“I’m writing this after coming off of COVID migraines. I’ve cried a lot the past few weeks and have been processing some heavy emotions along with physically not feeling well. I hope this story encourages someone.
Every time I get physically sick I get really angry, anxious, and sad. I had to look into those feelings this week and ask myself why. Why is it so hard for me to slow down when I’m sick and take care of myself and not feel guilty about it? Why am I so obsessed and concerned that people are mad at me when I’m sick and getting behind on tasks? I’ve realized throughout the years that oftentimes I blamed these feelings on busy work environments, past employers, etc. The older I get, the more I realize much of this stems from perfectionism and the need to keep up appearances. What will people think of me if I can’t give or perform? Will people think that I’m selfish or weak?
Growing up, a lot of my identity was tied to work and performance. A lot of times I only felt loved and valued when I could produce, perform, or give to someone else. Even when I was sick I didn’t feel like I could ever really rest and felt like I was a disappointment because I couldn’t be productive. Rest was never a priority and I often felt like people would only love me if I could do something for them. Sabbath was perceived as laziness and I didn’t feel as if I could truly slow down, relax, or heal. I remember this feeling often in high school being in leadership roles, involved in outside activities, and feeling the responsibility that people looked up to me. Even as a performer and artist, I always had a mic in my hand and didn’t feel as if I could fall apart. I think a lot of this came back to my validation and identity existing in being seen, wanted, or valued. What value could I bring when I was relaxing or resting?
What Happens When You Overwork Yourself?
I had times of extreme highs/lows in my life where I would run on fumes for weeks, months, or years on end until I had a health crisis or was swallowed in crippling anxiety and exhaustion. The health scare would slow things down for a while but then after the initial fear wore out, I would be back to running at a million miles an hour. Overcommitting, offering to do things that were outside of my capacity, and worrying to the point of anxiety when things didn’t turn out perfect.
The most recent scare was commuting on the metra train back from a long day of work in a season of working two jobs. I got up to exit the train and felt lightheaded and dizzy. I forgot where I was and missed my stop. I felt like my head was a thousand pounds and everything was foggy. I felt exhausted. A few days later the same thing happened to me in a meeting. My boss asked me if I was okay, offered me a glass of water, and encouraged me to step outside to get some fresh air and breath for a minute. I called my husband bawling uncontrollably. The first phrase that came out of my mouth was, ‘This is so stupid, I don’t know why I feel this way, I just want to get back to WORK.’ My husband said, ‘Do you even hear yourself right now? You should want to get better because YOU are not well, NOT because you want to get back to a job or task.’ That was a big wake-up call to me. In my weakest, most vulnerable moment, I didn’t check in with myself first. I didn’t care for my mental or emotional well-being. I didn’t give myself a chance to be human, and I resorted to tasks and work.
The hardest thing to realize at that moment was that it wasn’t my boss pressuring me to get back to work. It wasn’t my partner, it wasn’t my friends, it was ME. I was so obsessed with what others thought about me and disappointing this impossible image I had of myself in my head that I couldn’t slow down even for a moment.
Maybe it’s childhood trauma or experiences I had growing up, maybe it’s just my personality, maybe it’s living in a capitalist society. Either way, as an adult it’s so hard for me to believe that people aren’t mad at me because I can’t work when I’m sick or forcing me to push past what I’m physically and mentally able to do. I’ve continually been shown that there are people that love and value me (even at work) for more than what I can produce and give. I’ve had to let go of control this week and know all my work and responsibilities will still be waiting for me when I get back.
The Importance Of Rest
To all the people that struggle with rest and were told you were only good enough when you could give or produce, I hope you work through that lie and know you are enough. You are enough even when you can’t produce or give or perform. Even when you need a break. You are enough just by existing. You are loved, valuable and precious. People still love you and I hope you truly learn how to love and take care of yourself and NOT just so that you can get better to make someone else happy. I hope you can heal and rest without feeling guilty about it.
Resting is revolutionary and it’s a battle. You will have to FIGHT to rest, to be, to exist without doing anything. You can’t push past burnout or exhaustion. The only way to get through is to stop, retreat, and refuel. You cannot push through illness and wish health upon yourself. Your body heals through rest and relaxation.
So my advice to you…FIGHT. Fight for your life the urge to believe that the whole world is going to fall apart without you when you have to sit on the sidelines for a while. Remind yourself again and again that your value and worth is not contingent upon your titles, place of work, or relationship expectations.
Oh, and one last thing. You are NOT alone. Even if we don’t want to admit it, we have all been here at one time or another. Many of us are still existing in burnout about to crash at any given moment. FIGHT.”
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