The Backpacker Diaries: A Junior Doctor’s Year-Long Journey Around the World
The first chapter of my travelogue:
May 9th, 2018
So it has been an extremely long hiatus. The last time I did any writing was years ago! Life has been busy. In the last couple years, I have:
- Graduated from medical school and started work as a junior doctor
- Passed entrance exams into general practice training (family medicine)
- Got married and moved out
- Experienced medical mission work in the developing nation of Papua New Guinea
- Lived in Jerusalem for a few months and challenged my ideas on what Christianity looks like.
So for the last three years, I’ve felt like a pinball bouncing around. No time to catch my breath. My first year as a doctor was a whirlwind. I loved it. But I struggled to find balance in my life. I struggled to find time to collect my thoughts. And I struggled to find time to talk to God.
Then some important things happened last year in quick succession. A close friend died suddenly and unexpectedly. I was devastated: he was a very young, devout Christian and someone I deeply respected. I asked my workplace if I could take leave to attend the funeral. They said no.
Later, on a different unit, I experienced prolonged and serious workplace bullying by senior doctors. I was expected to shut up, keep my head down and get on with it. I was encouraged to do the same by other junior doctors. “Don’t rock the boat” is the prevailing ethos in Australian hospitals, and I was told as such. But something inside of me forced me to stand up. I stood up for myself and things (predictably) got worse. The ensuing escalation was extremely stressful and it came to a stage where I was ready to resign if a solution could not be found.
Thankfully, the doctor’s union supported me to an outcome in my favour. But my bosses were not particularly fond of me after that and made that known on a daily basis.
I became increasingly depressed. As I began to question my work as a doctor and what life was all about, I was further exposed to the tragedy and brevity of life whilst working on palliative care (an expansion on what I had observed in the poverty of Papua New Guinea). I found the work incredibly meaningful and worked harder than I have ever before. But maybe the death I saw also made me realise my own demons: that I am still grieving the suicide of my sister and the accompanying alienation from my church community, who didn’t know how to respond in the aftermath (they chose silence).
All of these events took their toll.
My medical students commented on how cynical I had become. I laughed it off, but It was true.
I struggled to write or blog anything. I felt jaded and did not want to talk to God. What I have written before on this blog and elsewhere feels like a wholly different person. This is something I am still wrestling with – just where am I with God?
A blessing came: I took a long overdue holiday to Tasmania. I went camping with my wife in a remote national park and remembered what it was to live life again apart from work. Perhaps being in the wilderness has that effect on the soul.
With the support of family and a few close friends, I realised that I needed a break. I felt weak to admit it (especially to other doctors), but I was burned out. I felt deeply humbled to admit my weakness, but perhaps the admission out loud freed me at the same time.
I finally decided to take a year off work. I am sad, but extremely thankful that my wife is making a sacrifice to do the same in order to support me.
We decided to spend the year travelling the world. It is hard to explain, but when we finally arrived in South America for the first leg of our journey, things just felt right.
What am I searching for by travelling the world? What am I hoping for this year? I still do not know exactly, and it’s already been three months in this mysterious and wonderful continent.
Perhaps to see humanity with fresh eyes.
Perhaps to see what life can offer outside western paradigms.
Perhaps to see beauty in the vastness of landscapes, and to be humbled by living a minimalist, frugal and nomadic life.
But above all, I wish to see God again.
Next Chapter of The Backpacker Diaries:
Chapter 1: The Strange Feeling of Coming Home After a Year Traveling the World
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