8 April 2021
The other day I was talking to a friend about the struggle we've all faced this year in regards to prioritising self-care when we're all so bloody busy. The problem is, we all started the year with a deficit in our energy tank, and so of course we're feeling it more than usual this year. That nagging sense of things not being quite right within ourselves.
I confess to being my own worst enemy in this regard, and it's often why I tell my business coaching clients to "do what I say, not what I do". You see, I've been quite unwell over the past few weeks, and only have myself to blame. I had been neglecting myself woefully!
To be fair, I've had a pretty full-on start to the year. That's not unusual, it's been tough on everyone. My husband had been away for most of the year repairing flood damage to our Hobart house so we could list it for rent (after it had sat vacant for the past year due to border closures, etc). My kids both started new schools and I got stuck into new business activities. I was okay doing the parenting solo thing, and my kids seemed to be coping well too.
But then we had the snap lockdown.
It was only five days, but here in Melbourne being told it would "only be five days" didn't calm anyone's nerves. Many of us talk about the experience being 'retraumatising' after the lengthy lockdown we had last year. In fact, I don't think many of us realised just how traumatic it had all been until the snap lockdown happened. It was the beginning of the undoing for my kids and me. My husband wasn't here, so he didn't see or feel the impact of that brief lockdown, but I know many other Melbournites felt it too. We all started to crumble just a little bit more than we already were.
By mid-March my husband was back, but the kids and I were all at our wit's end. My youngest son had started struggling to cope with being away from home (school is at the end of our street) and since opted to return to homeschooling (something we did pre-covid). My husband and I struggled to be in each other's space after so much time apart (we're good now). My older son was trying to exert his independence more (which I celebrate). And I was push-push-pushing my way through it all. Juggling all the balls, holding in all the feelings, trying to keep a smile on my face. Telling everyone (including myself) "I'm fine, I'm just tired".
It's no wonder something snapped. And I suppose it's no wonder I missed the warning signs. I'd had dizzy spells, fatigue, sleep disturbances, teariness, and low appetite. I wasn't depressed but something was obviously wrong. And I kept pushing through it.
Not having learnt from my experience last year, I failed to consider that my flagging energy levels were linked to iron deficiency. And when I say deficiency, I mean iron levels that were UNDETECTABLE.
So now I'm sitting on my bed feeling drunk (that's the impact it has on me - constant wooziness and frequent word slurring) trying to read, trying to write, trying to settle on something, anything, but just unable to focus.
And all the while trying really hard not to feel like a complete idiot.
Because I have a business to run, clients to inspire, and family to support. I should know better. Right?
The feelings we all share as business owners run very deep. We feel such deep love (and sometimes deep loathing) for our businesses. We feel nagging worry and sometimes sheer terror when things aren't going well financially. We feel such exhilaration when someone asks to join our lovely team, and then feel incredible pain and sadness when much-loved team members decide it's time to move on, or worse, leave on bad terms. And of course, we feel such indescribable shame when we feel we've let the side down, stuffed up, or in some other way not been perfect.
So when I realised just how badly I'd let myself down in the self-care department, I felt so much guilt for not being available to support my team. I felt such embarrassment for not being a shining example to my clients of how to "have it all and do it all" (stupid I know). And if that wasn't enough, there was a deep sense of shame for not knowing better. Not being better. Not doing better. Not being perfect.
And this is the common ground we all tread. Trying to support ourselves, our families, and our businesses ... all on a single tank of energy. And an already depleted tank at that. All wrapped up in a blazing red bow called "unrelenting standards".
What I'm trying to say is, we all overlook our own needs from time to time. We all feel shame from time to time. We all work too hard from time to time. But it's not enough to keep pushing through it. It's not okay to just say I'll be fine. I WILL be fine, I just have to put up with this god awful feeling in my body until I can get my iron infusion on Monday. But the message is clear. And I hope it's clear to you too.
Take. Better. Care. Of. You.
Validate your needs.
Validate your feelings.
Listen to your body.
Stop putting yourself last.
Acknowledge the emotional load you're carrying, juggling all those balls. Acknowledge the physical toll that stress has on you. Acknowledge the exhaustion that accompanies that wild emotional roller coaster that we're all on.
Stop telling everyone "I'm fine, I'm just tired". Listen harder to yourself.
So if you're still tired after the Easter break, if you dreaded returning this week to the business that you feel so deeply about, what action are you prepared to take to rekindle your love affair with it? What changes, both within your business and within yourself, do you need to make?
You already know clinical burnout is real.
You understand physical burnout is real.
Management burnout is easily overlooked, but it is very bloody real too.
And the shame that comes with that can be crippling, so do whatever it takes to look after yourself better. (And yes, I'm talking to myself as much as I'm talking to you right now.)
Let yourself come up for air as often as you need. Let yourself take a moment to catch up with yourself and your needs. Let yourself take time.
Just let yourself.
Dr Tess Crawley
Tess is an Australian clinical and forensic psychologist with over 20 years' experience in such diverse areas as community mental health, the prison system, perinatal mental health, university lecturing, and private practice.
Tess has a PhD in clinical psychology, has published one business-related book and is in the midst of writing a second. She is also a former actor, which some say explains a lot! In fact, she met her husband of 30+ years while they were involved in a Melbourne stage production of Macbeth (also explains a lot!).