Friday, August 29, 2008

A Body in Motion

In my younger days, I was a veritable whirlwind of activity. "The busier, the better!" was my personal little motto. I did feel as though the more that I had to do, the more that I could get done. In high school I juggled studying, cheerleading (yes, I was a cheerleader, hush), multiple extracurricular clubs, honor classes, a 20 hour a week job, and a steady boyfriend with relative ease. Every minute was scheduled to the hilt. Every weekend was planned in advance. I buzzed from one activity to another like a frenetic hummingbird, and honestly, thrived on the pressure of keeping it all going. Granted, all of my activities were very self-centered. I did what made me happy. I didn't have to worry about cooking or doing a lot of chores or taking care of anyone else but myself. The money I earned went for fun stuff, gas for the car, and clothes. I did get to sleep all night every night, and exercised very regularly and would periodically skip lunch to keep my (I imagined) plump 112 pound figure in check.

In college, it was more of the same; harder classes in a biology major, more studying, way more partying, leadership positions in extracurricular activities and my sorority (again, hush), the (required) volunteer work and physician shadowing in preparation for applying to medical school, and a long distance relationship. I bemoaned the woe of having 8 am classes, keeping me only able to go out 4 times a week instead of 6. When I found I had gained the dreaded "freshman fifteen," I dutifully trudged to the gym every afternoon after my 3 pm class, and found the will power to decline dessert with my meals. I lived in the sorority house where meals were cooked three times a day during the week, there was a housekeeper, and my idea of shopping was sneaking in a box (yes, I said box) of contraband wine to hide under the bed and drink with my roommate on the balcony. "A body in motion tends to stay in motion!" I would chirp, and be on my merry little way, padding my resume for medical school applications.

In medical school, things got a lot harder. The classes weren't easy any more. I actually had to go and study, a lot more than I ever had. I was living on my own for the first time in a really big city. I doing all of the chores, laundry, cooking for myself (lots of ramens, rice, and pasta), shopping for myself, and really starting to live like a responsible adult. All of the sudden, all of the extra stuff just wasn't so appealing. I dodged requests to join the AMA, and AMSA, and more volunteer work, and med school committees. I was too busy! I joined the note service for the benefit of not having to take notes during class, but dreaded my transcriptions. It was all I could do to keep my clothes clean, my brain plugged in, and my fledgling relationship thriving. I still made an effort to get to the gym, but the nearest one was a 30-45 minute drive in traffic both ways. This coupled with the pasta, after exam parties, and late night study snacking packed on about 20 pounds. In the last year of medical school, I planned a wedding, got married, interviewed for residency, matched, moved across the country, and bought a house. All of the sudden, I didn't feel like I could do it all.

Then came residency, the mother ship of having no healthy life at all. No sleep, terrible eating habits, 120 hour work weeks, and the *pressure* of being a neophyte physician. Hobbies outside of surviving residency? Surely you jest! It was all I could do to stay awake long enough to speak briefly with my new husband, eat a piece of pizza (cooking just didn't happen any more), and maybe occasionally bathe. Fortunately for me, the 80 hour work week was passed 2 years into residency. I celebrated my new found "time off" by getting pregnant...immediately. Then it was triple the laundry, triple the chores, and triple the responsibility. I began to lose who I was, other than doctor, mother, and wife. I stopped taking care of myself, in order to get everything else done. I was constantly in motion, and constantly wishing to rest. During this time an additional 50 pounds of weight crept on gradually, then not so gradually.

So here I am now, still working ridiculous hours. Still eating like I did when I was in medical school and residency. Still not quite keeping up with the chores. The focus of my life has completely shifted from myself to everyone else *but* me! I stop to look around, and I realize that with as much motion as I have experienced in my life, I have been standing still for years. During a recent interview, someone asked me what I did for "fun" when I wasn't working, and I couldn't come up with a good answer! Um, reading? Blogging? Trying not to pass out whilst my children crawl all over me in the evenings after work? I was shocked to realize that I am not really living, I am merely surviving. In all of my constant motion, that once started out so self-centered, I have lost contact with what exactly it is that I would *want* to do, should I have the time.

