In the depths of Winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible Summer.
Happy New Year! I’m glad to see 2016 behind me, as it was such a difficult year personally. Ever since I got diagnosed with cancer in September 2015, I kept pushing forward to get back to normal and regain my energy and had so many plans for my life… But like heavyweight champion Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” And what happened feels like it.
The last two months of the year were spent off work due to burnout. I had been feeling ran down physically and ended up having a lot of symptoms that turned out to be burnout.
It was easy to understand why: coping with a long-term illness, the treatment side effects and stress at work led me to a state of complete mental exhaustion. Turns out I’m not even on my own on this, and there are other countless women suffering the same things that I have been.
So, my GP upped my meds, sent me home and I had to find a way of pulling myself out of it. I am not one to think that positive thinking alone can resolve all your problems, especially when the problem is depression or cancer. If that was enough, anyone with depression would merely just think themselves better and that’s not how it works. But I also knew that I had to take active steps to get better.
The good news is that I’m back at work and feeling a lot better, after a couple of months of taking care of myself and taking steps to improve wellness in my life. Everyone is different and I don’t think that what I’ve done is an infallible recipe for everyone but if by writing down what I did gives anyone else some ideas on how to deal with their own situation, it will be worth it.
How I’ve been getting over it:
- Reduced my commitments, social and work – rest is precious and if you are able to reduce hours at work, do so. I am currently working 4 days per week and although I don’t get paid as much, the extra time does a world of difference.
- Took time off work – as long as I needed to feel better. If you’re exhausted you’ll only get worse and your productivity will dip anyway. Ask your doctor for help, they are usually understanding and happy to help you get better.
- Sleep well and enough – sometimes it’s easier said than done if you’ve got a tendency to be an insomniac. Take naps when you feel you need to. I spent two weeks mostly sleeping initially and it did me a world of good. Don’t overdo it though, as you can’t just stay in bed for the rest of your life, as tempting as that prospect might be.
- Pampered myself – Had my nails done at the salon and had myself a facial at Mayfair Aesthetics. As I had health problems, I am not allowed to do any laser facial rejuvenation treatments but I had a regular facial and it’s extremely relaxing. I’m happy that they were careful to advise me not to do anything more complicated that could have consequences.
- Went out for walks – now that I live in East London, it’s a lot easier to go out and walk for a bit to get the cardiovascular system pumping and the endorphins flowing by going street art hunting.
- Avoided isolating myself – Even when I was mostly sleeping, I was using social media as a lifeline to not feel so isolated. Also have a lot of good things to say about my housemates, who were lovely and understanding during this low time. Slowly I started going out for short periods of time and seeing friends and that really helped.
- Started eating better – I saw a nutritionist doctor (an actual NHS doctor, not just someone who read a couple of books about nutrition), courtesy of Mayfair Aesthetics. I did a food journal for a week and then together looked at the things I was doing wrong and doing well. At this point, I wasn’t interested in weight loss as much as i’m interested in feeling more energetic and just maintaining my weight, as the meds made me a bit heavier. I came back with personalised advice and feel a lot better for it!
- Examined my priorities – I’ve started putting myself first and tried to eliminate superfluous sources of stress and complication.
- Started doing more art – I’ve written before about how I got into street art and my therapist had advised me to spend more time doing art to help rebuild my confidence and sense of personal well-being. I did so and ended up doing an art market, getting a piece into an exhibition in a gallery in London and sold a few pieces to a couple of US Instagram friends. This did wonders for my self-esteem and confidence. Art really is the best therapy!
- I am now kinder to myself – I avoid stressful situations and try to not be too hard on myself when I don’t accomplish all the items on my always endless to-do list. Taking it easy is my motto for 2017!
- Simplifying my life – I love clothes and shoes but as before, I’m working hard to reduce the amount I own, by not buying as much as before and passing items on to friends or the charity shop. I still have too much for the amount of space I have but it’s definitely getting a lot better! Also, the Mari Kondo folding method is the best thing ever.
I’m sure there are many other things I could be doing to recover (if you have any great suggestions, please let me know in the comments) but these so far have been helpful. I’m not entirely well just yet as I have some difficulty dealing with stress still, but it’s a work in progress and I’m doing my best to help myself.
PS: I was a guest at Mayfair Aesthetics but words and opinions are my own.
I’ve been rooting like crayzay for you this past year, just had to say that. Strangelyenough, you have been a lot on my mind during the whole time, at the oddest moments, so I am really glad to see you right now at such a better moment in your life, and looking and feeling a lot better for it – I have the same pants aha!! It’s a great thing that you reduced your work schedule and returned to doing more art, it is indeed a great therapy, as it completely wipes your mind clean of the daily problems we deal with. At least with me it works that way, when I’m writing I am completely out of this world, lost somewhere else, being someone else – sometimes not very good for depression, if characters are going through some depressive moods or issues ahaha! And it’s great that it has done good for your self esteem, with me it works completely the opposite way, it makes my self esteem go the such new lows!! I always think I’m the lousiest novelist ever, and I probably am not far from the truth, but still it is the only thing I see myself doing with my life that really makes me happy – as long as I don’t re-read my novels, that is! Funny that you had to force yourself not to isolate yourself, a few years back I went through a bit of a depression (pst partum related) and I only began to get better when I isolated myself, when I pulled away from most of the people I knew, as much as I could. I do hope you overcome all this and get back into being the confident, witty, clever girl I have always seen you as, and here’s to a great new year ahead for you!!
You already stole my suggestion – “Art really is the best therapy!”
From what I know of you, there isn’t much more to add than that.
And if sometimes you just don’t feel like doing it, try going back to the reason you started doing it and what it did for you along this whole time 😉
Keep it up and going!!
I heartily recommend being kinder to yourself. It’s the only way any of us have the time or energy to be amazing.
You’re a very special lady, Sara.
glad you’re feeling better!, I love that you decided to tell us about the process, that’s pretty special! and useful too!.
Sometimes I feel those f*ck*n’ anxiety and fear getting ready to beat me, but I’ve developed some tips to stop them before they rise. I feel kinda proud of myself (but not too much!)
Taking care of yourself, going for a walk and taking it easy, those are magnificent ideas for anybody. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!