Category Archives: personal

seeing/being seen

It’s just over five years now since I swapped GP work for a simple, menial job, so I could focus on writing. Around the same time, I started a new volunteer role. I also ended fifteen years of karate training to learn yoga instead.

What was this like, all this change at once? Actually, it was rough. I felt anxious, I worried whether I’d made the right decisions. I lost weight without meaning to. Everything I did was unfamiliar—exercise, work, volunteering, writing. There was no place I felt I had expertise. I kept going, and gradually acquired a few skills. But it was a big adjustment, being a beginner in my forties. I also felt the drop in ‘status’ in the eyes of others.

I was treated very differently by surgeons in my new job as a surgical assistant. Several spoke to me rudely, with sarcasm, or with disdain. A few yelled. Some were polite but cool. Only occasionally was I greeted with real warmth, or treated in a truly friendly manner. Even now, working mostly with the same (pleasant) surgeons, I have the occasional job with a new surgeon where I am treated as if I’m some kind of moron. It was a huge change from being an established medical practitioner, with staff and patients who treated me well. My pride was shot down.

Though it hurt, it did me good. I have a better idea of how it feels for others with nasty bosses. And I’ve learnt to ground my sense of self-worth inside me more, rather than looking to others for validation.

Almost worse than the snarky surgeons, though, was something else new—invisibility. In the hospital where I now volunteer, I was amazed how many doctors ‘blanked’ me. Many don’t make eye contact, let alone smile or say hi. Cleaning staff say hello, and nurses greet me by name. If I dressed in a blouse and skirt, with a stethoscope around my neck, would the medicos acknowledge me? I watch them greet other doctors, so I reckon they would.

Perhaps these doctors’ minds are elsewhere, maybe they don’t realise their rudeness, but I tend to think they classify me, in my blue volunteer vest, as a ‘non-person’. I find this fascinating, and yes, being a doctor myself (though these doctors don’t know that), I suspect I’m more sensitive to the way they don’t ‘see’ me. (My pride may be battered but it’s obviously alive and well!) But also, like anyone, I dislike being walked past in a quiet corridor as if I don’t exist.

Maybe I did the same thing to people when I was a hospital doctor. I hope I didn’t, but it’s entirely possible. If so, I’m trying to make up for it. In everyday life, I’m making eye contact more, smiling more. I’m initiating brief chats in different situations, trying to make sure the people I come across feel ‘seen’. Because I know what it feels like to be ‘unseen’, and how that bites.

My recent experiences have been insignificant compared to what other workers endure. But they’ve made me examine my own behaviour. And they’ve taught me to appreciate active kindness, one person really engaging with another. How that attention makes someone else feel valued. And how uplifting that really is.

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Keeping it real at Christmas

I recently went on a family holiday, and while we were away, I posted some photos on Facebook. I don’t post very often, but I was excited to be seeing new places. The pictures were of pretty scenery, with all of us smiling. And we did have lots of fun, in some beautiful spots.

When we returned, I phoned a close friend, and she asked me about the trip. I told her about the highlights, and how I loved every town and city. Then I whinged about some of the things that drove me crazy. The not-so-happy family moments. How partway through I had to give myself a stern talking-to, and remind myself that I’m not always a delight, so I shouldn’t expect others to be constantly sweet. I laughed at the irony of the smiling family photos, and told my friend – don’t believe everything you see on Facebook! 

I’ve been thinking about the public face of Christmas versus the reality. How people wish each other Merry Christmas and talk about getting together with family, and how won’t that be lovely, when in reality, as much as there will (hopefully) be love, and laughter, and usually some great food too, there is often hurt. Disappointment. Misunderstanding. Perhaps in small ways – if you’re lucky, or in huge, painful ways – if your family is especially damaged. There is almost always some uneasiness, no matter what family you belong to.

But the good news is that every family has its dysfunction. No one actually lives that Hallmark card Christmas. If we’re lucky, we have elements of the glossy day, but no one goes beaming through their entire festive season. (Well, with the exception perhaps of the odd very fortunate and oblivious small child!)

A friend of mine once told me of a quote she likes to live by:  ‘Expectations are resentments in the making’. I often think of these words at Christmas. I try to keep the food simple. I don’t get in a lather about decorating. And I understand and expect there may be irritations and undercurrents. After all, a large group of people, often small children to older adults, are gathering in a house for several hours.

Of course I hope people will laugh and relax. I hope the food is delicious. I hope the kids like their presents. But instead of bemoaning anything less than picture perfect, joyous family celebration, I just take the small good moments as they come and try to breathe when those other times occur.

For those who celebrate Christmas, I wish you all as much calm and peace and love as possible, given the season and your circumstances. May you have a comfortable bed to rest in. May you have a few minutes to yourself, to think and dream. And may 2019 bring you excitement, opportunity, and wonder.

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a letter home

ANZAC Day has prompted me to write about a letter I found amongst a pile of my grandmother’s papers passed on to me. This letter still brings tears to my eyes, even after multiple readings. When I collected it from the framing shop, I had to blink rapidly as I thanked them for their work. The letter now hangs in our living room.

The letter is from my great-grandfather, James Trickett, to his two sons, one of whom was my Papa (my mother’s father). James wrote a long and loving five-page letter, filled with life advice for his boys. The tone is hopeful for his return and yet the instructions prepare his sons for his possible death.

