Friday, August 1, 2014

on exhaustion and creativity

There's an inverse relationship between exhaustion and creativity.

This past school year has been a mixture of extremes. I've reached pinnacles of both fulfillment and burnout that I didn't think existed. For a few months, I worked six to seven days a week and then came home every night to study. During three different commutes home, I was so afraid of falling asleep on the road that I called my parents to keep me company on the phone.

On one of my weekends off, I slept for 24 hours straight. There were weeks when my lunches consisted of a bag of chips and bottle of soda. I felt disgusting--inauthentic---but I kept pushing. A classmate and I shared a delirious laugh when we both realized that we wanted to cry because we were so tired. Sometimes I would think about the difficult patient cases, the ones who were dealt with an unfortunate hand in life, and be unable to focus on anything else. 

During any free time, I pushed myself to write. That's what they say to do, isn't it? Not wait for the mood or the opportune moments but create those things for ourselves. 

Well, I've found that in order to flourish creatively, we need to rest first. That may not always come in the form of sleeping but logging at least 7 hours always helps. So does taking time to socialize and experiencing a world  and interactions outside of work. Even with all of the exciting things coming up, the past year caused my creativity to atrophy and it often took time just to get back on track. I have to learn to be okay with that, with the impulsive nature of medical student life. 

There were great things in the midst: kind patients, excellent physician teachers, friends' weddings and bachelorettes, planning for our own wedding, getting a chance, through The Clinton Foundation, to start an idea I've had for a long time. But even for those occasions, I was exhausted. And I realized, at some point, that I never want to be too drained to relish in the present.

When your days have a film over them, a weight that rests on the shoulders and back, you are taking a route towards a small, corrosive life. 

I'm still figuring it out and will probably have setbacks with the way this year looks. But there are some things I can do:

-Prioritize sleep
-Cultivate the art of relaxation
-Add novelty into the daily banality
-Allow people to help
-Learn to set limits and say no

How do you handle burnout?

12 comments:

  1. Sorry to hear your exhaustion, Saumya. But people with dedication like yours make the wonderful people in hospital and patients are infinitely thankful for that. I work in a hospital too and there are letters from patients that are put up on our internal website which show grateful they are. :) Keep marching on, lady!

    Regarding my burnout - I complain a LOT to DH and then sleep. I sleep like a LOG. :)

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    1. Heyy! I know you must be busy with a baby and a job at the hospital. Glad DH is such great support :)

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  2. I don't handle stress well, never have.
    You will make an excellent physician, for you are bright and kind.

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    1. I don't handle stress well, either. I think you've done an amazing job at pursuing your passions!

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  3. Sweetie, you have GOT to give yourself time to re-charge. Creativity thrives on a relaxed and sparkling mind. I can also see why you are pushing yourself, but also remember, you are only young once, put in some time to enjoy it.

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    1. I read this comment over and over. Thanks for the reminder and kind advice. It's so easy to forget and I appreciate you sending it my way.

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  4. Sleep is about the only thing that can combat burnout. It's better to not get burned out in the first place, but I know that medical school requires almost all of your time and energy. It's interesting. I'm reading "Travels" by Michael Crichton in which he says he paid for medical school by writing thrillers in his spare time. He must have been one smart man with a lot of energy.

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    1. Yes! I forgot the writer's name but I read a quote where someone called sleep the "creative aphrodisiac". It's so true! And that Michael Crichton was such a genius. He finished books in six weeks and usually got about 4 hours of sleep a night without a problem!

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  5. The hours you are putting in make it almost impossible to be creative. You're right, you can't do it when you're beat. What you are going through is temporary - it will pass and there will be time for rest and writing.

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    1. Thanks, Alex. Your comments are always so thoughtful and uplifting. You always inspire with your creative pursuits!

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  6. I have learned the hard way that sleep is undervalued. I'm so glad you are prioritizing it at the top, because nothing else functions well without rest. I'm a little out of breath reading all you do!

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  7. I remember when I went through really intense times at college (though nothing like medical school, I'm sure), my brain would eventually go into creative rebellion, because it had been denied creativity for so long. My creative "rebellion" was like a lucid dream. It was the weirdest (but coolest thing). I'd be going through the required motions, but my head was so far away in creative land!

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