I left work early today. It was one of several instances lately when I have thrown up my hands before the ten-hour mark. And I began to feel that inner grumble that mobilizes behind a shield of guilt in preparation for the battle against your will to take care of yourself amid the insanity.
Not only did I leave "early", I bailed on a last minute evening venture to see family up north. Instead, I made myself some soup (oh yeah, also have been working through a cold lately in prolonged immuno-compromised fashion) and watched a stupid movie.
Right when the army of inner grumble set to charge, my phone rang. It was a call from a most dear of loved ones, with whom I had not spoken for the long long end of several months. A medical student herself, she had called to ask for my neurobiological expertise [read: expertise is her word]. The conversation extended, as long-craved ones do, far beyond the initial subject culminating in "so I'll get you from the airport and we'll grab dinner before you give your lecture!" But further, it ended in our both being reminded of who we are and how we once functioned when we were college roommates. I don't think it unfair to say that I was far more in need of that reminder than she, and far more in debt to her presence in my life than she to mine.
Of late, I have underestimated myself to a greater degree than is standard. I have fallen into the stereotypy of academia: feeling like I have to do everything in my power [and out of my power] to impress people at all times, and making absurd excuses to myself for why I cannot always be impressive, and do everything, and be excellent at everything, and be a brilliant scientist at every moment. It's a very hard thing for me to admit that that is an unrealistic and unachievable expectation. For I have somewhat of a Sherlock Homes complex [read: not the genius, the obsession], or what Francis Crick calls an inclination toward mad pursuit. An obsession with making the puzzle fit and finding the right pieces and doing it all in a timely fashion [often inhuman] with minimal mishap and maximum impact. And I get upset when I cannot accomplish this while also being a marathon runner and party thrower and regular soup kitchen volunteer.
This is because it seems, to me, that everyone around me is accomplishing all these things with perfect grace and professionalism. In reality, I have very flawed vision and graciously give all these accomplishments to all people, when in reality they are divided among many. My brain knows this, but my mind does not. And mind wins over brain every single time.
My dearest, most remarkable and admirable friend who called this evening reminded me that I need to suppress the incessant need to impress people all the time in every aspect. That I have already impressed them, and need to take care of myself now. Advice that keeps her alive and in balance these days. And so I have quelled the inner grumble, and am at peace with my decision to bail on work and on social call to take care of myself.