I will start this post off with a Disclaimer:
I understand that not everyone is the same; what works for one person, does not work for everyone. But this is MY experience, and I know there are other people like me, out there, that this info could help…now…to the meat of the matter:
Needless to say, most of the people on my friends-list on facebook, are from the creative industries. Graphic Designers, Video editors, and Motion Graphics guys ( and a few gals as well). Every now and then I will see posts from these guys, consisting of screen grabs of their monitor with the project they are currently working on….and in most of these pictures there is either a can of redbull, or some other energy drink, along with a heading like: “Editing for three days straight ; Gotta get dat paper”…along with either or all of the following: #TeamNoSleep #HustleHard #Beastmode.
I typically smile and shake my head and reminisce about the days when I too, thought I was doing something amazing by being part of #TeamNoSleep…Until I sat in a doctor’s office, with a diagnosis that would change that train of thought …and my life, forever.
Now, I am not telling these stories for people to join the pity party. I have been walking around for the last three years and I have not told this story to anyone. I am telling this story now, in the hopes that people can learn from it, and not end up in the same situation I ended up in.
The first story is from maybe Ten Years ago. I took a job at a then, recently opened Graphic Design shop called, “Graphic Flava” (It did not stay open for long). I was desperate for a job so I could stop the throngs of people I met, from peering down their noses at me when I told them I was not working anywhere. I wanted to feel that I was contributing to society by finally having a 9 to 5. Money was always scarce, and I was determined to be the one to lift my family from poverty.
There were three of us hired as Graphic designers. (Shout out to Andrew AKA “Country BooBoo” and Charles AKA “CharlieBwoy”) We all got the same introductory pay…HOWEVER, I was expected to do two jobs. I was the one put at the front desk to both design AND be the receptionist. Now, needless to say, this made my work very difficult and frustrating, having to break my train of thought to attend to anyone who walked through the door, either for a job to be done, or out of sheer curiosity. Sometimes we left late trying to finish jobs.
My breakfast routine pretty much involved a cup of tea in the morning before I ran out to go to work. I would not eat until maybe 3 or 4 pm sometimes. I had to get my work done first. Now being that I am on the bigger side (fat), I also figured that skipping lunch would help me lose weight.
That was all thrown out the window when one day after having my subway sandwich with jalapenos (I LOVED jalapenos) I felt a burning sensation in my upper abdomen, the likes of which I would not wish upon my worst enemy. I wanted to throw up, I wanted to poop, anything to relieve the burning which felt like someone lit gasoline in my stomach and unleashed the fires of Hades upon my gut. But nothing came either way. I called my brother frantically to pick me up. The time spent waiting on him to arrive, felt like an eternity. I was writhing in pain the whole way home. I had to recline the seat in the car. I could barely take a breath in. My mother took me to the doctor’s office…which was closed. Traffic was too heavy to get me to a hospital (plus we had no money) So, we went back home and my mother just gave me a cup of tea and we hoped for the best.
As I sat on the veranda looking out at the yard, my stomach distended and inflamed until I could barely take enough air in….I thought, I literally thought, that was how I was going to die. I was scared…but in so much pain that I figured death was a better option. I accepted it.
Finally, I vomited. All my lunch came up as if it barely digested, but there was almost instant relief. I stayed home the next day and the day after, I went back to work. A day later, I came down with a sudden fever and the same burning sensation was threatening to creep in. This time I went to the doctor and was diagnosed with acute gastritis, caused by leaving my stomach empty for too long and basically allowing the stomach acid to digest my stomach lining. The overproduction of acid was as a result of high stress. Until this day, my stomach and digestive tract have NEVER been the same. I always have Maalox, Diovol or Pepto nearby. Reluctantly, after only two months, I quit the job; realizing I was overworking myself. I had to find another way.
But this was not the diagnosis that made me change my ways…oh no.
Years later, after learning to somewhat manage my digestive issues, I opened my own business. I did VFX and motion graphics for commercials. Digicel and Lime jobs regularly came across my desk. This was a whole new level of stress. There is no office to leave. My room is my office. All my work and stress is right on the table across from where I sleep. I had somehow not managed to make the money I thought I was going to make, to buy the big house my family and I needed.
My work involved ridiculous deadlines, forcing me to work sometimes till 5 or 6 in the morning, sleep for one hour and get back at it the instant I woke up. I was unknowingly a member of #TeamNoSleep…I was “Hustling”…taking all the jobs I could get. My mother would come in at 2 or 3 AM and tell me to get some sleep. I ignored her warnings…in my mind I was doing something amazing. I was beyond a mere mortal. I was certain my dedication would pay off and my clients would appreciate all the hard work I was putting in. My hard work was going to make us all rich. Maybe they would even pay me more…Or so I naively thought. The reality was that after weeks of little to no sleep and delivering a final approved commercial to the client. I sometimes had to wait MONTHS before I got paid anything.
There was one particular job that was especially taxing. I was pouring my all into it. I was doing some 2D animation and it was looking really good. I was so pleased with myself.
However, something wasn’t quite right…that feeling that was nagging me to go and get a checkup.
I tore myself away from work, and went to the doctor. The nurse had me do all the necessary preliminaries…take my weight, height, pee in the cup and take my pressure. The nurse put the cuff around my arm as always and pumped it up until my arm felt like a turgid sausage. She took the reading, released the air……and pumped it up again…..She did this two more times before casually asking “Do you have problems with high blood pressure?”
