When I first experienced the transformative event, doctors recommended I take some time off. And by recommended, I mean they commanded it. My primary doctor told me I needed to take off at least a month and strongly hinted that if I didn’t, he might not be willing to be my doctor anymore as he can’t heal someone who won’t take the prescribed medicine. (He, of course, said this in the very nicest way possible, both because he’s an exceptionally nice person and because I was sobbing my eyes out every time I saw him due to aforementioned transformative event.)
The doctor at the expensive spa in the desert recommended three months. Don’t take on anything new, he said. Say no to everything.
I just read Out of the Blue, a book about the unexpected onset of a major depressive episode and the resulting fallout. The author was also advised to stop working completely to aid recovery and to take time to travel.
Part of what happens is that your brain is in complete fight or flight mode and every tiny stressor triggers an extreme reaction (in my case, flight). I would flinch at noises, at cars driving by. A ringing phone, a voice mail to return, deciding what to make for dinner — anything could cause me to panic, to feel trapped and claustrophobic, to feel an overwhelming need to escape.
This state overwhelms your brain and every decision becomes too much. You get lost driving down your own block. You have no idea how to estimate what time to leave your house to get to appointments on time. Someone asks if you want a cup of tea. You have no idea.
So yes, taking time off is probably a good idea. If you can reduce the stressors, perhaps recovery comes a bit more easily. And traveling can make you feel as though you are escaping, a bit, and lets you stop thinking about all of those day to day obligations.
I, like the author of the book, had the luxury of being able to stop working for a while, and to travel. I realize that most people don’t have that luxury and I’m grateful to be in the position I am.
The book is in part about the author’s fight for paid sick leave. Of course, paid sick leave wasn’t an option for me. I own my company. If I don’t work, the company brings in considerably less revenue. And I still need to pay my employees. And my office rent. And my Amazon Web Services bill.
I had the luxury of being able to take nearly two months off almost entirely (although I was only able to go offline completely for eight days). Looking at my P&L, I cringe to see the numbers in red for those months, as they’re the only months in the company’s history that we weren’t profitable.
But, if I look at the larger trend, I can see that the time off is actually helping us make more money, as I was able to refocus our energies on what’s most profitable. And even more importantly, I honestly had no choice. Had I not taken the time, the company definitely would be less profitable as I likely would have collapsed in a heap that the company may not have been able to recover from.
I realized, too, that I need to accelerate our plans for more scalable endeavours that rely less on me. If I take a month off, the company shouldn’t have to effectively shut down. I’d been trying to move the company in this direction for several years, but so many things kept getting in the way. Now I know that I can’t let those things get in the way. Even if it means temporarily seeing those red numbers on spreadsheets.
I’m significantly better than I was, when it was all I could do to get out of bed, when I counted down the minutes to the end of the day when I could take another Xanax and try to sleep. And I want to be entirely better. But the truth is that I’m not entirely better.
I still find it a herculean feat to focus on anything. I look at a list of projects and tasks and dates and none of it makes sense to me. And I sit here and try to force myself to take things one tiny thing at a time.
Which in itself is hard for me, because I’m so used to absorbing everything into my brain, sorting it all out, and getting everything done.
I don’t know what the answer is. My psychologist says the answer is patience. That I am better and will continue to get better. I don’t expect that I will ever be stress-free. That I will reach a moment when I’ll never feel anxiety or hopelessness.
Mostly, I just want to be able to think. To have my brain work the way it used to. To not feel so exhausted all of the time. To not be overwhelmed and panicked by simple things.
How much rest do I need before I stop feeling so tired?