A Culture of Running Yourself Into the Ground

I am a (mostly) healthy 22 year-old going through life with a salad in one hand and a beer in the other. I work out as often as I can, I try to choose healthy options when I eat, and I honestly don’t drink that often (mostly because I can’t afford to). So why is it that I get all these bizarre health problems?

Last week I spent my Monday evening in my favorite place in the world…the emergency room. I had been having some odd chest pains for the last two weeks and after joking about having a heart attack, I finally thought I was having one while having dreakfast (breakfast for dinner) with a friend in my beloved Amy’s Place. I somehow drove home, tried to rest it off, but had an eerie feeling that something was wrong. Cue chase music and my parents speeding home to take me to our favorite hang out spot at the ER. After 5 1/2 hours of waiting, tests, waiting for the results of the tests, boredom, and hunger, I was finally released with the conclusion of “yea, not really sure what’s going on with you”. Greattttttttt. I guess I was due for another freak medical issue.

Now that I’m a week out from my freak episode of phantom heart attack, I realized that this all seemed a little too familiar. While I’ve never had a heart attack before, I do know what it feels like to drive myself literally into the ground. Doing three, four, maybe even five different things at the same time is a status quo for me and has been for quite some time. Take college for example; a typical day would consist of waking up at 7AM to get ready for a 9AM class, drive to school, grab breakfast, attend my classes, take a lunch break, head to work, come back to school for some extracurricular activity, eat dinner, hit the library, or head home for homework, sleep, and repeat.

Flash forward to now, and my schedule is much more lax with loads more free time seeing as how I work a typical 9 to 5 job now (look Ma, I’m a real adult!). Needless to say I got stir crazy real quick and the stars aligned to grant Maria more responsibilities, which she happily (and stupidly) took. Now a typical day looks like this: wake up at 6AM, shower, walk the dog, eat breakfast, head to work, eat lunch, work some more, eat dinner, head to rehearsal, go home, walk the dog, do work for extracurricular activities, sleep, and repeat. While albeit more condensed, my life found a faster tempo yet again. What I failed to realize was that like most things that go unused for a long period of time, my body was rusty.

My body just wasn’t quite ready for all that hustle and bustle I dealt with while I was in college. How could only a few months of a more relaxed schedule completely destroy my ability to be running for fifteen hours out of the day? But, the real question is why am I even asking myself that? Most people would hate to be this busy when they really don’t have to be, and yes most of the things I am involved in outside of work are of my own volition. So call me a masochist but that’s only part of the reason why I do what I do.

For as long as I remember, the idea of being busy because you chose to be busy was something that was applauded. I remember my mom pushing me to be involved with as many things as possible because it would get me into a good college. To some degree I guess it did but at what cost? As soon as I get any free time I get antsy. I feel like I’m forgetting to do something or that I need to be somewhere. It’s like I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be relaxed. That’s not something I always felt. That’s something I learned to feel. It was a notion that was fortified by my parents, then my teachers, and then my bosses. It was an endless spiral I never saw coming.

As I — dare I say it — become a full fledged adult, I am realizing that for whatever reason, working an 40 hours/week job just wasn’t satisfying enough. Getting a full night’s sleep made me feel like I failed to accomplish anything that day. If that doesn’t frighten you that a perfectly healthy 22 year old has to drive herself to have phantom heart attacks to feel fulfilled, perhaps you are deprived of sleep as well and measuring your lack of sleep right up to my own. There, my friends is where the problem lies. We live in a society that celebrates being overworked, labeling those with ample free time as lazy and less successful; and as fate would have it, my moment of epiphany was perfectly complimented by an NPR broadcast on the different measures of success seen in different countries and cultures. European culture, for example not only embraces, but celebrates leisure time.

I spent four and a half months studying and traveling through Europe during my undergraduate studies. Granted, study abroad is more of a vacation than a continuation of rigorous course study, but never the less I accomplished what I needed to do and still had time to spare for sleep (gasp!). I never felt so content in my life thus far then when I was in Ireland. I somehow managed to complete my courses (and well too), take trips all throughout Europe, eat enough to make my soul and my belly happy, go out nearly every other night (sorry mom!), and manage to get enough sleep to do it all over again the next day. It was like an out of body experience I tell ya. *Personal plug: if you ever have the chance to study abroad, for the sake of your own being and the being of your future self, do ittttttttt*

So how is it that I can not even get a week of that feeling here, back at home? Besides some painfully obvious reasons, it’s because my brain totally switched back into high gear as soon as I got back to the U.S. My 301 mailboxes synced to my phone began their horrendous choirs of dings that signified that it was time to be back in my 24/7 work mode. I unfortunately can not offer any solutions to this problem. It’s been built into the society we all operate in. It’s embedded in our work and school culture. It’s ingrained in us through the values our parents and caregivers taught us. In order to change, we have to revamp the entire system….so why don’t we?

My health is one of the very few things in my life that I can have some semblance of control over right now so to hell with society trying to tell me that I have to run myself into the ground to be somebody. I am making the conscious decision to take care of myself and yes that sounds cliched but how many of us actually do this? If you’re like me, you’re probably reading this while eating breakfast, lunch, dinner or some awful combination of the three at your work desk or maybe it’s 12:05AM and you told yourself you’d go to bed by 11PM so that you get enough sleep for tomorrow. It’s harder than the cliche that defines it but it isn’t impossible.

I for one am going to take my lunch breaks as breaks. I’m going to dedicate time each evening to read a book. I’m going to walk the dog without being glued to my phone. I’m going to write more blog posts! Life is too short and I am too young to be slaving my life away for green cotton based paper or some sense of accomplishment. I hope this is a wake up call to you so that you don’t have to spend five and a half hours in an emergency room to have an epiphany moment about your lack of self care. For once, the work is all completed for you. No need to worry.

Stay alive friends.