Medicine and life
Seting out for distant horizons
I gave notice to leave my GP partnership on 31st March 2011.
It is fair to say that my partners were rendered speechless as they had not anticipated my leaving in any way. I had not fallen out with anyone and neither had there been any dramatic event or disaster to account for my decision. I transitioned in front of their eyes, from being a fully engaged clinician, trainer, county-wide commissioning co- lead for Diabetes services and effectively the executive partner within the practice, to announcing I wanted out of the whole kit and caboodle. It was a sign of how well they knew me that they didn’t try to talk me out of it and a testament to their integrity that they didn’t pursue their self-interest for the practice above providing me with support and encouragement.
The next three months passed quickly. I continued to participate in all practice activities, but inevitably, the sense of being an interested but increasingly distant onlooker grew. I found myself wondering if I would experience spontaneous episodic anxiety about the big change I was taking on, and how I could possibly manage it.
This lead to me cast about for a discreet, manageable project that I could engage with fairly easily, that would demonstrate to the change-anxious part of me, that by committing to a process, I could indeed effect transformation. I settled upon getting a Personal Trainer, to motivate me into getting some regular exercise. I figured that if I kept booking sessions and showing up, I would do the exercise and see the body-change and that would comfort me when the career-change blues showed up. In fact, the career-change blues really didn’t appear that whole summer- not once- not even when I went back to the practice to do a few days’ locum work, and I saw all the familiar patients and colleagues. From being cynical about Personal Training as an expensive alternative to just going out for a run, I have become an enthusiast: it takes out the need for self-motivation, which is the first casualty of a busy life, and it injects purpose and a companionable atmosphere to pushing myself out of my head and into my body.
In a similar vein, I also decided to investigate meditation and mindfulness. I have always felt that I am the kind of person who does meditation... but I never have. I’m surprised that I don’t meditate, in a sort of watching myself happen kind of way –don’t you Anita? Oh no, I don’t, how odd! So when a colleague suggested a silent meditative retreat as a way of exploring myself at this important time in my life, I did a little research and signed up for a three day retreat in Devon, at the wonderful Gaia House.
I found the silence hugely liberating and could have kept it up for much longer. There was something monumentally comforting in seeing the same people sit and walk and eat with me for three days, but to know them only as physical presences, without a name or a history or a voice. When it was time to break silence over the closing Sunday lunch, I felt dismayed, as though my relationship with them would be contaminated by their personal narrative. Silence meant that no demands were made on me by others –no words to be listened to, no responses to be formulated, no judgements to be made. In reality, the spirit of mindfulness persisted beyond the silence being broken and everyone instinctively behaved gently to one another for the last few hours of the retreat.
The meditation was intense, with three hour cycles of 45 minutes of guided sitting meditation followed by 45 minutes of walking meditation, morning and evening, with more before breakfast and after supper. I found that I didn’t struggle to be busy with ‘doing meditation’, probably because I didn’t come to meditate at a time of trouble or great need in my life, but rather with an optimistic curiosity about mindfulness. I was able to ‘hold’ the sense of journey, to ‘sit with’ the momentary discomforts and to see what happened beyond those moments. Interestingly, I didn’t feel a sense of boredom at all. I did feel tired and physically uncomfortable, but was able to follow the process of recognising, acknowledging and separating away from these observations, rather than identifying myself wholly with them. I came home with a sense of calm and a quiet commitment to pursuing mindfulness in the small minutes of the days.
The other highlight of the summer was an amazing family holiday in Canada and California. We flew to Vancouver, then drove through Whistler and the Rockies, climbing glaciers, whitewater rafting and trekking black bears, then flew to stay with friends in their Sonoma Valley vineyard and family in suburban Modesto. It was the best holiday I have ever had, made possible largely by the huge number of hours that I spent on the computer Trip-Advisoring and googling everything before booking it from London. In fact the free upgrade we were offered on the plane journey out seemed rather symbolic of my feelings about life in general – what a way to start!