A Thank You to Three Tough Ladies!
I would personally like to dedicate today’s blog to three people who completely changed my life last year: Deborah Markham, a Pediatric heart surgeon, Rose Bland a Renal Scientist and head of pastoral care for medical students, and Carolyn Rodgers a Gynaecological Surgeon. Those amongst you who know me well, will sense the irony here! These three individuals made my life utter hell at medical school, but a year on, I am so glad they did. They turned me into a really tough nut, better able to judge people, and really happy to be the person that I am, and to always remember that the best way in life is to ALWAYS do what is right for you and to ALWAYS be true to yourself, and not just to conform because others try and bully you into doing so.
These three individuals are not nasty people, nor are they badly intentioned or malicious. But they are women who have grown up in traditionally male dominated professions, where one must learn to be ruthless, and who are aspiring to have a career, but to also spend at least some time with their children who attend private boarding school, are saving up for a little house in the country for when they retire, or have been forced into giving up careers in surgery and now lead lives where their sole pleasure is in trying to find fault with medical students. They have each ticked every social box applied to them, ‘go to school’ check, ‘go to university’ check, ‘get married’ check, ‘have children’ check, ‘retire’, lovely jubbly! They are inspirational women, in their own ways. They have got many people through medical school, and have mentored many a young (and old) mind. They are ruthless in their approach, and whoa betide anyone who disagrees with them or questions their motives. They are the kind of people who REALLY irritate me in Britain today….they are the ‘DO-GOODERS’. Those who are not content with the quality of their own lives, but who presume to know what is best for everyone else around them, and become so head strong in that belief, that they fail to stop at anything until they achieve it. Social Services was also full of them, and I should know, because I tried hard not become one of them during a zillion hours of jaw creaking meetings, talking about what is ‘best’ for a child, without once stopping to ask ‘the child’ what they actually want for THEIR life!
Medical schools are full of people like this, and I am sure they do have their place somewhere along the line, and they also weed out those from medical school, like me, who clearly don’t belong in the medical profession. But it saddens me that the people who survive under this system are the future doctors, the ones who learn this manipulative art, the ones who lose all touch with reality and what it means to be a human being and to have empathy, and who forget what it is like to live in the real world, away from money that simply enables you to pay people to do anything you like. I remember one of them once boasting to me about how she was a fantastic parent and surgeon, and that she had it all and was incredibly happy and that one day I would too, just like her, and I would realise that her ‘supporting’ me was all because she cared. And I remember thinking, actually, what a sad old cow she was, and how utterly deluded. Was this really the life I wanted for myself?? Yes she has children, two of them in fact (I know because she has pictures of them on her desk at work, to show others what a great parent she is), and a husband, also a surgeon, also there mentoring Junior doctors in the hospital and telling them how to live a life like his no doubt (yes, I am a cynic!). They go on skiing holidays twice a year, and her children are at the best private boarding school money can buy. I have no doubt that she loves her children, and probably yes they love her too, but does that qualify her for a parent of the year award? I doubt it. But, then again, what would I know, I don’t have kids, nor am I a surgeon or an esteemed professor, nor do I live in a big fancy house, and go on skiing holidays every year.
But, I do remember what it was like to be a kid, I know what it is like to work with kids, and I have also worked with many parents across the range and in many settings. I also have another advantage over her, and that is the fact that I have travelled and properly travelled, not just for a holiday! Travel bridges the gap on so many important topics in life, such as music, and children. A child is always a child, and a parent is always a parent, no matter what social wrapping you package it into. To me, every child needs exactly the same things in life: food, shelter, and love. Anything else is either a bonus or a cavity causer in all senses of the word.
Now, I’m not against private schools, or boarding schools for that matter, so don’t misunderstand me here. But, I don’t believe that being able to simply buy stuff for your kids makes you a fantastic parent. What lessons are you teaching your kids there? There is no substitute in my mind for spending money on a child, but not giving it the time of day. Just look at children in institutions who rock because they have had no stimulation, a little extreme as an example I know, but you get my point. You could put that child in a centre costing a million pounds, but if you don’t interact with that child then its simply not going to develop. That is just not how children work, its a biological fact. Yes, you can pay someone else to interact with your child, and some people have little choice but to do this, but does it mean your a good parent?
Good Parent, Bad Parent?
I often wonder whether she actually knows anything about her children, and actually how many hours she sees them per year. Does she give them her attention during this time, or are they just an inconvenience in her immaculate house with expensive fabrics, cleared away from snotty nosed and sticky fingered kids to make tents with? I wonder if she realises that she actually spends more time looking after other people’s children and lecturing them on perfect parenting, than she does with her own! She often talks about the terrible parents she meets, the ones who are ‘poor’ and who don’t feed their kids on what she considers to be nutritious food. But, does she even know what her children are eating at their fancy boarding school, or who even prepares their food? When was the last time she cooked them a dinner, made with love? These other children may not have the best diet or the richest family in the world, but what about their psychological health? Are they in fact more healthy than the surgeon’s children? Its a classic fact of life when you look around that the people in those professions are the ones who do the least when it comes to their own lives. How many plumbers spend the day fixing other people’s taps, but when they come home, are just too tired to fix their own. What about cooks or builders? The least sensitive parents when it comes to health are often nurses and doctors, who spend their day dealing with limbs hanging off, so the paper cut finger of the child is instead met with a ‘you’ll live’ comment. The only professions that I can think of where the opposite applies is probably vets, who seem even more diligent when it comes to their own pets.
