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Self Care IS a Business Activity
I talk a lot about burn out. This is from my own experience, and I’ll warn you now, it wasn’t a pretty one. It’s not my favorite story to tell, but in 2017 I ended up in the hospital. If you know me, and are aware of my chronic pain condition, you might be thinking “Well sure Brie, you end up in the hospital all the time, what’s the big deal?”
But this one was different, so, ya know, keep reading.
At the time, I was juggling school, running my business, teaching art, trying to have a healthy relationship, and writing my thesis – it was a lot. Admittedly, looking back, TOO much.
I was wearing my body down. BEYOND my usual chronic pain.
I went from being stressed, to being more stressed, to… well, completely breaking down.
I’ll spare the gory details, but one day, I went from feeling overwhelmed mentally, to very suddenly running a 103 degree fever, having mild hallucinations, and SEVERE pain. Luckily, I was with my mom when it happened – I learned later that her insistence of taking me to the hospital is likely the only reason I’m still here.
The details are still blurry for me – I remember being at my mom’s place for dinner before I was supposed to teach an art class. I remember contacting the students to tell them I was NOT going to be teaching that night… And then, I remember my mom taking my temperature, and compromising with me.
“If you’re taking me to the hospital, you’re taking me to one where they know me,” I told her.
She was determined enough that she agreed, with the condition that if it became obvious I was getting much worse, we’d stop at the nearest ER on the way. Thus began our hour and a half drive to my city, where she took me to the ER I frequented (where they had enough of my medical history to know that when I came in, it wasn’t like… a 20something looking for drugs – we’re not going to get into the privilege and US socioeconomic implications of that now. We’ll suffice it to say that I was lucky.)
They took one look at me and immediately got me through triage and into a bed. I jumped the line, which probably should have been my first indication that this was more serious than I thought. These bits and pieces I vaguely remember – I vaguely remember them taking blood, stabbing me (you know, the important antibiotic-related needly kind, not the stab-stab-injury kind) a few times, and having some conversations with my mom about my white blood cell counts.
Returning to Lucidity
The next thing I properly remember, is when at about 4am the next morning, after having been admitted and placed in a room for the night, I was having pain from my IV and they had to move it.
Everything is fuzzy after that, until about two days later, when I was suddenly totally fine. I felt great – but they still wanted to keep me there. This, of course, didn’t thrill me. I knew it was getting expensive to keep me there, and (another long story short) I asked to leave against medical advice. Why should I stay in the hospital when I was feeling fine?
At that point, they had run tons of tests, collected bodily fluids that I usually don’t care to share with anyone (ew), and no one was really telling me anything. But no tests were showing that I had an identifiable infection. All we knew, was that when they did the CT scan that I don’t remember at all, my liver was about 50% too large, and I had STUPID amounts of white blood cells floating around in my blood stream. That is all of the information I had.
That is, until my nurse heard that I was plotting to leave AMA. Once she heard that, she popped into my room (where I was looking at coverage policies to ensure that my insurance would still cover my stay if I chose to leave against medical advice) with a few leaflets and printed info. She kindly and clearly explained to me and my mother, that when I came in, I was septic.
If you’re not familiar with the term (I definitely wasn’t) it’s essentially when the body’s response to an infection is so severe that it confuses itself – causing inflammation, and potentially leading to organ death.
It sounds bad, because it is.
Apparently, when I came into the ER, the tests they ran indicated to my doctors that I was septic, headed toward septic shock (this is the point at which organ groups start saying fuck you, we’re done).
What she explained, is that though I was feeling much better, and my first round of IV antibiotics were done, the docs wanted to keep me to ensure that they found the source of infection, so that I could avoid it in the future. She impressed upon me the importance of my mom’s swift action when she realized I was ill – according to her, if it hadn’t been for my mom insisting that she took me to the hospital, my kidneys and liver would have likely shut down while I fever dreamed on the love-seat in her living room.
Finally: the reason they were keeping me, outlined clearly, logically, and quite convincingly – so my efforts to leave AMA stopped there.
Being Discharged, with NO Answers
Fast forward to about ten days later, after many showers taken while struggling to keep my IV site dry, some surprisingly tasty hospital mac and cheese, and varying levels of conversation with the roommates I ended up with once they determined whatever infection I had wasn’t a risk to others… they had still not determined the source of the infection, but were confident that I could go home, so they discharged me, and I did.
