Learning to practice what I preach, the hard way

Taking time to take care of yourself may avoid taking time off to get well

Geraldine Ly
2018 November

Epstein Barr. Mononucleosis. The Kissing Disease. By whatever name you know this virus, I was infected this summer even though I am out of the “teen make-out” demographics. The infection generally causes no signs or symptoms. Over the course of two weeks however, I developed the symptoms of serious fatigue (I was readyfor bed at 7 p.m. every night), fever, lack of appetite, swollen glands, weakness, and sore muscles.        

If my child was sick with these symptoms, I would have tucked her in bed with fluids and blankets, and taken her out of school so she could recover. However, as an over-worked lawyer, business owner, guilty working-mom, loving wife, best friend, only daughter, and overall self-perceived superwoman who can conquer all, I was in denial. I didn’t stop working. I didn’t rest. I made dinners and packed lunches; I answered phone calls and responded to emails throughout the day and night; I visited injured clients, and set up soccer goals at weekend games despite everyone urging me to rest and slow down.

I didn’t stop until my body completely quit on me and knocked me off my feet for one full week with chills, aches, and a swollen throat that hurt when I swallowed. I landed myself at urgent care and underwent an ultrasound and other testing, and a visit to a specialist. My family stood with their hands on their waists and said, “We told you this would happen.”

My office staff became so worried that they sent flowers (confirming that I looked like death warmed over). After five days in bed, I felt so much better (imagine that) that I went back to the grind in full force. I felt as if I battled the plague and won when in reality, the virus had only lost round one of a multiple-round bout.

Last week, the familiar fatigue started rearing its ugly head. Again, the denial set in – no appointments were canceled, no early bedtimes were implemented, and the words “sorry, I can’t” escaped my vocabulary. Thus, round two put me in bed for a few more days. When I surfaced for air, I was sprinting again with early mornings and late nights, meetings and appearances wedged into every available time slot, casseroles and sandwiches prepared from scratch.

Admittedly, I am the worst patient. I don’t listen to my own advice. I know better, but I refuse to allow downtime for myself because I only know one speed (full speed). I know how to take care of others by offering lots of good advice and homemade chicken soup, but I don’t take care of myself.

Why have I shared with you my battle with Epstein Barr – which I will likely continue to fight for another few months? Because I hope you will be your own best patient or avoid becoming a patient altogether. Therapists and personal coaches offer these healthy suggestions to avoid mental and physical knock-outs:

• Don’t feel guilty to take some alone time. “I need some time alone” doesn’t mean “I don’t want to spend time with you.” By taking care of yourself first, you’ll have more energy and attention for the people you love. • Make a date with yourself. Try blocking time on your calendar and escaping for an hour to do what you want to do, but by yourself. Treat that time slot as non-negotiable like you would any other important appointment. • Tell people what you need and ask for help. Be clear about your needs. Don’t apologize for asking for help. You will be surprised how others are willing to step up when you ask. You don’t have to prove to anyone that you can do it all. You can’t. And, if you do, you’ll end up like me.• Say “no.” If you struggle to protect your time, use one or more of these strategies. • Keep “no” short and sweet without excuses or explanations. Or, “no thank you, but I appreciate you thinking of me.” You don’t owe a long explanation of how busy or sorry you are.• Exercising counts only if you walk away from it with the pure joy of doing it. In other words, if you approach exercising as another responsibility to cross off the list, then you’re probably feeling healthy but not getting the time that is intended for you to feel renewed, refreshed, relaxed, and ready to take on the world.• Doing nothing for 15 minutes every day. Call it meditation or zoning out, steal some moments of empty space in your life. Try sitting on a bench outside your office without your phone and stare off into space, breathing deeply and being still.

We are all time poor, busy, and in a hurry. Stress and burnout are a given state in our profession. But, a three-round bout with the virus is avoidable if we can listen to what we preach. I was told by a friend who has since passed away from a heart attack, “Enjoy the time that you have while you are on this side of the dirt.” Rest in peace, Bob Wolfe.

Geraldine Ly Geraldine Ly

Geraldine Ly, the new president of OCTLA, practices at the Law Offices of Geraldine Ly in Santa Ana.  Her practice emphasizes workers’ compensation and personal injury law. She frequently handles cases that have an overlap between workers’ comp and personal injury law.

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