As women, we tend to over-extend ourselves. We go the extra mile for our aging parents, friends, spouses and especially our kids. We show up to corporate jobs well before our scheduled start time and we’re there for hours after we’re due to get off in many cases. If we’re self-employed, we put in far more hours still. We spend our weekends caring for elderly parents, ailing spouses, running kids here and there, and doing things for the community.
At best, we find ourselves in an exhausted state after taking care of everyone else. At worst, we find ourselves physically ill because we’ve run ourselves into the ground. Sometimes, we can replenish and refresh by perhaps sleeping in on Sunday morning or turning in early for a night or two. For a lot of us, that may be enough to get up and running again, only to repeat the pattern. For some of us, though, we don’t stop until our bodies force us to and sometimes, by the time we reach that point, it’s too late.
On July 21, 2009, after telling myself for months beforehand that I needed a break, I suffered a brain hemorrhage. All things around me began to crumble about six months before that time, and I repeatedly told myself, my immediate family and a few friends that I needed a break. Looking back, I realize that only about 40% of the issues that were weighing so heavily on me back then were actually mine. I, however, like many of you, allowed other people’s problems to become my own, and ultimately, I ended up in ICU for four days. Thankfully, my treating doctor was ranked number seven in the entire world for neurosurgery, so I was under excellent medical care. The one question that I was asked on a near hourly basis was, “Have you been under a large amount of stress?” Each time, I answered, “No.” After I was released and was home for a while, I realized that stress was what put me there. I, like many other women, had come to accept excessive stress as the “norm” so in all fairness, I wasn’t lying when I said no. I didn’t look at it as stress. It was just the way it was and that was the “norm” for me at the time.
After a massive amount of testing (everything from an 8-hour MRI to the angiogram that gave new meaning to humility), they could not locate a “bleed” in my brain. The bleeding that filled my spinal column to capacity was located at the base of my neck. Finally, I was given a “good” prognosis and was told that the only thing I could do was relax and eliminate the unnecessary stressors in my life. My recovery, although excruciating on most days, was very humbling. I became dependent on my husband and son to help me to the restroom. Some days, they had to feed me. Since I couldn’t even comb or brush my own hair, my husband became my personal hairstylist. I couldn’t brush my own teeth. I realize that my case was extreme and while most times, we can be replenished with a little extra rest, there are times when it can be worse. Clearly, I survived and am fully recovered, but a lesson was learned.
Help others as much as you can but know your boundaries. Learn to recognize the point where there is nothing else you can do to help and be willing to accept the fact that you’ve done all you can. Your heart, your brain and ultimately, your whole body will thank you!