I still, to this day, do not know what infection caused my body to be so overwhelmed that in the course of about three hours, I went from being fine to being dangerously close to septic shock and organ failure.
These are details I will likely never have clarity on – what I do know, however, is that I’ve got at least one auto-immune deficiency as it is, a connective tissue disorder that is friends with auto-immune conditions, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there are other malfunctions in my genetics that we simply haven’t discovered yet.
It could have been simply a flare up of something I am yet to be familiar with. But, I have other ideas.
Which brings me to this:
Why did I tell you this massively personal and detailed story?
Because the only reason I can think of for this episode of my life, looking back, is that I was so unfathomably mentally and physically drained, that my body said, “Look, if you’re not going to give me enough sleep, or water, or rest, or exercise, or nutrition, or give three fucks about me AT ALL: I’m gonna MAKE you, and it’s gonna be EXPENSIVE, and PAINFUL, and GROSS, and then MAYBE you’ll pay attention to me for once, you absolute wanker.”
My body and my brain had been CRYING out for support, for care, and for some just general respect from me for quite some time when all this came to pass. And what had I been doing? Spending all night writing my thesis, then going to school, working for my clients between classes, driving an hour in disgusting traffic to teach art, going home to a 3 hour nap, waking up to work on my thesis… rinse and repeat.
I thought I was working toward growth. Toward a future where I could relax – toward a time when I would have the expendable hours needed for things like giving my body the basic respect it deserved. I thought what I sacrificed then, I would be able to make up for later.
Logical, a common justification for working ourselves to the bone – but…. it’s likely that justification that landed me in the hospital.
And it wasn’t just the time in the hospital that caused problems for me, oh no, of course not. I had recovery time needed to get myself back on my feet – and what did that do? Slowed down all of my business activities. Meant I wasn’t functioning at my peak.
The Lessons I Learned
Because of all this, I learned that 3 hours of my time at 100% are better than 9 hours at 50%, no matter how illogical that felt to me. And since then, I have made self-care non-negotiable.
In fact, anything that keeps my business and myself functioning at peak levels is non-negotiable. Hydration? Non-negotiable. Naps? Non-negotiable. Days off every week? Non-negotiable. Real meals that aren’t granola bars between tasks? Non-fucking-negotiable. Resolving conflict in a mature way that keeps my mind clear of hiccups? Non. Nego. Tiable.
My self-care is no longer a compromise, and yours shouldn’t be either.
You should not be choosing between getting your email designed to send out, and eating dinner. You should not be choosing between finishing your web pages, and going for a walk to clear your head. When you’re fed, and hydrated, and relaxed, YOU WILL COMPLETE THOSE TASKS MORE PRODUCTIVELY I PROMISE.
The moral of this story comes with a challenge for you. If you’ve been compromising your own self-care – your own HEALTH – for your business activities. FUCKING STOP THAT. I want you to pick ONE thing. One thing that you know you’ve been bad about. Whether it’s taking breaks, getting water, eating dinner (no, dinner at your desk doesn’t count), time relaxing on weekends, spending time (social distanced) with family, taking naps, relaxing in a bath at the end of the night, sending the kids with your partner and getting an hour to yourself, spending 20 minutes each morning meditating, or journaling, or screaming into the void – whatever makes you feel clear, and focused. Take ONE of those tasks, set a reminder on your phone, and DO that thing. If it’s water, make the alarm go off every three hours. If it’s a nap, set aside time in your afternoons. If it’s morning meditation, make your morning alarm say, “Hey, it’s time to de-stress,” and then start your morning with meditation.
Re-frame the way you think about these moments to yourself – these self-care activities. If thinking about them as things for you doesn’t make you feel motivated to do them, think about them as time investments in the productivity of your business. Because really, that’s what they are. They’re an investment in the efficacy of your workforce: which happens to be you. You are your workforce. And you should protect your productivity, which means protecting your body, which means respecting, and caring for it.
Make. Time. I promise you will get that time back TENFOLD because you will be more productive, and feel better throughout your day.
Now: go do it. Because self-care is a business activity, and we ALWAYS make time for our business activities, right?