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My story of "burnout"

I remember when I "burned out" as a physician. It was a couple months after I got my MD. Yes–just a couple months. In that short interval, I got my MD, got married, went on a honeymoon, moved to Philadelphia, and began my residency in emergency medicine.

My first month as a physician was spent on the anesthesiology service, where I practiced my airway and sedation skills. The hours were not long. I remember getting home in time to have dinner with my wife. "I got this," I thought.

Then the second month hit. I was in the ICU. Early and late hours daily, frequent 30+ hour call days, and hardly being home took its toll. I was tired. My diet was worsening by the day. Day turned into night, and night into day. While this is not unusual–many if not most physicians can relate a similar story about their training–it was especially difficult for me because my own insights into the mind and body contrasted with the way I was living and the medicine I was practicing. I would have to make a choice: Honor my insights even as I was honing my experience in a high-acuity emergency department, or put my head down and barrel forward without listening to the inner voice.

Fortunately for me, it didn't feel like I actually had a choice. My mind began matching its overall experiencing of living with that of the framework of medical training and language. It started a process of translation. Eventually, this would become Second Mind Medicine, but in those days it began with abstract, exploratory blog posts about consciousness, health, and society. (Some people still find my work abstract, but many more now understand what I'm indicating.) The hard work of reflecting, churning, and translating was my way of honoring who I was while being faithful to my profession, colleagues, patients, and the society I was part of. This was my solution to "burnout."

I remember being up late on call in the hospital one night. I had just returned to the call room from seeing a patient. I began drawing a diagram that I think I eventually titled "Unified Health." In it, I traced the pathway of everything that entered the body, how it was processed, and how it was eliminated. I was trying to find some kind of common pathway or unifying theme, and then then see how this converged with my own experience of the mind and body. I never quite completed the diagram because my pager went off and I left to see another patient.

Such attempts at reconciling and assimilating the many frameworks I had learned–including that of medical science and advaita vedanta–with my own experience of living were commonplace. They were daily processes. Their vividness indicated to me that communicating this would in some way be a major aspect of my career. As a result, the choices I've made regarding what paths to pursue have always been informed by the desire to communicate a subtler vision of health and healthcare.

I consider myself fortunate to have had inspiration find me relatively early in my career. I've seen many others plunge headlong into their work only to emerge years or decades later wondering what happened. If you came across this post and happen to be in that situation, know that inspiration often shows up unannounced, and often just when you need it.

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