Work-life balance–is there such a thing? What is this mythical illusion that we hear about all too often, and strive to achieve?
Ever feel like you are wearing a mask? You are doing backflips and tricks to keep everyone happy? Newsflash: It’s not your job to make other people happy, and, in fact, you CAN’T.
That is a hard realization, especially for women, who are trained our whole lives to put everyone else first: our husbands, our jobs, our work. Even our friends take precedence if they are in need. Our children are our top priority–as they should be–but if we aren’t putting our own needs first, eventually we will have nothing left to give.
At 36, with three small children, I was working as a charge nurse in a top-rated Newborn ICU in the nation. I hate to admit, but at that time I was putting my job first, even before my own children. I would work long, stressful shifts starting IVs on the tiniest veins imaginable–sometimes placing them in their heads, as that was the only way to give them the nutrition and medication they needed for survival. I would run life-saving codes on the littlest of humans. I worked extra hours, on top of extra shifts, to make sure these babies were cared for and the units were staffed. I would mediate between doctors and nurses when adrenalin was high, helping everyone make ends meet. I was an advocate for the babies and their parents, even butting heads with my higher-ups when I felt it was necessary.
The only one I wasn’t advocating for was myself.
I would come home after my shifts completely depleted. My family would want to share about their day with me, or vent their frustrations, and I would try my hardest to give anything I had left to them. But oftentimes I would end up frustrated myself, telling them I didn’t have time for their complaints. Afterall, their plights were small in comparison to those of the families I worked with that lost their precious babies that day.
Did they even understand what that meant? Of course they did. We lost our own baby to SIDS just a few years before. But we often get wrapped up in the little things in life, forgetting what is really important–like taking care of yourself. Because if you are gone, who will be there to take care of everyone who relies on you?
I learned the hard way just how important self-care is. Just a few years ago, I worked myself into a deadly cortisol crisis. One day–just 24 hours–of no cortisol, and you are no longer in the Land of the Living. Somehow, I had documented nine days of zero cortisol that went overlooked. I landed myself in the ER multiple times. But they weren’t looking for cortisol.
I ended up with eight specialists, four ER visits, a three-day hospital stay, and one trip across the country to the Mayo Clinic. I was determined to have adrenal insufficiency, and would need the use of steroids the rest of my life to stay alive. I was deemed disabled by Social Security–no small feat, and something I fought tooth-and-nail against. Eight months of being bed-bound will give you a whole new perspective on life.
This was just one of the many times I put myself dead last. But this time, I had no choice–I had to take care of myself, and I had to allow others to help me. I am happy to report that I am no longer be- bound, no longer considered disabled, and no longer on the steroids I was told I would need for the rest of my life.
I started taking care of me. I now make sure to put my own oxygen mask on first before helping others, as the flight attendants instruct you in case of an emergency before you take flight. After all, if I die of lack of oxygen, who else can I help? This can seem selfish, but it is actually self-care, self-love, self-survival.
Instead of focusing on balancing family and career, we need to balance self-appreciation. We wouldn’t allow our friends and family to run on empty, so why do we let ourselves?
What are you doing for YOU today? Me, I am writing this while soaking in Epsom salt with a candle burning. Later, I am taking a six-hour drive to the beach, because: self care. The beach is my happy place, and sometimes I just need to reboot.