Yesterday (July 24th, 2017) I found myself promoting International Self-Care Day at work while suffering my second major anxiety attack in five days.
The irony wasn’t beyond me, that I was encouraging self-care while ignoring it myself.
It’s been an overwhelming two months for me with a big move to a new home, a busy work life that usually slows down around summer but hasn’t, planning for the biggest overseas trip of my life and my husband being on night shift since early June. I had no idea how much night shifts shake up and disrupt your everyday life.
I found I couldn’t give myself any “me time” or self-care, because the spare time I did have (when my husband wasn’t sleeping) was used to plan for our trip, unpack, organize, and do yardwork.
It’s not that I forgot about myself – I just wasn’t a priority when so much had to be done.
Sleeping more than six hours has been rare for the past month straight because of David’s night shift, and I have found my exhaustion taking away the simplest of stress relievers I took pleasure in, like a walk to the beach with my coffee or a nice bath.
Weekends were spent booking train tickets, trying to squeeze in friends and getting a bunch done around the house as silently as possible while my husband slept off night shift.
Despite this constant busyness, I was still falling behind.
Sprinkle in some external elements, a dash of social pressure and two tablespoons of angry friends who feel like you’ve shut them out and you’ve got yourself the recipe for a mental breakdown.
It wasn’t until I started crying over a box of freezer-burnt chicken that I realized how on the edge I was to that breakdown. I went to work the next day anyway, and after a second anxiety attack that afternoon I realized I needed to do something for myself – so I took a mental health day for the first time in my life.
Taking a mental health day is something I encourage as a big advocate for mental health, but it’s also something I’ve never asked for myself. The guilt was always too much.
“But I’m not actually sick,” I heard myself saying, feeling like I was ripping off my organization by even considering it, especially a not-for-profit.
Although I’m not physically sick, I’m clearly not mentally well if I’m getting anxiety attacks and crying over chicken breasts.
Sadly we just don’t treat mental wellness the same way we do physical wellness, despite all of the research that indicates the vital link between the two.
For many of us, taking a mental health day is hard. We feel like frauds for doing it, like we’re lying to someone because we’re physically well.
But think about it… when we’re not mentally or emotionally well, the impact that has on our work can be far worse than being physically sick. You get over a head cold, you heal from a sprained ankle and come back to work ready to give it your all.
If you’re not mentally well, it’s hard to focus. It’s even harder to do your best work. Your thoughts can be foggy, dark or anxious – and how would that affect our everyday jobs?
I was diagnosed with anxiety back in 2011. It doesn’t rear its ugly head often, but when it does it can be debilitating. The chest pains can be so bad they put me to the ground. It can be hard to breathe. It can give me full-blown panic attacks where I’m gasping for breath and feel like I’m going to die.
It’s not something to be taken lightly, yet despite all of this I still find that people blow it off like it’s an excuse instead of a reality, so I often don’t tell people about it for fear of judgement, and sadly at times I will suffer silently through an attack when others are around.
In the past year I’ve lost a lot of friends, either to death or to falling outs, and it’s opening my eyes more to the importance of living life to its fullest and not taking the world around us for granted. We weren’t put on this earth to pay bills and to sacrifice our time, energy and happiness for others’ gains.
We are human beings, not human sacrifices. So be. Be present, be mindful, be selfish sometimes.
I’m figuring it out for myself, and that means having to be selfish and say no. Some people don’t like that, but that’s their problem, I guess, because I need to start taking care of me. They certainly won’t.
In writing this post, I’m hoping to encourage others to put themselves first once in a while and take a mental health day when they need it, even if the guilt they feel is insurmountable. I know how hard it is. I’m living it, too.
We’re the only ones who truly know ourselves and our own needs. Assess those needs and do what you need to do to heal and be healthy. If that’s taking a day or two off of work then do it. That job will still be there when you get back, and you’ll be better for it.
You can’t pour from an empty cup, so take care of yourself and your mind.
You are a priority. Take that mental health day.