Thursday, October 11, 2007


I'm a person who has a tough time with balance. I'm not referring to my klutziness (although I could, because sometimes it's amazing that I walk upright). I'm referring to a kind of balance of life that sometimes I feel like everyone else has besides me.

Medicine is certainly not the only career that promotes a skewed life. One can be a workaholic in nearly any profession or job. Both my husband and I have fathers who work 80+ hour weeks (one as an entrepreneur, one as a CPA). There's something about medicine that encourages total devotion, however, and for those who drink that Kool-Aid, there can be no life outside medicine. Since many doctors are socially retarded (extrapolating from classmates who are certainly not going to acquire better social skills between now and graduation), their lives outside the hospital/clinic are not very rewarding. They learn to base all their satisfaction on medicine, and society condones this. After all, medicine is a "meaningful" profession, so it's only right for you to spend all your time doing it.

In my life, I sometimes feel like I can't possibly do everything I want to do. I want to be a good student/doctor, a good wife, a good daughter and sister, and a good friend. I want to get my body in better physical shape, which requires going to the gym, and I want to take better care of my pets, which involves vet$ and food and the pet $tore and the dog park and boarding, etc. I want to be well-rounded, so I try to go to rock concerts, art museums, the symphony (season tickets this year!), and take vacations. I want to have a clean apartment and be a better, more frequent cook. I want to have beautiful plants in my small garden. I want to express myself on this blog in a meaningful way.

In reality, though, every one thing I try to add knocks another thing out. I get easily overwhelmed by fatigue and then lose all desire to try to cook dinner, so we eat out a LOT (especially on rotations like this one, where I'm physically and emotionally drained). This habit doesn't really help with the physical condition issue, of course, and the fatigue doesn't make it easy for me to go to the gym. I've been going to the gym more regularly for a few weeks, but then I'll have an asthma attack and miss a day or two, which is frustrating. If we go out during the weekend, somehow the apartment doesn't get cleaned, and then I spend the next week disgusted by our living conditions. I've killed almost all my plants. Also, I spend so much time at work dealing with everyone else's problems that sometimes it's hard to listen to my husband talk about his day. After all, I spent MY day HELPing people, for goodness' sake, how could anyone else's day matter?

I think part of the problem is that I try to add too much at once. If I'm not going to the gym every day, then obviously I failed. One reason I let this get me so anxious is that I realize that my life is currently going on, sometimes without me. In medicine, we put everything off for the future: we'll make money later, get married later, have children later, talk to our spouse later, and so on. Since you can't make medical school nicer, you can only make your outside life better (that's my theory). I realize that the point of making your life more well-rounded outside of medicine is NOT to get anxious about it, but hey, that's me. As someone pointed out the other day, "that's TS." If I don't have anything to worry about, who am I?

And who would I be without medicine? I have a gift of intelligence which is, for whatever reason, oddly suited to medicine. I have a repertoire of useless medical trivia that don't help me get pimp questions right, but have totally ruined my ability to win Trivia Pursuit on any other subject. I guess part of what I want is to be able to say that I have an identity other than "future doctor", and part of me worries that I don't.

As for medicine being so meaningful, I'm working on a post to address this issue. If I can work it into my schedule, that is.


Allison said...

I totally understand about the letting things slide. My apartment is a WRECK right now, because school is so overwhelming. My relationship is kinda struggling, I am having a constant nervous feeling, I am pretty sure I've gained weight recently... the list goes on. OH and I killed my only plant! I have good news though... next semester I am only in 9 hours... and 1 of my classes is going to be over 2 weekends and that's it! So at least the spring shouldn't be so bad and then I'm DONE! WOO!

Love you!

Hang in there!

Caroline said...

This is a great post. I think there are lots of these "types" in health care, not just doctors. The students in my nursing class are some of the highest achieving, Type-A personalities I have ever met. I am the same way, and sometimes they still manage to overwhelm me. I think health care tends to attract this type of extremely passionate, extraordinarily driven person. Then, when we leave the hospital, we all deal, to a varying extent, with the issues you raise. It's a tough road, I agree. I struggle with finding balance while I'm in school ALL THE TIME (although let's not talk about the level of apathy that has recently set in. Arhg.) I think the constant search is all part of this game that we kinda like to play, but don't like to admit. Difficult? Yes. But maybe we wouldn't have it any other way.

enrico said...

I think everything you wrote is something we've all gone through--even, dare I say, always find ourselves going through. It's a universal theme in this crazy f-ed up profession (for those that give a damn, anyway), and how one learns to handle it is what it's all about.

"Balance" is not about a magical point one attains; almost by definition, one can't have true balance unless everything in one's life is static. Constantly changing demands, schedules, needs, moods, etc. (and that's yours, your spouse's, your dog's for each of those!) means that the balance point is always shifting.

I hate to sound so boringly pedantic about it, but I struggle with this very thing all the time (wife, kid, foreign country, etc.), and it's a bottomless pit to try to make some meta-magical goal; just set small milestones for what you need within a reasonable timeframe and let things sort themselves out along the way. The fact that you know you have an identity/interests outside "future doctor" and are trying to nurture them is your lifeline.

Trust yourself to give what you can when you can.

Midwife with a Knife said...

Balance is really hard in medicine. I think that part of the key is realizing that when you're doing your best, you're doing your best. I mean, going to the gym some is better than going never.

I also have good news and bad news for you. The demands don't exactly decrease, but you do gradually get at least a little more control over your own time, which helps to fit those things like hobbies, pets, exercise and family in. Some creativity helps as well, and over time, you acquire the authority over your own time to occasionally say "no" when you need to.

Tiny Shrink said...

Thanks for all the great comments. I realize that even if I were in a different field, I'd probably have similar problems with balance--it's just how I am. To all of you, thank you, and may we all find a little more balance without becoming static!