Since we get close to the big event, I feel that I have to confess that I don’t really like December (this is what I’ll celebrate on the New Year’s Eve: its ending). It’s a month with a lot of pressure: buying presents, social events, finding ideas for season’s greetings (at which I suck, by the way). There’s also this delusional deadline we put on all our small achievement, the father of all deadlines: before end of year. Buhuhuuu! (guess why I’m writing on the 30th!)
It’s also the month with the winter solstice, the darkest of the year. I noticed that the older I get, the more sensitive I am to the solstice. I might be in denial but my body knows it. So, as we approach the solstice this wonderful body of mine starts to send signals of exhaustion: muscle pain, bad sleep, dark shades under the eyes. From time to time, it just shouts: have a break!!!
This reminds me of a day when I took that break. It was a day (in December) when many urgent stuff started to cumulate at work in a short amount of time. Most of my colleagues were on holidays. I couldn’t sleep the night before.
At the coffee machine two people told me that I look “really sick”. I did my best to deny it and smile. As the morning progressed, I started to fall deeply into stress. With every new email that seemed to be urgent, my hands were shaking. With every new file I was trying to work on, I was doing more and more stupid mistakes. Then I would realise that I saved and closed and that, like Sisyphus, I needed to start over again to correct and I would do another mistake.
When I got to a 3rd trial of a task, I had an enlightening moment. I took two hours for lunch, went home and had a nap.
That was the first time in my life when I experienced a power nap. I barely had time to throw my shoes off, I dived in the sheets, closed my eyes and the next thing I knew was the alarm that 45 minutes have passed.
I dreamt during those 45 minutes. I dreamt the warmth that was surrounding me, the void in which there was no thought about work or deadlines or emergencies.
And when I woke up, I brushed my teeth, I threw cold water on my face, and looked in the mirror. Indeed, I was looking very bad, but better than before. And most importantly, I could keep going.
I was looking in the mirror and I started to recall the other big time when I took a break, despite all the emergency alarms which were shouting at me: You already had enough breaks!
It was the day when I presented my final project and paper for my Bachelor degree. Stakes were high, and I had had many (unhealthy) breaks. So many that my project and my paper were still not entirely finished at 5 a..m.. in the morning. That’s the exact hour when I came home from the printer shop, which, thank’s God in some countries these shops. are open 24h/24. I was still determined to work until the last minute and started to do a last fine tuning of the software that I was supposed to present and… tadam! I broke it.
That’s when, I turned off my PC, confident that I have a backup of the previous version and I decided to take a break. I slept until 10 and I went to have my presentation at 11. It turned out that I had taken the wrong version of my project: unfinished and not working, but somehow, in the torment of my stressed mind, the sleep had made an effect and I pulled out of my ass a joke which saved my presentation. And the most important: I didn’t fall that day in my bathroom and didn’t hit my head on the bathtub.
No, that had happened the year before when I needed to submit another project and hadn’t been taking a break. It was the enlightening experience that makes me today listen to my body. I only had a bruise, but I was lucky.
Coming back on the day when I took two hours for lunch. I came back and my phone was flashing red. There were three call backs. I took me an hour to have the courage to return those calls. In the meantime, for all three of them, people had found solutions without me.
The moral of these stories is pretty simple. Sometimes is good to take a break. Sometimes is absolutely vital. Usually your body knows it and the world keeps turning even if you take a nap.
Unfortunately in Luxembourg, in the world of banks, audit, traffic jams, under a constant threat of losing your job, we can see through the glass building, but not through ourselves.
After I finished my bachelor degree, I’ve never been close to a burnout. That was a question of choice. That morning at 5 a.m. after coming from the printer shop, I took a short video of birds singing and the sun rising over the city and I promised myself solemnly to never get there again. Ever. And I kept my promise.
I do know, however, (too many) people in Luxembourg who have been in the territory of burnout. The law does not fully recognise it as a medical condition nor are people very empathetic about it. Like many other things, it’s a big taboo.
For the coming year, that’s one of the things I hope for to change. Among others.
I’m wishing you a hopeful year 2016!