A bit of a reflective post for you today. A week ago, this happened:
The round gap is where the extractor fan for our lavatory used to be. It caught on fire at 4am last Friday, probably due to a build-up of dust which caused the motor to burn out and short the circuitry. The jagged square hole above it is where the fire service had to cut it and the wiring out of the wall to stop the fire spreading.
If you're a regular reader, you'll know already that thanks to working smoke alarms and a fire service that arrived within minutes, no one (or cat) was hurt, that we didn't lose many possessions and aside from plastic smoke inhalation and shock, me and my partner are both fine.
But it has made life feel a little more fragile this week. Shock is a funny thing, and even though we weren't physically hurt aside from the nasty smoke inhalation, myself and my partner have found work a bit tougher over this past week. We've both been unfocussed, found it hard to settle at tasks and to concentrate. At first we both tried to work harder to compensate (we're both self-employed), but that's just made us both get frustrated, snappy at and teary with each other and finally admit that we need some space and time out from work to recover, reflect and reset.
It's a hard thing to do, even when the reason for it stares you in the face several times a day (in our case). We can get in our own way when it comes to simply stopping.
My partner and I completely ignored the signs our bodies were giving us at first. On Friday I was asked by several strangers if I was okay in the supermarket after I had been staring at the shelves for a bit too long wearing an eclectic ensemble of "whatever smells the least like plastic smoke". We wore ourselves out staying up all day Friday cleaning, sorting and working, then I dragged myself up early for an all-day wedding on Saturday which I was also recording for their wedding podcast. By Sunday, moving from bed seemed a gigantic task.
People can be funny about other people's personal hiccups too. We had lots of supportive Facebook messages and concerned questions from people we knew at the wedding, but there were also people, some of whom we know quite well, who clearly thought we were making a big deal out of nothing. "It was only a small fire though, and you're fine" one of them said to me. It had the effect of making me feel like I was whinging about nothing and guilty that I felt like I needed any time off at all. Even though I wasn't really fine at all.
It can be hard to ignore these kind of comments. For me, other people saying I seem fine makes me feel lazy and selfish for thinking any different. Other people can indirectly get in the way of simply stopping. I just have to remember that this is my experience, not theirs, and I need to cope with it my way.
This weekend, I'm concentrating on the following:
Taking the time to stop working and let my body and mind unwind and move out of the jittery state they've been occupying all week to a place of calm. I'll probably take some long walks, read, limit my computer use, make sure I eat enough food (I have a tendency to skip meals when stressed), spend time with my partner and sleep. Whatever my body tells me I need to recover.
I've found that in order to move on and past an event, I need to put some time into recalling what happened, how it made me feel, and what I learnt from it. It's not dwelling or ruminating, which aren't productive exercises, but a way for me to accept what has happened and clear it from my mind.
Once I feel ready, getting myself back into my working routines is important to me. It's a way of reaffirming my committment to my business, which may have swayed a little under the recent mental stress. It also re-creates my sense of stability, which has been somewhat shaken as well.
If something has happened, or happens, in your week that has put you off-balance with work or life (and it definitely doesn't have to be as traumatic or life-threatening as a fire scare), make sure you make space to recover, reflect and reset. A day or a few days off won't hurt your career, but by not taking it you are potentially sacrificing your physical and mental health. After all, if you're working for yourself, you only have one you.