I will be 31 in a few days and a I reflect upon this past year I made decisions that I consider the greatest decisions I could have made this year. The first was to take a leave of absence from my old job and the second was to resign from that same job. I remember my decision to take the leave of absence very clearly. Mostly because my other option was drugs.
It was a Wednesday morning in March and I had just woken up. Literally just smacked my alarm to keep it quiet and barely had both eyes open. As I sat up in bed I mentally rummaged my cabinet for any prescription drugs I still had that would put me in a mental and emotional daze for the day. I didn’t want to die and I didn’t mind physically showing up to work. I did mind having to be mentally and emotionally available. I crawled out of bed and started a variation of my morning routine (I skipped the gym), turned on the tea kettle and hopped in the shower. By the time I was finished the kettle went off. As poured the hot water into the blue mug I stared at the codeine ladened cough syrup bottle. I could mix it with the tea I thought. I reached for the bottle and I stared at it. Then I then put it back. I closed the cabinet door and wept. I cried for about thirty minutes. In fact at this point I had started to get up earlier during the week to leave myself enough time to cry and then pull myself together to head to the office on time.
I drank the cough syrup free tea and headed to campus. I was in a haze for much of the day but not a drug induced one. No it was a “What is happening to me?” haze. How had I allowed myself to get the point of waking up and immediately wanting to disconnect from my reality? How had I allowed myself to be in a reality that was so painful? How did self medicating instead of self caring become a viable option?
Within the next week I called HR and shared I needed to take a leave of absence. Nevermind the fact that spring break was upon us and I was out of the office for the entire break. I was gonna need more than a week. The woman in HR sounded alarmed, concerned, and of course HR- code for had the company’s best interest in mind. It didn’t matter. She walked me through the process which included going to my doctor. I went to my doctor where I blubbered my way through the appointment. All the doctor asked was what bought me in and I just went from human being to human puddle. I took familiar questionnaires to assess my anxiety and depression. Familiar because as a former counselor I would administer and score them for my own clients. I wasn’t the least bit surprised when they reflected symptoms high enough to warrant my doctor not only providing the medical documentation needed for HR to grant the leave of absence, but two medications, and her suggestion that I quit. “You are beautiful, bright, and I just think you can do way better than this place. Besides, they have demonstrated they won’t change and you have changed so much, you are sick. Go to the pharmacyand get yourself together, “ she said.
I took a month away to recuperate and get myself together. It. Was. Hard. The first two weeks were a struggle and I had to push myself. Push myself to eat, bathe, exercise, talk to concerned friends and family members, write, live. It was hard to live. Not exist. I was excelling at existing, but living felt painful. The third week was still hard but getting easier and I am sure that was because I flew back east.
It was just before I left the east coast to head to LA for a few days that I went to DC and started to feel myself again. I didn’t mind going out and about to explore. I was excited to visit some of my favorite museums, take the train to the Pentagon city mall and shop, sit in Federal Triangle Park, get small eats from a variety of food trucks near my hotel, etc.
When I returned to work on campus I caught up with a dear colleague and friend. As I shared about my time away and even some of my concerns about my return we had the conversation that helped me quit. We had the conversation that echoed the sentiments my doctor spoke the month before. I hadn’t been back on campus a week and knew that quitting was inevitable. It was inevitable because there was no way I could be the best version of me in that community. There was no way I could be a healthy mediocre version of me in that community. A drugged up counseling twice a week living pay check to paycheck because I spend my money on drugs and traveling version of me is probably what I could have mustered.
We live in an American society that measures our worth by how much we self deprecate as opposed to self care. We are constantly being measured by how hard we work, how long we work, how much we do, and how we struggled to do it. We accept anxiety and depression as norms, rites of passage seeking all those weary enough to cross there threshold, while the resort of rest and self awareness struggles to stay open for business. Please note, I am not taking lightly those who struggle with anxiety or depression. I am saying however that sometimes those diagnosis are responses to choices we make for lifestyles we choose to lead that are so unhealthy and feel more necessary than they really are. We look at self care as a luxury for the rich and famous. We declare ourselves neither and thus we don’t self care.
I started by sharing that I think during my 30th year I made two great decisions, a leave of absence and then quitting my job. I think I really made one- to take care of myself by any means necessary. Maybe that was God’s birthday gift to me these past 12 months and this month I am sharing that gift with you. Keep reading the blog this month, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for ways to self care, to encourage others in your life to do similarly, let go of the guilt that comes with taking time for yourself, and chances to win some things to help you with your self care journey. Remember, you are not selfish, lazy, or less than for making a commitment to be who you were created and purposed to be. And you aren’t selfish, lazy, or less than for deciding to leave a situation that doesn’t allow you to be such. You are the lead in your life and thus responsible for taking the lead in caring for yourself. You have to take the lead for making choices that allow you to be the person you were born to be and do the work you were gifted to do. Besides, when you model how to care for, love, forgive, be gracious towards you, others can follow suite. They can both learn how to do similarly for themselves but also how to do similarly towards or with you in their relationship with you. Here’s to you, me, us, and self care! xxoo #TSLLSelfcare