I was raised by a Newfoundland family who cherish their deeply held traditions of guilt, panic and self-loathing, so becoming a psychiatrist was the path of least resistance. That way I could put an end to my mother’s obsessive fear that I would somehow wind up depending on a man for money. I could also begin the futile quest for the approval of my physician father. But the best part was I could prove to myself (and everyone else) that I wasn’t a total idiot. It was the perfect plan. Who wouldn’t want a life chosen by a high school kid? Never mind that I had dreams of becoming an improvisational comedic performer discovered by Lorne Michaels who happened to drop in to see my senior year play. As my mother wisely reminded me, I would always be poor if I had to rely on my talent so medical school it was.
Some 20 years later I was standing in the darkness of my state of the art kitchen at four o’clock on a cold February morning. Insomnia and I had become old friends. On that particular morning it wasn’t the usual myriad of stresses and heartbreaks of my life as a child and adolescent psychiatrist that kept sleep at bay. No, this was something new; some sort of fundamental problem, a restlessness taking root in my being. Maybe I was just tired or old. I certainly had a right to be either. The latter by virtue of my 42 birthdays, the former by way of a career that had bled me dry. So I did what any psychiatrist would do, I reflected on myself until my brain hurt.
I don’t recall the moment when I knew for sure that I was completely ordinary. I was surprised to realize it. This insight developed slowly and subtly in my consciousness guided by the steady stream of extraordinary kids in the chair across from me. They’d slouch and face me, looking for wisdom or answers or pills or for me to absorb their rage and angst. And no matter how unfortunate or ill or disorganized, they were always impressively uncommon; battered, suicidal, hysterical, psychotic, sexual sophisticates navigating their way often without a moment of love in their lives. Yet there they were, self-aware, confident albeit superficially, clear in purpose even if it was to cause as much self-destruction as possible.
I imagined myself at 16, sure, free of razor cuts on my arms and suicidal depression but also free of confidence, independence, and courage. They read Thoreau and strutted their stuff on You Tube. Cripes, I was reading Anne of Green Gables and wearing three layers of clothes to pretend that I wasn’t six feet tall and 118 pounds (freak not chic). I behaved myself, did well at school, clung to a boyfriend who treated me badly and played the Good Catholic, well, apart from being on the pill. At first I assumed it was generational, that had I grown up texting and blogging and shopping at H & M I would have been their equal, slick as could be, Brazilian wax and all. But in my heart I knew it was a lie. I knew that not once had I ever done anything brave or unexpected.
I love these kids. I love that they prevail despite all odds. I love that they dare to see beyond their despair. They know that no matter what they decide disapproval will ensue and they do it anyway. Not for a moment do I envy their illnesses and suffering or how society hasn’t offered them a place at the table for sick kids who deserve compassion and funding. I do however respect their predicament and their grace and dignity in tolerating it. They are fundamentally special. I was the one without grace and I needed to find it somewhere.
There were two other things of which I was certain. One, I love my husband. I look at him and see the only right path I have ever taken. Two, something had to give. My career so heavy with serious responsibility didn’t fit me anymore. The system had beaten me down. Some days I felt it was killing me, like some sort of disease destroying me body and soul and that’s no way to live. So what was an ordinary gal to do?
Now maybe a four a.m., carbohydrate fueled, middle-aged malaise wasn’t the optimal moment for major life decisions. And it could’ve just been the chips and chocolate talking but as I looked at the beautiful house that we’d spent a year renovating, my luxury SUV in the driveway and my action packed calendar that paid for all the things in my gaze, I realized for the first time in my life that I had a choice. I didn’t have to wait for the stars and moon to align or until I had a pile of money saved. I didn’t have to wait for the elusive perfect job for wayward psychiatrists to miraculously present itself to me. I could simply walk away. My contract at the hospital was up for renewal and I had a decision to make. I could either go ahead and make my deal with the devil like I’d done every year for the past fifteen, or I could do something different, something completely illogical.
So I made a deal with myself to abandon the path that I’d traveled for so long. To hell with ordinary, convention, fear of disappointing others, seeking approval and doing what’s expected of me. I decided to follow in the footsteps of the great George Costanza and live in the opposite. To be brave and do things I have only dreamed of doing, to turn my life upside down, shake it well and see what comes out. The only thing left was to wake up my better two thirds and give him the good news. Somehow I knew he’d be in.
And now, three months after that fateful morning, I’ve done the unthinkable. I resigned from my stable and successful position at a major Canadian hospital leaving behind an amazing group of people and an equally amazing paycheck. I sold my beautiful house, my car and almost everything I own except for a few essentials, my husband being a perfect example. I purchased a one-way ticket to France, and rented a cottage in Burgundy for a year. I traded stability for the absolute unknown. I have lost my mind. I’m going to look for it in France.