I want to cultivate in my children a love of something that makes them uniquely them, be it sports or music or dance or chess or reading. I realize that it is my responsibility to be an example for them, and I don't want my legacy to be only a strong work ethic and keeping very slightly ahead of chaos. I want my children to live in motion, like I got to do, once upon a time. I now realize that to help them live in motion, I've got to find a way to get some rest.

How do you take care of you, and still take care of your families and patients? I welcome your advice.


  1. Dr. Whoo,

    You have described my life!

    But I am a few years ahead of you and I found that there can be time to slow somewhat and smell the roses and do something for yourself as the chaos quiets.

    School is the miracle that changed my life. School for the kids.

    I made my first new friend through my toddler's school program. Since I was a resident and never did drop off or pick up and knew no one in the school, I made a point of attending the monthly parent meetings. It was my only connection to my daughter's life during the day. The head of the parent committee and I were the only ones to attend every meeting. The meetings became like a drug for me, where I could see this new adult friend and sit and not do anything for the 90 minutes while we met. We made sure to meet just long enough that all of our kids would be in bed by the time we got home.

    And after toddler school comes the miracle of preschool where the drop offs do accommodate working parents and you can even meet and talk with the teachers and meet and talk with the other parents.

    The adult contact changed me from someone who trudged through life to someone who skipped down the street.

    You are so close.

  2. Oh, adult contact?? What is that? :) It is funny, because I have interactions with adults all day long, but I am usually problem solving with them! (Let's face it, who wants to hang out with their gynecologist?) Fingers crossed for greener pastures ahead. :)

  3. I was always the opposite. I always was all about the leisure time and weekends with nothing to do but sleep in. Maybe that's why I went into PM&R and you went into OB/GYN :)

  4. free time? what is this free time of which you speak?

    the scary thing for me is that when I do have even a couple of hours to myself I can't figure out what to do. I often end out sleeping. There are so many things that need to be done, added to the few things I want to do (if I can think of them) and so I either dither around, not doing anything completely, or I just sleep.

    Sad but true.

    if you find the solution, do let us all know. I have found that preschool for my kid has helped a lot, but that 2:30 kindergarten pickup is looking like a real pain to me.

  5. Obi-Gyn - the force is with you! I am a medical student with 2 kids (2 and 5) and while my circumstances are different, I too forget who I am in the midst of studying, parenting, spousing, and housekeeping. So, I decided to take 5 minutes for myself and go for a walk each day. The next week, I took 10 minutes. Just me and my walking path. Small steps, 10 minutes, decompress. If you can add a little each week, great. I found it helps with just clearing my head, getting to know myself again little by little, remembering when I recognized my pre-pregnancy self in the mirror (sans all my extra weight), and walking is exercise (and you don't have to change or go to a gym). The turning point is just starting. Committing to that first step.

  6. I'm not a doc, but I am a working mum with 2 small kids and a husband who is rarely home for dinner and is on call 24/7.
    When my son was 2 and my daughter was 2 months, my husband broke his leg. It sucked big time. I thought I would go mad and it was depressing as hell knowing that EVERYTHING was my responsibility. I knew I needed something for me to escape.
    During that time, I signed up to the gym where I would go at 8pm when the kids were in bed. How I cherished it- it was the only proper "me" thing I had done since having my first child.
    I then went and signed up to sewing classes for 2 hours on a Saturday. In these classes,I had to concentrate so hard I couldn't think of anything else. It was brilliant. I had to pull favours with friends to help come and look after the kids and my husband couldn't do it on crutches.
    Find something, no matter how small that just takes you away from the house/work cycle.
    Once you get in the swing of it, its well worth it.

  7. Thank you all for your great suggestions. You are all right, of course. I tell women all the time that in order to be able to take care of others, they must take care of themselves. Guess it is time to put on the walking shoes! :)


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