What Goes Up Must Come Down
It’s mid-July. Ask where the last few months have gone I would not be able to tell you. I do know what day of the week it is again. I have started to regain normality out of my ‘writing cave’. What ever normal is. As I shared on one of my Facebook LIVES the journey to finish The Nourished Toddler has been my toughest yet. Big call considering my other ‘projects’ I have done - a doctoral thesis and having two babies at the same time, self publishing a cook book and a year later my first non-fiction book. This time, the variables and odds were stacked against me hard and fast for a number of reasons. There were also a lot more people trying to bring me down. Now is not the time to go into that and many of you know some of this from previous blogs and posts.
This may also sound left of field but it’s the aftermath which is harder to manage. I knew this too. Those previous projects taught me sharply about this. Everything gets put off and I mean everything. I must, in order to be able to write to that high level. The constant adrenaline produced by this too only fuels the process. While I have learnt to harness this adrenaline, even learnt to love it – coming down is hard. The crash back to reality, where I am swamped with everything not done and being physically and emotionally shattered. When you are a mum, not to mention running a business, it is simply not an option to ‘do nothing’ for a few days or weeks to regain myself. When finances are also stretched from needing to focus on something one hundred percent how do you re-invest back in yourself?
But I have learnt. I am pleased to say my recovery from finishing this book has been more better than ever.
A huge part of this learning has been unpacking the guilt and my own emotions. At the end of my thesis I felt far too guilty to even take one day to myself. Guilty about the time away from the kids and my hubby – and this is not just physical time either it’s the emotional time too, the quality time I just couldn’t give to them as my mind is elsewhere. Guilty about spending money on myself, when we had so little. Guilty that my husband also deserved a break. Guilty that I should not have done the ‘project’ in the first place. Wracked with so much guilt I didn’t do anything. I didn’t put anything back in myself. It nearly cost me my marriage, my mental and physical health took over six months to recover, it also nearly cost me all other work opportunities. To be clear; it wasn’t doing my thesis that caused this - it was not recovering.
I wanted to share some of actions I took this time around. There is that saying ‘fill up your tank’ but what does that actually mean? How do you put that in reality when you can’t take a break when you have no family to help with the kids and when finances are very stretched?
Firstly, you must tackle that guilt side.
And I need to tell you straight up – that you need this and you deserve it.
As women we are programmed to give, not to receive. We tell other women the same (we as a collective society here). You will feel guilty about it, I can’t change that. So, you may as well feel physically and emotionally restored and guilty; as opposed to shattered and emotionally spent and still guilty. What I can say is with practice you feel less guilty. You will start to trust the benefit of doing it and know how essential it is, which will start to out weight the guilt.
In terms of the money, I truly know this is also hard. I don’t have parents that shout me to dinner or cook a meal for that matter let alone a trip away so everything is on us. We also live in a culture where if you break your leg playing sport and your income drops and/or payments are late its socially accepted. However, if you try to create something for your work or your family (or both) and push yourself to do so and your income drops - not only is this viewed as ‘not normal’ you are perceived morally ‘a bad person’. By the way if you would like a list of the people who have said this to me I am happy to provide you with one. How wrong is all of this? I don’t need to repeat our current mental health stats to highlight this – it is just absurd. It is the perception and total lack of understanding around this which is so damming. So yes, you need to repair your mind and sleep bank AND prioritise this above a lot of other things, the same way as you would for a broken leg.
Here are some of the things I did – things I should have done at the end of my thesis and first book.
The weekend after my manuscript was due in, I booked a night in a hotel close by home on the Friday. It meant I knew I could crash without the family being affected but was physically still close by. This meant no travel costs and helped with the guilt side. I arrived there at 2pm, had a bath, got into my pjs and was asleep by 6pm. Not kidding. My phone was also off, Vijay could call reception if there was an emergency. While this sounds totally luxurious I knew if I didn’t the impact would be disastrous. I have no family I could go and stay with and to be honest being an introvert by nature I needed the total alone time. Nothing beats deep, restorative, uninterrupted sleep to replenish a sleep bank. And it was not enough. I felt worse on the Saturday morning – like my body had started that downward slope and wanted to keep sliding but my brain was trying to drag it back up again. The mental space however was heavenly – hours and hours where my brains tabs just shut off totally. And while I probably needed three days like this, even one night helped start the restorative process.
The next part was the hardest. I was finished my manuscript but the book was not done. I knew I had a month of uncertainly ahead. A month of touch and go with a lot of back and forth with the editor and designer all while trying to get back on top of work. I had to cancel a few things to manage this including a speaking engagement in Wellington. We also did the Christchurch baby show without taking the boys. I was only doing 2 morning presentations so this meant I had three days without the usual home pressures to edit my book in peace – again heavenly – it also meant that Vijay and I got some time together. It was not easy arranging the logistics for this to happen, however being a work-trip made this viable.
The last thing I did was probably the most important. Sometimes when you can’t see an end in sight or a break sometime soon you need to plan one for the future. Even if it is quite far away. And a break does not need to be a holiday. It can be a change of space or a break from some of the usual pressures. Its one of the key reasons I have set up my working mums retreats (location photo above). What this does mentally is give you a finish line to aim for. It helps to stop the ‘never endingless’ of things which mentally is lifesaving. So, myself and two close research colleagues booked our own working retreat – for just the three of us. We are all juggling similar work/life/family pressures so this was ideal and kept the cost as low as possible. This retreat is next week, so nearly two whole months after I handed in my manuscript and a month from the book going off to the printers but it has kept me going, just knowing that something was on the horizon. As I often joke this is a working mum equivalent of a holiday in the Maldives – and yes I am excited!
Do you know what is so ironic in this whole process? I feel that I have reached a new limit of just what I am capable of. That putting things in place to help recover was part of my success in pushing harder in the first place – and there is still so much more I could learn in this regard. My word for this year is unlimited and while for most of the year I have felt very limited, the breakthrough has just taken a bit longer!
It has also given me the courage to do my own mums events as part of my tours now. I want to help other women to battle against some of those old messages we keep telling ourselves that hold us back – it does not need to be this way. Show me the rule book which says we should work a relentless 247 gig without ever having a break?
As always, I hoped this has helped you in some small way and would love to see you at my events – the evening session is just $25 and is truly for you, complete with bubbles & nibbles - it may even be one of your little mini-breaks or something to look forward to - I know I will be looking forward to meeting you all!
Love, as always
Dr JB x