The life posts of this blog have taken over the work bits lately, which is a healthy change for me. I have this thing called adrenal exhaustion. Actually it’s clinical name is adrenal fatigue. Never one to do things by halves, I kind of ignored the fatigue part and soldiered straight on to exhaustion. To be fair, I didn’t even know I had it when I was at the fatigue bit. Mostly because all of my life until just recently I have been too busy to stop and pay attention. To my own health! Writing that now just sounds ridiculous. It was true; and at almost 45, one of the life lessons I am finally getting. There are many reasons I am with my beloved Unhusband; him teaching me the pace that life should be taken at, is one of them. (I do believe the word should needs to be removed from public circulation, however it is terribly handy sometimes!)
So not paying attention to fatigue gets me to exhaustion. How did I get there? Could be cycling in the Alps – 2 mountains per day for 3 days, a 342km round trip. That was certainly the clincher. But living the life of always busy, constantly striving to achieve, overdoing every last thing – from cleaning the house to eating and drinking, to studying just didn’t suit me long term. Over-achievers disease can be a wonderful thing if you have the adrenal glands to sit it out. Clearly mine were very ordinary from the offset. I think I got a few second hand things in this body, they were one of them. Liver is a bit ordinary too, metabolism……well the list goes on . Oddly enough – they’re all linked to the wonderful adrenal glands, who knew?
Life, stress and just existing all depends on these 2 little glands in our body that drive almost all of our functions. The fact that they are not recognised by the medical profession the world over only starts to raise my ire. I won’t go into the detail of being diagnosed with this business, but let’s say if I did, the NHS would not come out looking like a profession concerned with wellness. (My favourite quote given to me during this time by a well respected NHS GP – and the best one I saw! – was, “Well, we don’t really do much about nutrition at the NHS”). Anyone with any IQ points can make a leap between nutrition and obesity – right??
After almost 8 months of being ill, I reflect on various things that contributed to this little state of mine. Yes, it could be the bike ride. It was HUGE! It was a long haul to get fit enough to do it (I still don’t think I was!); it could be the emotional year I had with one of the closest people in the world to me being diagnosed with and later dying from cancer. It could be that I spent weeks flying all over the world, eating food that didn’t agree with me – particularly during training for the bike ride! But you don’t know what you don’t know right? I know I am a Glutard (coeliac is the clinical name). I’m allergic to all kinds of things food wise, mostly wheat and gluten. With it come all kinds of other food allergies and sensitivities that your body can’t process because your intestines are damaged. If they don’t work, you don’t get the nutrients into your body that you should be. Vicious circle. Suffice to say, my diet has now changed radically (yes, again!). To the point where a dear friend asks me if I am off the paper and onto high grade cardboard now, given the restrictions to what I can and can’t eat.
Glutardia was only a bit of it. The ride, the emotional stress of losing someone you love, and all the bits of life in general. I had given it a good beating over the past few years, moving country, arriving in the GFC, not getting work, starting my own business, training for the ride, doing the ride, back and forth to Australia to support those in crisis. But when I think about it – and of course I have for a long while – this ridiculous effort has been going on for years! How many jobs did I do where I worked insane hours per week. One of which, over the past 15 years of my career, I know I was truly appreciated. One!! This is why it made sense to me when I read the amazing book Wilful Blindness by Margaret Heffernan. One page in particular screamed at me. I have taken the following from her, but could have written it myself.
Knowing the hard limits to our cognitive capacity and the huge costs of long hours should not be an intractable problem to address. We have a century of data and a roll call of the disastrous consequences that follow those who insist that heroic hours are a proof f commitment to an employer. Companies that measure work by hours could make themselves smarter by the simple act of measuring contribution buy output rather than input, and celebrating those who can go home early.
Many people – and not a few companies – like to think that they can somehow stretch the cognitive limits of their minds, that doing lots of Sudoku or using programs like Brain Trainer will somehow enlarge their capacity. They’re out of luck. They only exercise that seems to nurture, or at least protect our brains aerobic exercise 1. Yoga, toning and stretching may make you feel good, but in fMRI scans, only aerobic exercise seemed to have a visibly positive impact on the brain. If you want to protect your own intellectual capacity, or that of your employees, the only way to do that is to go to the gym – or go home! When Gail Rebuck assumed the chairmanship of Random House, she inherited what she calls ‘an hours culture’ in which everyone stayed late to impress the boss. Unwilling and unable to work in this way herself, she let it be known that anyone working past six pm was either incompetent or had a boss who didn’t understand how to manage workload. The culture shifted overnight. The sooner we associate long hours and multitasking with incompetence and carelessness the better. The next time you hear boasts of executives pulling an all-nighter or holding conference calls in their cars, but sure to offer your condolences: it’s grim being stuck in sweatshops run by managers too ignorant to understand productivity and risk. Working people like this is as smart as running your factory without maintenance. In manufacturing and engineering business, everyone learns that the top priority is asset integrity; protecting the machinery on which the business depends. In knowledge-based economies, that machinery is the mind. (p301).
