Friday, October 25, 2013

The me-time problem, or rather the no me-time problem

Recently, I have been having a me-time problem. The problem is, I don't have any. Now, there are pressing and non-modifiable external reasons for my lack of a life, namely residency, which severely limits the total number of hours that I can devote to non-work activities. Then's there is parenthood and I know I don't have to go into detail here at MiM about the ways in which that limits me-time. Let's just say: Last weekend I turned on the shower and read a New Yorker article while sitting on the bathroom floor and telling my daughter through the door in a sing-song voice that I was almost do-one with my show-er. So my expectations in the me-time department are not lofty. I'm not talking about daily me-time and there are months when I resign myself to the fact that I might only get a few hours per month to myself. But I'm beginning to see the toll that no me-time can take when it begins to stretch from months to years. My best friend in the world has been with her "new" boyfriend for almost a year and I have never met him. One of my other dearest friends had a baby over a month ago and I have yet to talk with her in person. The list of friends and relatives whose birthday I have under-celebrated or whom I owe calls, cards, gifts, or visits is long. I have not formed very many lasting social connections with my co-residents because I never attend happy hours, dinners, or trips.

Also I am just so unbelievably tired. I am locked in an almost compulsive cycle of sleep deprivation. I race home from clinic to be with my daughter then finish notes late into the night when I should be sleeping. I get up with her at 5:30am on weekends even when my partner offers to let me sleep because I want to spend every last minute with her. I wake up only 2-3 hours post-call so I can pick her up from day care. My sleep deficit feels as insurmountable as my student loan debt, something I will be paying off until I die. Will I ever be able to go to a movie or a play without falling asleep two minutes in?

Don't get me wrong, I love spending time with E. It is my favorite thing to do without even a close second. The delight and pleasure I take in even the simplest activity with her is beyond anything I have ever experienced before. Let's load the dishwasher! I say, and her little face breaks out into a beam of excitement and suddenly arranging bowls on the rack takes on a new quality of magic a la Mary Poppins. But I do miss myself. And see above re: I am really tired. I'm beginning to feel a little wan and a little crazed and very, very grouchy in the mornings and sometimes in the evenings and sometimes in the middle of the day. I know rationally that it would be good for me, for my daughter, for my marriage, for my career, for my health -- good all around -- to take breaks and keep from getting burned out.

The problem is, I feel deeply conflicted every time I am faced with the decision of leaving my daughter for any reason other than work and especially if the only reason is my own comfort or enjoyment. When I have only four days off a month, how can I spend even part of one day away from her? When I might have only one hour with her at the end of a day, how can I decide instead to go to a bar with my co-workers? When she is cutest in the mornings and I almost never see her in the mornings, how can I roll over and let my partner toddle down the stairs with her and get all the sweet toddler action? In the abstract, I know I should do all these things at least once in a while, but when I'm in the moment a noose tightens around my heart, part guilt, part sheer hunger to be near her and hug her and listen to her talk and watch her grow up, which I increasingly find is a quantity-time and not a quality-time activity. So I end up deferring or canceling plans or bringing E along and spending the time chasing her around rather than socializing.

I have a vacation coming up in December and I'm toying with the idea of planning a one- or two-night trip by myself to visit a friend but I'm nervous that when the day comes and it's time to drive to the airport, I won't want to go. I won't be able to go. I will end up "getting sick" and canceling and wasting money I don't even have on lost tickets and hotel reservations. Or going and feeling unsettled the whole time and regretful about time lost with my daughter when I have to go back to my 80hr schedule the following week.

Fellow MiMs: How do you handle the me-time dilemma? Should I suck it up and reclaim some me-time or suck it up and realize that these years are precious and schedule a reunion with myself in a couple of years after residency and toddlerhood are over? What strategies do you have for fitting in time for yourself? In other words: help!


  1. I think the question of how to balance "me" time with "kid" time when time itself is in exceedingly short supply is ultimately a personal decision, but one that gets better when training is over, I promise. However, I would say that sleep deprivation makes it almost impossible to enjoy either one. Get the sleep you need to feel like a human, then figure how to divide up the rest of those precious hours. Guilt is a waste of emotion and energy, neither of which is sounds like you can afford to lose.

