I’m not sure if it was waking up every day for close to six weeks and seeing my face in the mirror – the black eye, the nearly fist-sized bruise that did it.
It could have been the moment I held my breath as the doctor put not one, but two needles into the blood clot in my cheek to try to draw it out.
It might simply have been the pain….with every step, the jolt that resonated from my right foot coursing through my rib cage until it exploded in my fractured cheek bone.
Or it could have been that my small people tip-toed around me, hugging me, but always leaning back for a quick look into my eyes, fearful they had bumped my face or hurt me in some way.
Whatever it was, I got the memo.
Slow down. Sleep. Take care of you.
It seems like the most basic of instructions, right? You and I…we’ve both seen the magazine headlines, read the blogs, had the conversations with our friends, and yet, I have been incapable of doing it.
I knew I needed sleep. And less stress. And more exercise. And healthier foods. And just more happy.
Yet, I had continued to ignore the signs. Not for weeks. Not for months.
But for years.
I have been a bystander in my own life since my small people were itty-bitty, since I had started this business, watching as I made one poor decision after another, as I refused, even tacitly, to do what my body and soul so desperately needed. Sleep had become an intrusion – something I did only because I had to in between doing everything I MUST DO. My cycle was miserable – working until 2 or 3am and waking at 6:30 when I needed to get the kids ready for school. My days were spent in a mad panic as I moved from one task to another, never feeling truly organized. By early this year, I would sit at my desk and cry – overwhelmed – but unsure how to make a change. My only thoughts focused on pushing through…”If I could just finish this the book….”, “If I could just tackle this week’s video….”
I began to fall asleep at my desk….a sure sign that my body wasn’t getting what it needed.
I began to gain weight….a sure sign that my eating habits were awry and I was stagnant, having completely stopped any form of exercise for fear I wouldn’t ‘get it all done’.
I began to ignore phone calls and emails. It was easier than facing the fact that I no longer felt like me but didn’t know how to ask for help or a do-over.
If you never say it out loud….maybe it really isn’t happening.
The terrifying thing about feeling this way, about having a front row seat to your own body and soul’s rebellion is two-fold… you can see it coming, you can feel it – like watching a tsunami approach from an otherwise calm sea, but you also recognize you are a master at hiding the part of you that is coming apart at the seams. It’s possible to keep this type of sad from appearing in pictures, in small talk and even in longer conversations.
Again: If you never say it out loud….maybe it really isn’t happening.
This is what I looked like five days before I fell and fractured my cheekbone.
And then I looked like this.
In the middle of this Summer, I joined my co-author Aliza Sherman on book tour for our new book, Social Media Engagement for Dummies. I was thrilled to be visiting amazing cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Atlanta…and even more delighted to see so many familiar faces. We were surrounded by an incredible amount of support, but I was exhausted. The pressure I had put on myself for the past few months – years really - was circling around me like sharks in the water. Leaving book tour, I was excited to be heading to the Reviewer’s Retreat to deliver their opening keynote. I was so proud to be there, I was in love with some of the people I met and yet, it was here that I realized I was tapped.
Emotionally and physically done.
I arrived home on a Sunday with the beginnings of bronchitis and a cracked rib from coughing. Yes, coughing. I’m awesome like that. Waiting for me was a husband with bronchitis and a sweet girl with strep throat and a sinus infection. I sat up all night holding that little girl as she coughed.
On Monday evening, my husband left town for work and I snuggled that girl in the hopes her cough would ease, even for a while to allow her the sleep she needed, and by proxy, allow me the same. Shortly before midnight, she drifted into a fitful sleep. I was beyond thankful. I decided to take codeine for the pain in my ribs.
That, as it turns out, was an incredibly bad move.
As I now know, I have developed an allergy to codeine. I woke about 2am with an intense pain under my ribs and a fear I was going to be sick. I assumed it was from the cracked rib, but walked into the bathroom. I woke up on floor. At the time, I believed I had lain down, hoping the cool of the tile would help my nauseousness. I crawled back to bed and for the next hour alternated between making deals with God if he would just make the pain go away and trying to figure out if I should wake Delaney to call 911. (for the record, my doctor says if you are ever in so much pain that you are truly wondering if you should call 911, the answer is always ‘yes’.) As the pain and sweating passed, an intense throbbing in my face took its place. I put my hand to my face only to realize that I had fallen. I did not choose to lie down on the tile floor in the bathroom, I had instead fallen face first into it.
My initial fear that I may have had a seizure was quieted by my doctor. She assured me I had, instead, passed out from the pain – a ‘classic pain-on-pain’ reaction. My body was experiencing so much pain from the medicine, it gave up and shut down.
It gave up and shut down. Just like that. I bet my body has been waiting to do that for quite some time. I picture everything internally yelling, ‘we warned you!’.
So, for six weeks, I was reminded every single time I looked in the mirror. I graduated from black to purple to yellow and eventually it faded enough that I could hide it with makeup and begin to recognize myself once again.
But it is a different me. A slower me. A more intentional me.
Lest you think this is a fairytale, don’t you worry – those only happen on Facebook – I have not remedied everything I was doing wrong. I don’t exercise every day, eat only healthy foods, meditate every morning, go to bed at 9pm, have an inbox of zero, finish every project on time, spend 2 hours a day reading to my kids, and smile through my anger.
But I have made adjustments. My bedtime is 10:30. Do I sometimes push it to 10:45? Sure. But sometimes, I’m under the covers by 10:00, so it all evens out. I’m eating a healthier diet. More water, less nighttime snacking and I am taking the time to read and meditate. I’m all about baby steps.
Here’s the thing… you can’t see the bruises on my face anymore, and you can no longer see the blood clot hiding just beneath the surface, but I can feel it. Every day. It has been almost three months and I suspect it has hung on to remind me to slow down, to focus and to put my energy into those areas of my life that need the most attention.
I got the memo.