I’ll tell you about a classic nursing episode with my aunt, bless her. She was the coolest person ever when I was a child. I often used to wish that she was my mum, and kind of felt that maybe there had been a mistake because she seemed to be more maternal and understanding and appreciative of children than my mother was. I was just so excited to see her, but somehow, as with most of my family, we all grew apart for one reason and another, went through a long period of being on completely different pages of the book, not understanding each other at all, and only now as an adult, am I learning that actually most adults are pretty fucked up in their own ways and they are all really just finding their own paths and solutions to this complicated thing that is called ‘life’. I always somehow thought that parents were the adults, the ones who knew everything and always knew the right thing to do. Like believing in Father Christmas or the Tooth Fairy I suppose, and I’ve only recently started to understand just how much of parenting, just like being a doctor, or surgeon, is actually mostly a mixture of theory, guess work, and a lot of luck. We get along ok now, but we are not particularly close, and we went through some pretty difficult stuff together when I was growing up, that we are only now really starting to work on and to talk about. Its like being a split personality in some ways, as I now have my memories and thoughts and reasoning from being a child and experiencing her actions, but now have my adult head on things, and can see things from her side a bit more. But the one lesson, I have really learnt in life, is that you should ALWAYS, ALWAYS talk to the child, find out their views, and that just because they are a child, does not mean that they are in any way inferior when it comes to knowledge or making the right decisions in life. Children should NEVER be dismissed as second class citizens, they are often far wiser and more able to reason than adults are, plus they are, on the whole, far less complicated and to the point!
So, anyway, I’m going to share this one incident with you, which I am sure my aunt knows I will never forgive her for, no matter how far on we have come now in our rebuilding of our relationship. I guess for me at the time, this incident probably came at the lowest point in our relationship. Where, on the surface we were probably closest, but where internally we were at our furthest, and this was the time for me, when I realised in the cold light of day, that my family actually had no place in my life anymore, and were not worthy of putting my trust in, as they just couldn’t or didn’t know how to look after me. They were not looking after my best interests, and if I were to continue following and trusting them, then I would be dead before long, as I was really battling to get their approval on everything about my life. It wasn’t that they didn’t care, or didn’t want to help, but they just didn’t have the ability or knowledge to look after me, and they were making decisions for me, without ever actually talking to or LISTENING to me.
So, I was basically visiting my aunt in York for the weekend, as my grandparents were up from Henley-On-Thames, and because I was living in the Lake District, it meant it was fairly easy to meet up. I think, my other aunt also lived in the Lake District at that time, and if I remember rightly, my grandparents had been staying at my aunt’s house near Kendal in the Lakes. I had wanted to see my cousin, so it was a great opportunity to get a lift to York for the weekend, and to go back a few days later, probably on the train??? We had just arrived in York, and I was helping to bring the things in from the car, when I went over on my ankle running in and out to the car and catching it on the curb. I had walking boots on, but it was pre-knee surgery, and at that time, I was always dislocating my knees or going over on my ankles. Normally it wasn’t too much of a problem, but this time I knew it was different.
I couldn’t put any weight on my ankle at all, my foot was purple and really swollen very quickly, and I kept crying and couldn’t stop. I wasn’t crying because of pain or because I was upset, it was more like physiological shock or something. Every time someone looked at me, I would burst into tears, but I was confused because I didn’t know why. Now, the thing that should have really stood out to my family, was the fact that I NEVER cry, at least at this time in my life, its a bit different now (must be age or something, because I even cry at the TV and movies these days, especially when I am happy!). I had been through shit for a long time, never cried, gone through deaths, never cried, hurt myself before, never cried. Do you know what my family did? Ignored me and told me to get over it! That I was being a drama queen and that it was all just psychological. That was it, and I was left to my own devices. I managed to get an ice pack and that was all. Next day, I still couldn’t put weight on my foot, not because it hurt or I was anxious, it just wouldn’t work. Like when you knock your funny bone, no matter of will power will goddam make it work, and believe me, I was angry and upset by now at my family’s lack of compassion, and I wanted to get back home and to my friends as quickly as possible, if I could have walked, I would have. Now, my aunt is trained as a Psychiatric nurse, and in my granny’s eyes, this makes her an expert on ALL things medical! Including my own foot, when I just knew that there was a little something more than a sprain going on. Call me stupid, or whatever, but at the end of the day, its my foot, I am a frequent flier when it comes to sprained ankles (although very rarely since knee surgery thank God), and what could I possibly know as a neurotic, jumped up little teenager! Three days later, I was at the hospital and some nursing friends told me that I should really get my foot checked out since I clearly couldn’t walk on it properly, and couldn’t even get a shoe on still. I did. It was broken. I ended up in a plaster cast and was told not to put weight on it, and ever since that time I have damage to my ankle and now have arthritis. Luckily, its never really stopped me from doing too much, but I have to always be careful now, as its the ankle that is most prone to ‘giving way’, but it was all so avoidable. The ankle is pretty healed in the scheme of things, but the damage to that relationship with my family will never fully heal, and its hard to forgive them for being so hard on me at that time, the first time in my life when I actually would have allowed them to help me.
As an adult, I can understand why they perhaps didn’t want to take me seriously. We had just arrived for a ‘relaxing weekend’ after driving several hours, and the thought of spending hours in accident and emergency, for what was probably just a sprain that no one would do anything about anyway, was not something to think about. After all, it was only her, that really annoying teenager with all the troubles and psychological problems, that they had been forced to spend time with. Not much of an appeal I’m sure, and there I was ruining their planned perfect weekend.
