“Do you plan to cut down on your hours?”
This was what my primary care doctor asked me after she found me complaining about multiple somatic symptoms.
As a psychiatrist, I always took pride in how I prioritized my family’s needs and found a work-life balance. I had decided to work part-time as soon as I graduated from my training. I belong to a dual physician household. Going part-time was the best decision I ever made to take care of my children and household. During my career, I heard different opinions about my decision. Some were surprised and thought that I was unable to get full-time work, whereas the majority of woman physician supported my decision, and some even envied me for having the flexibility of working part-time.
I did not realize when my part-time work turned into me answering phone calls after work hours and even on weekends. I felt responsible to respond and help my colleagues whenever they needed me. The use of my cell phone of course played a big role in my easy accessibility. In addition to work, I also had a busy after-work routine. Between two kids’ pick-up/drop-off for school and afterschool activities, I was getting home late in the evening. Then, of course, was dinner for the family, homework help, and prep for the next day. Weekends were never enough for the list of things we had as a family.
Doing so for several months led to exhaustion. I recognized it, so I took time off to stay at home, recharge, and then restart the same routine. I was happy that I relaxed but did not realize that I did nothing to change my routine affecting me. I went back to the same stressful lifestyle. At the end of the year, when I had my annual physical with my PCP, I was convinced that I had hypothyroidism as I was tired, fatigued, and had nonspecific body aches and pain.
During the visit, I expressed my concerns, and my doctor asked me the question, “Do you plan to cut down on your hours?” My response at that time was, “I am already working part-time. How can I work less than that?”
She kept quiet, but she had planted the seed.
Interestingly I did not talk much about work during the appointment, so her question stirred my thoughts. Why did she think it was work-related? I started to look at my daily routine. I was able to recognize where I needed to set boundaries at work. At home, I delegated some simple chores to the kids. I must say kids are excellent learners if given the right directions. Small steps and changes made my life much more manageable. My somatic symptoms went away along with my stress.
I owe it to my PCP for recognizing what I was struggling with and bringing it to the surface for me to address it.
Who has played a role in your life to make effective changes?
Sirosh Masuood is a psychiatrist.
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