It’s August. Is a Change Really as Good as a Rest?

July kicked my butt.

Many of the things that were stressful in July will still be stressful in August. Yet, the change does feel like its own version of rest. Realistically I need both a change and a rest.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the cumulative impacts of sustained stress, especially as it relates to my own experience. I’m working through a post-mortem of sorts. Categorizing the stresses, dealing with some unresolved emotions, and trying to whittle life down to the essentials while I catch my breath.

Some of this is self-induced – battles with perfectionism, my own idiosyncrasies – but much is an inevitable byproduct of living life on this planet hurtling around the sun. I completed my graduate degree as a newlywed (I was back in the lab less than two weeks after the wedding) and went on to deliver my firstborn mere months after my final thesis defense. I continued on with work commitments through it all (it was final exam season after all), and worked a 7-10 PM invigilation shift with a raging fever of 102 (thanks, mastitis) when my colicky newborn was less than two weeks old.

In the decade following, I’ve co-founded two businesses, helped with the development of four, and am currently at the helm of one. I’ve lived in a small apartment with challenging neighbours – while raising two small kids – to bootstrap those entrepreneurial ventures. I spent months coming to terms with a potentially devastating prenatal diagnosis and then lived through the relief – and guilt – when our miracle baby arrived safely. I’ve experienced two decades of complications from anemia and just this May – in the midst of another localized COVID lockdown – lived through the disappointment of a series of unsuccessful iron infusions.

All that hard work and bootstrapping brought great opportunities; cue the extreme commitments required of a husband who works in international business – perpetual exhaustion, near-constant travel, meetings day and night. I’ve solo parented for weeks at a time and trekked alone to the ER in the midst of snowstorms. Several years ago, one week after moving into our first home, we discovered major issues that culminated in a giant hole being jackhammered in the basement floor and a front yard excavated to shreds. Did I mention it was frigidly cold, I had two sick kiddos home solo while my husband was in Japan (hello inconvenient time zone), and it was mid-December with family scheduled to visit for Christmas from out-of-country?

And now, like everyone else on the planet, I’m living through a global pandemic.

And yet, I am extremely privileged. I am redeemed by a loving, righteous God. I have a wonderful husband and two vibrant, healthy children. I live in a democratic society with a high standard of social supports. I was raised by loving parents who are still alive. I have a very flexible working environment. I am healthy, active, and want for nothing. These are all luxuries so many – most! – could never dream of.

So in addition to the exhaustion – everyone I know could counter my unique challenges with their own – guilt comes knocking. I’ve watched friends journey through cancer diagnoses; I’ve cried along with others who have waded through the waters of divorce, infertility, infant loss, and the grief of widowhood. How can my struggles compare with theirs?

But, this isn’t a competition. Tough is tough. I don’t have to justify my fatigue (to others OR to myself) or provide 10-point reasoning for what’s led to this point. While I continue to remain grateful for all the good in my life, I need to acknowledge the burdens and challenges and share them with the people I love. I need to be honest for a change when asked “How are you doing,” and encourage others to do the same.

Last week I enjoyed daily doses of the Tokyo Olympics coverage. I watched as the greatest female gymnast of all time talked about the very real pressures of her career, bravely prioritizing mental health over striving for another medal around her neck. Then there was American swimmer Caleb Dressel who said he was pretty much “over swimming” by the end of the games – this after winning 5 gold medals.

While I don’t live under the scrutiny of an international stage or feel the pressures endured by elite athletes, even when we with more mundane lives are enjoying relative health and freedom, things can still be hard. No apologies.

It feels good to be back in this space. To write and think. There are changes to make, priorities to adjust and I/we have taken some important steps – big and little – in that regard. No magic bullet exists. Life is life – unpredictable and hard. But I’m glad for August; flipping the calendar, giving myself the opportunity to map out new routines, and realigning my day-to-day activities and goals with my values.

We only get one life and here’s to pivoting when necessary…

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