I was recently diagnosed with shingles. If you’ve never heard of shingles before, it is a painful rash that usually occurs around your torso.
One morning I woke up and found a concentrated patch of small blisters on my skin. I dismissed it, thinking perhaps I’d been bitten by something, multiple times, overnight. Yes, it was painful, and bright, bright red. I thought I must have itched myself during my sleep to aggravate it.
I also had a sore back. Coincidentally, it was also in the same spot of my body as the rash, just on the back of my body instead of the front. I dismissed this too. I thought maybe I had bumped into something (with my back!!) and caused a deep bruise.
Whatever signals my body was trying to tell me, I was not listening.
After a few days of the rash still causing pain, itching and red burning, and a persistently sore back which affected my sleep, I decided to visit my doctor.
He diagnosed me with shingles. But as I had left it too many days, I missed the opportunity for treatment, so instead I needed to wait it out till it healed itself.
I asked the doctor what causes it, as I thought, mistakenly, that shingles was something only older people got. The name itself even makes me think of frailty and declining health that comes with old age.
My doctor said it occurs in younger people, particularly when they are burning the candle at both ends. This stunned me. I replied, ‘but I’ve been on holidays for a month’.
Afterwards I reflected on what I had done over the past month.
After a very full 2017, of stretching myself, striving, living in the courage zone, I felt I needed a long break. I decided to take two months off work.
The purpose was to focus on my health and wellbeing. I wanted to eat healthy foods, research new and healthy recipes, clear out our pantry and make way for healthy options.
I also wanted to exercise frequently. I love HIIT – high intensity interval training. My gym runs only HIIT classes, and I had only been a handful of times over the past few months, due to the ‘fullness’ of my life leading up to the end of the year. This was after being a regular at my gym, going 3 or 4 times a week for 18 months.
So, on top of healthy eating, exercise was also on the menu. I also wanted to do yoga a few times a week. I feel very calm after a yoga class, and I wanted to cultivate that feeling in my life while on this extended break. Have I been to a yoga class yet? No.
Reading books was another activity I wanted to enjoy in this time. I have a running list on my phone of books that others say have helped them or are recommended to me. I want to start moving through this list and learning all the wonderful lessons that are just a few pages, and some quiet time, away. But I haven’t spent much time reading either.
In terms of my health and wellbeing goals, I had quite a list of actions that were going to set me up for health and vitality for the year ahead. Clean eating, exercise, yoga, reading and relaxation.
I also had an important goal of starting my blog during my time off. This was a desire of mine for a long time. Again, what better time than two months away from the daily grind of work to commence my creative venture.
In addition, there were some activities around the home and general life administration that I wanted to attend to. For example, cleaning my home office and catching up on filing that I had not been on top of… for 6 years! It was a distraction in my daily life. I felt a clean office, and neat, tidy home would help with the fresh start feeling I was looking for in 2018.
I had clear activities to get done in my break. I was really looking forward to it. I had a lot of excitement and enthusiasm for what I would accomplish.
A month in, what have I done so far?
I got on top of the life administration. I started my blog. I did some study. I ignored the health activities altogether.
In the first few weeks I busied myself with catching up on tasks that had been on my to-do list for a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I am glad I have finally got around to some of these things and ticked them off the list. ‘Progress is a line through a list’ as my aunty would say. And it is something I enjoy – seeing my productivity through crossing off tasks on a to-do list.
But you know what? Some of these things had been on my list for a really long time. I guess that is why I prioritised them. I thought I better use the time available to catch up. But really, did I need to do them first? Clearly, they were not that important in the scheme of my life, otherwise I would have already done them. Months or even years ago!
A lot of effort and energy was directed toward these activities. I am glad I have finished them. Unfortunately, I have not been rewarded with the level of satisfaction from my accomplishment, compared to the level of effort I expended in completing them.
Secondly, I started my blog. Woohoo!
This is something I am immensely proud of. It has taken me a lot to get as far as I have. I didn’t know about website creation before this. All I knew was I loved writing, I am good at it, and I enjoy doing it. Surely a blog isn’t that hard? Right? Right? Wrong. For me anyway.
The first night I started my site I was up till early hours of the morning, trying to understand the terms, what I was agreeing to, what one action here would do over there. That night was a steep learning curve for me.
The first few weeks after continued to be a learning challenge. I was enjoying it. It was stretching my brain. I was learning more than I realised I needed to learn. I would have never been able to learn it by researching it all beforehand, I needed the experience and learning in the moment.
My blog is still quite simple, comparatively speaking. But I love it! I have poured a lot of myself into it.
I have started the journey of understanding about website creation, development and maintenance. I have started a twitter account and am learning how to tweet. I started a second Instagram account for my blog. Lots of things at once that I was turning my mind, and my time, to.
This activity has given me immense satisfaction. Because it is tied to my purpose, my strengths, my identity. This has been a great achievement so early in the new year. I have a lot more to learn. For instance, I need to learn how to create an email newsletter template to notify subscribers of new blog posts.
Full disclosure, it is only family that has subscribed so far. And not even all my family. I literally have myself, my husband, my mum and my brother as my subscribers (hi guys! Love you!). But that is ok. I am alright with that. 4 is a lucky number, isn’t it? Ha-ha.
Anyways, there is a lot to learn.
I have also spent time volunteering, helping others, catching up with friends. Each of these activities individually is worthwhile, and something that brings me joy. As a collective though, this increased connection and sociability, on top of my activity above, has probably taken away more than it has given overall.
My belief that I had a lot of time off, gave me an illusion of endless time. I’ve jam-packed it with appointments, engagements, commitments and catch-ups. I am an introvert. I love the people I am close to. I also really love time spent alone to re-energise.
I guess the issue with how I have spent the past month is that I have exerted much energy, time and attention to a range of pursuits, at the cost of my health.
In the busyness of the new year and my flurry of activity, I forgot to look after my health.
The shingles came at the right time. As a literal red flag to my attention. Oops, I forgot about my health.
And you know what, health is my number one value in life. I really believe that our health is our foundation. Without it we are on the back foot to realising our dreams and living our best life.
My doctor said I am lucky, it could be a whole lot worse. I agree.
A few months ago, I heard author, Neale Donald Walsch answer the question ‘what can we do to improve our health?’ His response:
pay attention to it
Oh. My. Gosh! So simple. Yet the action of this wisdom is harder to enact.
I took my health for granted over the past month. I prioritised one very important, and several not so important, things over it. When really, I should have had it front of mind the whole time.
That’s ok. I am only human. And I know, from experience, that I usually need to learn my lessons more than once.
In the end, I could not be more grateful for my shingles. They have allowed me to stop and reflect. Consider what is most important. Re-think how I will approach the rest of my holidays.
For the next month, my health is the only priority. Not just number one. The only priority. And I feel better already for having made that decision.
Sorry Kurt, Mum and James – you’ll have to wait a bit longer for my first email newsletter. I’m off to yoga.