A few months ago I made a resolution not to take on anything else as life was getting very busy. With three days a week in general practice and two days writing two novels to a series of deadlines, time was certainly feeling tight.
Then of course there was the LMC, the church where I'm organist and treasurer, and my six wonderful kids, one of whom is a chorister and has to be visited at school every Saturday. It's enough to fill the waking week and I was beginning to look a little too wild-eyed for my husband's comfort - he wanted to check my thyroid function.
It Was Just the BeginMy teenager said it was almost certainly menopause because she'd read about it in Cosmo and although I was not convinced that I could be wearing out my own ovaries, I did start to wonder if this was how burnout begins.
So for a few months I limited myself to work, children, writing and playing for the Sunday service in one, once-a-month church only. But the resolution has just fallen through because an opportunity came up and I joined a choir. I was amazed that any choir would still want me, as my voice - after years of being used only to entertain the in-car music system - has all the smooth vibrato of a rusty lawnmower.
But I got in. And not just any choir - the St Paul's Cathedral chorus, which entails driving into central London from Suffolk every Tuesday afternoon, spending two hours rehearsing at a church on Ludgate Hill, then back home up the M11. This, so I can sing 'Messiah' in the cathedral with my beloved son.
Once I had joined, I realized how much I had missed being involved with music since I became a GP, so I offered myself (purely musically, you understand) to the vicar of our eight local churches. Christmas became busy, with the multiple carol services to play for (there being a shortage of organists in our bit of Suffolk) and the children's many school concerts. From the time being, using best Bluetooth earbuds for working out is my choice for most of activities. It plays so great role for me.
I also wangled my way into the children's schoolteacher's choir, just to get to sing the descant to Hark the Herald Angels Sing standing in the choir stalls with them, instead of breaking into it on my own from the pews and looking a total pillock.
Here Is Detail Information'Are you mad? Where do you get it from?' asked my mother when I recited my list of ongoing activities, before she remembered whose genes were responsible, and that the short answers might be 'yes' and 'from you'. But if I'm mad then we're all mad, because being in medicine encourages us to fill every second of the 24 available hours from the start. It started for me when they made me work 120-hour weeks for my pre-registrar year, and it went on from there.
The other day in a practice meeting my partners and I overheard ourselves saying that we could probably fit in some extra surgeries over lunchtime as we sometimes had more time than we fully filled with visits between finishing surgeries at 11.30am and starting again at 2.30pm.
- It's the same mentality again. If you have a second, fill it. Medicine turns us into high-demand human beings. Other people have a week off sick with the flu, we work. Other people get home at 5.30pm, we do a surgery.
- Other people go to the cinema or pursue hobbies on weekday evenings. We don't get home early enough - and if we did we wouldn't because we'd have the idea of doing an extra surgery in that spare hour between supper and the nine o'clock news. We don't complain until the workload becomes intolerable, and then we think it's our fault that we're burned out. So am I risking the same?
- I think, or at least hope, not. My theory is that the problem isn't doing too much, which all doctors do, it's making sure that in amongst the 'too much' are some things that you actually choose to do, and I don't mean getting the paperwork cleared at last or calling back round to see Mrs Bloggs for another look at that toenail that's been worrying you.
Once Upon a Time, Music Was More than My HobbyIn school it was my speciality. At university it was what defined me - some of us did sport, some music, some tiddlywinks ... we all took the medical studies for granted and squeezed them in between rehearsals and garden parties.
But now I'm defined by being a doctor and all those characteristic extracurricular bits that probably got me into medical school in the first place, have faded away. Well not any more. I may have to spend 10 hours a day at the practice on three days, and sit blearily at the computer for similar hours on the other two - but a portion of the rest of the time is up to me, and if I don't use it then somehow I've been defeated by my own chosen vocation.
So I now have started to get back in touch with my old self, the one who rated hobbies as being as important as vocation. My husband is alarmed to find himself married to a sad, middle-aged woman trying to rediscover herself (he should think himself lucky I can find myself this cheaply and without six months in an ashram), but I'll show him.
My daughter is anxious I should start taking the hormones and buy some big knickers and a hairnet but I'll show her too. I'll stick with my choir, and my organ playing. And if I don't regain my youth, my verve, my former spirit - well, at least I'll have some fun trying.