I guess, the thing that I have learnt as I have got older, is that no matter how trivial something seems to someone, or even if what is upsetting them, seems to be out of all proportion with the incident itself, you have to deal with that emotion and take the person seriously and treat them with respect. What upsets a child, may seem so trivial, but it could mark that child for the rest of it’s life. Put it in the context of losing a £1 coin in the street. To a millionaire, it won’t affect you at all, its only £1, life still goes on. But, imagine if that £1 coin was all you had to feed your entire family for the next month, and that whether your family lived or died, or went through screams of hunger, depended on that £1 coin. Different story now. And to me, that sprained ankle was much more than a sprained ankle, it was the loss of my independence and ability to take care of myself, it was not being able to go to the shop to buy food to eat and live off, it was not being able to go to work and therefore not getting paid, and potentially losing my house, and it was the realisation that, you know what, my family really couldn’t care less about me, about what makes me happy or sad, and that actually my life means nothing to them whatsoever. That I am the only member of this family who is not actually a part of this family, the one person who doesn’t belong, and who will never be part of this secret bond. I had always felt that way in my family, but I had also been brought up to be conditioned that families are not like that, they are happy and smiley and love each other, and everyone gets along all jolly and lovely together, especially at Christmas. People often say I over dramatise things, but when you consider my background, there is a bloody good reason for my dramatising everything, and like it or lump it, that is just the way I am. Get over it.
What’s the Joke?
I’m sorry to say, that I felt that way all of my life in terms of my family, and I always felt that I had been left out of some joke or other, even now. No one gets me in my family, and I’m always the inconvenient little secret, the one who has done nothing but bring shame on the family. The one who shouldn’t have been born, and the one that should have been aborted. The deck I was given at birth was a lousy one, but on the flip side, it was also the best hand ever, and I’m the right bloody minded person to live that life, but don’t you go thinking it’ll be a quiet one, as I have to prove you all wrong, that I am a valid citizen and that my being in this world is for a greater cause, whether you like it or not! But its only as an adult that I have come to realise that it goes much deeper than that. That my experience within my family is actually the result of my mother’s relationship with her family, and even in my grandmother’s relationship with her own children. I love my grandmother dearly, and we have worked through a lot of our issues, but still we live on a knife edge where the fact that we both love each other, causes us to be each others’ worst enemies at times and we are terrible at communicating things such as thoughts and feelings, without both getting defensive. That is just my grandmother’s make up, and the way that she is, and whilst my grandfather was alive, he really held the family together in that way, and is now really missed, especially by me, although my aunts have really been there for my grandmother and have a much stronger bond now, with lots of their own issues resolved. Its not about blame, or fault, or doing things wrong. Its just that, we all come into life with different experiences and tools and some are just better at some things than others. We all have faults and we are all on a constant learning curve. Its not like you become a grandma and get your diploma, or you automatically know how to be a mum because you gave birth, life is just not like that, and I know now, that everyone spends their life trying to figure out every process along the way, its more a question of what support you have around you and whether you are ready to understand and to use the advice given.
Grown Ups can Be Scary!
I was totally afraid of my grandfather as a child. He always looked so fierce and serious and I never understood him or his tone of voice. Sad really, as children don’t develop a concept of sarcasm until later in life, but once I knew him as an adult and we talked, especially in his last year about his life and memories and childhood, and all sorts of things, I grew to know him as the kindest, most gentle giant, I have ever met. And a lover of children and of teaching, and of being fair to people. He wasn’t perfect I am sure, and maybe he gave the kids in school grief, but I also know many children who saw him as a role model. Perhaps just as those three ladies who made my life hell at school, probably have helped some student along the way too (although I’m far too biased to see it personally!).
But, I realise now, especially a year on from my life of hell at medical school, I feel like I am finally growing up, and finally the world is making sense to me. It was not that my family hated me, it wasn’t so personal or formal as that, but I think, that indirectly and subconsciously (I’m a Psychologist, so I’m supposed to use words like that), I was just picking up on all the little jibes and unsaid tensions of a family riddled with sibling rivalry, and in a typical post war busy family, where my grandmother was working full time to earn money to feed and clothe her family and to provide an inheritance and to pay for university and cars, and weddings and things, but where she was too busy to stop and give physical love to her family or just to take time with them. Its not a complaint of my granny in any way at all, but I think its a mark of a society that has got caught up in surviving and making ends meet, in order to show their children that they love them, but being able to support them financially.
When I had troubles, I remember turning to my family for support, and I remember being angry that their solution to everything was either money or getting a good education. In effect, paying someone to put a band aid on things! Really, what I needed was an ear to bend, a cup of tea, and a hug. But no one was able to do it, no one knew how, and all were scared of trying that approach as it just wasn’t the way of our family, and we were all scared of such intimacy, it was alien to us. Better to leave it up to professionals, or sweep it under the carpet, in case the neighbours find out or we deviate from social norms. Watching the London Riots on the internet and having travelled to so many countries now, and with all my different work with children, I’ve really come to realise this now, and I don’t think its something new or unique to my family. I spent most of my life trying to conform to social norms, but feeling uneasy and unhappy about it, and beating myself up for being different. I told myself that in no way at all, should I ever become a parent, because I would be responsible for screwing up a child and turning into my own parents, creating another miserable child. Its not that I hate children, but I’ve never been particularly maternal either, and I never considered that I wanted children of my own, and I still don’t. Nor do I feel the pressure of conforming or getting married, just because I should. If I meet someone I love and I want to marry, then fair enough, but its not going to be my mission in life, and its not something I particularly want. Working in the slums in India and getting my head around infanticide was hard, and coming to Georgia and working with free range children was hard too. It screws up all your social concepts, but it also frees you to start thinking for yourself and questioning your own beliefs and values. I know its a cliche, but travel really does broaden the mind, even if you don’t fully realise or understand it at the time.
