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Published: September 2nd 2014
Note: The following contains a bit of soul searching on a post vacation come-down. Not the same tone of my other blogs. Enter the caverns of my mind at your own risk.
I sit in the blue and grey checkered TigerAir seat 16C in flight from Brisbane to Adelaide... Depressed. Depressed. Depressed. I am coming off of an incredible 3 day weekend in sunny Brisbane, I have the row to myself, have plenty of snacks and entertainment material, and a large black woman in a wonderfully loud yellow dress and matching turban is singing herself to sleep across the aisle. Prime fodder for a relaxing, enjoyable, and musical flight home. And yet I feel I may burst into tears. So what gives?
I should know by now. I have a chronic affliction of post vacation blues. I'm such a severe sufferer, I even routinely have post weekend blues, even if I didn't travel anywhere. Sunday night is the least favorite box of my calendar, as around 5pm a sinking dread and emptiness slowly creeps into the pit of my belly and a lump forms full in my throat. I rest on the verge of tears, and Thoreau can't touch the depths of my self evaluation, as I philosophize about the ultimate path of my life and my measly impact on the Greater Good. I have tried multiple ways to assuage this feeling - trying to fill up that empty place in my belly with carbs, alcohol, prayer, life resolutions, to do lists, preparation for the work week... However I'm often just left uncomfortably full, guilty that I only come to God when I need something, unresolved, and as my buzz sours into a dull headache, less that optimally prepared for the work load which Monday brings.
I have found few things that actually help me in this state. Planning my next adventure. Signing up for an event which I believe will better me as a person - or at least feels selfless. Company. Friends. Human touch. It's hard to be too self critical when nuzzling into a warm neck and solid arms. Someone to make me laugh and confirm the ridiculous nature of my consternation. To comfort me. To assure me. To hold me. To promise that Monday morning does not bring the impending doom I so fear. The chance that people will finally see me for my true colors. Someone who (gasp!!!) had a good time and didn't work during the weekend. Didn't do anything to better herself or society. Didn't even read the newspaper to see what was going on in the world. The shame.
But I thought this time would be different. Here in Australia, I am sort of on permanent vacation. I don't have any work responsibility more than just showing up and learning. How cool is that? I am no longer shackled to my phone in the chance a hospital problem arises or a boss or a resident is in need. Or unhappy with my management of things. I don't have the burden of knowing that tomorrow a patient is entrusting me with his or her body and health. I don't feel the pressing weight of that responsibility. These things weighed heavier on me for the past 5 years than I ever knew - until I graduated from residency. And I felt a palpable release when I realized I was no longer under the constant judgment and scrutiny of others.
So... What. What is it? Why am I still suffering from the Sunday night dread?
I think part of it is an actual physical comedown. My neuromodulators and endorphins have been firing at such a high rate, I'm out of supplies and need a restock.
I think part is lack of sleep - everything always seems so much more dramatic when I'm tired.
But what I also think, and the part that concerns me, is I think the majority of the dread stems from reentering a world where I live in fear of other peoples' opinions of me. When I speak of the burdens of residency, truly the part which was hardest for me was the constant quest for approval. Is Dr. X happy with the way I handled the cases for the day? Does my junior resident think I'm lazy because I didn't stay late? Does Dr. Y think I'm a good surgeon...does she think the other residents are better? Every time my phone went off, part of me cowered like a abused dog in fear that someone was unhappy with my management of something. Every time. And the percentage of time that was actually the case? 0.00005%?
But just as much as the bad crushed me, or even just the possibility of disapproval, the good padded my big fat ego. A nice comment from a boss could leave me gliding on air. A secret smile would curl on the corners of my lips because I knew I had pleased.
I think where this soul seeking is ultimately going is the realization of how I base the worth of myself and my actions on the opinions of others. And quite honestly, sometimes I don't even LIKE or RESPECT the people from whom I am seeking approval! It's preposterous when I think about it. I envy those who live their lives with abandon and on their own accord without the worry of the judgment of many eyes. And half of my perceived disapproval is probably in my own head anyways.
On the phone with my mom today, I casually told her I felt guilty for how great of a time I was having. And although it wasn't meant to be serious, in evaluation I find that it's true. I don't feel like I've worked hard enough, or have sacrificed enough, to earn this vacation. At least with residency, you felt your days off were earned because you worked so damn much. My least favorite rotations were the ones with the lightest schedules or the ones where I had the least responsibility. I was afraid someone would see me and expose me for who I really was - someone not working all that hard. And who was I to be allowed to enjoy life so much, when there are people working harder and suffering and starving and battling illness? That just seems selfish. And people must see that.
So, in a ridiculously long winded fashion, I think i have found the source(s) of my current blues. I'm worried that someone back at Flinders is wondering why I wasn't at work on Friday, even though I long in advance requested it off. I fear the thoughts behind their eyes. I fear that people think that I talk too much, that I am too aggressive, that I'm a slacker, that I'm a poor surgeon. Fear disapproval. And I honestly think most don't give a flying f&@! about how I spent my weekend. Or my life. It's sort of ridiculous for me to think I'm that important that anyone even cares!
If I continue to value my life on the approval of the masses, my life will hold little worth. I should be proud of the fact that I am extracting as much joy out of life as possible. I need to embrace the gifts of rest and vacation and travel without feeling guilty for the break. And I am going to stop giving inordinate value to the opinions of those in the bleachers of my life, and focus on the few people who have proved constant and true. Myself, my own worst critic, included.
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