(broad)ject self #3: Self-Care When...You're Jealous

It’s been sneaking up on me for a long time. The first pregnancy announcements six and seven years ago barely registered on the jealousy scale. I was in my 20s, I was in serious crisis about what to do about my career, and we weren’t even thinking about getting married yet. As more friends got married, more friends started having babies and the feelings intensified slightly. Then, I was only jealous that those people were ready to contemplate having kids, as we were so not there. Even as recently as this spring, when I had just taken a contract for my first job post-MBA, it was really not a big deal because I kept telling myself, “I need to have been in a permanent job for a year before we can start trying”. And then suddenly, I got the permanent job, the clock starting ticking, and every pregnancy announcement was this unexpected gut punch of envy. For the longest time, I felt like I couldn’t even have contemplated the idea, so there was no point in being jealous. But now that I could contemplate it, that there was a plan and a timeline in place even, it was harder to brush off that green monster.

We don’t like to talk about being jealous of other people’s good fortunes (or in this case, biological compatibility), because it’s unseemly. It reflects badly on us, as if simultaneously admitting we’re unhappy with our own lots and that other people have something better than we have. So maybe we bring it up to our significant other (who may or may not be able to empathize or sympathize) or we silently stew, feeling worse by the minute. 

There are only two ways to deal with jealously, to my mind. You can either put all your energy to getting the thing that the other person has that you want, damn the torpedoes, or you can count your blessings and remind yourself you have a plan. Obviously I subscribe to the latter, or else I would have had a massive wedding and many children by now. You also need an ally, who is not your partner or parent, who you can count on to have your back, probably because they’re in the same place you are.

I’m lucky to have a couple of close friends who want kids but are also not quite ready, for whatever reason. So when I’m on the receiving end of a pregnancy announcement, once I’ve offered my sincere congratulations, my “in case of emergency” self-care protocol is to text one of them and they will instantly provide a mental hug and say the right thing. After that reassurance, I just want to hunker down and feel sorry for myself for a little while. And you know what? A short pity party is a perfectly acceptable element of self-care because a pity party is acknowledging that something happened that made you feel crappy. You can’t remind yourself of all the awesome and wonderful things you have in your life if you haven’t acknowledged the gut punch first, because otherwise you’ll just get seriously pissy and dismissive of your accomplishments (trust me).

Then, if it’s something you truly want, either make a plan or remind yourself of the plan you have in place. Friend got an amazing promotion? What an awesome kick in the butt to update your resume and take on an extra project at work! Someone bought a house? Sit down and talk about where you really see yourself in this real estate market and what you need to do to get there.

We should never make those people announcing good news feel badly about their success, but it is totally acceptable to need to take a little bit of time to make our private peace with it. If you need a green monster ally? You know where to find me.

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #2: Self-Care When...You're Sick

It’s that time of year. The temperature is falling, kids are back in school, we’re all getting busy and…the sniffles are starting. Those sniffles will soon morph into hacking, coughing, and, if you’re lucky, the occasional bout of gastroenteritis. There are two kinds of people in this world, in my view. Those people who will happily take a sick day and those who would rather selfishly spread their germs to every human they encounter and make everyone around their feel their pain because they don’t believe the world will continue to spin without them sitting at their desk. I think you can guess which one of people I am.

It wasn’t always thus. I come from a long line of Calvinist martyrs (the worst kind, because PREDESTINATION), who don’t believe in the miracle that is over the counter pharmaceuticals. And it didn’t matter, because I never got sick anyways. But then about five years ago, after a trip to visit my sister and nephew, I woke up one morning feeling awful. A normal person would have called in sick. BUT NO. I looked out the window at the howling wind and pouring rain and headed into work anyways. As the bus neared my stop, I knew that I had made an awful mistake because it was all coming back to me now. I had strep. I went into my office only to look up the nearest walk-in-clinic, dragged myself there, got a strep diagnosis and a prescription, and then dragged my sorry ass home. I was clearly sick. I felt awful. I had a doctor’s diagnosis of strep throat. My boss was a lovely and understanding woman. And yet I still felt guilty about missing work.

I was not a brain surgeon. I was not arguing a case before the Supreme Court. No lives depended on whether or not I made it into work that day. I had a capable boss and capable co-workers who even if they may not have been able to do my job to a tee, they could at least manage to triage emails for a few days until I came back. But I was so convinced of my indispensability that I worried the whole time I was home in bed, unable to swallow (literally).

I’m not like that now. I have been in my job since February and I have been home sick twice, once with a sinus headache and once with what turned out to be bronchitis. I woke up, realized I felt like crap, sent an email to my boss, then took some cold medicine and went back to bed. In both cases I ended up working from home later in the day, but I was under no obligation to do so and only did because the extra sleep and pharmaceuticals allowed me to get some work done. If I had gone to work, my three hours plus commute alone (including 8kms of walking) would have done me in.

