Confessions of a Workaholic

Hi, my name is Hayley and I’m a workaholic.

I have always equated my self-worth to the amount of work I can stuff into my day. Self-care was not something I was brought up to think of as an option if I wanted to succeed in life. My first job was under-the-table at 11-years-old where I filed charts at the dentist office where my mom worked. By 12 I was working a full 40 hour week. I became an esthetician at 18 for several reasons, but part of the decision was a reaction to my father losing employment when I left for my first year of college in 2005. The survivalist instinct struck hard. I hated sitting still because it felt like it would be “lazy” to not be busy.

I found ways to cheat the system so that I could work more than I should or was allowed to. Whether it would be picking up last minute shifts or secretly taking on a second job, I was always the go-to when someone needed support. My inability to say “no” eventually led me to believe that whatever particular company I was working for couldn’t run without me. It’s so narcissistic looking back, but when you are constantly being relied on, it’s oddly rewarding to feel needed (something I previously lacked in my life).

It fulfilled me knowing I was doing someone a favor so that they could take vacation. They never knew I was 90 days away from my last day off and, even on the few occasions where I did say no, I felt so guilty that I might as well have just said yes. My nights off would be filled with escapisms like binge watching TV, going out, and spending my hard-earned money on wasteful shopping trips.

I know now that I was just an expert at avoidance and didn’t think I was worth more than living paycheck to paycheck. I was a survivalist with every opportunity to break a pattern, but was too busy exhausting myself to see it clearly.

It became clear to me that something was wrong at 27. One day at work I felt overcome with fever-like symptoms accompanied with a rash that literally made me to want to rip my skin off. I remember feeling guilt when I wrote a text to my boss asking for permission to go to the doctor. His response was the typical industry standard which was; “Who’s going to cover your shift? You’re costing me money by not being here!” Nevertheless, I knew something was wrong and unlike my usual response during that time in my life, I put myself first.

The doctor took one look at me and diagnosed the rash right away as shingles. I was shocked to hear that someone my age could contract this since I thought people were only at risk for shingles when they were much older (but apparently it’s common in those who have chronic stress, like I did at the time). Driving to work the next day — not even a full 24 hours after being diagnosed — I realized how unsafe it was to operate heavy machinery, let alone work for eight hours under the five different prescriptions I was on.

I went home and was advised to rest. But still I didn’t, as I was coerced into running errands by people who simply didn’t understand the intense pain I was in (my inability to say ‘no’ at it yet again!).

The next day I showed up to work, and the next day after that. I continued to work because I felt like I couldn’t afford to stop. My rash went away but my symptoms lasted for an additional six months which included major fatigue, nerve pain and the inability to focus. I had to quit one of my jobs and was left with the choice to either step back and take care of myself or keep working and turn my part-time gig into a full-time position. Once again, I didn’t take the opportunity to rest and continued to work non-stop at a career I didn’t love, with no college degree to back it up.

I had hit my bottom and decided that in order to rebuild myself, I had to create my own path. I could only keep going if it were on my terms.  

Since that realization I have created my own business and have found that the quantity of my work has lessened — therefore drastically increasing the quality.

It’s easy to equate someone who identifies as a workaholic as a go-getter, but in my case, it has come as a detriment to my own health multiple times. If I really look back at the days off I’ve had in my adulthood, most of them were spent being hungover or sick. It’s not easy breaking old habits, but being your most evolved, healthy self is pivotal to success.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that no one can give you permission to take care of yourself — it’s all on you. Now I take time off for self-care before the crash happens, I let myself go to bed as early as I need to feel renewed, and I say no all the time by choosing not to let guilt take over. I’ll always love working and being of service but I’ll never be able to keep going if I don’t give to myself first.

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