This blog represents a yearlong journey of introspection and reflection in my search for contentment. Its primary aim is to provide me with a method of recording and reflecting on the journey itself, but my hope is that it will also serve as a road map for others looking to improve their wellbeing and maybe even as a source of entertainment for people who pass through and need a quick smile.
After 8 years of burning the candle at both ends to pursue a high demand career, I hit the proverbial wall. Not a speed bump, a hurdle, or a fence, but a massive, thick, concrete, Donald Trump kind of a wall. My body and brain had been pushed to the brink and were setting off all kinds of warning signs in my health and demeanour that should have sounded like an air siren to someone paying attention. I wasn’t paying attention. In fact, I was outright ignoring what was happening to me. Acknowledging it meant admitting something was happening, admitting weakness, admitting that I wasn’t capable of performing at the level and pace I liked people to think I was. I spent a whole year after that bashing my head against that concrete wall, refusing to admit that I needed to change anything and determined to push through at all costs.
The costs were high. After ignoring things for a year, I was a mess. Even worse, my work was now suffering. Despite the appearance of a healthy lifestyle (I ate well, worked out regularly, didn’t drink in excess, didn’t do drugs, and had never been a smoker) I knew I wasn’t sleeping properly, and hadn’t been for about 5 years. I also knew I had turned into an irritable person, retracting from social settings, and having difficulty relating to even my closest friends and family. Outside of my work environment my ability to exercise patience and understanding was near non-existent. So, I finally acknowledged my situation and took some steps to make changes, but only because life was forcing my hand. I saw doctors, specialists, (even tried acupuncture despite a debilitating fear of needles), tried eliminating gluten, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, dairy, meat and even began seeing a psychologist (although admittedly with some extreme hesitation and skepticism).
I tried everything, even reduced my hours significantly, but I was also minimizing my symptoms to every one I was seeing. At visit after visit I essentially told the psychologist what amounted to “I’m living the dream”, and suggesting that maybe I just hadn’t found that “work life balance” everyone talks about. And after another year of trying all sorts of different treatments, and making changes to my diet, sleep habits, and work habits, I had seen absolutely ZERO improvement. In fact, I was actually getting worse. Now I was getting desperate. My sleep was deteriorating faster, the sleeping pills I would occasionally resort to no longer gave me any reprieve, and I started to hate my work.
The thing that had been driving me forward for so long was now driving me down. I caved. It was time to tell the doctors that I could fall asleep anywhere, anytime, that I had noticed huge changes in my memory, retention, and cognitive abilities, that I couldn’t remember the last time I ever woke up and felt rested, and the big one, that I was worried my sleep deficit was negatively impacting my decision making at work. A job at which I had considerable responsibility and people relied on me to make sound decisions.
It was also time to tell the psychologist that I hated being around other people, I found them plain annoying. That when I wasn’t at work I felt like a zombie just getting through life. That I just had to make it to retirement and then I could live again (only 13 more years to go!) That I had downloaded an app that told me exactly how many working minutes I had left in my career – and that I checked that app multiple times a day.
Once I finally started being honest about the symptoms I was experiencing, which at the onset felt like I was just doing a lot of whining, I was almost simultaneously diagnosed with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Two disorders that had been going on for years, both of which made the symptoms of the other even worse.
When I got the diagnosis for OSA, I rejoiced. I did a happy dance after I left the doctor’s office. This was treatable, this was fixable! There had been something wrong! Not getting proper sleep for years on end really was bad thing, with wide-reaching effects. It wasn’t just that I couldn’t keep up, this wasn’t what normal people felt like every day, there was HOPE.
When I got the diagnosis for PTSD……DENIAL. Nope, that wasn’t me. I wasn’t weak, I was strong. People were constantly commenting that I had the perfect life. That’s what I wanted people to think. I’d worked hard getting people to see me that way, I didn’t want to be seen as a failure. My brain screamed at me NOTHING BAD ENOUGH had happened to me. There were people who had seen worse, people who had experienced worse, people who had worse DONE TO THEM. I knew it because I was exposed to atrocities everyday at my work. I wasn’t entitled to have this disorder. I hadn’t been through enough to justify it. I must be one of the weak-minded. I reeled with conflict. Other than my husband, I told NOONE of the diagnosis.
Over the course of the year that followed, I struggled with the diagnosis but agreed to make small changes that my psychologist recommended. I turned out to be intolerant to the primary treatment for OSA, what’s called a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine, so my sleep didn’t improve, but I did start to see slow improvements from the small changes I was making. I had more patience, not a lot, but more, and it felt as though a thick fog was starting to lift.
As things started to improve, I began to look inward and take stock of myself. I came to some pretty startling realizations. I didn’t really know who I was anymore, I didn’t know what I enjoyed or made me happy, I didn’t even know if my work was what I really wanted to continue doing.
I hadn’t bothered to stop and think about those things for the past eleven years. I was too busy “succeeding”, if succeeding meant driving my health and mental wellbeing into the ground that is. I knew that I had a lot to be happy and thankful for in my life. I lived in a wonderful country, in a beautiful home, had an amazing husband and step-son, and we were now expecting. And yet I was always pursuing more. More in my career, and more in my life. All for some unspecified time in the distant future when I could slow down and enjoy it all. When I could just be happy and satisfied with what I had.
When would it be enough? What exactly was enough? Why couldn’t I do that now? I had a lot, so why didn’t I feel content? Why did I feel an enormous pressure to keep struggling for more of everything? What was the magic tipping point where I would feel like I could stop? I had always thought that tipping point would just happen one day, but really, would I ever feel content if I didn’t consciously choose too? There were a lot of questions and I didn’t have the answers.
I started reading all the happiness and wellness books I could get my hands on. They gave me huge insights into what I wanted to examine more deeply within myself, but ultimately highlighted that I needed to answer the questions for myself as an individual. The answers I was looking for didn’t come in a ready made kit I could buy off the shelf. As I continued to read, I came to the understanding that it wasn’t just happiness I was seeking, it was the combination of happiness and satisfaction that defines contentment. I wanted to be a content person for myself, for my family, and especially for my soon to arrive baby.
It was time to dig deep and stop just surviving life. It was December of 2016 when I made that decision and I mentally committed to a year long investment of time starting in January 2017. I needed to figure out how to be content, and that meant finding answers to all the questions that lay between my current state and a state of contentment. I was ready to start my journey.