I didn't think it could happen to me
Today I’m sharing my personal burnout story as an Emergency Physician, wife, and mother.
Disclaimer: I do not diagnose, treat, or prescribe for medical or mental illness with my online content. My views are my own and are not associated or representative of my employer(s). This blog is for educational purposes only and not medical advice.
Great career, wonderful husband, two beautiful daughters, I had it all, right?
Burnout is one of those things that can creep up on you, like your children getting taller.
One day you look at them and their pants are two inches too short and they can now reach the sink on their own. My one day came when I thought about driving off the road on my way into a shift. Not enough to get seriously hurt, but maybe enough to get bed rest and a day or two off work. What would it be like to have no one else to take care of, no people to please, no government rules to meet? To be able to eat, drink, and use the bathroom whenever I wanted? To have someone else manage meal planning, prep, cleanup and house work? Someone else to get the kids to and from school, lunches packed, permission slips signed, fed, bathed, and put to bed? How far off the road would my car have to go?
This is when I knew I needed a change, and I wasn’t sure what that change was, or who to talk to.
When I started training in the medical field the rules had just changed to reduce our hourly time maximum to 100 hours per week. Of course we could still work extra with meetings, charting, and other activities, the rules were a little flexible to accommodate for all of our learning activities. Not only was it expected, but it was a badge of honor to push through even when we were physically, emotionally, and mentally drained. I had learned to run on empty while pursuing the next step, the next test, the next big life event, and the step after that, until someday I’d get to…retirement….
I was tired all the time. I had terrible reflux. I was sarcastic at work and snappy at home.
I coped by taking on more work - searching for it to be more rewarding. I always had lots of projects and “things” at home to play with to distract me from that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that was with me all the time (was it my reflux? Regret? Or something more?)
And then something happened.
We were visited by three sets of grandparents for the holidays. Like the three ghosts of Christmas. I could literally see my future as my parents played with my small children across the room. Luckily, we were also visited by the ghost of Christmas past. My step-father-in-law looked 5 years younger than I had remembered. He was happy, full of energy, and excited for each day. His secret? Prostate cancer. Luckily, that is not something I have to worry about in my future. He had chosen to pursue an alternative treatment to chemo and radiation. (Again, I am not providing any medical advice, please see your professional for any medical decisions or concerns you have.) He had changed his diet, increased his exercise, adjusted his mindset, and reprioritized his life. He said he felt better than ever.
I did not want to wait for something like that to happen to me to make the changes I needed in life to be more happy, energized, and excited for each day.
At this point I was working full time clinically in the ER and was the physician leader working with the C-suite of three hospitals to enhance patient care through Lean process improvement. I had trophies and accolades from projects I’d completed. With my Lean certification I had the tools I needed to make a change in my life, I just hadn’t considered using that strategy in this application, but it was the perfect fit for me!
Here’s what I did:
I started at the beginning, just like we did in our projects. I identified my strengths and connected with my values. It was so rewarding that we did it together as a family and created a family value compass to guide our decisions in how we live our lives. Then I took home one of the huge papers we used for our Lean projects and mapped out what my life was at the time, what I wanted my ideal life and career to look like, and then created a realistic target. I got to use ALL my colored markers for that, it was an epic masterpiece!
Next came the hard part - I took an honest look at myself. What was holding me back? Where was my mindset getting in the way? What activities were draining my time and energy? Where was stress creeping in and my physical health eroding away? All the barriers between my current and target life were staring back at me scribbled onto colored post-it notes. The stack was so high it seemed insurmountable. How had I gotten so far off track?
It was time to take action. I’m not one for giving up, “trust the process” we always said in our Lean projects. So I went back to my values and sorted through which of my post-it notes would have the most impact, which would have the least, which were easiest, and which were the most difficult. Then I had it, I knew what I was going to do, but how to do it? I'm going to share a painful secret - as a physician, I don't know everything about health and how the human body works. I didn’t have all the knowledge I needed…yet. So I learned everything I could about stress, wellness, nutrition, brain function and health, and all the other stuff that wasn’t covered in medical school. yet is so important to our overall health and wellbeing. I watched the documentaries, read the books, and checked out the blogs recommended by my step-father-in-law as he cheered on our family’s wellness journey.
It turns out that knowing ISN’T half the battle, it’s just barely scratching the surface. The hard part is the DOING. So one by one I picked a post-it note and made a change. That’s how gratitude became a part of my daily life, and now my family’s daily life. Eventually it led to more change, bigger change, I found myself on one sabbatical,
then a change in jobs, and now a pursuit of my passion for helping others in a way that is the most meaningful to me.
Small steps of change became habits, deliberate decision making became easier, and my health and wellness improved. I’ve built up my resilience, improved my health, connected more deeply in my relationships, and feel fulfilled in my career.
This is the same simple framework I take my clients through on their journey - the Conquer Burnout Four Step Method.
That's my burnout story. It's a continuous work in progress that's brought me more fulfillment in my job and a happier home life.
Now I work side by side with other moms and healthcare professionals to help calm the chaos in their minds and lives to overcome the overwhelm and conquer burnout.
My program gives you an organized, step-by-step process, an accountability partner (me!), and lots of self-care tips and self-learning activities to help you change those feelings of overwhelm and stress into joyful and intentional living – with more time, energy, success, confidence, mindfulness, and overall well-being.
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