I seem to be nudging forwards with this blog and my public musings again. Here’s a sign of hope from a week or so back. A rainbow down below me through snow/sleet. It was a particularly bright one and a particularly vertical bit of arc.
OK. Sorry if that turns out to be the best of this posting! Onwards though as I think this is a theme that has been running through things ever since that day in July, over two years ago now, when I had renounced my clinical vocation and pointed my bike off towards Compostela: what does it mean to be “clinically retired” or “retired from clinical work”? What does that mean if you still find yourself working 70-90 hours a week, essentially unpaid as I can live on my NHS pension? Should I be keeping up with the Kardashians and watching reruns of old TV programs with my feet up?
I confess I’ve watched some old “Lewis” and “Foyle” recently but one or two a week, when too tired to work effectively, is quite enough TV.
I headed into clinical work starting preclinical medicine in 1975 so in some ways I was on a clinical trajectory for 41 years. I started in psychiatry in 1984 so did that, or parts of it, for 32 years, and though getting formally qualified took eight to 12 years out of that, I was doing some sort of psychotherapy for most of that 32 years. How does it feel to just stop? Well, as I’ve said here before, it seems to have left surprisingly little vacuum in my life. I remember patients and colleagues, mostly with warmth and curiosity about what they are doing now and how they are, but it doesn’t dog me. I would love to know much more about many, many of the lives that intersected with mine in that very exposed way that being a patient, whether medical, “psychiatric” or for psychotherapy puts one in. However, it’s not my right to know more than I do. I have occasional dreams that clearly relate in some way to my clinical work, let’s be honest, they’re always more nightmares than dreams and they’re not that frequent and I think the way they use that part of my past is “steganography”: hiding something else within another image or text. What Freud thought was the “day residue”/”screen memory” part of dreams. I’m sure he oversimplified that, and that I’m doing that too, but my clinical years don’t seem to haunt me.
I think a bit of that is because the cycle ride, which started this blog, started a sort of digestion process that is ongoing, in an irregular sort of way. Though escaping the “cultural jail” of Brexit is real for me, and hoping to gain EU residency rights for my children also real, there’s an element of digesting “retirement” in my retreat up here inot the Alps. You don’t just walk away from something that was that important to you, and varyingly important, from frustrating and disappointing to really quite helpful to many others, without some work on the change.
For me it’s sort of half a change as most of my clinical years, well, the last 30 of them, I combined clinical work and research work and it’s continuing to be a researcher that keeps me from the Kardashians. Working around half/half in clinical and research work for 30 years meant that I built up terrible piles (or trenches, pits) of overdue work. For most of the 30 years I was also building up a list not only of started but unfinished things, but of ideas that hadn’t been started in some empirical way. That’s a lot of unfinished business. (Ouch, simple artithmetic teases me that it might be 15 years’ worth if I was trying to keep up with full time researchers all those years. Help!)
Well, the arithmetic isn’t that simple but the dark slag heaps and pits of shame and guilt about overdue, neglected or abandoned collaborations are nasty and will take some years yet to clear, though certainly not 15 years. The unstarted projects hang there like Tantalus’s grapes but I’m trying very hard to resist them until the worst of the backlog is done.
As I noted a week or so ago (Blog post: What does it mean to be a “clinical researcher” not “researcher” ) the clinical hasn’t gone, it’s there in the research as a connector, running through things and stopping me, I hope, losing the human and the relational in what I do, however abstract some of it may be. I’ll keep chewing at that here.
Following on from the promise of that rainbow the other day, here, to sign off with, is the setting sun on Mont Blanc from earlier this evening.