At worst, an object of derision. In school days, bullied merely for existing. A misfit in every way. Mocked and ridiculed at every opportunity and beyond. Tried to just keep my head down and blend into the background. But that didn’t work. The psychological wounds left deep scars. Scars that I didn’t really notice were still there until more recently.
As an adult, I went off to university and a sense grew that ‘fitting in’ was less important. Everybody was different. Everybody was unique. Yet, only a few were absolutely like-minded; and they are now my best friends. The past was put behind. The ‘scars’ gave me strength. They added a layer; after all ‘In every negative experience, there is a positive and something to learn.’ I was determined never to tolerate mocking again or to let myself feel intimidated (or at least to show it). I found a little more confidence in myself and my assertiveness grew with it. Some things I just started to care less about (e.g. my appearance). I made a conscious decision to try and brush off negativity especially if it came from a source I didn’t respect; much easier said than done of course. But, I toughened up in some ways. I found myself becoming more passionate about wanting the world to be a better place and became more easily riled by wrongs and injustice. I wanted to act on these feelings and try and make a difference, although I didn’t know how.
I’m naturally highly sensitive and empathic. On top of that, consciously try my best for others and put them first. Put myself out or not speak up in order to not offend another or simply to keep the peace. Outwardly, rarely showing any frustration or negative emotion of any sort, but choosing kindness wherever and whenever I can. Protecting others as much as possible from upset. ‘Carrying’ the trauma in other people’s lives in my own mind and trying to help if I can. Highly distressed if I think I myself may have inadvertently caused unhappiness in another and then doing everything in my power to make amends, even if it may actually not have been my fault or had been misinterpreted. But more often than not, all these things have gone unnoticed. A bit of a doormat maybe.
Never a natural achiever. Having to work ten times harder than another would to reach the same goal. But always a step behind. Eventually getting there (usually) but only just. Feeling like a nobody, a shadow in the background. Not much use to anybody. Inadequate. At the bottom of the pile. Mediocre at various things but excelling at nothing. Easy to ignore. Bypassed. It still happens now; eye contact made with others but not me (especially in a group situation). I can be mid-sentence and just get talked over as if I am non-existent. Physically present, but invisible. For someone who struggles with self-esteem, this is an added blow.
Shying away from anything extra (like GP partnership), knowing that I would never be able to match my peers and therefore would just be a let down. Little things that felt like modest achievements to me overlooked and unvalued by anyone else. Then thinking that maybe they weren’t much after all. Times when I’ve tried to do something useful or good, but then been told it is not welcome. There was a particularly painful event in my life a few years ago when I had tried my utmost to just keep quiet and blend in, only to be treated like a criminal and cast out. Not only insignificant, but a nuisance.
But realising, after writing ‘The Other Side’, that maybe there was something good I could do. Being open about my situation and how I’ve felt has, in itself, been well-received. So many comments and messages of thanks for sharing my story; a story of a taboo subject of discussion especially as doctors. We’re somehow expected to be superhuman and immune to ill health, especially mental ill health. Even immune to mistakes; if we don’t practice as if we have a crystal ball and never miss something, we are branded as ‘useless.’ The ‘retrospectoscope’ would be wonderful if we had it beforehand….
I built things up from that initial piece of writing. My focus changed; I still wrote the blogs primarily as a therapeutic process for myself but I also began to feel that I had a duty to continue for others too. Maybe this would be the positive to come out of my crisis. Maybe this could be a way I could ‘make a difference’ for others also struggling. Hence the creation of the online support groups and the ‘Glos. Medics Meet’ for peer support amongst local medics – which I thought would be welcomed. The online groups are going fairly well, but my enthusiasm for the local meet-up group is starting to dwindle; once again, it feels as if it is not perceived as important enough for others to support me in this and I’m struggling to establish it on my own (logistically/resources/funding).
Also, I felt I now had a platform for those frustrations that lead to the passion to want to make the world a better place; maybe I could write more about the challenges of General Practice etc and portray more of ‘the other side’ to people out there so there is more understanding about how it is for us and how the general population can help support it. We are not ‘useless.’ It is not our fault at individual and practice level that there is so much pressure on the system; it is not our fault that we have an expanding, ageing and increasingly ‘unwell’ population placing exponentially increasing demands on a system that simply can’t keep up. It is not our fault that our NHS is grossly under-resourced and under-funded at a central point. Initially, it seemed I had a (previously unknown) affinity for writing. I explored trying to do this more formally. I have seen other people doing such things and developing various career paths seemingly without too much effort. But, for me, more closed doors and dead ends. Not good enough again. Thinking I might actually have found something that I am half-decent at. But apparently not. I’ve now managed to make a serious mistake on something I’ve posted, even though I check and check and check beforehand. I am mortified. Messed up again. Losing credibility and worthiness of respect. I know am a competent and safe GP and give the energy I have fully at work, but my ability to listen, empathise and ‘be human’ is pretty much my only strength in doing this job. It is also probably the main reason that I find it such an emotionally draining job; something that I have been told I need to adapt in order to sustain a GP career. But it is who I am. It is what makes me the person and the GP that I am. The humanity that I felt has defined me as a person and a GP (and I had been pleased that this is my strong point) has let me down. If this isn’t an attribute anymore, what is the point? There’s nothing much else of value for me to offer.