For all of you who work like this, I urge you to think again. I doubt anyone has ever said “Gee, I wish I had spent more time at work” on their dying day. I know too many managers who manage their people in this way.
I played the game. I was addicted to the power, the rush, and the over-achievement of it all. I was really good at it, I practiced hard; I made myself ill for weeks, I didn’t really have a life, I ran around telling everyone how busy I was all the time, I got a gold medal in moaning about it really. Now though, I just can’t bring myself to listen to people who tell me how busy they are. We are as busy as we make ourselves and if you are busy – you are. Enjoy it. If not, shut the bejesus up and stop moaning. It’s a 21st Century affliction. Where did we ever get the thought that busy was so good? We now spend our days on social media telling the world how busy we are – The Busy Brigade are trying to take over the world! Although, now I live in the UK I have to say it seems far more prevalent in Australia!
We are all different. I thought I was a robust, tough little cookie – I still think I am. I just think now that I am no longer equipped to withstand it as I once did, or as people still do today. I was ill for long periods of time. I had migraines every other month that shut me down for 3 days! When we start listening to ourselves, it is truly frightening what we hear.
I’m not saying that over-achieving is bad. I still achieve, I still have goals and lists and I have an amazing life. I just don’t need to do it at such a break neck pace. It made me ill. Not doing it doesn’t. That bit ain’t rocket science!
4 thoughts on ““we’re just so busy”….except for me, thankfully.”
An insightful and honest piece – thank you. At the age of 23 I pretty much worked myself to an emotional breakdown – I do say almost! Long hours, unfulfiling work, playing hard and so much more. It culminated in a very emotional day at work and then three days in bed catching up with sleep and a decision that is was time to change. The first change was a change of job, but looking back it was so much more. I learnt to recognise the signs of fatigue, I became much more open and extrovert (I was pretty introspective and highly self critical before then). I have also learned to appreciate the world around me more, the small things, teh different things, to be happy with who I am and not try and measure myself against others. Of course this was not an overnight thing and I can think of at least one period when I allowed my tanks to become drained again, but without the crisis at the end of it. This was from not doing enough “for me”, not (re)charging my internal batteries.
Life is still a challenge at times and my pace and blindness to certain aspects of life infuriates my wife, but in balance I am happy, I am doing things I enjoy in ways that are sustainable and I have few regrets.
Maybe I was lucky to have that epiphany back then – I think so – but I wish you well with what you have learnt recently and with living and enjoying the new Sharon.
Thanks Ian, how insightful, I really appreciate you sharing that. Not sure why it takes these hard lessons! I also learned to learn from the Un-husband, whose pace of life I used to find infuriating too. Until I learned that actually, he has all the answers. Relax first and do later. Tough lesson, but a good one. Not only that, we have one less thing to argue about!! Remember to stay above it all. Thanks for the note.
I didn’t realize it, but during my working life, I approached a meltdown a couple of times… and didn’t realize what was happening. I remember while working for NASA at a younger age, I worked my 10 hour days designing electronics for the Saturn V rocket, then, I would either play in the organized softball or flag footbal league games, then 4 nights a week played at a nite club in a band, then tried to study for my advanced degree which was two days a week. On the weekends, I remember driving my car to the lake where early Saturday morning I took my small boat out to go fishing. After a couple of years of that and I realized this was not going to work. Once I left NASA and spent 40 years in business management consulting and working on high energy projects, I realized waking up in a hotel and not knowing what city you were in became a usual thing. Now I have retired and one would expect my schedule would consist of “honey-doo’s” for my wife and maybe an occasional golf game….. wrong. I play golf 4 times a week and do yard work, volunteer for 3 organizations and have assumed the position of Executive Director of an International Professional Association. But the difference in my lifestyle does not drag me down because I always have the option of adjusting my priorities. I can say “I’m only going to play golf once this week” or tell someone “I can’t help today with that volunteer task” even my wife allows me to “fix that squeeky door next week” gives me the point of control which eliminates any mental or physical impact. I still am busy all day but doing what I want (and like)and not what someone else wants me to do. Being busy is good but being in control of your life and being smart is better. Learn to say “NO.”
Thanks Jim, it is certainly a topic that affects a lot of people! And the interesting thing is we do it to ourselves! I’ve never had a problem with No thankfully – and it gets easier as I get older! Thanks so much for sharing this with us!