I've had this website mocked up for a while now. Like every other over achieving person (doctor or otherwise), I usually have a plan for most scenario's. This one was meant to be an adventure in self promotion. Something I have historically been terrible at. Hence the unpublished website gathering cobwebs in my own little corner of the internet.
So here I am, three weeks into a surprise sabbatical from work, writing a blog post on my long ignored (and as yet unpublished) personal website. Facing the gnawing feeling of dread at simply the idea of going into work and seeing a patient. Left to consider the moments, thoughts and feelings that pave the path behind me.
I am a good doctor, an empathetic doctor. The sort who listens intently to you and tries to reflect back what I've heard you say with a mixture of comprehension and gentle advice. I've spent the last 15 years either training towards or being a doctor. But right now, I am a doctor who feels jaded and empty. Like the 'doctor' light globe inside me has gone out. The weighty responsibility of trying to help people in their darkest hours finally causing my legs to buckle under me. An unfamiliar mixture of panic and despair stopping my whole being from even getting out the door to go into work. To a job I am good at. A job that helps people. A job that (outwardly at least) appears so fulfilling. So why do I feel like this?
In the last three weeks that I've been hiding from the world since panic set in and stopped me in my tracks, I have come up with a variety of explanations. My amazing GP helpfully offered "Anxiety likely secondary to burnout" as a reason for taking some time off. Seems reasonable. Right now I am incapable of seeing a patient. One, because of what it evokes in me (the afore mentioned fear, dread and panic for the most part). And two, because it is not fair to patients for me to be seeing them right now. There is a certain amount of resilience and strength required to take the worries and ailments of others and help them carry this burden. Have you ever stopped to consider the health (both physical and mental) of your doctor the last time you went to see one? We are all human also. There is no special course at medical school that takes the fleshy vulnerability of humanity away from us. We, like you, sometimes struggle to sleep with worry (which in my case is often about you, my patients). We feel that sickening sense of overwhelm and fear that we may make a mistake while at work. Except in our cases, people lives are the fragile cargo we carry. We also deal with all the behind the scenes issues that everyone else is, family, money, life in general.
I feel as though I am standing in a doorway. Three weeks ago, all I wanted to do was close the door and hide inside. In the last three weeks, I have found some satisfaction in the fact that I no longer want to do that (everyday at least). Some days I am quite content to remain standing in this open doorway, pondering the space in front of me.
I write all this not to garner sympathy, but simply to muse and offer support to those walking a similar path. A silent call into the ether of the internet to encourage those reading to look outside themselves. Consider whether the job they're working, the life they're leading, is congruent with their values and self. And maybe, just maybe, as I stand here in what feels like a doorway of change, waiting to see what path there is in front of me, I may begin to contribute to the world in a way I had never imagined.