Working against yourself

There have been a few things floating around social media (mine anyway) this week touching on health, work and wellness which have got me thinking. Then, we had the weirdest winter weather system hit us in a while. It was warm, windy and occasionally wet, and it was aggressively all of those things. Mostly at night. All of which ended in me having a completely shocking sleep on Wednesday and causing me to have a physical reaction to trying to get ready for work on Thursday. I violently burst into tears which wouldn’t stop. That was a pretty big sign I needed rest, and unlike in my past I took it. Yesterday I rested and napped and the hints of the cold I was developing went away, all my lingering barre soreness has disappeared and I feel 100 times better this morning.

It has got me thinking about how our work contributes to health though. In order to do what my body was screaming out for yesterday, I had to take what Australians might refer to as a sickie, or more generously a mental health day. I didn’t have the flu yesterday, I won’t be supplying a medical certificate, but my body was screaming at me to get some more rest, and the 90km/hr winds blasting against our beach adjacent house was not letting me get. Yet it doesn’t neatly fit in to what constitutes sick leave, although I’m almost certain I would’ve ended up sick had I not rested.

And this is a very tricky line to draw as an employee. Do I take rest when it’s needed, or wait until something actually develops? For me this week, that probably would’ve meant being unwell with a cold over the weekend. I know an employer would certainly want me to use my own time rather than theirs to be unwell, but know fair is that on me? Not only would I not get my break from work over the weekend, my chance to relax, get personal jobs done, get to my barre classes or whatever else I had going on, but I’d spend the next week stressed about all the personal things I’d have to cram into the following weekend or week nights, making it more likely I’d get sick again.

And then there are more general considerations for health. It’s fairly widely accepted that people need more sleep and rest in winter, the lack of naturally available vitamin d means we’re more tired, more susceptible to illness and more likely to have a case of the cranky face (or more commonly known as seasonally adjusted depression or SAD), but our work and financial commitments remain stable throughout the year. And on the flip side, we have greater physical ability to work and be active in summer, yet the same old requirements are present. I certainly feel I could work 8 hours easily in summer, and still want to exercise and be out at night, but all I want to do in winter is hibernate and take care of myself. I bounce back less easily from barre in winter, and it’s at bit harder to get up in the morning. I don’t believe the answer is exercising less. Even without the additional benefits I get from barre given my VWD, exercise can boost mood, immune levels and general health. Whereas work? Well sitting in a chair all day, cyclic air conditioning, not to mention being stuck with people who may or may not care for you, the way you work or communicate or your health is certainly not going to make you a better worker or a more healthy human being.

All of this is before you even consider you mental or ‘spiritual’ health (I’m not a religious or spiritual person, unless you count my Doctor Who fandom, but it’s the best word I could think of). In my employment past, I’ve done jobs because I’ve needed money, and that’s all. The height of the GFC was a very tricky employment period for me and lots of other people, and it came down to working or not eating and being homeless. But I had to take a couple of short term and casual jobs that I had no connection to at all. I didn’t like the work, the people I worked with or the organisations, and it only lead to stress. The catchword for what I felt during that time is inauthentic. I wasn’t able to do things that were true to me, to who I am. In fact for me, simply taking a job for money feels wrong. I want to do a job because I feel I contribute to at organisation, because it enhances my skills, and I feel like I’m making a difference, not for something as mundane or dirty as money. In my mind (rightly or wrongly) it is akin to prostitution – doing something despite a dislike for it just to be able to feed myself. Ugh.

For most of us, it is really difficult to be able to take care of ourselves in every dimension while still earning money. The fact is as westerners we don’t really get the chance to work out who we are, how we work, the kinds of things we would like to do day in, day out, then study and train and build a career. Our options often come down to less helpful things, like where we go to school, what our parents do, how much time and money we have to explore the options. Or what our health allows us to contribute.

Wen I started this blog I did so to be able to make sense of some things floating around in my head. This one has been in there for a very long time in various guises, probably first appearing when my periods started being really heavy and unpredictable, preventing me from being the kind of student I knew I was capable of being. And even a decade later, I still haven’t quite worked it out. So I’d love to hear from you, chronic illness or not, how do you manage your own physical, emotional and mental health while earning a living? Where is the balance for you? Or what is the balance you’d like to achieve?


About Jenna

Seeking a new way of working outside the standard 9-5. Writer for hire - blogs, internal procedures, social media posts, training manuals or anything else you an imagine.
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