In Ontario, if you work for a company that regularly employs more than 50 employees, you’re entitled to 10 days of personal emergency leave, which is “unpaid job-protected leave each calendar year due to illness, injury and certain other emergencies and urgent matters”. Depending on your employer, you, like me, may also be entitled to a certain number of paid sick days as well. So really, assuming you’re a normal salaried office employee, there is absolutely no excuse.

In my opinion, sick days are a situation when my “by any means necessary” protocol kicks in. While I normally don’t believe that self-care should equate to self-indulgence, when you’re under the weather the heart wants what the heart wants. You should feel free to indulge yourself in any way that would make you feel better, even a little bit, and your loved ones should submit themselves to your irrational and feverish will. In my case, that has more than once involved lying on the bathroom floor, texting David (still in bed) a shopping list at 8am on a Sunday morning because I was barfing my guts out and needed Jello, saltines, and Gatorade STAT.

What if you truly can’t take a sick day? Maybe you have an important presentation, a new employee starting, or the CEO from Switzerland is in for one day and one day only. I would remind you here then that you have almost certainly been on the receiving end of having a meeting cancelled or day otherwise reorganized because a key member was home sick. And maybe you rolled your eyes in the moment, but I guarantee that unless the person involved did this in a pathological manner, you almost certainly didn’t hold it against them (because you’re a kind person who believes people should take care of themselves). But if you must go to work or be fired? Take whatever meds you need, drink as much tea and water as your bladder can manage, wash your hands every time you’re anywhere near a sink, and don’t let anyone come near you (and frankly, they probably won’t want to).

This week, I'd like to encourage you to start keeping an eye on flyers and in-store sales so you can build up your medicine cabinet for the coming winter. Make sure you have the necessary medication and supplies, especially tissues and hand sanitizer, to get you through anything the germ fairies can throw at you. If you have prescription medication that you use only in certain circumstances, make sure you have that prescription filled or at least on file at the pharmacy for easy pickup. Consider the things that make you and your loved ones feel better when you/they are sick and stash them away in case of emergency.

And remember, every time you come to work clearly sick, you’re modelling to your employees, co-workers, and family that self-care isn’t a priority in your life. Is that the impression you’re trying to give?

Self-caringly yours,

Sian

(broad)ject self #1: Self Care When...You're Angry

My fiancé David has just moved to a city in Southeastern Ontario for his job. It was better than the original posting, which was in Thunder Bay, but at two hours away is still an adjustment. It was too far away for me to commute, so I’m continuing to live with his mother while he has an apartment there. The plan is that we’ll spend weekends together, either here or there, but because my mom was visiting last weekend, he stayed there for the weekend alone.

Naturally, the day before he was meant to come home, we got into our first fight since he’s been away. It started over something dumb in the afternoon on Google Hangouts while we were both at work and continued through the rest of the day. Because we were essentially texting, there were of course a series of misunderstandings and misinterpretations that just made things worse. By 8pm we had kind of made up, but I was still fuming. When you’re not in the same place and can’t hug and talk and sense each other’s mood, it’s hard to feel like something is really resolved, so I felt out of sorts.

Still, I was resolved to power through my to-do list. I didn’t want to do yoga, but I had just started a 30 day challenge so I sort of felt like I had to. I lasted 3 minutes. Yoga for me is such a stress reliever and at ease maker and I just couldn’t exhale when I was still so angry. I turned off the video and I lay in child’s pose for a few minutes trying to decide what to do. I had never made a contingency plan for self-care when I was angry because I’m honestly not a very angry person. At 8:30pm, what could I do to feel at ease again?

I do really believe we need to plan for self-care in all kinds of less than ideal situations because often when we’re in the moment, we’re not able to think clearly and we end up taking the road most indulgent to feel better. For me, that’s often carbs and/or sugar, for other people it might be a few drinks. But those things never actually help solve the problem or make us feel better for more than a moment, and more often than not they leave us feeling worse. I believe we all need a mental “in case of emergency” kit for when we feel off-kilter, so that we can pull ourselves out of it before we sink too deep.

I’m completely obsessed with the ‘Judge John Hodgman’ podcast right now and in that moment of fury on my yoga mat, I just wanted to listen to his soothing voice solve other people’s problems. So I wrapped myself up in my favourite fluffy blanket and sat quietly in the dark, listening. It was just right. I learned that when I’m angry, I need to do something that will distract me so I don’t have to think. Yoga will not fit the bill, but a hilarious podcast or favourite TV show seems just right.

This week, I’d like to encourage you to think of a situation where you might feel out of sorts. Maybe it’s a feeling. Maybe it’s a potential thing that could happen. Then think about what act of self-care would make you feel better. Write it down. Buy supplies if you need them. Maybe even tell your partner or a friend about it (“If I’m feeling really overwhelmed at work, please remind me that talking to my mom on the phone makes me feel better.”) If you want to tell me about it, I'm all ears (well, eyes).

Self-caring-ly yours,

Sian