My desk is clean!
No, really, that isn’t a metaphor. My desk is clean. That’s where I’m gonna get started with this.
I figured it might be a good idea to make use of the space since I was so determined to clean and re-organize the other day. Good habits and all that.
I’m taking a self-care mental health day. Now, I know, there is nothing revolutionary or new about this concept. In fact, bloggers and vloggers and people all over the internet talk about doing this all the time. Probably you have friends who talk about taking self-care days or self-care trips. You might even have been asked to have a self-care day with a friend-the new spa-day!
The reason I feel this is worth discussing, and worth posting as one of the first pieces of actual content I am putting on this blog, is because of how hard it was for me to decide to do this.
I woke up this morning and actively regretted that I didn’t have a ‘legitimate’ reason not to go to work today. For context, I have both PTSD and back problems, so I have an FMLA accommodation that allows me to stay at home when either issue flares. But, with both conditions, I am loath to use that accommodation until I literally cannot safely make it in to the office. Either I’m in so much pain I need to take muscle relaxants which make it unsafe for me to drive, or I’m having recurrent panic attacks and flashbacks. And I will say that I had a lot of the pre-cursors of a PTSD flare today. My personal warning signs, which include but are not limited to: insomnia, sleeplessness, nightmares, feeling restless, and a general malaise with the state of the world, were very much present. I even had a general anxiety attack last night after looking at some of the latest coverage of the child-internment camps at the U.S. Mexico border.
I spent over an hour struggling to get the motivation to get out of bed, get dressed, and find something to eat. I don’t generally consider myself an unmotivated person. I set a lot of personal goals, and actually need to work on making those goals more realistic and taking my current health problems into account when I set out to do things. But I have also known that I want to write and publish books since I was a small child, and have followed through on a LOT on my life in pursuit of that. I taught myself to belly dance when I discovered a love for watching dancers around a camp fire. I then taught myself the history of belly dance because I felt it was wrong to engage in another culture’s practice without understanding where it came from. All of which makes it concerning for me when I struggle not just in accomplishing something, but in doing basic (and necessary) tasks to take care of myself before I do it. Often that is the biggest warning sign that I’m about to have a PTSD flare, I stop taking care of myself.
So I called it. I decided that it would be better to take a break and take care of myself today rather than waiting for my PTSD to flare, from which it might take days to recover. I stayed home.
My cat is also keeping me company. She is very confused at having to sit on my lap while I type at my desk. I think she prefers being able to use me as a jungle gym while I type on my couch and/or bed.
Now. I know all about taking care of myself. Many years now of juggling real-world demands with conditions that don’t give a shit mean that I have more than a few tricks up my sleeve. I’m generally what’s considered high-functioning. I have bad days and struggle with the conditions sometimes, but I can also have an occasional (brief) social life, I can hold down a job, and I can do most of the things I need to do without having to ask for help. Self care usually means a combination of doing some nice things and some neglected chores. And I have a clean desk damnit so I’m going to use it and write something!
Every day is something of a dance of self-care, and I think everyone does this on some level. It’s more pronounced in people like myself with chronic health disorders that make managing ‘normal’ life more challenging, but everyone has small ritual comforts that help them get through the day, and things they like to do to help recover from especially bad ones. Whatever you do to cope its self care.
But I had to be so close to a breakdown I was struggling to escape my bed before I realized I needed to do something more. I think that is profound. Why? Because I’m not alone. This relatively remarkable state of high stress, which I can blame on various disorders, is not itself a disorder. In fact, it’s considered pretty normal even in totally healthy populations.
My job is stressful. My coworkers regularly talk about coming home and getting drunk to deal with the day. Every Day. My workplace also has an incredibly high percentage of smokers, and the office recently recognized stress as being one of the main things getting in the way of employee productivity. All of these things, for me, point to a deeper problem. But this is a conversation that is happening nationally, in the United States, as well as internationally. It’s not my office. It’s not one bad job, is an accumulation of culture that demands more than many can really give. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this article from the Harvard Business Review.
Work-life balance has gone out the window. Not simply in that workplaces are demanding more time of their employees, but also because the basic humanity of the workforce is being forgotten. Attendance policies that insist employees get doctors notes for each incidence of illness treat adult employees like children and employers like parents, encourage workers to come in sick, which spreads viruses and bacteria throughout the workplace, and can lower the quality of care available at health care offices as they shorten appointment windows to meet demand. We feel this every time we have to go into the doctor and spend 45 minutes in the waiting room for 15 minute appointments. But, perhaps worse, is the culture surrounding the lack of work-life balance. I, and I am not alone in this, actively feel guilty when I have to stay home from work. No matter how severe the reason.
We even idealize and joke about this stress.
Spend an hour on the internet and you’ll probably see some meme or another talking about being over-stressed. Or depressed. Or anxious. Or about binging on some vice to make it ‘worth it’ to go to work the next day.
Students and professionals both talk about and take Adderall and other drugs in order to meet the demands of their environment. We’re taking doping out of the sports world and bringing it in to offices. No, really, check out this Forbes article, Managing The Risks Of Taking Adderall To Enhance Work Performance. And, great, I’m glad that there is coverage out there not only of what the risks might be, but also of how to more safely manage your use if you choose performance enhancement as a way to handle workloads but… Are we ready to talk about management? Are we really? Because I think we need to take about a dozen steps back and look at why someone might think they need these drugs in the first place.
So I took a self-care day. Because I live in a crazy strange world where it is not just ‘normal’ that employees over work themselves, on some level it’s the expectation. And I think that’s a bit strange. And that it deserves some thought.
Maybe it’s time more people had the freedom to take self-care days when they need them.