This is the first page:

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James did survive to travel to France, but according to a letter from his commanding officer, in late January, 1917, he complained of a headache, and then suffered a ‘bilious attack’. He became very unwell, and eventually was taken to hospital, where he was diagnosed with ‘spinal meningitis’. He died in early February, 1917.

Here is the last page of his letter:

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Here is the entire letter on the wall:

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Lest we forget.

*Just in case anyone is concerned, the letter is framed with archival matting and tape, and has maximum UV protection glass. The letter is also hung on a wall which is not touched by any direct sunlight, and which receives only muted daylight.

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Every Year on Mother’s Day

IMG_1117Every year on Mother’s Day I feel weird and uneasy at all the hoopla. I know it’s a tough day for many people, for a variety of reasons.

Some women aren’t mothers and never wanted to be mothers, and this day can make them feel as though a person only has value if they’ve procreated.

Some women want so much to be mothers but it doesn’t happen, and Mother’s Day is a slap.

For women who have lost babies and children, this day can bring fresh tears.

Many men and women have lost their mothers. This day reminds them of how their mum used to laugh, or cut onions a specific way, or how their mother smelt when she hugged them. There may be mixed emotions, but always emotions.

Others can’t wish their own mothers a Happy Mother’s Day even though their mother is still alive. The relationship was simply too toxic. Their mother is mentally unwell, nasty, and not seeking help or understanding their own illness. The only way to stop the unending damage from that unwell mother has been to move away, in every sense. I have two friends who have found themselves in this situation, and they are two of the kindest women you could meet. Both tried for years to solve the issues before making the break. Although it has been the best decision for both of them, it was not done without great heartache. So on Mother’s Day, there can be sadness.

When the second Sunday in May arrives each year, I can’t help but reflect on the mix of feelings that must swirl around on this day. Pride. Betrayal. Loss. Adoration.

My wish is that everyone still has a moment to feel good on the day – whether it’s paying tribute to a mother, being celebrated as a mother, or being hugged by a mother (your own or not, as long as they hug you well). xoxo

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Talking around my toes

I spend way too much of my time with my foot in my mouth. Not literally. I am not one of those disgusting people who nibbles toenails or toe cuticles or whatever it is those toe-chewers do (my apologies if you’re a foot-eater but seriously … that habit is cute in babies only).

I’m talking about social clangers: forgetting names, talking too much, over-revealing, asking people unwanted questions, unknowingly joking about sensitive topics. Not just talking too much, but sort of feverishly. Fast and full of irrelevant detail, wandering off topic, and forgetting what topic I started on as it dawns on me how crazy I’m sounding and the heat rises up in my face. This mainly happens when I’m a bit nervous, but can happen any time. In the supermarket. At a meeting. At a party.

I’ve asked a few friends about this foot-in-mouth thing, including people who are outwardly confident, and they swear they often feel awkward, but I find it hard to believe. They can’t be as dorky as I am. I wonder if they’re telling me they’re nerdy out of kindness (poor Fi, let’s all tell her we’re also dorky so she won’t feel so alone).

It seems ridiculous that I should be on the verge of buying orthopaedic shoes and yet I’m still as inept as kid. I wonder if I’ll ever become wise and sage and venerable. Serene and calm and collected. I picture myself gliding into rooms, smiling and nodding, saying and doing exactly the right thing. Definitely not asking the lady whose new baby is five months old how far along she is.

I suspect it is my lot in life to blunder about, treading on toes and shoving mine into my gob in the process. Making those around me shake their heads but perhaps also stand a little taller, feel a little better about themselves.

It’s just a community service I provide.

***

Do you also suffer from Foot-in-Mouth? I’d love to hear.

If not, please help with anti-dork tips.

 

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wake from dreaming

Ever wake from a nightmare and sigh with relief? Or spend a morning feeling unsettled, before realising it all stemmed from a dream?

It’s amazing how dreams affect our moods. It’s amazing how dreams reflect our moods too. Last night I dreamt I had an English assignment due the next day and had nothing prepared (yes, I’d reversed thirty years in age and was back in high school). I also had an exam the next day for which I’d done no study. In the dream I was trying to reassure myself, asking myself calmly, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen? You won’t get a good mark. No big deal.’ But it was a big deal. I wanted a high mark. I was panicked and upset.

These ‘school exam dreams’ seem to happen to many people, often years down the track. Maybe it’s when we’re under pressure, maybe when it’s when we feel somehow inadequate for whatever we’re facing. For me, I suspect it’s because I have several stories under consideration and I’m waiting and hoping and crossing fingers and toes.

How about you? Do you dream of exams too?

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Six Degrees

I remember her biting wit, her intelligence, her brisk kindness. I hadn’t seen her in over twenty-five years. The other day, I heard her voice and saw her face from the end of the operating table. She was about to be anaesthetised for surgery. I was the surgical assistant.

I tried not to stare but her eyes kept scanning my face, despite the staff who were busying around her. I think she sensed I was someone she’d once known, but couldn’t place me. She was being given sedation and I knew she wouldn’t recall any conversation from that point onwards. It wasn’t the time to speak of the past – she had enough to deal with in the present. Within minutes, she was given the thick white liquid that sent her into oblivion.

I told the surgeon of my long-ago link with the patient, and although she knew some of her patient’s life story, I filled in a few more details. Mostly, how much her patient was respected and admired. She had sass, she had smarts and I thought she was the ants pants.

Wish I could have told her so.

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