And one year on, I am sitting here, in Georgia, having scraped my life back to the absolute basics, and for once in my life, I am 100% content. We have a power cut right now, so I am sat on the windowsill by the light of the moon, and I have 6gel to my name. But you know what, I am a part of a community now, my dog is sat with her head on my knee, we just spent the morning playing tug and sharing a homemade dish made by the neighbours, who came to check on me in the powercut. I know all the names of my neighbours, I stop in the street and say hello, in a mixture of my new languages Russian and Georgian. I know where my food comes from, which country, and where its grown, and I appreciate it more because its in season and won’t be around for long. I’ve discovered that I am at last an adult, and though my family dynamics are still tricky, we are slowly building our relationships, and the younger generations are really close and understand where our elders went wrong, and how we want our family to be from now on. We have all of us, across the generations learnt so much about ourselves and each other. We, as the younger generation have been through a lot of shit in growing up and facing demons cast on us unwittingly by the elders who love us, and we are determined that our lives and the lives of our children will not be the same. We are better people for our experiences, and we know we will be great parents. Not the best in the world, and we will definitely fuck up from time to time, or perhaps all of the time, but we know we are stronger and more confident and more open to help than our own parents, who were brought up to be tough and to show no emotion, because emotion is a sign of weakness. We know better than our parents. We know that it is much more important to follow your heart and to do what you feel is right, rather than to just conform because ‘what will the neighbours say?’ I guess its just a generational thing, going in cycles, and who knows what will come of my children’s generation. For my grandparent’s generation, post war, they wanted to provide their children with the material things that they lacked during their rationed daily life, and the next generation were all about careers and women’s lib and learning to balance parenting and ‘a good job’. Now, people are looking to leave their posh London homes for a more charmed life ‘in the country’ where they get to see their children from time to time. We have reverted back to the generation of my great grandmother, where it was all about healthy living, spending time with the kids, and having a quality life, that extended beyond work, where you had time for friends too.
One of those evil ladies I mentioned in the first paragraph of this blog, once asked me how I had time to enjoy things I love, like walking my dog or swimming, and yet, I remember looking at her and wondering how one earth she had time to be a full time cardiac surgeon, with a full time lecturing and mentoring job at the medical school, a home to run, two young children, a husband who was a surgeon, and also writing research papers and attending conferences and academic hearings for people like me. A clear case of the pot calling the kettle black!
And I remember, being this time last year, at my fourth such hearing, surrounded by people just like her, on her request in fact, ‘for my own good’ , justifying why I had taken time off from medical school (with permission!) to visit my grandfather who was in the last stages of cancer, instead of attending a lecture on Health Psychology, that I already had notes for, and which as it happened was my best subject given my previous training as a Psychologist. I remember them taking particular offence at my statement that my grandfather was more important to me at this particular time than a lecture in Health Psychology. This did not go down well, I can tell you!
Alien Species or Have We Just Lost the Plot?
They just didn’t get it, and they all looked and spoke to me like I was a piece of shit from the floor, an alien, contaminating their upper class society. I don’t know if its the same in all medical schools, but Warwick is pretty pretentious in that way. Every Warwick graduate I spoke to prior to starting there told me to avoid ‘that school’ like the plague, that they were all a ‘shower of do-good bastards’ and it seemed impossible to meet any Junior doctor in any hospital who spoke happily of their time in Warwick med school. I just put it down to them being over-tired and over worked, surely it couldn’t have been THAT bad?? Could it?? I remember speaking to doctors from UEA medical school, the other place I had the chance to go to, and I still kick myself that I turned that opportunity down, as I have really loved every medical student I have met from there since. It was just for one year longer, but even though my heart was there, the financial and sensible part of me told me I should go to Warwick, which was also ranked higher than UEA in the all important league tables (turned out to be statistical tosh too!). But Warwick was the totally wrong school for me, Warwick favours those from rich families, where mummies and daddies are General Practitioners locally, or where mummy and daddy can fund you through medical school. There was no finance available to me, and I was in trouble from day one at that medical school, because I had a weekend job in order to survive. Those who had children, kept it very quiet, and those who lived far from campus kept it quiet too, for fear that they would be dragged in front of this board with a need to ‘explain’ themselves and to see if the medical school would be able to give them any ‘support’. Now, ‘support’ to these guys is basically a way of dragging you in to receive ‘mentorship’ at regular intervals, so that they can ‘keep an eye on you’. Extra time out of lectures and revision for a session with a person who has no empathy or understanding of the real world, and instead spends the hour telling you how marvellous they are, and making you come up with revision plans for exams that you don’t actually have the dates for, because they are so unorganised that they haven’t managed to set them yet. I mean, seriously, have you ever heard of a university, anywhere in the world, that doesn’t have its term dates or exam dates organised or set more than a few days before they happen? The university itself is nice, but I’m talking about the medical school, which considers itself too good to take any part of actual main campus or university life, and frowns upon those who do, or who join university clubs or societies, other than the med school’s own ones.
The Final Straw – A Real Eye opener
It was due to my final ‘hearing’ that I really got to the point, where I realised that all these people on these ‘supportive panels’ were really just a bunch of idiots and ‘do-gooders’, with no grasp of the real world. What had they ACTUALLY done with their lives? They had all basically left home, gone to university, got their degree, then Masters, then Doctorate, and were now lecturing since they were now EXPERTS on the country’s National Health Service, and lucky for them my £3k a year was paying their wage. What shocked me more, was realising that they were on bigger salaries than the doctors and nurses who were ACTUALLY working IN the NHS, and at the coal face of health care! I wondered how many of them, like myself, had worked seven nights in a row, cleaning shit off drunken men who were being rude and abusive? Or looked after someone who had just lost their child in a car crash or whatever? Yet, here they were, lecturing me on how to communicate with patients, based on their experiences sat in an air conditioned office, miles from a hospital, in a lovely room, with books and cups of herbal tea, ready to finish work at 3pm every day, and having weekends and holidays off work, and calling in sick for a ‘duvet’ day because the weather was too cold and they might die on their way to work.
