Getting the Most Out of Life

I first titled this blog The Meaning of Life, which immediately had me oscillating between existential philosophy, scant recollections of Derrida, a google search for who said ‘if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around did it make a noise’ (answer—unattributed)…and memories of watching Monty Python with my family (excruciating). So, fresh title to tackle something that has nothing to do with the fore-mentioned topics.

Purpose? This is the academic in me—abstracts for conferences and papers require this to be outlined. Succinctly. In this case—to think about my own life and get the reader to reflect on their own, and whether we are indeed getting the most out of it. Arguably a first world problem. But I have just come back from the International Women’s Mental Health Conference in Tokyo, where dynamic speakers from places such as India and Ghana spoke about real and enormous issues facing them—rape, female circumcision—and while this help puts Australia’s issues into perspective, as well as any individual ones, it also left me as always, both grateful for what I have as well as being determined not to waste what is available. The recent tragic death of a colleague from mental illness accentuated this need for re-examination of life—she was being treated but just as cancer treatments don’t always work, and cancer kills, so do disorders such as depression and anorexia nervosa.

Sticking to the academic abstract format, methods comes next. In this case I’m using some reflective functioning; the ability to reflect on one’s own and other experiences and attribute reason to behaviours, incorporating past experience and how it has shaped the life that is being examined. In this case a tri-annual gourmet get-together with good friends included them in on the process, as well as a family function for my birthday (this event probably should have been mentioned under inciting events, tucked below ‘purpose’. I no longer anticipate these celebrations in quite the way I used to, but it is better than the alternative).

Results come next. I’ll refer to this via a basic framework of most psychological understanding of good mental health—have something to do, someone to love and something to look forward to.

So, something to do. This really should have something worthwhile to do, bringing in the notion somewhat absent in our current society, of giving something back.

One of my friends said a psychiatrist saved their life once by refusing to sign the disability form, and instead telling them to get a job. They did and were never admitted to a psych hospital again. True, there were other factors, but they too were to do with the ‘someone to love’.

While walking the Camino de Santiago in 2011 I decided life was too short to work full time as a psychiatrist (though in this role I do feel I am ‘giving back’) and I went half-time, writing (so still keeping busy and focused) in the remainder. I think I am working harder…because now all free time is writing or talking books! (Okay, I read a lot too).

Time to readjust this—travel has been figuring in there as well, and while husband Graeme is playing with his cards (how he plans his book) for the third book in his contract (not another Don Tilman/ Rosie story, though there will probably be a third one further along the track)—the focus has started to be on the book after—a joint one, based on the Camino walk we did from Cluny to St Jean Pied de Port, then through the Pyrenees to the Spanish/French border and along the Spanish coast (the Camino of the North) before cutting in on the Camino Primateva to Santiago. 87 days. 2038 km.

We have a draft of alternating chapters, but it needs a good solid rework and polish.

‘Let’s do the walk again,’ suggests my husband. In order to freshen the descriptions of the snow dripping off the rim of our hoods, the delight in the first buds of spring. And the pain. I do remember that…

I had vaguely wanted to walk from Cluny to Rome (planning the sequel…). But after walking two day walks in Yosemite last week (26km and 30km) my aching quads are saying REALLY?). Now, as well, I think: do I really want to re-do the same walk? It was hard, cold. I was unfit, lost weight, ate like a horse, failed to improve my French (or Spanish for that matter). But it changed my life and I loved it. Would it be a mistake to re-visit something so important, because it couldn’t ever be as good again. Could it?

‘How about we walk to St Jean Pied de Port and then do the traditional Camino across the top of Spain?’ I reply.

My gourmet friends are ten years older than us, which though they are active, leads me to thinking this walking needs to be sooner rather than later. We did meet someone in their eighties on the Camino though—something to aspire to.

Something to do? Okay. Looks like that’s covered. Add in talks and I’ve started doing workshops, perhaps there is some giving back in there as well. And I’ll still be doing some psychiatry, both academic and clinical.

Someone to love? Well I’ll take Graeme with me and we’ve already survived this once…and living in a postage stamp size room together in New York for seven months. No grandchildren on the horizon yet (argument for sooner rather than later) and maybe the kids can join us in France for Christmas? Because of the travel for the books, well Graeme’s anyway, we have a ton of frequent flyer points!

Something to look forward to?

Well I’m a glass half full kind of gal—I’ll be thinking of the first bath on the walk that I sunk into and how good it felt, the taste of pizza for the first time after an overdose of French cuisine…and the glass of red wine every night! Though under the current new health regime we either have to have three days alcohol free, or no more than two glasses a day. Does walking 25km average a day (range 16-40) count in balancing this equation? Sadly not.

I have yet to hear from Text as to whether they will publish the second in the Natalie King series, Hera’s Judgement, but if they do, I will certainly look forward to that. I think it is better—less convoluted, more assured (though no, it will not win a Booker—it is a thriller) and still with complicated characters, perhaps a little less harrowing, though for those who don’t like Natalie or think she is too flawed to be a psychiatrist, this won’t have changed. I am all too aware from friends who have had rejections (and I had two of my own), that I am incredibly lucky to have had Medea’s Curse published. But most thriller writers need a few before they get up and running (Gone Girl was Gillian Flynn’s third, and Stranger Child, now doing well, is I think Rachel Abbott’s fourth—and I had read her first three before this one).

Then there are the writer’s festivals which I love—the talks I give, the ones I go to, and hanging around in the Green room and meeting interesting people. There’s the writing too…I’m writing the third Natalie now.

And the really big things that we take for granted, and that presentations like the one from women psychiatrists in India and Ghana help me be grateful for—the coffee in Gertrude street, the cute blogs from my daughter in Belgium, and enthusiasm of my son about his psychology course, his girlfriend’s delight at being accepted into psychology.

Aim big—but enjoy every little thing along the way, not just the taking, but the giving too.


About annebuist

Anne Buist is the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne and has 30 clinical and research experience in perinatal psychiatry. She works with Protective Services and the legal system in cases of abuse, kidnapping, infanticide and murder. Medea’s Curse is her first mainstream psychological thriller. Professor Buist is married to novelist Graeme Simsion and has two children.
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2 Responses to Getting the Most Out of Life

  1. bookishdubai says:

    “Aim big—but enjoy every little thing along the way, not just the taking, but the giving too.”
    what a great statement!
    Really looking forward to Graeme’s third book.


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