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5 Pillars of Awesomeness

Written by Emily Hartmann MD

July 27, 2020

I’m not about naming things after myself. I do however want to distinguish these pillars from others, and this seems fitting LOL. In my last blog post titled “What’s My Secret?” I outlined the challenges I faced early on in my life. Since then, I have done a tremendous amount of self-exploration. Through reading dozens of books by well respected health gurus, I began a journey of following their advice, to some successes and failures. From this, I’ve extracted, through observation of my own body, a sequence that lead me to find, and make, meaningful, sustainable changes in my life. After many starts and stops, trials and successes, these 5 themes came up again and again. As I implemented these 5 pillars into my daily routine, my stress level has gone way down, I sleep better, my bowels are regular (you’re welcome), and I’m a much more pleasant person in general haha! Nothing is perfect and there are still times that I yell or snap at my kids and I think, “yikes I could have been more gentle there.” Perfection is boring 🙂 What I can say is that, at least, I no longer feel like I’m headed towards major burn out… at best, I feel AWESOME! And that is definitely worth something!
The following is the backbone to my way of life and I’m so happy to share them with you! Before I do I’d like to share an experience which fuels my current passion. The days when my life was in utter chaos and I simply practiced defensive living. After going through this, I realized that it is simply not sustainable without huge repercussions and sacrifices. Before I get into this I want to just acknowledge the amazing education I received from University of Wisconsin, Madison. It was, hands down, the best place for me to blossom as a surgeon and I learned how to perform SAFE plastic surgery, with a high ethical standard. That being said it gave me a taste of extreme duress and anxiety. My saving grace was that it was temporary and I knew that the residency life was going to be over in 6 years.
In residency I remember a typical day was frantic. I would wake up at 4 AM to study for my assigned surgeries that day, and hopefully answer the questions like I had some idea of what we were doing. I’d make myself a huge pot of coffee and then somewhere around studying the blood vessel anatomy of a certain flap, I would get a surge of anxiety and run to the bathroom. I’d then jump in the shower, throw on a pair of scrubs and I was off to the hospital, still dark outside, and make it to the resident room to prepare for rounds. I would pass the 24-hour coffee shop and grab a cup of the hyper-caffeinated elixir and likely these raspberry scones that I could NOT pass up and were the size of my head! I would anxiously review the vitals signs and drain outputs from our patients and make sure the junior residents had done what they needed to do. Then we were off to the races, navigating rounds like ninjas in the night (or at least very early mornings, I’m sure our patients really appreciated the rude awakenings). We tackled the litany of to-do lists and then by 7AM I would run to my assigned surgery for that day. I probably peed quickly too but very seldom did I drink water. Our cases (surgeries) are long, very long. The adrenaline was surging all day long keeping me on my toes and showing my attending (surgeon teachers) I was a worthwhile investment in their time. Sometimes I would stand for 8, 10, 12 hours at a time, maybe running out to eat a graham cracker with peanut butter and choke down water from the recovery room stash. Throughout the day my husband would send me photos of my babies doing their daily routines. I loved these photos and yet saddened slightly because I was so jealous he was experiencing them first hand. I also would wonder if my children would know me like they know him. Ultimately I would think to myself, “I’m setting a good example of a strong career woman for them,” which gave me some peace. “Sacrifice for them,” I thought. After getting out of my surgeries I would do evening rounds with my junior residents and then head home to have whatever dinner we could muster. I’d hope my babies were still awake but sometimes they were not (despite my husband’s best efforts to keep them awake to see me). The whole routine would happen over and over again. Each day was mostly the same. The piece that was hardest was if I was on-call for the ER. I would have to do the same routine minus sleep from being up all night taking care of the city’s lacerations and hand fractures. It was fun, exhilarating, educational, and utterly exhausting.
I recognize that many people live a similar, extreme lifestyle, with cortisol (stress hormone) levels raging…and they are not surgical residents! I’ve met plenty of stay-at-home parents who have similarly stressful lives who feel a desperation of having no end in sight. Maybe they have a special needs child, a spouse who works long hours, or financial anxiety. I also think of the countless caregivers I’ve met who are caring for a disabled or elderly family member in their home. That is a 24 hour job! Somewhere along the line we were taught to place others’ needs in front of our own. As if this is some sort of badge of honor. Ultimately this mind-set will cause burn out and that will be good for no one. We have to realize that OUR OPTIMAL HEALTH MEANS WE CAN CARE FOR OTHERS OPTIMALLY!
How many times have we heard of young professionals commit suicide? Sadly the suicide rate of women doctors is twice that of other female workers. It takes my breath away and I’m heart broken to think we couldn’t see it coming. The truth is we are experts at creating a nice visual to others around us. We have figured out how to give off the illusion of perfection. For many people their life is a “house of cards” and it doesn’t take much to make it completely implode. Call it what you will, burn out, mental breakdown, midlife crisis. It’s all the same. We need to find a way to address it, to prevent it.
Can the outcome be different?
Enter the 5 pillars of awesomeness. I wholeheartedly believe that these pillars can, and will, transform your life and create a healthy, balanced stability.
Pillar #1: Establish a daily routine
Pillar #2: Meditative act
Pillar #3: Identify your toxins
Pillar #4: Food is medicine
Pillar #5: Move your body without stress
Once these pillars are in place, everything else will fall in line around them. I don’t want you to think of this as structure, but rather stability. In the subsequent blog posts I’ll evaluate each one individually and share great worksheets and graphics you can print and share. You may think they seem simple…but there is much to dissect here and I look forward to diving deep with you in the coming weeks!
I’m so excited!!! Stay tuned for the next blog submission where we dominate Pillar #1!
Don’t forget to subscribe to see more posts. I’d love to read your comments below if you are moved to do so. HAVE A BEAUTIFUL DAY.
Insta @emilyhartmannmd

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