I got to know them all fairly well during my time at medical school, and on an individual basis through attendance at stupid tutorials and meetings to tick boxes every so often, I started to feel sorry for them, as they told me more about their lives, and to see how they were fooling themselves that they were happy. That really, they were no more an expert than I, they were all just stuck in some kind of a middle aged rut, going around in circles. It was like these meetings with them, would turn into informal counselling sessions for them, where they would start telling me about their lives and how they had basically put a band aid on it. One woman, who spent her lectures rambling on about the terrible life bestowed upon the poor people of Coventry, and how sad we should be for them, opened up about her son, and how she blamed herself for his troubles. He had difficulties with learning at school, and it was missed, and he got bullied and tried to kill himself, now he was 14 years old, and she didn’t know what to do to help him. The answer was simple to me, stop paying people to analyse him, and get out there in the world and spend time with him, and TALK to him, don’t tell him what he needs to do, LISTEN for once, and put him first. Yet here she was lecturing me on how to run my life. Had I asked for her input? No. Did I need or want it? Hell, no. I had a balance in my life, it was the balance that I knew I needed, based on my life, growing up getting to know me, how I worked, studied, and relaxed the best. Now to her, if I had gone out and got totally wasted with the med school rugby club every weekend, then that would have been perfectly acceptable, but because I WORKED as a dog walker at the weekend, getting exercise, in the fresh air, being paid, working with friends, and spending time with my dog, it was not acceptable. Why? Because she and the medical school society had decided so that’s why. Medical students are supposed to drink and party and study and cram for exams. So, why were these guys telling me how I should run my life? Who gave them the right to interfere? Surely, I should be the one to judge what I need for me, no???? Apparently not, and so we ended up in all these extra and in my view stupid meetings, with me trying to figure out a way to tick their boxes whilst also remaining true to myself and doing what I needed to do in order to be able to pass my exams. But it was never going to work, and when they started telling me how to react to my grandfather and how a health psychology lecture was more important than him, then I realised that they had lost all perspective, nothing was going to shift their view point, and I did not want to enter a career where I would spend the rest of my life justifying myself for behaving like a human being and then feeling guilty for it. Something had to change.
Three dizzy birds from hell!
Those three women made my life hell, because they pushed me to breaking point, made me doubt and question myself, and tried to make me forget why I had wanted to be a doctor. They tried to push their own insecurities and regrets onto me, and tried to make me feel as if I were the freak. I worked hard to over come them as I knew that on the other side of med school, I could tailor my career a little more, but then I started to realise how much I had forgotten since I had started at med school, and how having Guillain-Barre had changed my life when I was working in India. I did a few bank shifts at the local hospital, and it was so exhilarating to work with patients again, and to be a part of their lives and to do something that would make them feel more comfortable and to ease the burden on their life a little. This is what I had wanted from medicine, but every doctor I saw was too busy with paper work and showing the other doctors their new stilletto shoes – definitely a Warwick graduate! They were full of attitude and snobbery towards the working class patients, and had no compassion whatsoever. Probably one of those students raised by of the three said ladies. Bound to become the next female surgeon, with twice a year ski holidays, and a wardrobe of designer clothes. Don’t get be wrong, not all Warwick grads are like that. But its interesting that the interviewees I like the most, never get places at Warwick, and those who I can see will make amazing doctors, and who, if I was the patient, would want treating me, are always the ones who have to fight the Warwick appeals and hearings and who have the hardest battles with the women like those three already mentioned. Its like the med school thinks they are soft or something? Its not being soft, its about being human, and having a connection with patients and of human beings in general, and its something I have seen nurtured by other medical schools. Warwick doesn’t want humans. It wants robots. Conformists, who don’t give a shit. I really regret that they ever made me an offer for their university (as I am sure they no doubt regret making me an offer in hindsight too!), and I have to say that I am so pleased that they have turned down many of the people who have applied to them, that I see as lovely people and the most perfect doctors ever. If you want to be a surgeon or a GP and your only interest is in earning money, then Warwick is the perfect medical school, but if you want to be a good doctor, then stay well away, pick a more appropriate university where they actually teach you things, including a proper bedside manner.
Love-Hate Kind of Relationship?
Its not a bad medical school, but there are many that are better, and no doubt, many that are worse. I gave up everything to become a doctor, and not continuing with medicine was the hardest thing ever, having committed so much to it, and having pretty much bankrupted myself in the process. I hated those three women with a passion, but I also in a kind of sadomasochist kind of way, appreciated their hard tactics with me. They made me push myself to the very edges of my sanity, study ridiculously hard, and do everything I could to prove to them that I was no softy and that I could also pack a punch or two, and I wasn’t go to let three jumped up women tell me that I couldn’t pass my exams. I never knew I could study that hard, or for so many hours every day, or that I could give up the important things in life to focus on something like medicine, but I did, for a while anyway.
One Broken Medic!
But, I’m also really grateful that they broke me, that they forced me out of medicine really. They have saved me from a life chained to the NHS, working sixty hours a week, at all hours, with no weekends or holidays. I knew that it was either medicine or family, but I wasn’t going to be able to have both, especially not with starting a medical career so late in life. After med school, there would be two foundation years, followed by speciality training, and to be a Surgeon Sub Lieutenant in the Royal Navy, would also mean fitting in my Naval training at Dartmouth and so on. I was never going to have time for a life outside of work. I would die old and lonely, with just a pension for my efforts. Having followed the progress of my friends still at med school, over the past year, I can’t believe how much I have changed, and how much I have actually NOT missed medicine or the unending exams and meetings, and portfolios, and box ticking. I feel that I have achieved more in this one year, than I have in my whole life. Why? Because those three women broke me. Chewed me up and spat me out, just as the army does to its new recruits in order that they can become better soldiers and able to deal with anything. Its been a tough year in so many different ways and on many different levels, but its nice to reflect now and to see that I am in a place, I never thought I would reach.
