Yesterday my brain was mush. I couldn’t think straight. It felt as if my brain had no energy or oxygen to do what it was supposed to do. Luckily, today most of my sharpness has returned, which gave me a great sense of relief. It feels pretty scary not to be in control of your brain, and as a result I immediately felt my ‘fear of the fear’ flare up yesterday. It’s one of my most common anxiety types, the fear of ending up in some kind of anxiety meltdown spiral again. For me, this is when ‘not being in control’ reaches its absolute low. I’ve had a few of these high-anxiety episodes in the past couple of years where I simply did not see how things could ever be better again – but somehow they always can. (Don’t get me wrong, recovering takes me weeks to months) The brain always loves exaggeration, and especially it likes telling you scary stories about how bad things can be. It can make you feel pretty miserable. We should listen to that voice less, I guess.
But I digress. This one is not (really) about anxiety.
When I felt those symptoms of losing control and increasing anxiety, I immediately decided to take two days off. My body was telling me it was needed. I usually rarely take ‘single days’ off. I’m more of a ‘long extended periods of nothing on my mind’ kind of guy. My unwinding recipe for success during my PhD was two long holidays per year (3 weeks minimum each – which is a privilege I am well aware of). I would usually leave the country and do so much good stuff that work was only rarely on my mind. None of that really works at the moment. So I somehow need another plan – and I’m still not sure what is the best approach for me. Sitting at home for four weeks is not my thing. I haven’t tried too many scattered days off either. But maybe I should.
Taking random days off is scary. Academics suck at it. I know dozens and dozens of people that hardly ever take a day off, and rarely go on holiday either. Especially last-minute time out sessions, such as these past two days, are very scary. At least to me they are. I couldn’t plan ahead for this. That voice in my head immediately went “oh oh, you won’t be able to finish that revision”, “your experiments will spontaneously combust and turn to ashes”, and “you’ll be late with giving feedback on your student assignments”. It is so fucking predictable, it’s almost a joke that in some of my weaker moments I start believing the voice.
This voice likes to tell us that we are so important that we cannot miss a day. In many cases employers do too. (I would advise not to stay too long with such people, they’re usually quite toxic)
Reality is – ALMOST NO ONE IS THAT IMPORTANT! (Well at least not me – I’m not some kind of president) The world will still keep on turning. The work that was waiting for me yesterday, will still be waiting for me tomorrow. It is anyway never finished.
My therapist has been telling me a lot about putting myself first. And it obviously makes sense. What good will you be at doing your job if you are half-depressed. (Or in the case of me yesterday, only ten percent functional) It would probably be in everyone’s interest to take more self-time, and as a result be more efficient in the remaining time.
So I took the two days off. The first I spent doing very little and feeling fuzzy with no real capacity to get anything important done. The second, today, we left early this morning and went off to the Alps to get a good dose of mountain air recovery. Nature always works miracles for me. I’m sure I will be much more functional tomorrow than I would have been without the needed break.
It’s a constant battle to get the work-life balance in order – and for some strange reason there is often a lot of guilt associated with it. We just have to continually remind ourselves about the importance of this balance. And when in doubt, it really won’t hurt anyone to err on the side of life!