Sunday, January 10, 2016

2016 - Looking Ahead

Much of medical training is about deferring happiness*.  Every study session, every 24-hour-plus call shift, is an exchange of the fun things I could be doing now for the benefits I hope to get in the future.  In my case, I invested 16 years into post-secondary education with the expectation that it would make me happier in the long run.

It occurred to me recently that I have finally left the stage of deferred happiness.  The studying and exams and overnight call are all behind me, and the time for enjoying life is here.  The unfortunate thing, however, is that I have spent so much of my life looking ahead and waiting that it's hard to adjust to being in the present and enjoying it for what it is.  Whenever I think about my life, it is reflexively with a forward-looking gaze, wondering what is over the next horizon and how soon I will get there.

Which is something that I want to change.  So my overarching goal for 2016 is to learn to be present.  To stop thinking about what comes next and instead focus on what is happening now.  To enjoy the life of a physician that I worked so hard and so long to create.  To be mindful of the multitude of blessings in my life.  To do this, I plan to set little goals for myself, along the lines of the "gradual, long-lasting change" that I talked about in December.  I'll probably set one or two goals every month, although sometimes I'll set weekly goals just to try something out for a short while.  All of the goals will be focused on making life better in the now, rather than banking happiness for the future.

For January, my main goal is a resurrected one:  get to the gym three days a week.  I had been doing well prior to catching the cold from hell, but I stopped entirely when I was sick and missed about two weeks.  This week I regained the ability to breathe through my nose, so I started going to the gym again, and I've made it all three days (go me!).  This may seem like a goal with a more long-term purpose (lose weight, get healthy, don't die of a stroke at 40), but I'm really doing it for the way that exercise makes me feel in the present.  It helps my anxiety, it helps with sleep, and it simply makes me a happier person than when I'm sitting on the couch eating cheese.

My minor goal for the month is to find a counselor.  My job weighs on me emotionally - I feel anxious about the possibility of screwing things up, and I am at times devastated by the bad health outcomes that my patients experience despite my best efforts.  Although I'm coping with all of this, I don't want my work life to be just about coping.  So I'm going to try to find a counselor with whom I can talk and debrief periodically.

We'll see how I do at the end of the month.

*SLukettG writes in her typically eloquent way about this in a post entitled "Marshmallows".  Definitely worth reading.


  1. I am now resisting the urge to try the marshmallow test on my daughter. ;-)

    I am interested in the idea of a counselor for debriefing. I see so many patients who have horrible diseases, and I get so little time to help them, sometimes I feel like I'm not doing enough. But then the feeling goes away and I don't find that it takes up a large portion of my thoughts when I'm away from the hospital. Occasionally I unload on my husband when something particularly upsetting has happened, but mostly I don't even do that. I worry that talking to a counselor for me would cause me to relive things, and make me feel worse. Or... maybe I'm just burying my feelings. Interested to hear your perspective on that.

    1. Why resist the urge! Do it!! And then report back to us!

  2. I had an incredibly hard time searching for, choosing, and contacting a counsellor earlier this year, and at times I'm not sure why I did it. In an abstract sense, I think I want to talk to someone about all the tough stuff I see, the feelings of inadequacy I feel as a resident, and the sense that I am never going to get where I'm going. In practice, it's really tough to talk about any of this stuff with anyone, even a trained professional. I usually feel more drained than not after talking with my therapist, but I'm sticking it out to see where it goes.

    One of the hardest parts for me was the trial and error that comes with finding a therapist. It's easy to forget, but not every therapist/counsellor is a good fit, and sometimes it takes a few tries to find someone you feel comfortable talking to. If you have friends who can recommend someone, that can be a really successful place to start. Best of luck!

  3. oh yes, finally having arrived. I feel like I reached that stage a few years ago and I am still struggling to figure out how to live my life when there isn't the next mountain to climb. I am beginning to suspect this will be an ongoing and continuous journey. hopefully I can enjoy it along the way!
    good luck with the counselor. remember, if you don't like the one you choose, you can always choose again!