On Thursday I was sent from work after only 3 hours into my shift. My boss saw me lying on my break room floor, curled into the fetal position, and crying my eyes out. I was in so much pain I could barely walk. I was periodically running to the bathroom to cry and sit before wiping my tears and pretending to be okay. I tried my best to keep a stiff upper lip and push through it, but I couldn’t.
I was on my period. It was stupid, I told myself. This happens once a month. Every other woman I know goes to work on her period. It can’t be that bad. I wanted to keep going to prove something to someone. I need to prove to myself that I’m not weak and can handle pain with grace. Maybe in a lot of ways I wanted to prove that I’m strong enough to handle my chronic illness that played a role in my pain. And certainly I needed to prove to men that I was invincible. I can tackle a job, an internship, school, cleaning my home, taking care of the cats, being a wonderful girlfriend, being a great big sister, and make great art all the while in unbearable pain. That’s my way of proving myself to men. I don’t like when men think I’m weak. I can hold my own. Not only can I do a good job, but I can do the best job. I can have my cake and eat it too.
At work they call me Super-Girl. This probably started when I volunteered to work until 3am when my shift had started at 3pm. I did that two nights. In a row. And I had school in the morning. I did it because it was fun. I love working hard. But mostly I did it just to show that I can. I’m unstoppable. Now I’m known for being the craziest employee. I feed off of the comments of people telling me I need to stop working so hard, that I need to sleep more, to take it easy. It only reinforces it in me. I work hard. My boss praises me for it and I live on that.
Today I almost passed out on the train. I had an insane hot flash that made me lose my vision. I ran off the train and threw up. The paramedics were called. I sat in the ambulance while they checked my vital signs and the only thing going through my head was, “it’s 7:30; I need to leave so I can get to my 8am class.” So I did. I told the paramedics I didn’t want to go to the hospital and I left, got back on my train, stopped for coffee, and made it to class on time. No one there knew what had happened. I didn’t bother telling my professors because it was over.
Today I think: that isn’t hard work. That is suicide.
I’m angry at the culture we have created that praises people for risking their health and their lives for things that do not matter. I’m angry that I oftentimes go to work when I am sick or in pain because I only think that I cannot afford to skip work. Not for my health; not for anything. I hate that I am in the position where I need to harm myself in order to make ends meet. I have to get no sleep in order to write papers. I hate that I have to work so many hours just to pay the bills. What’s worse is I hate the culture that tells me that’s okay. I hate that we praise workaholics. We call people lazy when they stay home. We tell people they aren’t dedicated enough. We leave the impression that if you don’t feel like you’re dying than you aren’t giving in all that you have. I despise the wealth inequality that drives those of low socio-economic status to poorer health conditions because they can’t take days off. I grieve for my mother who’s days off only mean she gets to work her second job; and her no work days mean full house-work days. I hate that I feed into all of this. I hate myself for coming to school today.
Even after everything that happened over the summer; my anxiety sky-rocketed, I worked myself ragged, I became insanely depressed, I started taking anti-anxiety/anti-depressants, and I lost a ton of weight due to poor health choices, I still continue to do it. I don’t know why it’s so hard to stop. I know I do this but I can’t stop.
Sunday’s are my Sabbath day. I told my boss I cannot work them, aside from the rare exception. I do this because I need one day of rest. One day that I know I can look forward to where I just rest. Even with my mountain of doubt, I find myself going to church because the familiarity is comforting. On Sunday’s, my brother leads a bible study where the conversations have been so beautiful. It’s one of the few places I feel like I can truly put away my mask of Being Okay. I love being able to be open with others and connect. I love the Sabbath.
I wish we did that more. Talked about rest days more. And not just in the “today I’m doing a face mask” day but a day where you truly let yourself be. Admittedly, I love doing facemasks on Sunday but I also love drawing and talking to friends and reading and binge watching Brooklyn Nine Nine. I keep telling myself this needs to be a priority but it’s hard to make that a priority. It’s hard when everywhere around us we get opposing messages about what we should be doing. I know, it’s gotten better but I don’t think the message has hit me yet. Oftentimes I need to write it for myself, in my own words, before I begin to feel it.
I am such a fan of hard work. I enjoy working my ass off and feeling accomplished after I have been productive. But I need rest. In my health psychology class we’ve been talking about the negative impact cortisol (stress) has on the human body. I hear this all the time but I rarely do anything about it. I don’t have the luxury of rest. I need to pay bills. I need to get through college.
But I need to rest. We need to rest.
We need to give our bodies a break. Physical health isn’t an isolated status. Our bodies and souls are one and the same; we need to give both rest, give both love. We need to do less of what drains us and more of what fills us. It’s easy to say when you have wealth, I know. But I think we need to do what we can. We may not be able to take off of work, but we can breathe. Be mindful. Don’t hold tension in your shoulders. Drink water. Slow down as much as you are able.
And just rest.