“What do you do to replenish yourself?”

It was a question asked of me at my last 1:1 meeting.

I was for a full minute quite stumped. It’s not a word that is part of my daily vocabulary these days, and it really should be. I sat, looking at my colleague, socially distanced and wearing face masks, and thought to myself, “yes, Francesca, what do you?”

I found myself, reeling off a list of things that I LIKE doing, blogging, writing, reading, photography and baking. And even as I was saying this, I was thinking “hmm, but at the moment, these things are pretty exhausting and you don’t even have the time or energy to do them”. It was a situation in which as I was speaking I was revising and editing my answer. Because I then realised that at this point in time, I am literally running on fumes. And in fact, replenishment comes in the form, keeping still and doing very little. Very little, entails, sleep or sitting on the sofa under my duvet and bingeing on Netflix and Amazon prime or listening to a playlist on Spotify. I finished my answer my say “now, it helps to do nothing”.

I fear I have in the past few months, since we resumed face to face appointments, reached a point that might be called burnout. The pressure to get through waiting lists has been immense. Although we never stopped patient care in our service, once the lockdown eased we had a great deal of catching up to do. We have worked hard to plan, prepare and adapt our services. It is hard work. It is hard work. I’m not sure where exactly I have gone ‘wrong’ but I am now left feeling quite empty.

Reflecting on my current state of being, I assume this is as a result of the emotional toll this global health emergency has taken on me and the other seven billion on the planet. I am not alone in feeling this way and even then I know I am one of the ‘lucky’ ones. I can still work, I have the option of providing a service from my home setting – I have a laptop and access to the internet. I commute much less than before and while initially this was a kind of relief, it now means that the days at works are a little more intense. At least from my perspective, I find myself thinking about all the things I need to prepare for clinic and complete all the other activities, that cannot be completed at home and have to be done in the physical buidling. I feel like I should not complain, I have choices, more than others but they do bring personal challenges to me.

Despite the almost, honeymoon-like period in the summer, where lockdown was mitigated by sunshine and cycling, the autumn has not bought the same type of balm. I felt that I had a better work-life balance then, I at least made more of an effort of setting up boundaries. It felt easier then. However, in the past few months, I slipped into the old bad habits. Starting early, finishing late, eating my dinner in my car the way home, eating my breakfast in my car on the way to work. These are not my finest moments. In this situation, something has to give. I think I’ve reached that point now. I feel like a battery that needs constant charging because it keeps draining. In my case I keep recharging by sleep. I do try and get a good night’s sleep when I am not going into work the next day. I do eat well when I am not at work. But I have found that I need to sleep more at the weekends. I have missed two of my Saturday morning joyful exercise classes becasue I just need the extra sleep. This second lockdown has meant that all non-essential journies are cancelled, so my weekends going back and forth to the recycling centre are temporarily on hold (we have put our flat on the market – another story – and are in the process of decluttering) so I have more time to sleep. This has meant that by Monday, I’m more or less back to my normal self. However it interesting to watch, as a detached observer, my energies drain away as week progresses, so by that by the time Friday rolls around, I feel like a floppy rag doll.

I think I just get consumed by work, just one more report to write, one more e-mail to respond to. I think, due to the suddenness of the first lockdown, the inital difficulties in accessing any services, I’ve slipped into the ‘do everything now while you’ can mentality. Which, on reflection is not healthy. I know I need to pace myself, I’ve read ‘the book’, I’ve got the T-shirt but somehow could not apply that to my life for the last few months. I also think that the buisness of ‘staying alert’ is exhausting. I’m not sure how other people are doing it but I find that thinking about the fact that we might all be asymptomatic carriers of a disease fatal to some and debilating to others, puts me in a state of tension that I cannot sustain. It may well be that the plans for mass testing and vaccination may see a change in direction in the situaton we are facing. But for now, I’ve reached my limit. I do need to stop for my own good and for those who I am here to help.

So now I’m going to take my rest.

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