Fun fact: I wrote this ~ roughly one year before actually posting it.
I'm going to caveat this blog post with the fact that I'm not actually the best at looking after myself but I'm actively trying to do better. I also intended for this blog to be about not feeling guilty when you take time off sick, but I guess it turned into something a bit more than that. I'm currently writing this on my iPad (my laptop is away getting repaired) while I'm laid up in bed with a mug of tea and some soothers, with my golden retriever curled at my side.
The past two years have been tough, to say the least, on top of a global pandemic I've had a lot to deal with in my personal life. I lost my granny to cancer in May 2020, ended a nine-year relationship after dealing with all the things that led to that decision, sold my old house and bought a new one, filed for divorce and countless other things in between.
To say it's been tough I guess is an understatement, and I still have moments where everything feels a little overwhelming. Yet, I've always put pressure on myself to just get over it. To pretend that nothing is wrong, and continue being as productive as I've always been. I've always been pretty good at covering up what I'm struggling with, with only a select few knowing what's really going on.
I remember laughing when someone said they were jealous of me having my life together and all I could think was "how many people are there like me, pretending to have their sh!t together?". I've always been a fan of the following quote because social media encourages us to only show the good things in our lives. It's worth noting here that I've definitely considered deleting or cutting out most of this post so many times, so if you're reading this I found the courage to post it, yay!
When everyone was sent home in March 2020 it made it easier to hide how much I was struggling. You can't truly know what's going on in someone's life through Zoom (unless they choose to tell you), plus they even have filters which take out any puffy eyes or red faces (speaking from experience). I know I'm not alone in this as well so I'm not going to pretend that my struggles are unique, but typing them out here does help. If it helps even one other person, that's just a bonus.
Even with all of the difficulties I was facing, I continued to work to such an extent that I was raised for and successfully achieved an accelerated promotion in my previous role. I was responsible for the release management of the largest CloudFoundry estate in the world, on top of having the highest response rate for client tickets in my team. Clinging to my work and doing it well was like a lifeline I held onto throughout the start of the lockdown, and I was working remotely anyway so what else was I going to do with my time?
Despite all the great feedback that I received from my peers and management, and the evidence to suggest that I was succeeding I would still stress if I made one tiny mistake. A 99% success rate wasn't good enough for me (here's looking at you, that one DNS typo with a 9 instead of a 6). I always put myself under extra pressure, and I'm hoping that by acknowledging my struggles that maybe someone else out there who might be struggling will know that they are not alone.
I will always encourage others to rest when they're not feeling well or burnt out. I know that if someone isn't feeling great that you won't get the best out of them and that it's better to let them rest and recover, but I can never share that same kindness with myself. I always feel it's a sign of my own weakness, and feel a ridiculous sense of guilt for taking time to look after myself.
Isn't it wonderful how brains work like that?
Listen to others
One of my favourite things about working at CircleCI is the culture and sense of community, we have an #emoji channel and a really excellent set of slack emojis. My favourite emoji has to be a bowl of soup with the alias
:feel-better-soon-because-we-like-you-and-take-the-time-you-need-to-be-whole-before-returning-to-work: which is a bit of a mouthful, but it really made me feel so welcome when I first spotted someone taking time to look after themselves and the rest of the team responding with this emoji.
Even going back to work, my team have been checking in to make sure I'm really recovered and not just pretending to be better because I was bored being off sick (I'm insufferable when I'm lying around the house for too long, sorry Elliot). If I really just listened to my colleagues and friends instead of the voice in my head, I would feel a lot more comfortable with taking time off sick to get better. So I guess where I'm going with this is: listen to the people around you, they really do care.
There's no need to apologise
In recent years, the focus on mental health and looking after yourself has become more prevalent. Despite this, I still find myself apologising for taking time to look after myself or getting emotional. When I first wrote this, it was when I had taken a couple of weeks off being physically ill from Covid, but I know that taking time for your mental health is just as important.
This image covers many things that I find myself apologising for, but have been actively trying to stop myself from doing. It's important to look after yourself, and doing what you need to do unapologetically goes along way to getting there.
Well, that was over a thousand words of rambling... Cheers to anyone who read this far, and if you've taken anything away from it then I'm delighted!
Look after yourselves.