  2. And I have been caught reading on the floor of the bathroom. Many times.

  3. Here is my strategy: schedule in times to do things that nourish my mental health in ways that I can't back out. Hard to get to the gym? I paid a trainer $50 to meet me there and you better believe I show up. I schedule phone calls with friends into my work calendar and take a break to make the call. And I let whole mountains of stuff slide.

  4. What Red Humor said. Spot on. Sleep deprivation makes everything seems worse, makes one function like a drivelling fool and sucks the life out of you. Whatever you decide, remember, residency is a temporary imbalance in life, and it will get better. It's ok to lean heavily on your support people, and get help you need. Most friends understand and you can rekindle true friendships anytime. And you will never regret skipping a bar night. Temporary imbalance.

  5. I could have written this! I don't have the answer. My drive to work has become my only "me time." I also don't fault myself for always choosing "kid time." I want to spend all my free moments with her and I just try and keep myself as emotionally healthy as I can. No good answers, but no that there are plenty others who can relate!

  6. Sounds just like me! The fact is that your residency friends probably don't have kids. Your happy hour is the time you spend with your daughter. Let go of the guilt. Your intentions are right and your daughter is obviously happy with the quality time you spent with her. Take the the big scheme of life and how much time your daughter and you will spend together, it is not even 0.1% of time 5 years from now, neither you nor your daughter will remember that you were away

  7. Thanks for all your advice! I suspected I wasn't the only one with this dilemma but it is still good to hear from folks about the ways to address is or just accept it. Interestingly, I had the opportunity to participate this week in a writing group for residents at my hospital on a Tuesday between 5:30-6:30. Ordinarily I would opt out of anything after work, but this was important to me and I made the time to attend, without guilt. I realized that it is possible to do the truly compelling things without guilt, while deferring the less compelling things, also without guilt. Thanks again for your thoughts!!

  8. It's definitely hard. I'm an intern with an endearing 3 year old whose whole world gets turned upside down every time I switch back on to a super time-intensive rotation. I've come to realize that quantity is not necessarily greater than quality when it comes to time with my daughter. When I'm well rested and have had just a few minutes of me-time to decompress, I find I'm more present when I'm with her, am more patient with her requests, am less likely to snap at her for pushing the limits we've set for her, and she enjoys the time more too. Sometimes when I rush home completely wiped out and drained, she soaks up a lot of my stress and she's whiny/needy/tantrum-y which ramps up my stress level as well. So I don't let myself feel guilty when I go for a run on the way home from the hospital (what's 30 more minutes away from home if it means I return feeling more zen?), or on those rare days when I actually squeak out on time that I could dash like a madwoman to her daycare to pick her up just before it closes but instead accept my husband's offer that he'll still pick her up and I go home and zone out on the couch while he goes to get her.

    Also, when I do take "me time" I try to make sure it's something that will recharge my batteries. I'm more of an introvert so gabbing with friends at a happy hour doesn't necessarily leave me feeling re-energized and relaxed. So occasionally I'll go to a happy hour, but don't feel guilty about the times I don't. And then there's the whole other element of partner time and finding ways my partner and I can enjoy each other just the two of us, instead of just being logistical child-rearing partners. We try to schedule occasional date nights without the daughter and we try not to feel guilty about that either because our bond is what centers our family and is therefore important to our daughter.

    I do think it it would be different for a baby whose still breastfeeding age (this is something weighing heavily on my mind as we consider the possibility of having baby #2 sometimes soon). For my first breastfeeding was so important to our bonding and special time together. In that case, quantity may be more important than quality time.

  9. Oh also, you should sleep post call. At first I would always go pick my daughter up early from daycare in order to spend more time with her, but then I realized I wasn't really spending quality time with her. I was super tired and hopped up on triple expressos just to make it work. Now I just take my post call nap and pick her up at the regular time, and then I have the energy to have fun with her for a few hours as opposed to being worn out and tired with her for longer.


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