Hello friends. Thanks for reading this account of my living and working in New Zealand.
I arrived on the summer solstice December 21, and have been in a hotel room run by the New Zealand government. They bring me food, and I go outside several times a day to walk around the courtyard. I get a covid swab every few days, and otherwise am in my room.
I had big plans initially to workout and do yoga, but am actually tired and feel like i’m shedding the toxic events of this year. I’d like to soak in a warm mud bath for two weeks. But I’ve been watching netflix and catching up on books, being pretty slothful. Whats App has made it possible for me to zoom with my kids, and thankfully I can email and text people. At times, it’s hard “not doing,” and being alone with my own thoughts for so long. There’s been some grief over the past few years. I miss my kids and friends.
Why New Zealand? About 20 years ago I was working in the community mental health center in downtown Louisville, trying to help children from the adjacent low-income housing complex, Shepherd’s Square. They were poor and traumatized by all the violence they had seen. The two little children who watched their mother’s body being pulled out of a dumpster after she was murdered were my patients. They lived in a place that the in-home workers were afraid to visit due to gunshot all day and night. I had two young children myself at that time, living a couple of miles away. The differences were disturbing. As a child psychiatrist, I felt powerless to help the problems created by our culture, including allowing 20 percent of American children to be poor, hungry, and essentially live in war zones.
Working in our broken health care systems has shown the disparity between the haves and have nots, the anxiety many Americans have over general necessities, and the corporate takeover of healthcare resulting in less autonomy for physicians. In all systems there is a factory mentality to “productivity” with impossible time and resource. limitations. Still I love the work part, listening to patients and helping to sort things out with them.
In 1999, I began looking for jobs in New Zealand, which seemed like a more reasonable country who treated its citizens well. They have always had a shortage of mental health professionals, it seems. Then things happened, including divorce, more responsibilities, paying for colleges, breast cancer, moving back to Asheville, and five tough years of working too hard. Then of course the pandemic and all the soul-searching and learning that has come with it.
Aotearoa means “land of the long cloud,” named by the Polynesians who navigated to it by boat. Looking out of my hotel window facing northeast, I can see clouds rolling in from the Pacific. I navigated here on a large airplane while rewatching The Hobbit. As said by Bilbo Baggins, “I am going on an adventure.”