Its funny, because I came across a website today, called 43 things (). I used this during med school as a way of feeling like I had achieved something and to keep me focused. Then I forgot all about, (probably because I was too busy having a life for the first time in ages!) and only remembered it today. I looked at my 43 goals, and I was so shocked to see what I had put. Here are a few of them:
– spend time with my dog
– spend time with friends
– have time to take photos
– meet new, interesting, and likeminded people
– have time to get fit
– sleep properly
– eat properly
The rest were all related to passing exams. Pretty sad huh! The fact that I actually had to make it a goal in my life, and write it down, to do things which fundamentally are the most important things in one’s life. You shouldn’t have to make a timetable for those things, they should be the priority and a given! It just slapped me in the face when I read it, and I realised that I had no life as a med student, that I wanted to be able to sleep properly for God’s sake. How ridiculous is that!
And its funny really, because the things that I lacked, are actually the things that I have loved most about my time in Georgia, and are the reason that I am so happy in myself and in my life now. I used to think, that I would only be happy after I had become a Doctor, because only then would I have enough money to live off, and could then have a holiday once a year! Stupid huh!
Yes, Georgia has been tough, and shit at times, but that is all part and parcel of being in a developing and reforming country and also the transition that comes with moving abroad, and starting your life over from scratch. I really was broken when I arrived, and Med school did such crazy things to me, but I am sooooooo thankful for those ladies breaking me, and for really giving me a new lease of life.
A year Ago, to the Day Perhaps?
It’s a year since I applied to come to Georgia, and its been a real year of change. But its also been the making and the healing of me. And its great to be living in a culture and community where you no longer feel like a freak. People are on the whole, so warm and friendly here, there is a real sense of the neighbourhood and community, and it’s the first time that I have felt like I would be happy to bring a child into the world and to raise it. I never imagined that would happen. I have spontaneous meetings with friends now, sometimes even late at night and on Sunday evenings, imagine that! There are places to go and people love to meet up. Random strangers invite you to their homes, and people love to have guests. I don’t think I ever knew my neighbours in all the time I lived in England, and we certainly wouldn’t have helped each other out if we knew they were struggling for money. People look after children, even when they don’t belong to them, and children are celebrated. They are expected to play and be noisy, and no one complains when they do their chalk drawings on the pavements in the street. People don’t get angry when a baby cries, its just what babies do, and if your late for work because the bus is late, well that’s just normal, it happens, no big deal. When a person dies, their colleagues from work will also get time off to attend the funeral, to SUPPORT their friend as they go through the grieving process. In England, I had to beg to attend a funeral, and was then made to feel guilty for going! Talk about a different world! Its like living in the generation that my grandparents grew up in, where life was simple, if you have money great, if not, then that’s life. The important thing is that you have your health, your friends, and your family. Doctors here have time for patients, they talk to them. That was a big shock I can tell you, especially going from seeing a doctor here, and then seeing a doctor in the UK, I have never been made to feel so in the way and resented in all my life. A doctor shouldn’t make you feel like that, they are supposed to make you feel better, not complain at you for walking too slowly to their room or for feeling sick. Its all just so different after being in Georgia, and I have to say, that as much as I miss many things in the UK, I don’t see there being any reality of my going back now.
Is the UK Really an Option?
Is there anything for me in the UK? Realistically, that is a big fat NO. There is no work for me, nothing that will pay enough to live off anyway, not without going back to a 40, 50, 60 hour week anyway, giving up my weekends and holidays, and giving up on job satisfaction. I have come to the conclusion, that I’d rather be relatively poor but have a good quality of life, than to have all the money in the world but no time to enjoy it.
Georgia has been an incredibly hard place for me, but I feel like I am on the other side of it now, and can really see myself settling here. Friendship was really tough, with totally new levels of intimacy to Britain, and a completely new set of rules. I never had time for friends in England, even though I have several close friends, who I sadly miss now I am in Georgia, and who I will have to work hard not to lose touch with over time. But I am sure they will come and visit, and it will be interesting to see how they think I have changed, having not seen me in over a year. I wonder whether I will realistically ever see my family again, as being away is not strengthening our relationship in any way, but then maybe it is part of the reason why I am a bit happier? Yes, I miss them, and no I don’t want to lose touch with them, but is it inevitable?? Yes, I think it is, unless of course they make some effort to stay in touch. I’m not one of those people who can forge a relationship based on lies or false foundations, what you see is what you get, and I refuse to live a lie. I used to make the obligatory Christmas visit because it was what families are supposed to do, but then I would just feel miserable and awkward and hate myself for it and for living a lie and trying to be something I wasn’t. I would love to have enjoyed those Christmases together, and I still would, but its hard to meet once a year when you don’t feel like you have a connection with your own flesh and blood, and to know that you will spend the next few weeks picking your heart up out of the gutter. I do love my family, but there is so much history there, so much left unsaid, and so much misunderstanding. The foundations are rocky, and at some point that building will always topple. I am sure we will all change over time, and as we grow up we are all starting to understand things a bit more, but I also know that once my grandmother dies, that will be the last bond tying us together, and if we don’t form other ties before that happens, then none of us will ever keep in touch, and it will be the end of everything that my grandparents worked so hard for, in building for their future.
And so, I guess that brings me to my future really, and a whole new chapter in my life. Its time for me to forge my own family now and build up something for myself, and now really feels like I am ready to start that process. I am finally in a position where I can think outside of myself and to start giving something to others.
