I’m waiting for my daughter to wake up from her anaesthetic, sitting in the kind of parents’ waiting room I walk through every single day in my work as a childrens’ emergency doctor, but not often as a parent looking in from the other side. There’s a television playing Sesame Street on loop and a bunch of other parents pretending not to be anxious by reading gossip magazines, but I see them looking at the clock every three minutes as we wait to hear it’s our turn to go to the recovery room. It’s an uncomfortable place to be.
I don’t normally write intensely personal posts like this one, because it has never seemed the right fit for me. I like to write about the things that make life so very enjoyable – great food, interesting places, fascinating people – and I write best from a happy place, feeling optimistic about life and the world around me.
But I’ve struggled with one of my regular posts for the last three weeks, trying to recreate the happy memories of an island we visited earlier this month on our family trip to Shanghai, and wondering why I just can’t seem to get the darn thing finished.
I write, and erase, and re-write, then find myself changing the topic, fiddling with the photos, deciding on yet another topic with better photos. I keep procrastinating, finding other tasks to do, putting it off.
‘It’s writer’s block’ I think to myself, ‘It will pass.’
Then the answer eventually came to me today as I sat in that waiting room – it’s not writer’s block, it’s mental exhaustion. It’s been building for months.
You can conveniently leave out the boring bits – paying bills, juggling childcare arrangements, working in an actual money-paying job that pays actual bills. I don’t often write about the bad stuff in life, perhaps from a misplaced belief that many people read blogs as an escape from all of that…drudgery.
But I should let you know that just like everyone I also have days of drudgery where I seem to do nothing but repeated loads of washing and emptying the cat litter tray. I have black days, messy days, chaotic days and days when it just seems too much. And although some people can tap into that deep, dark river and write wonderfully about it, usually I can’t.
Lately there haven’t been too many shiny, happy days though.
Combined with tragic events unfolding this week around the world, my own world is now also often filled with sad and tragic events – parents who harm their children, children who harm themselves, families who deal daily with a seriously ill or disabled child. It didn’t seem to bother me as much before I went to China – I thought I coped with the stress of it all quite well – but it bothers me a great deal now. I appear to have lost my immunity to that kind of heartache and I’m no longer a hardened ER doctor (actually, in all truthfulness I never was – only ever so slightly toughened). I’ve gone soft.
It can be inspiring too – children who overcome illness against the odds, happy faces after a broken arm is fixed, a look of incredulity when I extract a bright pink bead from a small boy’s nose. It’s a fine balance between ups and downs when you work with sick children, but lately the downs have been out-scoring the ups by a long way.
To add to the burden we’re all still, in our own way, homesick for China and the relatively carefree life we had there.
I can’t identify completely what made it so carefree (well, yes, six months in a campervan), but I can say it had a lot to do with not owning a house or car, and not having to think about insurance, school meetings or mobile phone plans. Life back in Australia has been surprisingly complicated and difficult and we don’t seem to be having much fun. The writing isn’t coming as easily as it did.
As I write this I’m called into the recovery room. My daughter is lying flushed and asleep, an oxygen mask on her swollen little face. It’s nothing major or life-threatening, just the draining of a big ugly tooth abscess that reared up overnight last night, and the removal of the guilty molar that caused it all. She’ll be fine in a few days.
She frowns and struggles wildly as she emerges from the anaesthetic, distressed and crying, disoriented. Yet I’m so glad it’s safely over. I can deal with the night ahead knowing the worst is past.
She drifts back into a restless sleep and I think about all the reasons my brain is too full to write. A sick child. The emotionally draining encounters with stressed parents I think about for days afterwards. The complicated schedules of four family members that takes up more brain space than it should. The increasing difficulty of squeezing freelance writing into the existing list of tasks. The parking tickets and speeding fines I keep getting because I still drive and park like I live in China.
The poor old think-box is just too exhausted. Too used up. I need to stop thinking for a while, stop cogitating, stop struggling, and give it a rest.
Then I think about how very lucky I am to have two happy and (usually) healthy children, and to live in a place where safe healthcare is readily available. Lucky to have children and a husband who I love as hugely and passionately as they love me. Lucky to have the chance to write with complete freedom about whatever I want.
I resolve to be less hard on myself. The writing will come when it comes, sometimes at surprising times like this, in an operating theatre recovery room.
I look forward to a return to normal optimistic functioning very soon, and in the meanwhile my heart is with my American friends and readers – as many of you are. Sending the few good thoughts left in this poor tired head your way.