Friday, after my morning shower, I walked out of the bathroom to my husband standing in the doorway waiting for me. Although he rarely cries, his eyes looked full of pain. He said, “did you hear…. baby… text… did you…”
Although he never got the words out, my brain started to slowly knit the pieces together of what he was trying to say. Sadly, I realized our very beloved family member had just lost her baby at 36 weeks in utero.
My chest tightened, I felt sick and numb at the same time. This was devastating news. After catching my breath, I opened my calendar for the day. First, I stared at my calendar full of client meetings. Then, knowing there was nothing I could “do” to support her at the moment, I figured it would be best to get to work and distract myself.
But my work-life wisdom was not going to allow that. My wisdom kept saying it wasn’t right for me to work. My wisdom was telling me to take time to really process this sadness, not for her, but for me. I felt for everyone who would not meet this important family member. My wisdom told me I needed to feel the impact of this regardless of how painful it was and regardless of how powerless I felt.
I wrote to my clients and explained our family had suffered a loss. And, of course, they were kind and gracious.
Friday, I took the day off to allow myself to feel this. I allowed myself to be impacted. I allowed myself to NOT “do something” in my effort to avoid “feeling something.”
And I spent the day with my husband, taking things slow. We had a beautiful lunch together at our favorite restaurant. We tried to take a picture, but our smiles looked contorted and fake. We sat and talked about it and how sad we were. I also spent time on the phone talking to two close friends sharing how much it hurt.
The next day I had an ah-ha moment.
In previous years, when I would just “use work as a distraction” to avoid feeling a painful emotion, I’d often come home, overeat, have more wine than planned, scroll social media and the news for hours, and have a terrible sleep. I’d be processing so much behind the scenes I wasn’t present for those around me.
As a result, I’d never really feel the emotions of pain or loss; I’d be “too busy” to stop and think about it. But the impact of not feeling was tragic…each time I’d be “too busy” for these difficult emotions, I’d feel the anxiety stack up, and the need to numb myself would become more urgent. The next day, I’d be working from a deficit, and then another day, another deficit, and then another.
This time, I permitted myself to take time away from work to feel this deep sadness. Friday night, I was present with my children and present for my life, although I continued to feel the sadness simultaneously. Somehow, I was able to be available for all of it without added anxiety or the desire to escape it all.
You might say this is work-life balance. I say it’s so much more than that.
And here’s the Big Whipp: This is #mentalhealth. This is resilience. This is work-life wisdom.