I’m so pleased that Karen Caterson of Square Peg Reflections has asked me to be part of her Support Stories ~ Strength from Within blog round-robin today. That’s why just for this week, I’m publishing my first post on Monday rather than Tuesday.
This is a story from a few years back, about a time when I gave myself the inner support I needed even when it was kind of scary to do so. I went against the grain of how I’d done things up to that point, explored parts of myself that were clinging to old blueprints, and gave myself something I sorely needed—rest.
As I believe I’ve mentioned (heh), I have always been what I call an “overachiever and people-pleaser.” After a lifetime of trying to be the perfect daughter, student, and friend, it was only natural that once I entered the work force, I assumed I had to try to be the perfect employee.
I thought I had to be on the ball all the time. Ready to do whatever I was asked, no matter how inappropriate or unrealistic.
I thought that I always had to appear 100% enthusiastic and competent no matter what.
Something else I have—a neurological disorder known as Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome, or “4S.”
I’ve had it for most of my life, and over the years it’s gotten worse, not better. It would take several more posts to describe the many things I’ve tried to eliminate or at least reduce the symptoms, and how I’ve gotten over the shame of thinking that having it was somehow my fault, and that I was quietly going crazy. What has gotten a lot better is that I no longer feel ashamed of having 4S.
However. (Sigh.) At my day job, I’m reduced to getting through the days by wearing earplugs almost all the time, covered by huge Bose noise-reduction headphones (the best $300 investment I’ve ever made), plugged into an mp3 player running a constant loop of white noise or nature sounds.
I don’t exactly relish walking around our professional services firm looking like an airplane pilot, and I’m sure there are people who just think I’m plain weird, but you know what?
I’ve now chosen my sanity over their approval.
Which in itself is a big step up for me.
Still, you can imagine how being in fight-or-flight mode pretty much 24/7/365 for the last 30 years has worn away at my reserves. On top of the normal stresses of day-to-day life, plus the ones I’ve always placed on myself for being such a perfectionistic, the 4S means that my ability to cope with any kind of stress, internal or external, has been severely compromised.
So a few years ago, I did something I previously would never have even considered as a possibility.
I went on medical disability for a couple of months.
I decided to believe my psychiatrist and therapist when they told me that yes, I really and truly was suffering from the long-term effects of something resembling post-traumatic stress disorder—except that there was nothing “post” about mine. I listened but didn’t give any credence to the part of me that said I was “sponging off the system” and being selfish.
And guess what? The world did not end, and my company survived just fine without me.
For myself, I was able to erase enough of my internal blueprint specifying that my firm’s work was more important than my self-care to actually take the medical leave. Then, over those 9 weeks, I allowed myself to do several wonderful-for-me things without feeling guilty about any of them.
I spent the first three weeks catching up on my sleep deficit, often sleeping 10-12 hours a night, until my body informed me it was all caught up by spontaneously and regularly awakening me at my normal time again.
I spent tons of time just reading, reading, reading. Anything I wanted. Fiction, non-fiction, and occasionally, when I felt up to it, something that taught me a little more about how the brain and nervous system work.
I made a list of all the movies I’ve been wanting to see for ages, joined Netflix for those couple of months, and watched almost all of them.
I walked. Simply walked. Nothing more strenuous—I didn’t think of it as “working out” or “exercising” (ack!), but as just being outside, getting my muscles moving, my blood flowing, and my head clear.
I wrote for hours and hours on end. About myself, my memories, my long-standing patterns, my goals and dreams.
I gave myself permission to remove the world’s weight from my shoulders for a while.
I knew that going back to work would be difficult, and it was. I knew that after two months, I’d want even more time to myself, and I did. But I dealt with it, because I’d given my nerves and my immune system some time to seriously recharge for the first time in—well, ever.
I certainly wouldn’t mind winning a million bucks or so in the lottery (although I’d have to play it, I’m told), or finding someone to financially subsidize…oh, a year or two of my life. I’ve accumulated many more books to read, after all.
But because I was able to give myself the support that I needed at that time, I’ve since learned more about managing my energy, buffering myself from sonic stressors, and taking it easier on myself than I ever have before.
This is giving me the energy to subsidize myself as I prepare to step out in a new life direction.
More on that coming soon if you’d like to subscribe, above. (Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.)
In the meantime, I’m looking forward to reading today’s other inner support stories, courtesy of Karen and my fellow Square Pegs!