I love life in Georgia, even though it gets me down at times. This is home now, and it’s the end of an era with the Ministry of Education and Science. I have learnt more tough lessons, and am stronger and enriched from the process. I have loved teaching in the public schools, and Georgia has encouraged me to be creative, and it hasn’t been frowned on here. I feel like a normal person and a real human being here, and maybe that is why I can cry openly and unashamedly at films now, even when they make me happy? I love the community I live in, over the past year I have travelled, met new, interesting, and likeminded people, have spent time with my dog and my cats, taken thousands and thousands of photographs, been swimming, had time to exercise a bit, and now I even have an oven and am loving that I can bake again.
In September, I start my new job, a great job in a British school, with the absolute best of both worlds. My own class of first graders, and my own secondary school classes with me as their Geography teacher. I love teaching in Georgia, the kids here are just incredible, and full of energy and inspiration, and they are so excited to be learning and finding out more about the world. I’ve never really taught Geography before, although I did study environmental science and primary school teaching in the Lake District. I finally have an outlet for my creativity, and the freedom to use what ever method I wish to teach the children what they need to learn. My new boss is an inspirational, and I think, pretty likeminded person, and I have the feeling that we are going to get on like a house on fire and come up with some pretty weird and wonderful projects together. If she’ll have me, then I can see myself staying at her school forever, or at least setting up our new project together and working on that.
Two New Projects in the Works!
I’m incredibly excited about the oceans project, and also about my new project, setting up a community and children’s field studies centre, the first of its kind in Georgia. I’m also really excited about my PhD. People who don’t know me, keep warning me about taking on too much, but they just don’t get how annoying that is. Its about passion to me, its not a chore or hardship, its about spending my time, keeping myself busy, by doing what I love. I am not the kind of person who can just sit down and watch tv non stop, and I really miss having books to read. I don’t even have a tv, so I have more time, to focus on doing the stuff I love. I’m not saying I am going to do it all at once, or even over night, but working with other people, and bit by bit, because I’m no longer in a hurry, these are the things I want to work on. They are things that I like to do to keep me happy. Like painting, or drawing, or practicing piano. They help me to relax. It’ll be different when school starts again, as my priorities will change, but why not just let me enjoy my interests now, whilst I have time, instead of worrying about me. I have plenty of time right now, and a lack of funds, so that only leaves me with my creativity.
On Family Life
Its also a new chapter in my life, because, having always known that if I had kids, then I would adopt, I now feel for the first time ever, that the time is right for me to settle down and to create a family of my own. I feel like a grown up at last and ready to put someone else’s needs before my own. I also had the mad realisation that most agencies only allow you to adopt until the age of 40, and if I am to stay in Georgia, then it makes sense to adopt from either Georgia or Armenia, both of which have the most intense of paperwork compared to other countries, and the average process takes around 18months, so I really need to start proceedings this year. That means I also need to save money as the process itself is not cheap, and then there is the expense of bringing up a child. The process in Georgia is going to be a strange one for me, as most agencies are geared up for International adoption and only two children have been adopted abroad in the last two years, as Georgia don’t like overseas adoption and want the children to stay in Georgia. They only offer the most serious handicapped children for overseas adoption Those agencies charge around $40,000 for the process, which includes applying for USA citizenship for the child, and there are no UK agencies. This is going to be weird for me, since I am not American, I don’t want to move to America, and I want to adopt and raise a child here. I am also not Georgian, but will be on a Georgian salary, although I will be very well off by Georgian average salaries. I rather naively am hoping that I can therefore adopt under Georgian procedures as if I were Georgian, but I can’t apply for a Georgian passport or citizenship for another three years, and I also have to show financial stability and that I have a good job and place to live. But the advantage is, that I can work closely with the main orphanage in Georgia and get to know the children very well, and this would be in my favour when it comes to my application. I also plan to offer the child a place at the school where I will be teaching, which is something not usually offered to orphans and would be in my favour, plus they would grow up in Georgia and I would be keen to learn Georgian customs and to take classes with them or put them Georgian dance or musical classes. Georgia has joined the Hague convention, and part of their worry is the follow up of children after adoption, so hopefully that will be a plus, and I worked for and was approved as a teacher by the Ministry who run the orphanage, so they already have a background check on me. Anyway, it means that my priorities in life have really changed since one year ago, thanks to those three tough old birds, and for the better really, as I am a better person from their tough love. This next chapter is going to be a long old road, but hopefully a good one, with some new adventures and stories on the way.
Survival and Minimalism
I have learnt over the summer that I really can survive on nothing and that I don’t need material things to make me happy. I am really excited about this new phase in my life, really I should call it the ‘all for the children’ phase of something equally corny. And I am really just writing this to serve as a reminder to myself when I get lost on the way, or to reflect on in another year’s time, wow, who knows where I will be or what I will be doing this time next year! My aim now is to focus on my new life in Georgia, developing my skills as a teacher at my new school, and saving up as much money as possible, in order to strengthen my application for adoption. Perhaps I can stay in the house where I am now and bring up children here? My house mates will arrive in September and plan to be here for one or maybe two semesters, so who knows about that as an option? I can do it on my new salary, or maybe I will get to build my children’s centre and live there and bring up children there, with them attending the local school? I hope that the kids at school will teach me more new things about myself, and help me to find out more about Georgian children so that I can learn to listen more and to be the best teacher and parent that I can. To get to know the children’s families and to settle even more into my new community, and to really learn the language. Longer term, I still want to save up to buy a piece of land in the outer Hebrides of Scotland, where I can build a retreat. It would be amazing to get a British passport for my adopted child or children and to spend my long summer holidays from school, with the kids in Scotland, building fires and playing on the beach, and just enjoying time together, perhaps even with my family members in Britain, with the kids as a new bond in the family, hanging out with my cousin Bryony and taking our families forward into a new era. To have proper British and Georgian Christmases here in Georgia, with friends visiting from England, and then doing what all Georgians do when it snows – go skiing and snowboarding!
