Tuesday, February 17, 2015

SOMEDAY I'll be happy...

People ask me why I quit medicine. The short answer is, "I wasn't happy." Here is the longer answer:

No one is "happy" during residency. It is the most challenging (and perhaps demoralizing) time during a physician's training. The hours are long and the work is intense. You know it will be difficult but you also know that it will be over in a few years. I told myself I would happy after residency and would just have to stick with it. But a nagging voice in my head told me it wasn't just a tough residency that made me unhappy. Perhaps I chose the wrong program or wrong specialty. Maybe I should have taken time off. I still am not sure where exactly things went wrong.

I often think about the characteristics that help physicians get through so much school, through residency, and beyond. One of the key characteristics physicians have is the ability to delay gratification. We put so much time into our education because we know (think) it will be worth it in the end. We delay marriage, kids, and life in general so we can get through it. We also delay happiness, which can be very harmful and establish maladaptive living patterns.

And if we are so good at delaying happiness, will it actually ever set-in and happen? Or do we get so good at putting it off, that it remains elusive?

I saw my chance at happiness crumbling as I tearfully handed over my new baby to grandma so I could work a week of night shifts. I saw it crumbling when I missed out on those early milestones. I saw it crumbling as I heard those tears of protest as I left the door for work again...and again. It's the saga that many working moms understand. But it affected me deeply. I was supposed to be happy with this bundle of joy (that I desperately wanted) but I felt like I was even farther from my happiness goal. The puzzle pieces just weren't fitting. Even after residency was over, I knew I was out of place but wasn't sure where I was supposed to be.

When you get used to putting off your happiness, and delaying gratification, I think it sets up a neural network that is HARD to reverse. By the age of 30, I was used to putting in a lot of work in the present in order to get payouts later. I didn't live in the moment.  In fact, living in the moment is still a very difficult concept for my brain. I kept thinking that "someday" we would be happy. "Someday" we would go on vacations. "Someday" I could write. "Someday" I would take care of myself. "Someday" I would enjoy my kids. "Someday" I would have less stress.

But when you keep postponing until someday, it might never happen. I was so glad I had my daughter when I did and realized I needed to move in a new direction. It took a few years after residency, but I was fed up with thinking and planning for someday and never enjoying the journey. I was tired of asking, "how many miserable years do I have to put in to get some good years out?" Quitting clinical medicine was my eventual answer, made very clear after having a second child whose medical and special needs continue to overwhelm me. My career remains on the back-burner and I want to find a way to use my medical knowledge to help people. But my family needs me now, and I need them.

Me and baby E