(image from Pixabay)
This week I had a choice - whether to go to a presentation one evening or a meeting the following morning. Of course, I was supposed to go to both, and I really wanted to go to both, but my throat felt like someone had stuck hot pokers in it, and my hacking cough made me sound like a ten pack a day 80 year old - not very professional at all. I have had a cold this week, but I have also had work obligations, and being self employed I can't really take a sick day if I want to keep on being paid. And boy was the guilt and self recriminations wracking up - "just go to both meetings, you're not that sick, really... your colleague has enough on her plate, you should be there with her to help... these are your contacts, how will it look if you don't go." All the while I was coughing into my sleeve, sucking lozenge after lozenge, and taking paracetamol to bring down my temperature.
We have all been there.
Life is life, and each week we book things in, whether for work, social, or personal things, and we intend to fulfil these promises and obligations, but what do we do to ourselves when we suddenly can't do what we said we would do? How do we practice self-compassion within these circumstances? And is there a way to show ourselves self-compassion whilst at the same time compromising with our very busy lives?
All of Monday and most of Tuesday the voice in the back of my head was saying "buck up, just go, you give into illness too easily, your colleagues seem to be able to work through illness, so why can't you?" I struggled with feeling guilty about missing a meeting, I struggled with feeling guilty that if I went to the meeting I wasn't really taking care of myself and giving my body the chance to fight the cold, and I also struggled with the potential guilt of giving my colleague (or others) my cold if I did go to the meeting... so much guilt, so little love and openness. Where does this guilt come from? As a generation, we women in our 30's and 40's feel guilty about more than just having to miss a meeting because of feeling poorly - with so many obligations on our plates, and having grown up in the 80's and 90's (pre-wellbeing/worklife balance focus), mixed with our desire to be "perfect," we feel the pressure to do all, be all, and have all. We are so busy that we fail to realise that if we don't show ourselves some compassion, love, and understanding we stand to lose everything that we have worked so hard for... we hit a little thing called burn out.
This guilt hanging over our heads causes us to miss the bigger picture that is our lives, and to ignore the soft, gentle, maternal voices in our heads that tell us to rest, love, listen, and be gentle.
To bring a little more self compassion into our lives we have to first identify, acknowledge, and then accept that struggles and suffering that we are feeling. Once to see your illness, stress, anxiety, and depression for what it is you then have the space to recognise that you are ALLOWED to slow down, say no, and not feel guilty when you have to reschedule, change, or blow off a business, social, or personal meeting.
Also, recognise that you are not the only one who faces these struggles and suffering... recognise that in fact some people definitely have it worse than you; so I missed a meeting this week to ensure that I am getting over my cold... instead of feeling guilty about it, I feel grateful that I work in a job where I can a day or two if needed without anyone else's permission but my own, that I have a work colleague who understood my predicament, and that I am financially doing okay that missing one meeting isn't going to break the bank. Giving myself some time, space, understanding and love, is just as important as giving these things to others.
So next time you are ill, feeling under pressure, anxious, or depressed, practice some self compassion, and don't feel guilty about looking after yourself, you work best when you're on top form, and how can you be on top form if you are burnt out. Here are some tips on how to practice self compassion - 5 Strategies for Self Compassion.