The Important Mums in My Life
I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a family quite a lot recently, and I guess that is kind of why I was reminded of those conversations at med school and how much I have grown up in the past year. I didn’t have a good relationship with my mother, never had, but I was so lucky to have some important and very maternal women in my life as role models. My happiest memories of childhood are really from my time with Jenny and her mum, ‘Nana’. And I love hearing about Jen’s life with her first grandchild now, and about Nana, and it fills my heart with warmth every time I read her facebook status updates or whatever as it really reminds me of all the happy and privileged times I had with their family and Jen’s two children Rachel and Amy, who are now all grown up and are really incredibly lovely people. It makes me so happy to know that those families and traditions still exist in Britain, and I hope there are many more of them in the country too, and I know there are. Jen was always so mumsy to me, was the one who would give me hugs, put me to bed, comfort me when I was sad or confused, and I just loved the homely atmosphere of her house. It was a tiny house, but it was just so safe and warm, always and I loved sleep overs there, bathing and eating and sleeping in clean, warm sheets and hearing Jen’s happy laugh and listening to her funny Dorset accent (sorry Jen☺ ). We spent a lot of time with Jenny when we were kids as my mother was friends with her and still is. I had in Jen, everything I didn’t have in my own mother, but which my brother did. The difference being that my mother wanted my brother but didn’t want me, and that she was very young when she had me and the timing wasn’t the best, and I was always sick and grumpy and stayed up all night because I hated sleeping. I often wonder how I would have turned out without Jen in my life, and it was sad that we lost touch as I got older and she moved to a different town. Being in touch again now is lovely, and I am sure that if I ever needed advice, she would probably still be the number one person I would turn to, as she is so kind and caring, and knows all about my life and upbringing and background, and my relationship with my mother, whilst also knowing my mother as a person in her own right and as her friend. She has never judged me, and always been very unconditional. I am also incredibly lucky because the other very important person in my teens and even now has been Liz. She didn’t know why I was the strange kid I was at school, but she also always encouraged me unconditionally and was really the second mum in my life along with Jen. I was fortunate in that she taught me lots of different subjects in school over a long period of time, and even as an adult, she still encourages and supports me, especially in the things that most people have a mum’s support for. I guess I really have two mums in my life in some ways, two unofficial adopted mums, and I hope that as I become a mum at some point in the future, that I can think more about what I love about those two incredible people and less about my fear and anxiety of turning into my own mother.
Age and Wisdom
I guess I didn’t really appreciate how powerful these two ‘mums’ were in my own life, until much later on, and I am sure that having positive people who left an impact on my life, always helped me to find the strength to keep on going, no matter how tough things got. I want to be the kind of mum that they were and are, but with a bit of my granny in the mix too, as she has also been a really important part of my life, even though we are both terrible at communicating or showing emotions. Having pets has really helped me to relax a bit more when it comes to putting another person/being before yourself, and I suppose in some strange way it has helped me to change and shown me that I can care for another, without turning into my mother or having a panic attack about being rubbish at the job.
Being a teacher has also really helped me in this, especially over the past year. And seeing friends from the hospital like Kate, Sarah, and Daphne go from individuals working shifts to becoming mums has really shown me that its not a given, that you automatically are a good parent and everything goes along all rosey cosey. Life isn’t an all or nothing process, but a learning curve, that you hopefully get better at with time and experience. Mistakes happen, and you are allowed to have a strop every now and again, its normal, it doesn’t mean you are a failure. I think that was my own mother’s problem, that it was all or nothing. I rejected her from my moment of birth and that set the precedent for the rest of our relationship. I rejected her, that meant she was a bad mother, and it was a self fulfilling prophecy after that. She had two or maybe three miscarriages after me, my fault, and my brother was sick when he was born, plus he was the boy she always wanted. He was cuddly and compliant, and even looked like a little cherub. I on the other hand, always looked liked my father, and was more like him in personality and temperament too. She wasn’t married when she fell pregnant with me, no one was wanting a child at that time, my brother was the result of a lot of trying. She spent her whole life seeking her mother’s approval, and never got it and always had low self esteem, now she was rejected by me as her baby on day 1. So its understandable that we should have the relationship we had, and only as an adult do I understand the reason for so much insecurity as a child and growing up. Jen and Liz somehow made me feel that I was a good person, that I could be loved, and that I wasn’t this evil terrible thing, which I pretty much felt like all the time, except for when they were around. Incredible how two seemingly insignificant people can play such a major role in one’s psyche! But they are both inspirational and I hope that I can continue to learn from them, especially as I approach parenthood, and I hope I continue to learn from Sarah and Kate and Daphne too. I certainly know parenthood isn’t going to be an easy ride, even more so given it will be adoption, and in a different country, with two totally different languages! But it feels right, and I hope that it will really happen.
Life in Georgia
Time for a family life is a given in Georgia, not a luxury that you have to attend a meeting and beg for. I can’t think of a better country in which to settle and to raise my new family than Georgia, and I can see myself growing old here, and watching the grandchildren grow. A true LIFE is possible for me here, a life built on truth, without my constantly feeling guilty. And I’m so ready for it now. Welcome to this new chapter and all the adventures it may hold for me……and roll on all those questions and advice seeking from all the mum’s in the world, regardless of whether they are relatives or not! And thank you to those three med school ladies for giving me my life back!