Coming up for Air

Carol, Age 48

Failure is my biggest fear. It always has been. For me, failure means letting my loved ones down, letting myself down. Although I’m a doctor in mid-life, I never viewed or understood that from “failure” comes perspective and growth opportunities. It took a global pandemic to push me towards seeing failure as a positive.

I am an immigrant, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a wife, and an emergency doctor. So many people depend on me. There was never room for failure.

As an immigrant child, I was the one to take care of things and be the nurturer. We were a struggling immigrant family, and it felt like we could be destitute at a moment’s notice. So I had to be tough as a child.

That duty of toughness and a need for perfection was further ingrained during my training as a doctor. I was driven not to fail my patients — to give them the best care possible and have all the answers. No doctor ever wants to let their patients down.

When I became a mother, there was no way I would allow myself to fail my children. I brought them into this world, and I could not let them down. So from childhood to adulthood to motherhood, I’ve needed to be tough. But my toughness did not leave any room for vulnerability.

But today, I am in mid-life, coming out of a life-changing pandemic. Today is different. Today there is no way to avoid vulnerability as I see and feel the changes in my body. I feel like my body is betraying me. Or am I letting my body down?

Intellectually as a physician, I know that hormonal changes in mid-life can disturb my sleep, mood, metabolism, attention span, and energy. I’ve been dealing with insomnia, weight control, and fatigue for some time now, and my natural reaction has been to deny it and fight it. The COVID-19 pandemic has, of course, exacerbated all these things, and today I cannot ignore it.

In the beginning, it was very frightening working on the front lines and dealing with non-stop illness and suffering. Each day I geared up at work. Every single square inch of my body was covered in PPE. I worried about my patients. I worried about bringing home a deadly virus to my family. Every day I endured a heavy emotional and physical toll. I had no idea if there was an end in sight. Thankfully today, over two years later, with a better understanding of the virus and vaccinations, I no longer work in fear.

Today I feel like I am finally coming up for air. However, the constant fear and worry have affected my mental and physical health. As a result, I’m emotionally and physically exhausted and depleted. And this has left me questioning so many things in my life.

Today I am searching for answers to these questions. Do I have to be tough all the time? Am I spending enough time on things that matter to me most? Do I need to fight this new chapter in my life to keep things as they “should” be or embrace them and find their beauty?

And I know I am not alone. This is what it means to be a human. I remind myself this is our common humanity and that so many other women in their mid-life are struggling just like me. So today, I am working on accepting the changes in my body, letting go of regrets, forgiving my past mistakes, and allowing myself to be just as I am. Today I am allowing myself to do what makes me happy.

I am working on having a new perspective. I am thankful to my family and friends who have supported me throughout the pandemic. I am thankful I did not get sick despite being on the front lines. Unfortunately, many were not as fortunate.

I want to be at peace with my body and soul. The trauma of this past year has thrown my identity and life purpose up in the air, and it will take time to reset.

Starting today, I will give myself permission not to be perfect. I will do my best to appreciate myself as best as I can. I will allow myself to fail and embrace it as an opportunity to learn and grow. I know I will always cycle between constant highs and lows like beautiful waves in the ocean. And being at peace for me will be embracing the changes in my body and my life and being as beautiful as ocean waves. Today I will support myself the way I have always supported my loved ones.

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