“No” I answered, only slightly concerned.
I went in the doctor’s office, and sat on the cushy seat while waiting for him to come in. I totally forgot about what the nurse asked me when the doctor walked in. I greeted him and we started some initial pleasantries. He then asked me what the problem was.
I proceeded to begin explaining why I was there, when suddenly, the doctor cut me mid-sentence by grabbing my hand.
I looked up and saw the doctor staring slack-jawed at the small white piece of paper that the nurse had written my pressure readings down on.
“Your pressure is VERY high” he continues.
I scoffed and figured he was being overly dramatic. Now to give you a bearing on just how bad it was…blood pressure is categorized as follows:
Normal: Less than 120 over 80 (120/80)
Prehypertension: 120-139 over 80-89
Stage 1 high blood pressure: 140-159 over 90-99
My pressure…. was 160/109…I was hypertensive stage TWO. I was at immediate risk for a stroke or worse. He listened to my chest and told me I had a heart murmur. I always knew I had a murmur from the other doctors I went to, but it wasn’t ever loud enough to be a concern… This time, however, he said it was VERY loud.
He then told me as calmly as he could, that he may have to call the ambulance and that I will have to be admitted immediately. I just sat there, frozen…me? Hospital? I was here just because of my monthly cycle…how did this happen? Turned out they were connected. The high pressure made my body lock off non-essential stuff. The most terrifying thing was that, besides, my cycle not showing up, I had NO other symptoms. Hypertension is called the “Silent Killer” for a reason.
The doctor then came back in and he began to talk. He asked me if I was being stressed (YES!) and if I drank alcohol or smoked (thankfully no) and he and I spoke for a bout fifteen minutes. He told me that the little sleep I was getting was not doing any good for my body. He then asked the nurse to take my pressure again. It had come down…only slightly, but it was enough to prove that maybe I did not need hospitalization. (Whew!)
He sent me to do an ECG. The readout came back with “possible right atrial abnormality” printed on the top right hand corner. (I still have a copy of that printout) The doctor suggested that if all this continues, I may have to see a cardiologist. He wrote me a prescription which he ordered me to fill IMMEDIATELY and take as soon as I ate something.
Thankfully my brother had come with me and was waiting patiently all this time. He drove me around to get what I needed. Of course when I told my mother, she began freaking out…and scolding me about my lack of sleep. (She was right) I tried as much as I could to put on a brave face and chuckle about it all. When I got home, I ate, took my pills and went to my room….I closed the door…and cried into my pillow.
Here I was, just turned 29 a week before, and now I was taking Atenolol, Enalapril and water tablets for high blood pressure, cutting salt and stress from my diet like I was a crotchety 60 year old. Not only that, but my heart, the organ pumping life-giving blood around my body, had a possible major defect. I had been over working myself…but for what? Worse, I had no one to blame but myself. I was setting unrealistic goals and driving myself like a machine. I had no time to date, no time to go out, not time to relax and unwind…No time for ME! I wanted people to feel that I was a hard worker…that somehow they would reward me for staying up late and delivering on time.
I had a good cry, dried my eyes and realized I had to change EVERYTHING. I had to unsubscribe from the hustle mentality and surrender my membership to #TeamNoSleep. I had to learn that I am a human being, and had to start treating myself as such.
Now, there is scientific, psychological proof * that some people can stay awake for days and work non-stop by guzzling energy drinks…they are wired to thrive from lack of sleep and constant sensory stimulation, and almost relish the days with no rest… and there is nothing wrong with that…However, I am CLEARLY, not one of those people, and I needed to act accordingly. I also needed to stop making myself feel bad for not being able to keep up with those people. I had to know MY limitations and take care of ME.
I learned to be honest with my deadlines. If clients gave me a ridiculously short deadline to complete a mountain of work, I learned to walk away. If I got a client that said…finish this by Friday…I would say: “I can give it to you on Monday”. If they agreed, I took the job…if not….I suggested someone else who could do it. I began to really assess workloads, expectations and time-frames and not to say “yes” to a job just because I needed money. It was hard when funds were short, but it was not worth dying over. I made sure to keep contact with clients that I had a good working relationship with…Those people made my job easier. (and I would like to think I make their job easier too :3) I learned to manage my time.
I could finally take my dog for a walk without wondering if clients were getting mad. Finally go out and enjoy myself. This gave me time to finally sit back and really look at what I was doing…for myself…what was I doing to make me a better me? The work was helping me get paid…but was all this work helping me improve my skill or who I am? I had to balance my work life and personal life….my work and my personal work. What did I really want for MY future?
I took those pills on and off for almost two years before taking control of my blood-pressure by learning to de-stress. My heart Murmur vanished as well. I still have to monitor my pressure as I tend to be pre-hypertensive still.
I hope this story helps some of you. It is one I would typically keep to myself. But what use is learning a lesson if I can’t even share it to help someone else?
*P.S. I am an Introvert. If you are like me, I just want you to know that there is nothing wrong with being labeled an “Introvert”…it just means you manage energy differently. A book that greatly aided me in understanding who I was in this regard, and freed me from the guilt of not being able to keep up with the extrovert lifestyle that runs most of the world, is “Quiet: The power of Introverts in a World that can’t stop talking” by Susan Cain. If you can, pick it up. I promise you, it will be one of the best books you will ever read.