I didn't feel fulfilled practicing that type of medicine, and you should be if you're going to make that many sacrifices in your personal life.

One of the biggest appeals of my current job is the 12-hour shift format. I work 14 shifts a month and the rest of the days are my own. My schedule is inconsistent right now and I'm commuting a lot, but come December things will begin to settle and I'm assured that my schedule will be fairly set. I think it'll be worth the small, unexpected wait.

The learning curve was STEEP the first few shifts on my own. I had never before charted on so many patients in a day, nor charted on so many different complaints, and I was completely overwhelmed. I spent a few hours organizing my charting templates on a Sunday afternoon and life got so much easier after that.

The best part of all this? I leave my work behind when I go home every night. No one calls me about a patient once I'm out the door. I set a rule for myself that all my charts are signed before I leave for the day so nothing ever carries over into my personal life or next shift. Each work day stands on its own, even if it means staying late to finish. And those 12-hour shifts? Because I'm consistently busy, they feel akin to the 8-hour days I used to work.

The more I settle in, the more I feel a pull toward balance in my free time. I was sacrificing entire days off just trying to feel normal again, never fully relaxing because my to-do list would run on repeat in the back of my mind. I was stuck in a dysfunctional vortex where I did nothing yet didn't feel rested, either. It's been the story of my life for a long time. There will be days like that in the future—days when my body + mind need total respite—but it's no longer all of my days off. And when it does happen, I'll embrace it without shame so it actually serves its purpose.

These days I'm limiting my day off to-do lists to 3 items. It's enough to make a dent in the chores while preserving my mental health. I'm also quick to forgive myself if I don't check them all off. As a result, I'm actually finding myself doing more during my free time. It seems once I relinquished myself from all the unnecessary expectations, and subsequent guilt, the internal resistance lifted. After months of ignoring household tasks, I feel drawn back in an almost intuitive way. [True story, I recently went almost two months without wearing a white t-shirt because I was resisting having to wash and hang a load of delicates.] I'm still working on meal prep/cooking, but I'll get there when I'm ready. Tonight, I'm making Husband a long ago promised casserole. Baby steps.

For the first time in months, earlier this week I dedicated an entire afternoon to plant care. I put on an audiobook and took my time caring for them. Watering, rearranging, cleaning, treating for pests, and setting up/refilling humidifiers. I've had some plants perish this year, and I've let go of many others that didn't like my care or I didn't love. Most of all, I don't feel guilty anymore because they didn't survive the season I was in. This is my hobby, meant for enjoyment, and like many things I applied unnecessary pressure that robbed it of pleasure. I've also made an interesting observation of late: I no longer pursue nor buy challenging plants; plants that are picky, pest magnets, or have died on my watch before. What I'm left with is fewer "collector" plants, and more beautiful tried and true favorites. Focusing on quality over quantity—while being realistic about what I can offer—has brought me closer to my ideal plant collection.

Other instinctual goals as of late: less screen time, more reading for pleasure, more baths/sauna sessions, comfier clothing, and less clutter.

Some days, it's okay to simply light a candle and watch YouTube videos.

Settling In

Thursday, October 20, 2022

 

Hey. A year later. A year wiser. Another year of missing writing for pleasure.

My first job as a physician assistant has come and gone. Two+ months into the new one, and I'm still mourning in some small ways. Because what I thought might be my forever place in medicine was not. I felt like a failure, a quitter, a fool. The fact is, it wasn't what I thought it was and probably never would be. Hardest of all, it wasn't what I dreamed of all those days and nights while I was still in pursuit. The dream that pushed me to keep chasing the goal, even when it took more than I had to give. If I'm honest the reality of the situation set in early, and during my time trudging to the one year mark I focused on gaining all the experience I could. It was a way to push through profound feelings of disappointment while still feeling like I was accomplishing something. I gave the obligatory 3 month notice, which served as a very slow wind down to a hard 1.5 years. Enough time to be logically sure about my choice and simultaneously emotionally fraught with what-ifs. 

