Nobody wants to become a robot, but we make choices to fill our lives with busy activity. We develop routines over time, and without realizing it, life is put on autopilot. Activities become meaningless and mundane, and we get stuck on the treadmill of life - sometimes for years without knowing it.
I was working 70 hours a week in management at one of the largest financial institutions in the country before I finally learned how to get off the treadmill. I thought I was making the right choices, but it took me close to ten years, a high-risk health condition, and my daughter's premature delivery to change the way I prioritized my time.
As a single mother at the age of 19, I was determined to provide for my son Dylan. Once I obtained a job in the banking industry, I was persistent to grow professionally. I wanted to move up the ladder to provide a better life for us. I was competitive and an overachiever, which lead to a lot of recognition and promotions.
Wake up, go to work, come home after 9 p.m. exhausted, help Dylan with homework, and crash in bed. The next day, repeat. The next day, repeat. Weekends, go numb and recover. Monday begins a new cycle.
By the time I got home every night, I had little time for Dylan or myself, but it was the sacrifice I gladly paid to ensure I could financially support us. Sometimes, I was short with Dylan disgruntled as I helped him with his homework. I’d say, “Just go to bed,” when it was his bedtime in hopes I could have a break to myself.
I was also involved with a man who was unwilling to connect on an emotional level which was an extremely unhealthy relationship. We fought almost every day. However, life was far too busy to disrupt the routine. I was unhappy, but I didn’t know how to make the major life choices without disrupting Dylan's well-being and our financial stability.
Autopilot continued year after year.
I reached a high point in my career leading a service group of managers and a sizable team. I put everyone’s needs before my own, including my family, bosses, customers and employees. Although my career was prospering, I had personally reached a new low. The stress of my job was insane and impacted my already high blood pressure. I had very little time for Dylan or self-care. To top it all, I was still living in a toxic environment, walking on egg shells, sleeping on the couch, having no space to call my own. One day, I mustered the courage to gather my belongings and left the house with Dylan for good.
Shortly after Dylan and I got back on our feet, I was unexpectedly introduced to a wonderful man named Rickey and his son Keegan. We really enjoyed each other and the time our families spent together, but I wasn't looking for another relationship. I was still feeling overwhelmed at work and didn't have enough time. I decided to take a step back before getting involved in another serious relationship.
One day, I cracked.
It was the Christmas season of 2014. I had reminded the head manager I had to leave at 5 p.m. for my son’s Christmas program, but something happened and she insisted I stay even though there were five other managers available to her. It took me until 8:00 p.m. to resolve the issue. I completely missed my son’s program.
On my drive home, the internal dam holding back my emotions came down, and when I saw Dylan’s expression, my heart broke. I felt so ashamed as a mother. I cried feeling trapped on the treadmill, being pulled in multiple directions for everyone else without a moment to truly live.
I admitted I had a problem.
I finally approached my district manager and confessed I felt like I was going to have a nervous breakdown. The demands of the job had taken its toll. I was so anxious being honest and sharing my vulnerability. I feared I would lose my job or people would think poorly of me. She reassured me, “You're a valuable employee,” and helped me move to a different position. The 40-hour work week reduction was a breath of fresh air.
I began to find myself. I spent more quality time with Dylan, and I reconnected with my best friend. I did things that made me happy. I also started going to church.
In time, I reconnected with Rickey and we were able to develop a fantastic relationship. He helped me follow his simple life philosophy. Focus on building family memories and new life experiences. Enjoy every possible moment with loved ones.
Life is way too short to be spent consumed by work and wasting time with people who aren’t willing to invest in the quality of life. We can’t allow ourselves to get lost in all the busyness of life. We need to understand who we are, what makes us tick, what upsets us, and what makes us happy. If you don’t know these things, we’re in autopilot.
But there is yet one more experience I must share.
In May of 2015, Rickey and I were ecstatic to learn that I was pregnant. However, at 31 weeks, my OB/GYN said my blood pressure was severely high and sent me immediately to the hospital. Rickey was out of town for work, but I told my mom to go home and not to worry.
To my surprise, when the doctor saw my test results and blood pressure at 111/197, she said, “You’ve got preeclampsia. We need to deliver your baby now!”
While I knew I wasn't in perfect health, I had no idea I was a ticking time bomb. Preeclampsia is serious pregnancy complication that happens due to high blood pressure, and it can do serious damage to other organs. It could also progress to eclampsia, which could have been fatal for both of us.
All alone, I was rushed into surgery. Brooklynn was born weighing only three pounds. She was immediately transferred into an incubator in NICU.
I felt so guilty as a mother knowing that I had sacrificed my own health over the years. Had I taken better care of myself, I could have avoided the premature birth. It was an emotional roller-coaster watching Brooklyn fight to survive and breathe from day to day. After a month and a half, we were able to bring her home.
Now, she is healthy and strong, and I have a far greater appreciation for every minute I share with her and my loved ones.
Self-care in all its facets is simply the most valuable lesson I have learned. Taking care of our mental, emotional, physical, spiritual and social health is the first step to living a fulfilled life. We may be programmed to think that caring for our own needs is selfish, but we have to ensure we are healthy in order to care for others.
If we put our needs first to protect our own well-being and happiness, we have a greater capacity to support our loved ones and the people who depend on us every day. I hope that my life story can give people the incentive to pause.
It's time to wake up and get off the treadmill. It's time to invest in yourself, learn what makes you happy, and ensure your needs are being met. Then make the appropriate choices to truly enjoy life with those you love.
Interviewed and written by Alyce Renee, Founder of Real & Inspiring.If you like this post, please show your support. Like us on Facebook and share the story!