Q&A Sessions: Dr Zolelwa Sifumba on learning to rest and healing herself

What would you be if you were not a doctor?

I would probably be an artist. A performing artist creating things with my hands, yeah … to make people feel things and to allow people to come to themselves. Using my art to help people heal themselves, essentially. It just would have been healing but through art.

In the past year you’ve made a big decision to leave the clinical field of medicine. What is important in your daily routine right now?

It’s the basics. It’s in the things my body needs: making sure I rest enough, eat enough food, drink enough water. Making sure that I reflect in terms of an emotional stocktaking of how I’m doing and how the things that happened yesterday have made me feel. I’m more focused on trying to build on my body and my daily routine.

But really the biggest thing has been “me time”, because previously my whole day was spent giving and running around so that I could give and heal, but more of my day now is spent around healing myself through multiple different modalities, like meditation.

You speak a lot about rest and healing. How did you learn what works and doesn’t work for you?

I’ve basically been at two extremes, where I was not resting at all and then got to this year … because of the profession I chose, I was basically living the consequences of not living a restful life. 

After 36 hours of not having rest because of my work, I ended up getting into a really bad car accident. I realised how important rest was when I had so much of a lack of rest. That caused me to not be able to drive properly and driving is something that I do every day, you know?

It showed me in my own life, the cost of a lack of rest and how directly it can affect my life as well as the lives around me and how my life can be snuffed out in a moment just because I’m lacking rest. 

So, that’s why it’s become such an important thing to me because I’ve seen what not having enough rest does to you and how anxious it makes you and basically how your life has been disturbed. I don’t think people know that lack of rest can result in these horrific things.

In contrast, tell me about some of the spaces in your life now that make you feel like yourself and alive?

I would say outside. When I was working as a health worker, I wouldn’t know what the weather was outside. I would hear from people that it’s cold or that the sun is shining outside beautifully but I’d never actually get to experience it.

So, the place where I feel most like myself and most free is when I’m outdoors. Not just buildings;, I mean, rocks, trees and lakes, because it just reminds me of the speed that my body should be going at.

In this time, what have you discovered or rediscovered about yourself?

I enjoy time alone. I get charged up by spending time alone. I really thought I was an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert, but I always thought that I gathered my energy from people. When I hold space for myself that allows me after that, to be able to hold space for other people. So, that’s really become something that I actively know.

What do you do when you’re alone? 

I sing. I dance. I colour in. I listened to myself, to whatever I feel like doing.

I just like to move by myself from my room, and just decided to have a whole dance party. I’ve been doing it for some time, but I just didn’t have much time or space to do it before. But now that I’ve sort of broken away from all those things, I’ve got time and space a lot more to be by myself. Looking at myself in the mirror while dancing and laughing. You know, like I just try to keep myself entertained.

Where do you live? 

I technically see myself as a nomad because I’m trying to be everywhere. I’m living between two cities in South Africa. I am living a nomadic lifestyle, sort of going and staying where I want to be at that time. I’ve never wanted to get a mortgage and tie myself down to one place. So, I really feel like as I’m getting older, I’m starting to do what I want to do. And what I want to do is to be between different places and be able to experience the good and the bad and all of those places.

It feels so good, because I was always in situations where I was living in doctors’ quarters. I never actually got to live by myself and also for people not to know where I am. It’s just nice to finally, after all these years, feel like I’m in control of something in terms of my whereabouts, because as health workers after medical school you’re placed wherever you’re placed.

Do you unpack your bag? And what is always with you in your bag? 

Yes, I do. Naturally I don’t want to, but I have been advised that it’s good that I can see all the things that I have. 

I have this really great red dress. I can wear it anywhere. It’s got a cool picture of a naked, dancing woman on the front, so nobody ever knows where to look when I’m wearing this dress, but I always take it because it’s so comfortable. 

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Elna Schütz
Elna Schütz is a South African freelance journalist working in radio, podcasting, writing, and more.

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