Take care of yourself first

It must have something to do with the end of the  year approaching. Or maybe it has to do with the fashionableness of busy-ness. But I have noticed so many people have posting on Facebook and blogs about work stress and everyday stress, and how it’s impacted on their diet and exercise. And how that, in turn, has made them feel worse – guilty and miserable on top of feeling unhealthy, tired, overweight and unfit.

I’ve just emerged from about eight or ten weeks of being under the whip myself. Big projects that became bigger and more complicated projects overlapped with other projects that became bigger and more complicated. Proofreads became edits, edits became overwrites and overwrites became scrap-that-and-write-from-scratch. ‘This will take no more than an hour or two’ became three-day jobs. The people in charge were stressed and snippy. One of them was simply mean and rude from the outset, for no reason, as her project was gliding along quite nicely. I worked way into the night every night, and spent every weekend chained to my desk, my frowning face turning into a prune.

In addition to the work, I had painters and tilers crunching cement across the wooden floors of my house, trashing (and sometimes peeing in) the garden, and providing a constant source of interruption to my always-urgent, always-a-little-bit-behind work. An Italian exchange student with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement moved in for ten days and needed to be driven around and entertained until I was ready to drop – or ready to drop her … off a cliff, preferably. And the usual chores still needed to be done.

I missed parkruns, XBT sessions and gym. I signed up for bootcamp and missed that. From one week to the next, I usually didn’t manage to leave the house to go for a run or a walk. Dog walking was mostly outsourced to my daughters and husband. Most days I didn’t manage to eat either breakfast or lunch. Mostly I lived on tea. Some nights there was pizza for supper. And my husband, to his astonishment, found a pie wrapper in my car. I very rarely eat junk food (I would say never, but there is the small issue of the pie wrapper), and for me to eat a pie from a convenience store at a petrol station is completely out of character.

As for a social life … Well, I didn’t see friends and I missed little nephews’ birthday parties. I also didn’t get to see my parents, who are pretty ancient and do need regular visits, and I didn’t manage to give much support to my dragon-in-law when she had a huge operation.

There’s that bit of wisdom that does the rounds on Facebook from time to time, about how not having time is an excuse. If you want to do something, you will make time. Maybe that is true sometimes, but there are only so many hours in a day, and you have to try to sleep for at least five of them.

Sometimes the things you want to do need to wait until you have done the things you have to do.

And here I am, at the end of it. My body is finally complaining loudly enough for me to hear. ‘I’m too tired to move,’ it says. And so last night I did the unthinkable: I gave up on something. I was supposed to be at Big Bay early this morning, at the start of Walking the Daisies – a two-day eco walk to Rocking the Daisies music festival in Darling. I have done it twice before and it truly is an amazing experience. But sitting with my family last night, working out the logistics – how would the kid get home from school, how would she get to her music lessons and to the orthodontist, how would she get home, who would take the dog for a walk, what about the tilers, what about the last bit of work that must still be done – it was all too much. And I gave my ticket away. Just gave it away to a total stranger. Over email.

It’s after eight o’clock on a Wednesday morning, and everyone has gone to school and work. I’m lying on my bed, wearing my way-too-big jeans, and soaking up some warmth from a spindly sunbeam that has foolishly pushed its way past the cloud of gloom I have wrapped around myself. I am feeling sorry for myself, yet I am too tired to have any real regrets about missing out on one of the highlights of my year.

I put my cup of coffee on top of a book on my bedside table. It tilts and coffee spills everywhere. The room fills with it’s sticky smell. One more chore to add to the list that never grows shorter.

Two hundred people are walking along the beach right now, on their way to Melkbos, where they will sleep tonight.

They will walk through fields of colourful spring flowers, laughing, chatting, singing. By lunchtime they will sit on top of a sand dune, high as a cliff, and look down on a vast, blue-blue ocean.

Tomorrow they will plant trees in a small township, and then they will make their way to the music festival. They will be so full of excitement that they will run the last kilometres towards the festival gates, their legs forgetting that they have covered 50 km in two days. I won’t be there.

And so. What was it all for? The money? It can’t be.

The exchange of life for cash is never in balance.

And I always have to wait a few months to be paid, so I will have spent the money before it has arrived in my bank account anyway. The gratitude? There’s not much of that floating around.

To feed some obsessive desire to always be busy? To avoid dealing with real work? I’m considering those as possible reasons. But that’s going to take a whole lot of honest soul searching and, with luck, I will soon be too busy to indulge in all that navel gazing.

But whatever the reason, it’s a bloody stupid reason.

Because the work is done and the clients have disappeared back into their caves, ignoring my emails about finalising fees so that I can send my invoice. I have missed out on sunshine, time with family and friends, and exercise. My training for my first marathon, the Rome Marathon, has been set back to week one. And those are just the visible negatives. I see my ageing face, pale and tired, reflected in the cracked glass of my iPad – a clue to the as yet unseen damage I have probably done to my health.

I am pretty disciplined when it comes to health and fitness, though. Monday night is family spin night. We all traipse off to gym for a 45-minute spin class. And I have run a few races on the weekends. But even so, I can feel the effects of a less than healthy lifestyle.

Times of overwork and stress are precisely the times when we need a good diet, regular exercise and enough sleep the most.

Only by keeping our bodies healthy can we give our best work. And only by keeping our bodies healthy can we come out on the other side of stress and overwork, ready to enjoy life again.

I didn’t live by my own rules. I put the demands of impersonal, faceless clients before my own needs. And now I am not Walking the Daisies – literally and figuratively. And that’s really pretty crap.

Don’t do it! Just say ‘NO’ sometimes. Take care of yourself first.

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