Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Empty Tank

This should be the time of year when we are hunkering down into our cozy nests and getting ready for winter. We should be following the animals' lead on this. They've been getting along for years on this principle.

Yet, we fill our schedules with this and that, go here and there, go and push and do, until there is nothing left. I feel I am quickly approaching this point. This is just about the time of year when it happens too. I used to call it my "mid-semester breakdown", where I had used up all that I had, until one day when I just couldn't get out of bed and had nothing with which to face the world. In medicine we give it a fancy name, like "psychological reserve." All this means is how much gas is in the tank. How many miles do you have left before we break you?

Women tend to underestimate the value in recharging. We all know it. It gets pushed down to the bottom of the to-do list, until you end up sputtering along the side of your proverbial road and you dwindle to an unavoidable stop. Why do we have to be forced into this? Do we not have the insight to know that this is inevitable? It has only been recently when I have started to notice the signs ahead of time...to see my own warning light, as it were. I'd like to think that I have started paying more attention to it, pulling over sooner, planning a weekend away before I reach my breaking point. At the risk of sounding like Yogi Berra, there is nothing more for us to give when there is nothing more to give.

This makes me want to make more careful choices about those to whom I give my time and energy. Because no one will value it like I do, because they have their own time to treasure.

The nature of the course of my medical training has forced me to see my time as one of those cash-advance stores, writing checks on your future to pay for your scheduling sins today. Here are your instructions: Give everything you have, with complete and utter determination just to get to medical school. Once you're in school, it's time to work ten times as hard, as saving anything for yourself will only be cheating you out of your future. Over-extend yourself as much as is humanly possible, because otherwise you are a total slacker. Now in residency, is there really any other way to be? This is the way you have survived for years, it's obviously worked for you. Struggle through being an intern and resident, just put your head down and push through to the end. Only now at the end of the race do I look around, and realize I'm doing 130 mph through the middle of town, running over chickens and smashing through fences.

If it sounds like I'm blaming my profession for my inability to set boundries, I am. I want to start taking back the wheel. I suppose it is about control. For so so long, the only control I have had was the ability to say yes.

Thankfully I think I'm turning a corner now, and hopefully will be able to see a little more clearly after a much needed recharge. I don't know what it is about getting out of the pressure cooker of our lives that gives us perspective and clarity. Why can't we see it while we are in the midst of the chaos? That would be much more convenient. You see, I have a tremendously busy schedule.

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