As a parent, I already feel inadequate, partly through sheer exhaustion from the demands of the job. Maybe my background health issues (and associated medication), though not severe, don’t help energy levels either – I’ve never been sure. Not feeling able to give properly of myself enough to my children. Strong wilful little characters that I find hard to manage, despite best efforts. Finding it tough to even leave the house with them on my own most of the time. The guilt. Social media is a curse when it comes to parenting; so many portrayals of ‘perfect’ parents and ‘shoulds and shouldn’ts’ which I am a million miles from in my own life but it’s hard to avoid seeing such things and even harder to ignore and forget them. I struggle with my boys. Their behaviour is challenging and various strategies don’t work. I can’t cope with the incessant loud noise. I can’t cope with being clambered on and bashed about from all angles all the time. I feel worn to a frazzle most of the time when they’re doing things they shouldn’t be and not doing things they should be or having tantrums for no apparent reason; and then I know my parenting ends up way off the mark through emotional fatigue and exasperation. More guilt. I’m besotted with them but finding it hard to find joy from them. I hear other parents saying they are looking forward to having their children with them more for holidays. But, I often just feel like I want to get away from them and be left in peace – what sort of mother feels like that?! I should be grateful for the amazing gift of 2 healthy children – which I’m very conscious some don’t have, either through not being to have children at all or through their children having illness or disability (this applies to several of my friends). I already feel like I’m wasting time with them, missing out on opportunities and they’ll be grown and gone before I know it; and I already have regrets. One day, I’ll wish they were clambering all over me again. When we’re out and about and things are not as they ‘should’ be, people make comments like ‘I don’t let mine do that.’ ‘I suppose it’s just what they’re used to.’ ‘They’re a bit disruptive.’ You know what? – I’ve tried everything. And it hasn’t worked. I feel like a useless parent already and these comments cut like a knife, stay with me in the background then come back to the surface with a vengeance every time the boys are being awkward again, especially if that’s in public. It’s my fault they’re like that is it? Maybe so. I can’t even be the wife I should be and want to be, for many reasons that I am not going to go into.
And there’s always so much to do and I can’t keep on top of it. Piles of dirty washing that needs doing. Piles of clean washing to go away. Towels and bedding overdue being changed. A messy, dirty house. Not making proper meals as I can’t be bothered and haven’t got time. Running out of stuff because the shopping needs doing – again. Not getting around to paying bills on time. Forgetting about nursery events or children’s birthday parties amongst the chaos of our lives – more guilt. Years late for my appraisal because I never have a chance to sit and do it. Etc, etc, etc. As for ‘self-care’ and ‘time for me’ – ha ha! When and how is this supposed to happen?! I can’t even keep on top of the essentials.
Comparison is extremely unhealthy, but it’s hard not to notice others taking their (similar or tougher) lives apparently in their stride. Fantastic careers, proactive parenting, regular exercise etc, everything in hand. Even people with adverse circumstances; personal ill health, caring for others with ill health, tragic events in their lives. Many still keep it together and just get on with it. I look from afar in admiration and wonder how they do it. Why can’t I?!
I used to be tough; knock me down and I’ll keep getting back up. But, there’s only so many times I can be knocked down before finding it just too hard to keep getting back up. I’m turning back into that pathetic mess I used to be in childhood. For no good reason. There are more burdens in my life than are publicly evident, but nothing particularly major; lots of small things having a cumulative effect. I have no right to feel this way. From the outside, I have a good job, a good home, a good family, good friends. But I can’t help how I feel and I can’t control it. And I hate that feeling. And it’s scary. Who and what have I become? This isn’t the positive ‘me’ I always was; loving life, amazed by all it brings, grateful for every single second and blessing it brings.
I have spent a lifetime trying to be the best person I can be. Yet it’s never enough. And, despite best intentions, I keep messing up and letting people down. I am failing as a mother, wife and doctor. I’m fed up of the futility of trying so hard for it to make no difference or to make things worse. I just want it all to go away. Curl up and hide. Escape. Switch off.