Writing my reflections at the end of the year is something I started formally doing on my blog last year, and I knew I wanted to do the same for the end of 2018. I always take time to look back on the year just after Christmas, when the festivities are a slightly quieter, and my brain has some space to breath a little. We say it December, but time really does fly, and I find life moves at far too fast a pace if we don’t stop to smell the roses once in a while. Especially as a year draws to a close, and we all start to look ahead to January! Many people find the start of spring a bit gloomy – it’s often wet (in Ireland anyway!), still pretty cold, and there’s that general sense of ‘meh’ since Christmas is over, and everywhere you look there’s a ‘detox for January’ headline – UGH. I despise those. For me, January is a time to be excited. Sure, the mornings are still dark, but its a WHOLE NEW YEAR PEOPLE! All that stuff that happened in your life in 2018? It’s in the past – some memories you cherish, and others you’d rather leave behind. You get to decide what you bring with you into 2019 – and what you don’t. So on that note, here’s my 3 lessons I’ve learnt this year – that I will take in my head and my heart as I open ‘Chapter 2019’ in the story of my life.
If you don’t love what you do everyday, change it.
Do what you love, love what you do. Sounds simple, right? Sure it does, but I think we all know that it’s anything but. I’ve spoken quite openly about trying to find the right path for me as a doctor, and after 3 years of hospital training (my intern, and then S.H.O. (Senior House Officer) years), I felt I finally found it. Preventive medicine, health promotion – under the overall umbrella of public health. The only problem? I wasn’t going to find it (or at least, enough of it) in hospital based medicine. It exists to an extent within each hospital medical specialty, mostly in the out-patient setting however, and most of what my day to day consisted of was acute medical management of various diseases. And let me quite frankly say this – modern medicine saves lives, and is the reason we all get to live (if we’re lucky) to our eighties, nineties and beyond. It’s not a broken science. In fact, it’s constantly evolving, at a pace that gets faster everyday as technology improves. But the chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, some cancers, some lung disease, obesity – the ‘non-communicable diseases’ – their burden is what is weighing our healthcare system down, and we aren’t doing enough to prevent them developing in the first place at an upstream level. That whole area – prevention, lifestyle aspects of health, health promotion – that’s my jam. That’s what fascinates me. How we can optimise our lifestyle habits (what we eat, how we move, how we live, stress out, sleep, socialise) to be the healthiest populations we can. And so, I took a leap of faith, finished up my training in the hospital in July, and applied for a Masters in Public Health & Nutrition at University College Dublin. I’ve just finished Semester 1, and I absolutely love it. I’m bringing out a ‘Semester 1 Reflections’ blog post soon, I know you guys are keen! I’m planning to specialise as a doctor in Public Health & Preventive Medicine, and I’m really excited about it. Many people don’t know that doctors specialise in this area, so of course I’ve been asked ‘So does this mean you’re not a real doctor anymore?’ And no, it doesn’t. What is a REAL doctor? One who cares about helping their society be their healthiest, happiest selves for as long as possible? Yep, that’s me, so if that sounds like a good description of a good doctor, I fit the bill in my book.
So my bottom line is this. If your day to day just isn’t fitting, doesn’t feel right, and something just niggles at you (or shouts at you) everyday you get up to go to work, saying ‘Maybe this isn’t for me…’ – don’t be afraid of that voice. Find out what makes you tick. Follow it. Figure out a path that takes you there.
Vulnerability is brave, and being brave is beautiful.
I’m going to speak broadly on this heading, and I’ll hope that it resonates with some or all of you. One big lesson for me this year came from starting yoga, meditation and mindfulness, and it was the development of an awareness of my self-talk. If you haven’t a notion of what self-talk is, it’s your inner voice. We all have one – and no, it doesn’t make you crazy to hear it! In fact, it makes you very, very sane. I learnt this year that my self-talk can be my best friend – and/or my own worst enemy. And in fact, that really just depends on what I let it be. Once you realise how much (i.e. ALL) control you have over your self-talk, the game changes. ‘No’ becomes ‘Yes’. ‘I can’t’ becomes ‘I can.’ Negative becomes positive. Maybe not all day everyday – we are only human after all – but most of everyday. In my personal life, I had to be really honest with both my head and my heart this year. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, over a period of months, and being honest, I spoke to hardly anyone about the aspects of my life that triggered this honesty. Those that I did, were so beyond helpful and supportive, and kept me sane and balanced in figuring things out. But for the most part, it was a journey I had to take, to listen to the voice of my head and my heart, to focus that voice to ‘can do’ and ‘solution-mode’ instead of burying problems in the sand.
Over time this year, I realised one of the bravest things I had done was being totally honest with myself, and with that honesty, vulnerable, in facing these difficulties. Putting all of my cards on the table. It wasn’t easy. It wasn’t pretty. But I do think, overall, that in letting myself be vulnerable, I was being and am now more brave, and beautiful for having done it. So, the bottom line? Hear your self-talk. Is it negative or positive? Is it helping or hindering your progress in life? Either way, YOU have the power to change it. Start today.
Own every single part of who you are – and never ever apologise for it.
At times this year, I questioned many parts of myself. I’ve been pretty comfortable in my own skin for quite a few years now (it took a while, as it does for all of us!), but there are still things about myself that I maybe didn’t own the way I should have. For example – I don’t crave chocolate, or sweets, or crisps – I crave different things, like carrot sticks and hummus, nut butter on toast, tahini on everything (if you know, you know!). I don’t really drink alcohol, or ever miss or really want it, except for a very occasional glass of red wine (Malbec, preferably from Argentina, if you’re buying…). I love going to bed early and waking up early – those morning hours between 6am and 8am when I fit in my morning routine, those are my sanity hours. I’m up, at the gym, or gone for a walk, or doing yoga, grabbing one good coffee a day, and having a delicious and simple breakfast with the book I’m reading, or an article or Podcast. The world is asleep, and I’m excited for what a new day might bring. I don’t love clubbing. I love spending time with my family. I don’t like butter, or cream. I care about the health of our population, and that of the environment. I love coffee and brunch dates with friends, chatting away for hours on end. I love books – paperback, but Podcasts and audiobooks are also life. I ADORE big, long walks, and I now know movement is just good for my soul – no longer a pathological need to ‘sweat it out’ at the gym that I’ll openly say I was guilty of in the past. I care about nourishing my body and mind every single day. I’m not a desserts gal, but I will order a starter and main every time. And my appetite is impressive. I love tradition, and Christmas is my favourite time of year. I’m a romantic gal, and love that about myself. You get the picture – there are many parts to who I am, and I wouldn’t be the unique ME without them.
My point is this. At the end of 2018, I now know my worth. I’m not afraid to be every single part of me. That’s been inspired a HUGE amount by some of my closest friends, ladies who are just so so damn proud of who they are and not ashamed to hide it. They know who they are, they rock, and I’m so grateful to have them in my life as wise advisors and soundboards. So my message to you is this. As you enter 2019 with me, be you. As the quote goes – be boldly, unashamedly, YOU. We only get one shot at life, and in fifty years I don’t want to be wondering why I didn’t just do what works for me, my body and my mind, and ultimately, what makes me happy.
Oh lord. Deep. I know. But that’s what my blog is for – a platform, a place from which I share many things, and my own journey to balance is one of them. I would love to hear YOUR 2018 reflections and lessons – pop a comment, email or DM! You know where to find me – @theirishbalance on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook!
Happy New Year gang. Here’s to Chapter 2019.
Ciara 🙂 x