Between one year and forever

“Somewhere between one year and forever”

It’s been my standard reponse whenever anyone has asked me how long I plan to stay in Canada. It’s typically accompanied by a non-committal shrug of the shoulders and a look that says don’t ask me hard questions.

I recently celebrated that one year milestone with a steep hike up a hill; the perfect setting to contemplate the beauty that surrounds me, the struggle to get here, and the metaphorical path ahead.

It’s interesting to look back to the start of this thing, and to my first few days, weeks and months, and at the fears and hopes that filled my thoughts. Am I where I thought I’d be at the one year mark? Did I expect it to feel like this?

Well, one year on and this is how it is:

Professionally, I’m keeping my head above water now, but I’m hardly thriving. The medical system remains a source of constant frustration to my foreign eyes; the overwhelming administrative burden, the inefficient processes, the disincentivization and undermining of that most important thing – quality primary care.

My scope of practice is narrower than it has ever been. My role at the hospital is more GP-midwife than GP-obstetrician. My surgical hands are twitchy yet I am not permitted to so much as glance at a scalpel let alone use one on a patient. It seems I am yet to “prove myself” sufficiently to be trusted with any complex obstetric tasks. I frequently feel disempowered. My hard won skills are atrophying.

I knew this would likely be the case and I chose to come anyway. So, I take full responsibility for being in this situation. Maybe I thought the system would be flexible enough to accommodate my unique training. It isn’t. Or at least, not here in Victoria. I don’t think I had really considered what professional sacrifices I would be willing to make in the name of new life experiences. To be honest, I’m still not sure.

My own physical health has been plagued by chronic injuries that have limited my ability to exercise and taken away my primary outlet for stress relief. I suppose it’s been vaguely enlightening to experience the health system from a patient’s perspective. Honestly though, being injured sucks.

Socially, things are not much better. It’s has been much harder to make friends than I expected and loneliness has been a frequent companion. It’s not like I haven’t met great people – I certainly have. It’s just that it’s been immensely difficult to convert those casual acquaintances into the kind of community that make you feel settled and joyful and connected.

And so. I keep coming back to the same questions. Why am I still here? What am I trying to achieve? Have I done what I came here to do?

The answers are complex. If I delve deeply enough, I must confront the reasons for coming here in the first place. I mean, yes, on the surface it’s all “adventure!” and “experience!” and “mountains!” and other such cliched ambitions. But it’s also a symptom of a broader existential angst. Frankly, I worry that going back to my old hometown won’t feel like home, either, and I’m scared that settling back there would be to admit defeat, somehow.

On the other hand, I really love the tone of my Canadian hometown. I love its laid back, nature-meets-artsy-intellectualism vibe, it’s acceptance of self-expression, it’s green-tinged politics. I love the lack of toxic binge-drinking and the fact I can walk down the street unharassed by obnoxious drunken louts. I love my choir and my sports team. I love the bike lanes, the recycling, the bookshops and the environmentally sustainable burger joint accross from my house.

I feel like there’s a whole world of totally woke outdoorsy nerds like me here just waiting to be discovered and befriended. I just need the tiniest chink in the door so I can crack it open and gain entry into the hopping social scene of like-minded misfits.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve sensed a little change in the air. Neighbours showing up to share a rooftop drink, joyful company on a ferry ride home from a wedding, numbers exchanged with friends-of-acquaintances that might turn out to be the real deal. Despondency turns to optimism.

So. If I thought that moving across the planet would help me find my place in the world, I was wrong. Yet I’m still learning and exploring, living and loving, pondering the questions of the universe.

My first year in Canada has given me a professional identity crisis, a busted hip and a mountain of bureucratic headaches. But it’s also given me a mind with more wisdom, a heart full of new memories and a belly full of poutine, and it’s enough, for now.

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