I don’t recall what I thought my life would be like when I grew up but I never imagined this. Not that it’s bad and I am not complaining, just observing my life from a little distance.
Even for a big city, my life was slow paced as a kid. Sure I had to wake up at a torturous hour to head to school but it was easy going. My parents didn’t force me to get good grades nor did they instill competitiveness or pining for wealth in my psyche. No, they allowed me to float, as long as I stayed out of trouble and didn’t fail anything, they were ok with it. I remember coming home in the afternoons and laying on the stone floor to beat the heat. I’d spread my arms out, lay spreadeagle, face cheek down on the cold stone floor so the maximum surface area of my body could absorb the coolness from the ground. When I felt cool enough, I’d run outside and shout out for my best friend who was also my next door neighbour. I would call up to her rented first floor house next door till she came out to talk to me. We would make plans to hang out (sometimes our plans were dashed by her mom who wanted her to study hard) but most times, we would hang out, talk silly kiddish stories until it was dinner time, then we’d each head home, eat dinner, and go to bed.
There was no google in your back pocket, no snapchat conversations being had while you hung out with your best friend, no one was snapping pictures and there was no pressure to look good for selfies that your 2000 followers could see and instantly comment on. Life was easy, uncomplicated, with no microchips attached. I remember asking my dad if I could get a job when I was in high school and he said you don’t need a job, just volunteer your time. So I volunteered to teach tuitions to kids slightly younger than me. It felt good and since I wasn’t getting paid, no expectations and therefore no stress. The kids I taught, did well anyway but it was most likely due to their own motivation to do well.
Then at 19, I moved across the globe. I got a part time job in a child care centre and for the first time, saw the real world. One where people could be petty and childish ( I’m talking about the adults😯). I was astounded. I didn’t quite know what to make of it.
The kids were awesome. I enjoyed every minute of my time with them. I was usually with the toddlers. Oh my goodness! What an amazing time I had playing and singing with them, watching them be lulled to sleep at nap time as soon as the lullabies were played on the old tape recorder ( I know, remember those? Nostalgia…) and of course all the while getting an education in the real world. That wasn’t my favourite part but it was necessary. Life was still fairly sane. Then I decided I was ready to finish my education. I started nursing school and after a while when the day care became difficult to juggle with the assignments and exams, I finally said a tearful goodbye to the toddlers. They clung to me and gave me special cards and momentos to hang on to. The affection they left me with, is palpable even now. It was a beautiful time in my life. I didn’t have much to call my own, except love and affection. I felt rich in love and affection, poor in wealth, but still sane.
Then 3 years later, I was lucky enough to call myself a nurse. I got a job as a nurse and started a new life. It was righteous, sincere, honest, and I felt extreme responsibility descend on me every time I took report. I was literally taking on the duty to nurture and protect some of the most vulnerable people and a misstep could cause them their life. I worked hard. When I slept I had nightmares about forgetting to give a patient his medication or sleeping through the entire shift. Of course none of those things ever happened and I learnt that other nurses suffered similar side effects. It eased my mind a bit.
In those days a degree was not required to become a nurse in the province. So after my diploma and certification exams were done, I was able to start practicing but my heart yearned for more. I am academically inclined and I thought I should finish my degree, maybe even apply to med school. My husband was supportive, so while working at the hospital, I enrolled at university and started the road to my BScN. I was excited. Shortly into my first semester, I learnt I was expecting. I was thrilled. It also meant that some decisions had to be made. I couldn’t very well work, finish a degree and have a child all at the same time. There are people, superhumans, who are capable of such feats but there was nothing super about me. I needed to focus on this important guest who was soon going to dictate every breathing moment of my life. I decided to put my degree on hold while I tended to the most precious little bundle who was only going to be a newborn once. It was an important decision, a good one at that. Instead of the six month leave allowed back then, I took nine months, to really soak in the pleasures of being a mom, of having a child with a heart of gold. Her every smile put me over the moon. I was enamoured with this little creature who could set my heart aflutter with a little giggle.
