Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

Posted on 27 September 2010

“The saddest summary of life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.” ~Unknown

This is a phrase that had become a central theme in my life. One night, during one of my all too frequent bouts of insomnia, I sat at my computer and decided to write about my discontent, my middle aged angst.

I have no idea where the words came from, but once I typed the first sentence it was like a river overflowing its banks. Turns out, this was the key, the cure for my crisis. Yes, I am forty-two and a walking cliché, a woman on the edge, a burned out physician whose career has become all consuming.

I have always been an artist at heart. Nothing moves me more than music, art, books, anything that is the product of the creative process. I actually had dreams of being a theatre performer. But for whatever reason I never believed I had enough talent.

No, my lot in life was passionate bystander. So of course I went to medical school. This was a perfect way to please my parents, to defend against financial insecurity, to prove to anyone in doubt that I was indeed intelligent and successful.

See, the thing is I took a path that seemed right at the time—and who wouldn’t want a career chosen by a seventeen-year-old kid?! I followed all the rules. I listened to my parents; I behaved myself and embarked on a life that was clearly meant for someone else.

Many times I considered leaving, but with each passing year I would dig in deeper, letting debt and fear of disapproval and other silliness make my decisions for me. Oddly enough, being a psychiatrist doesn’t necessarily translate into self-awareness.

There I was, after fifteen years in public psychiatry, sitting at a computer in the middle of the night. I was grateful for the privilege of caring for youth in crisis but exhausted and lost, longing to be creative.

So what’s a psychiatrist to do? Reflect and analyze until my brain hurts. Reading about my dilemma, clearly outlined on the page, set in motion a plan to heal myself.

I decided that no more would I do things safely. I would abandon my usual tactic of pleasing everyone else. I would live in the opposite. I would do something extraordinary like so many of the amazing kids who sought my care had done.

What if I did the unthinkable? What if I said to hell with convention and what’s expected of me? What if for once I turned off my head and turned on my heart?

I decided to turn my life upside down, shake it well, and see what comes out.

After a vacation filled with signs that running away to France was the thing to do, I made a deposit on a house for a year in the Burgundy region. I resigned from my big career, sold my house, my car, and most of my possessions and kept only my lovely husband.

No, I don’t speak French but I will learn. No, I don’t have a lot of money to fund my folly (this ain’t no Eat, Pray, Love tour, baby) but I will simplify my life and somehow I’ll figure it out. You name it, I’m changing it.

I’ve even decided to stop dyeing my hair and embrace my naturally gray (I mean steel with chrome highlights) hair.

What I do have is a quest for joy, a need for being on the path that feels right to me. I also have a wonderful husband who has not for a moment doubted me or questioned the desire to run away.

He is a gift every day, and I cannot thank him enough for being up for such a bold endeavor.

Since making this decision I have a profound sense of freedom and release. I have started writing about the journey, and my blog has become one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. Doing something creative, however small, has been like an enormous therapy session.

For once I feel like I’m going in the right direction. Physician, heal thyself indeed!

I have no idea what lies ahead for me but that’s the point really. Maybe this is too much change for one little brain. Maybe it will be a disaster. But maybe it will be just what the doctor ordered.

At the very least, I can stop thinking that I should have or could have. And that is a gift that has no measure.

Wacky or wise? Walking away or walking toward? I’ll let you know in a year…

Photo at WTL Photos

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