By Dr. Linda Hawes Clever
Tired? Feeling pressed and under-appreciated? Low on energy? Grumpy? Often grumpy? Sighing a lot? Head-achy? Back-achy? Losing your creative edge? On the edge? Calendar more of a wishlist than a schedule?
You are not alone. I will show you how to get beyond fatigue.
I have spent years as a multitasking physician. I’ve tried to be a good wife, parent, speaker, counselor, and community volunteer while working to prevent people from getting sick or injured. I tried to heal them when prevention didn’t work. I’ve seen people get sicker and more tired despite my best efforts and theirs. I have come to realize that, along with hazards, habits, and jobs, the lives of most of the people around us demand almost too much of us.
I didn’t think much about overdoing it except to apply bandages to patients and friends—until the wheels fell off of my own life. In one eighteen-month period, my parents died, our house was burglarized, I lost two jobs, and my husband Jamie was diagnosed with cancer. One ray of light was our daughter Sarah. My spirits went from flying high to sinking forty thousand leagues under the sea. Not only was I devastated and overwhelmed, I was tired.
Many devoted, capable people with plenty of good things going on and lots to look forward to are felled by fatigue. My fatigue came from too much sorrow. Yours may, too. Or from overreaching and overworking. Or all of the above. You long to do more for your family, your work, and the world, yet you can’t get up the steam to get going; you’re just too darned tired. The dangerous endpoint is to shut down.
After months of mourning and hoping, it became clear to me that the people and structures I had counted on had vanished.
After months of mourning and hoping, it became clear to me that the people and structures I had counted on had vanished. I saw that I needed to renew, refresh, and rebuild my whole life. When I was finally able to look around, I also saw that too many other people were suffering. Some had losses; others had anxieties and uncertainties. Most were soldiering on with huge loads of work and responsibilities, no longer bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Some wondered if they could keep on at their pace without losing their zest; Something had to be done. There had to be a better way.
My good friend and mentor, John W. Gardner, former Secretary of the Unites States Department of Health, Education and Welfare and founder of Common Cause, had written on leadership, excellence, and renewing. I decided this was the time to put John’s theory of renewing into practice. But how?
First I revisited the values that underlay my commitments and therefore my calendar. The things that matter most to me include family, friends, and wanting to make a difference through medicine. Early on, I didn’t know how to get beyond re-certifying my values, but with John’s advice and prodding, I started to give talks at meetings and seminars for doctors, nurses, teachers, volunteers, churchgoers, executives, and other leaders. I asked questions and listened as people attested to the importance of renewing. Then I asked them to list the ways they did it. I kept track of all the answers. As ideas crystallized, some friends and I organized the not-for-profit RENEW. John gave a rousing keynote speech at our first one-and-a-half-day gathering. He pointed out that meaning is something you build into your life. The link between finding meaning in your life and conquering fatigue is to renew yourself—your spirit, energy, dreams, and relationships. Paying attention to others and myself, I took on a do-it-yourself project to do just that.
Over the decade since starting RENEW, I have determined that most of us go through four steps to restore ourselves. It isn’t a direct path from the first to the last step, either. You may well meander, take a rest, double back, or detour. That’s all right, because you have a tested, successful approach to guide you. This approach has worked for thousands—including me—and I believe it will work for you. I call it the Fatigue Prescription.
The tried and true Renew-O-Meter is a good starting point. We designed it to help jugglers like you gauge your feelings and behavior. Fill in the blanks and begin to think about how pleased you are with your life—or how tired you are. And how you would like your life to be.
To view Part 2 of this article, and to try the Renew-O-Meter, Click here.
– Linda Hawes Clever, MD, attended Stanford University, where she earned her medical degree. Linda is known for “firsts,” which include: first woman Governor in the American College of Physicians; and first woman editor of the Western Journal of Medicine. She is a member of the prestigious Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCSF. In 1998, she founded RENEW, a non-profit organization that aims to help busy, devoted people regain—or maintain—their effectiveness and creativity. Linda has chaired the board of KQED Public Radio and served on the Stanford University Board of Trustees for fourteen years. She is the author of The Fatigue Prescription: Four Steps to Renewing Your Energy, Health and Life from Viva Editions.