Six months into this new journey, I learnt my dad had terminal cancer. I took My baby and headed across the globe to see my parents. It was a difficult trip. Coming to terms with your parents’ illness and mortality is hard. Especially if all your life you thought your dad was superhuman and immortal. Six months later my dad passed away. The feelings I endured on the flight home were some of my deepest, most painful and despairing ones. I wonder when a caterpillar turns into a butterfly if she endures the same feelings. It is, it was a metamorphosis. I don’t remember ever before that time, being so deeply sad that I thought I would never smile again, nor did I feel life could ever be the same again. A part of me was numb, yet another was feeling so deeply, I thought I would break in half; like immersing a freezing cold glass into boiling hot water. It was torture. I did emerge out of those feelings eventually but it was a heavy heart that I tagged along.
As they say, time is an incredible healer (funny that it should also cause us to age and succumb to our vulnerabilities, on the other hand). Time did dull the pain of my wounded heart. I emerged on the other side, still believing that everything happens for a good reason and we just have to believe. Just believe. I believe. I have faith in a higher power. It saved me, allowed me to go on.
My mom accompanied me back to my home here. It was wonderful to have her here so my daughter could stay at home in the loving comfort of her arms. I went back to work but my heart wasn’t still. The changes that took place on the floor I worked on, were strange. The unit went from being an interesting mix of acute cardiology and general medicine, to part day surgery and part general medicine. My heart wasn’t in it. I told my best friend and she immediately asked me to consider a move to the oncology unit she was working on. She said I would love it. I agreed to interview and before I could say goodbye, I was working at an oncology hospital, looking after complex patients afflicted with cancer. I will forever be grateful to my best friend and for fate to get me over there. It changed my life, quite literally. I found my passion. The gratification it brought me remains indescribable. While I spent myself in each twelve hour shift so fully, that by the time I got on the subway to head home, I could barely keep my eyes open, I was at peace. On the commute home, I absorbed all that happened that day and my insides glowed with a strange satisfaction. I was happy,
Two years later, I had my second daughter, a little bundle of peaceful joy. As much a joy as the first time around, I decided to throw myself into caring for her full time. I stayed home with her for a full year, loving the days of pure joy, a second opportunity to love so wholly and deeply that your heart feels full to the brim. I never imagined how one could love someone so much, yet have so much more to give, to your other child and your partner. It’s one of life’s great mysteries. What a pleasure that year was, focusing on this little miracle and then having the unique pleasure of watching the two interact. I felt I had won the lottery.
At the end of that year after my second daughter was born, I did go back to work but it was a difficult transition. Daily, I tore myself away,from the girls to go work at the hospital, cried half the way to work. Though I was fully composed most of the time, any signs,of a child (a car seat, a soother, a stroller) would send me into a tearful meltdown on my drives to and from work for a while. That too eventually passed.
I was working in outpatient clinical trials by that time. I did spend a lot of time at work and slowly got pulled into a part time position on top of it at the hospital next door to help out an oncologist in a rare, and difficult position. It was a great opportunity and one that I learned from immensely but the full time day job and the part time evenings and weekends job, coupled with responsibilities of raising a family may have started to put strain on my otherwise easygoing style.
In time, I decided the commute and the emotional strain from my involvement in my primary job were too much to allow me to continue. I took a pay cut and a job in the industry, into what I thought would be more manageable work. Boy, was I wrong. My chronicles as a CRA could easily fill the pages of a memoir but we don’t have that kind of space here🙃
I continued in that job and allowed it to get the better of me, till I could not deny that it was harming my physical health. I resigned from the position and soon discovered I had rheumatoid arthritis.
I attempted to get a hold of life, right my sailboat and focused on my family and health. For a while things were difficult but eventually with my health steadily improving, my confidence was restored and I felt I had prevented a bad downturn. Soon opportunity came knocking and I went back to work for a major pharmaceutical company. It was a busy but good time with fair balance. Managing my health, work, and home was a challenge but one I thought I was managing well. Then a change in the company’s business model coincided with an offer from another company. I moved to the other company and while for the most part I worked from home, I literally never left work.
Striking a work/life balance is tough but never tougher when you’re trying to balance it from your ‘work from home job’!!
Life was clearly getting ahead of me, stress was getting a hold of me, in more ways than one for a long time now and I’ve just ignored the signs too long.
I started to write this post in February this year but never had a chance to finish it. I started having odd symptoms at the end of February, which have culminated into a cancer diagnosis. I wish I stopped a little sooner to truly take notice of how much stress my body and mind have been under, over a sustained period of time. I have not loved myself enough and it’s time to take the next exit and even take the path less traveled.
I’ll see you on my journey through Part II of my life.❤