As a resident, I had almost no time off. I worked as much as 100 hours in some weeks, often in 24-hour-plus stretches, so I was basically always either at work or collapsed half dead on my couch. I didn't have to think about the concept of work-life balance, because there wasn't any. I worked, and I did what I could to survive the five years relatively unscathed*.
And then it ended. And I was an attending! With a better schedule! And money! And completely no idea of how to take care of myself in a long-term, I want to be happy and not die of a heart attack kind of way.
I knew that having a life outside of work was a priority for me, but because it had been so long since I had had one, I had no idea how to make that happen. I also faced the new challenge of always having work to do. Labs to review, patients to call, prescriptions to renew, presentations to prepare - I live in a giant game of medical Whack-A-Mole. For the longest time, I tried to get everything done before I would "allow" myself to rest, which meant that I was always trying to work and never actually resting.
Except....I was wasting a shit tonne of time. Like most people, I have a limited amount of mental and physical energy every day (spoons!), and once I use it up, I can pretend to be working, but I'm really not. I'm checking Twitter. Or Instagram. Or Facebook. Or going to Starbucks for another tea. It feels like work time, and I resent it, but I'm accomplishing very little.
Earlier this year, when work seemed to occupy every waking and sleeping moment of my life, I was finally forced to acknowledge that I can only accomplish a finite amount of things. And this amount is never as much as I want it to be. Yet I was working myself beyond a sustainable limit, and for what? Desire for more money that I didn't need? A sense of obligation? Conditioning from the medical system to never rest? I was failing miserably at having a good life for really no reason at all.
I am incredibly lucky to have flexibility in my job and to earn much more than I need to, which as I've mentioned over and over again has allowed me to back off from work and regain some much needed time. But just as importantly, recognizing my limits has given me permission to rest. To designate evenings and weekends and long stretches of holidays as "not working" time, rather than "working but not actually accomplishing anything because I keep Tweeting about marshmallow peanut butter squares" time.
Which makes all the difference. Because distracting myself on the Internet while I'm supposed to be working isn't restful. Sleep is. Yoga is. Meditation is**.
Not doing is restful.
Next week I'm on call again, and I have a long list of things I would like to get done before I go back on call. Some of which I will get done tomorrow morning, but once my designated work time is over, I'm going to stop. I'm going to go to the theatre with my mom, and then I'm going to eat and drink more than is doctor recommended. On Sunday I'm taking myself to a Nordic spa, and I can guarantee that I will spend the whole day moving from heated bed to hot tub to wet sauna to dry. Because I will need all my spoons next week, and trying to work all weekend is not going to give any of them back.
*By the end, I had raging anxiety, was socially isolated, and had lost all self-care habits. "Unscathed" is defined very loosely here.
** When my f-ing monkey brain isn't wandering all over the place, which
it always is, so I take this back, meditation is not restful, dammit.