4 years ago, I was 8 months pregnant and complaining to my midwife about intense pain in my back. Her examination led her to believe there was a teeny tiny foot kicking against my left rib. She gave me advice for pain relief, looked into my tired eyes and told me to take a day off. “Hah!” I laughed her off, “I don’t have time.”
The next day, I was scheduled to go on a mini road trip with my boss for a presentation. I hardly slept, put my achy body into a maternity dress and we were off. We arrived at our destination and my heart sank when I learned no one was expecting us.
F********! I had led us to the wrong address. The correct address was an hour away.
I apologized profusely and started spiralling into a rapid river of shame and self-hatred. When we reached the boardroom, I left my authentic self in the car and became a cool, calm, collected corporate robot. I made a witty joke about my malfunctioning GPS, and nailed the presentation.
On the way back to the office, my boss told me not to worry about my mix-up and patted me on the back for my performance. While I trusted that my kind, powerful, no-nonsense boss meant what she said, that hateful river of shame had me again. By the time I got home, it had engulfed me and I was drowning. That little voice in my head became tremendously loud and said things to me that I can’t even bring myself to write.
So I went for a walk and tried to force that voice away but it wouldn’t budge.
It was time for another strategy—love.
I actively contradicted the insults I was telling myself (that went far beyond the one mix-up at work). I chose to be as compassionate to myself as I would be to my partner, a friend, or the child that was growing inside of me.
By that point the pain radiated from head to toe. I had racing thoughts about my career falling apart, my need to prove myself before baby (+6 million other things). I couldn’t tough it out any longer. Calling in sick brought guilt and I was angry at my body for not keeping up with the fast pace of my life.
We are praised for working ourselves to the point of depletion. Actually, depleting our minds and bodies for work is often mandatory. I’m suppressing a rant about the compulsory soul-crushing 40 hour work week that puts our health on the back burner in favour of the capitalist machine. Capitalism in a pandemic has forced workers in several sectors into life-threatening situations. For instance, there are factory workers in our economically prosperous province of Ontario living paycheck to paycheck without paid sick days (or PPE, or safe working conditions and are too afraid of losing their jobs to do anything about it, according to the CBC, 2020).
My midwife was right, of course, but I was fighting a war against my own body—a war that I ultimately lost—but I found something better. I did not have paid sick days, but I did have the financial freedom to rest, once I learned how to love myself.
I came around to the idea that it was okay to take a break when I needed to. Let’s love ourselves enough to know that doing our best does not have to mean working ourselves to depletion. Let’s disrupt the notion that it is acceptable to be worked to the point of physical and mental exhaustion (or the imminent risk of catching a deadly virus) for the sake of workers everywhere.
Thank you for reading.