Two years ago, I was working at a very fulfilling full-time job yet still worried about money. I was also living with chronic pain which began getting progressively worse. What started as an ache in my arm developed into being unable to fall asleep on my side, wash my hair, or even put on a bra. I also had pain in my right hip which had been bothering me for years but had gotten worse. I couldn’t walk, sit, stand, sleep or drive without experiencing pain. I also suffered from chronic migraines which became so bad my coworkers and boss began to notice. I started needing to leave work early or not going in at all. I was also 50 pounds overweight, gained in the span of one year.
The year before, I left my five-year marriage, quit a very stressful job, and started a new one. I watched my grandmother slowly deteriorate and eventually pass away from dementia and had my best friend of ten years, a beautiful German Shepherd, pass away. I also began a new relationship with a man with a five-year-old son. This relationship propelled me into the very unfamiliar role of step-mom. I threw myself into work which was especially easy since it not only distracted me from all of the above, but also gave me confidence. I really enjoyed my work and was very competent. In times of uncertainty, my job was a consistent part of my identity and self-esteem. Having a stable income was also good as I felt it gave me freedom. But all of the good of my job came at a cost. My body was screaming at me to stop.
In January, my boss sent me a message about the extension of my contract- another six months full-time in an area that would certainly double my workload. A few months earlier, I learned about something called “the life wheel”- a pie chart with different areas of your life: physical and mental health, spirituality, money, friendships, relationships, hobbies and work. My pie pieces were very uneven. My work wedge was so full it was bursting, my friendship and money pieces good. Everything else was empty. If the wheel of life was on a car or bike, mine was stuck. It was clear that something had to change. I explained my predicament to my boss. I left out that this lack of balance had taken a toll on my health in fear that this could impact my future. I told her I could not work full-time and requested part-time instead.
A few days later, I learned that she hired someone else- a younger person fresh out of university- and that I was out of a job. I didn’t even learn this news from her but through the office grapevine. I felt betrayed after putting in months of extra work and having heard her sing my praises on many occasions. Putting all of that focus into my job had not gotten me ahead in any way- it had just made me unhealthy. I resolved to not work for the next few months and try to get back to a more balanced life.
My Self-Care Plan in Action
I started with my physical body which had been severely neglected – by making an appointment with my GP who made referrals to specialists. I also lucked out by finding a very competent physiotherapist. Within a month, I could move my arm farther and with less pain and soon I had more range of motion than I had had in years.
Next, I knew I needed to tackle my mental health after experiencing so much loss and change that I had not dealt with. I set out to find a therapist that could meet with me weekly and who specialized in eating disorders. This recent 50-pound weight gain wasn’t a random anomaly in my life. After a few meetings with different counsellors, I settled on one who after our first session I got a very good vibe from. She recommended two books to me: one on healing from eating disorders and the other on sugar addiction.
I also decided to do something really big for myself by booking a one-month trip to Jamaica. I wanted to be in the sun, out of my comfort zone and away from family obligations. I packed a bag with self-help books, my yoga mat and some crocheting.
For the next thirty days I did yoga, swam in the ocean and did Aquafit classes. I stopped eating sugar and read my books. One month spent out of my comfort zone travelling alone with my worst critic (myself) pushed me a bit further towards my wellness goals. While away, I kept up with my weekly counselling sessions and came home feeling refreshed but still not ready to be back- I needed more time for me. I already had a plan in place. Prior to leaving for Jamaica, I booked a two-month stay at a lakeside cottage in Ontario. I spent the next two months swimming every day, doing physiotherapy, and started Pilates.
A year later, my arm had returned to almost full function, I had lost twenty-five pounds, I stopped eating sugar for almost an entire year and I dug myself out of a deep depression. I also did things I had always wanted to do but never did. I travelled alone and experienced life in a small northern community. I did both of these things on my own so that I could focus on my health and experience life without obligations to other people and without the guilt of the money I was spending.
Wellness is not linear. Struggling with depression for so many years makes it really hard to get started on things that can actually help you like speaking to a counsellor, exercising, or reading books. It also makes it very difficult to see progress. Finding balance is hard. For me, taking an inventory and shifting my priorities has led to so many positive changes. Self-care has now taken the place of old debilitating habit patterns that kept me stuck in the past. It has definitely not been easy, but is totally worth the hard work.