I'll say this: I learned so much about what I need from this career. What I want? Well, I'm still figuring that out. But my needs, the fundamental requirements to stay healthy in the working world? I'm much closer to understanding those. If I was to sum it up in one statement, it would be this: There must be equity and well-defined boundaries between my work life and personal life. 

In mid-August I said my farewell to one job, and started (with a lot of trepidation) the new one. I had two-ish weeks off in between, which felt like enough time to a take a major leap: stopping my antidepressant of over a decade. I had been in weekly therapy for 9 months, the type where every faulty thought process as an adult was an opportunity to delve into its origin within my childhood. At that point I was clear on my motives as a human, and needed to move on to the phase where I actually did something about it. Alterations in lifestyle, mindfulness, and habit changes up the wazoo. It was time to stop talking and start doing. The thing was, I was living an emotionally blunted life. 

I have been on some sort of antidepressant medication most of my adult life. It started in my early twenties when I was having hair-on-fire anxiety on the regular. I just couldn't figure out how to stop worrying, ruminating, and reacting my way through life. And because my bandwidth was already used up, I turned to medication. It blunted my emotions, which I didn't hate, but the anxiety continued to burn through me. I tried doubling my dose this February to no avail, at which point it became abundantly clear that what I needed was some serious lifestyle changes. 

I'm going to pause here to say this: don't discontinue psychiatric medications without professional support. Don't do it cold turkey. Don't do it without a plan. These medications are a lifesaver for so many, and offer a tremendous value in the world. If it becomes necessary to resume taking them, I will do so without shame. I have no regrets about taking an antidepressant and neither should you.

To sum it up, it didn't go well. The withdrawal period came with severe side effects, which I wasn't anticipating, requiring me to start taking it again so I could wean off even slower. What's more, a lot of unpleasant feelings were unroofed in the process. Old resentments I'd been carrying about my relationship bubbled anew to the point that it almost became unbearable to be around each other. I had never defined who I was as an individual in a (sometimes complicated) relationship, and it had finally taken its toll. There were many moments when I almost started taking the medicine again, knowing I had not given myself a proper chance to see what lies beneath. I was miserable and didn't like who I had become without it. Because emotionally blunted was better than whatever this was. I was being swallowed by all the assertions I'd never made, all the realizations I'd never come to, all the boundaries I'd never set, and all the hard admissions I'd never said out loud. I was beside myself with fear that I was an angry person who had made all the wrong choices.

Fortunately I'm through the worst of it.

I realized I was done digging. That it was time to set the past down and move forward. Two weeks ago I said goodbye to my therapist. I'm leaning into things like reflexology, reading for pleasure, and (!!!) writing again. I've been contemplating finding a different kind of therapist. I don't know what raw, unfiltered version of myself will emerge when the dust finally settles, but I think I'll like her. She puts up with a lot less shit. 

As far as my career, there are no regrets. There is however, a lot of acceptance and grace these days as I start to admit that what I pursued for 12+ years doesn't fill my bucket the way I thought it would. Perhaps I'll find my niche in medicine with time and experience, a place in the field that makes me excited to go to work everyday. Then again maybe not. My current job is allowing me to pay off my student loans more quickly, which means in a few years I'll be free to choose less of this or more of something else. Time will tell. In the meantime I'm learning more than I thought possible; I've become a significantly better PA over the past 3 months. These days I can participate in continuing education courses and create charting templates on my days off, and I don't feel like work is stripping me of my soul.

Here are some things I know for sure: nothing is permanent. I can walk away from something that doesn't serve me at any moment. I can change my mind and it doesn't make me a flake. Hindsight isn't always 20/20. One day at a time around here. As I slowly emerge from under the weight of the past few months, years, and decades, I see that life is always opening new doors.

I'm much less afraid to admit I didn't have it all figured out. 

As a result of this process, as hard as it has been, I'm slowly beginning to feel less anxious. Because once you embrace the idea of failure, begin to see it as a normal part of life + success, it no longer holds the power over you it once did.  The solution is to say "I didn't know, but now I do" and move on. 

I've missed you, friends. More to come.

The Next Chapter

Monday, October 17, 2022

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