By Zayithwa Fabiano
I took a nap under the tree on a Tuesday afternoon at my parent’s home in the town I grew up. I had just finished lunch, felt sleepy, and wanted to nap. My mother brought me a cloth to lie down on. I chose to lay in the shade of a big tree with long winding branches and many small leaves that wove together into a thick mesh which provided good shade.
The tree attracted other shade seekers like me, many colourful birds in its branches, clever slithering lizards and an array of insects in the grass in the shade of the tree. The birds melodious chirping added to the soothing ambiance the tree created. I joined the ecosystem the tree and created and fell asleep among the other shade seekers. I do not know the name of the tree but I ought to find out, for the sake of this story and perhaps for me to go thank the tree for the shade it provided as I napped and for the insight I got from that nap.
What’s the significance of this nap? Well, a lot. At this time, I was on break from school; I was in the second year of a 4-year master of medicine training program. I had traveled home to Malawi for December break. If you have watched Grey’s Anatomy, The Good Doctor, or any other show that gives an insight into what medical residency training is like you may have some understanding of what my life had been like for the last two years; early mornings, late nights, calls, few free weekends or holidays, hard work, a lot of reading, losing patients, stress, anxiety, and many challenges we face in the hospital. I was chronically exhausted; physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. I was burnt out.
Finally, in the safety of my parents’ home, I let my guard down, I was free from my day-to-day stresses for some time, and was able to take a spontaneous nap. As I went to nap I thought nothing of it, I was sleepy and didn’t have a care in the world.
When I woke up I felt refreshed, there was a gentle breeze, and that’s when it hit me. I had the privilege of taking a 2-hour nap under my parent’s unmade tree after 2 years of intense training. I felt so relaxed and free for the first time in a long time. I thought of some of the worst days I had; on such days I would never have imagined feeling how I felt in this moment.
My mind was so at ease. I felt so free. I let my mind wander because I wasn’t focusing on any particular task. My mind went to my life goals, business ventures, and other strategies. These thoughts I had not entertained and explored for months because it had been choked with stress, exhaustion, and anxiety from my day-to-day tasks. I felt recharged, nay, I felt reborn. The nap under the unnamed tree rebirthed me.
Returning to the small town I grew up in brought up a lot of feelings. Seeing how the town has grown and transformed while remaining the same in other ways reminded me why I was motivated to work towards my goals in the first place. Why I also wanted to leave the little town. But it also reminded me of how I grew up, and how I was motivated and inspired by it and its people; how much I loved it; the opportunities and challenges. It refueled me. I was dreaming and planning fearlessly as I had once dreamt about my life. I was so full of life for the first time in a long time my mind ran wild like it had wanted to do for a long time but was too weighed down by everyday stresses. All parts of me felt free again and they expressed themselves in different ways.
Return home if you can or to whatever place you call home or feel safe and take a nap under an unnamed tree. It’s not a luxury; it’s therapy that you never knew you needed. Unlike me find out the name of the tree, honour it, and thank it for standing tall, providing you shade, and allowing you to take a much-needed rest.
Chronic exhaustion and burnout should not be ignored or accepted as a normal part of life. They are deleterious to your progress, wellbeing and life in general. At your busiest when you feel you can’t take time off; take time off, switch off, rest, recharge, do something to center you, and then get back to it.
Zayithwa Fabiano is a Medical Doctor in Malawi