I have found in recent years, that after a number of large-scale events, time off is a necessity, not a nice-to-have item. (That swing in my secret garden gets moved to the shoreline.)
I find it is needed to book down time in between items in my agenda. For example, referring back to my calendar recently, I had a large community awards gala to attend. I love that it sold out quickly, but me in the midst of 400 people drains my energy rapidly. From the year I taught, about 20 years ago, one of the things that had been distinguished for us was the ability to “generate your space”. Allow me to paint a brief picture for you.
You walk into a room, you are responsible for delivering a business presentation, are teaching course material to a class, speaking to a group, etc. If you are “flat” and uninspired, your room will occur in that same fashion. You must be “ON”, sending out waves of energy, ready to take the attention of the attendees and hold it for the time you are up front.
When Danielle and I have been delivering guest lectures at Ryerson University over the past few years, if we are alive and engaging, you can feel the energy in the room increase. Instead of looking up at a lecture hall and seeing tops of heads because students are interested in their smartphone screens, or laptop displays, you find 150 sets of eyes locked on and following your every move. Instead of a flat space, the space is electric, and your audience responds to you and what you are saying. I can usually tell if I get three laughs in a row in my introductory piece (ask the students, I’m hilarious, to their great surprise!).
Now, imagine what it takes to generate yourself to be smiling and chatty throughout 6 hours. I was burning through my reserves and by the end of the night, could not wait to head for home and recharge my batteries. I did manage to slip outside for a breather halfway through the evening just to level out for a few minutes. (While I will never be known as a drinker, multiple glasses of wine helped keep me present that night for sure.)
This is why I purposely build a day or two off between big events in my calendar. I know from experience, after generating the space around me for an extended period, there will be a day, perhaps two, of low energy self-care time. Time to recharge my mental and physical batteries, because if I push through it, it’s a quick trip to burnout, and I’ve been down that path before and have no desire whatsoever to repeat it.
So, after being amongst 400 happy and celebratory folks, I needed a few days off. My version of self-care is sleep, coffee (by the pot, caffeine has zero effects on me), my cuddly kitty, Miss Heidi, Queen of all She surveys, crossword puzzles, and snacks (because cooking is beyond me while I am recharging my mental batteries). I know I do not bounce back as quickly as I did when much younger, but I give it the time required, in this case an entire weekend before the next major event in my calendar. Add in a fair bit of meditation, and once the batteries are full, I’m ready to handle whatever comes my way.
Why yes, by Tuesday energy levels were back to full, time to dive head first into the next big event, a reception for 200+ people. Arrive early to lend a hand wherever needed (which wasn’t a whole lot on my part) during setup, and then get ready for guests to arrive. This was, I must admit, much easier than the previous event, as I knew pretty much everybody in attendance, and the folks doing the hosting are always a bundle of fun and plenty of laughs. Knock it down and pack it up at the end, and time to hop on the bus to head home. Grab something to go on the walk home and settle in for some needed downtime.
Self-care the next day meant being as low key as possible, catching up on e-mail and messages, and tackling a few pieces of writing that were close to being complete. And my little furry helper decided to take up a position off my shoulder and when her curiosity got the better of her, would put her front paws on my shoulder and hang out watching me working. You might say she is the purrfect self-care piece, when you have quiet purring beside your ear, furry little paws on your shoulder, and whiskers tickling the side of your face when she leans forward to look at what I’m doing.
And after a bit of downtime to recharge, I was ready for a multi-location, multi-meeting Friday.
Now, I will be the first to admit, in my pack-jammed days in the technology world, putting in 100 workweeks was fairly standard, not the exception. Hopping on and off planes, and doing multi-city travel for meetings and conferences and equipment installations was fairly standard. How I knew it was time to start slowing down a bit in those days, was waking up in a hotel room during a 5 city trip, and not being able to recall what city I was in (I eventually had to call the front desk to double-check). If I was to even attempt to push myself like that, with my daily battle with PTSD and it’s assorted side-issues, I would end up having a total shutdown and not being seen for at least a week or longer.
Self-care can be different for each and every person. No two of us have the exact same list of things. But whatever we do, it’s to accomplish the same results, to get through a patch that is unpleasant, rough, or just plain exhaustion and in need of a mental and physical battery recharge. You make the choices and do whatever is necessary to make it through to the next day, with hopefully enough energy built up to get up and move about.
Some of the things that work for me are the quickie text message exchanges I have with my bestie Natalie (she is like the kid sister I always wanted to have and I love her to bits!). Because we have that same really dark sense of humour, we can get to laughing about the damnedest things and can be completely goofy with each other and both of us are howling with laughter from reading what just came in on our phones. It’s spending time chatting with Nurse Sunshine, she’s my safe place to discuss anything and everything (if she can put up with those few times I’ve woken her out of a deep sleep because I’m grinding my teeth loud enough to be heard at the city limits, you gotta know she’s one extremely special lady). Some days it’s a chat with my bestie and world-changer Danielle. The cool thing about the 5 years that we have worked together, is that we quickly became best friends outside of our work. She is one of the very few people who has ever seen/known me with all of my defenses down, no walls, no suit of armour, the raw and unedited me. Or my friend Ashley, who I call my twin sister joined at the brainwaves, literally because I can start a thought and she finishes it. It’s kind of the cool thing, is knowing when somebody needs a little boost and I usually have a funny story to illustrate my point at hand. And my Sisbro Joie, who is also my guide to all things Zen. We have one graphic that we share, it’s humorous, and it really does describe our outlook on life on those days when you have one nerve left:
And of course, there are many other things, music, rereading a favourite book, comedy (laughter really is the best medicine some days) and sometimes a cup of herbal tea is a bonus.
And if you don’t have something that works for you yet, ask around, try a few items, you may just be surprised what you find that works for you. I know that I do enjoy my solitude as much as I possibly can in recent years. It can be the perfect way to unwind after a day that has been riding on your last nerve.
Very soon I will launch into my summer break. It means logging out of the online world, limiting myself to news and doing those dream shopping trips (the things I’d buy to recreate my old home if I won the lottery type things, dreams are still free thankfully). Three or four of my closest chosen family (you saw their names above) will know how to reach me, but I will be blissfully ignorant of all the drama and asshattery taking place on antisocial media. Last year was the first time I did this, mostly because I was taking off for the summer with Nurse Sunshine, and I wanted all my focus on her and no distractions whatsoever.
And if I’m not sitting at the water’s edge, you know I will be there in my mind, meditating, and likely contemplating my navel at the same time (had to get one last giggle in!). But my secret garden will have traveled with me, and Miss Heidi (aka SuperKitty) and I will have plenty of play time to ourselves until Labour Day rolls around.
You’ve heard some of my self-care items… what works for you? Perhaps we can create a list of things for folks to try out and find more to add to their repertoire. I look forward to hearing from you.