Being forced to slow down


Having set up this blog two years ago as a way to focus on life beyond work, it’s not really worked out that way. The last two years have been like a near constant sprint, with a ton of long haul travel and a never ending to do list. I kept thinking, ‘If I can just get to August/the February half term/next weekend…it will all go back to normal’. Except it never did. I’ve almost forgotten what ‘normal’ looks like. The only time I’ve been able to rest have been on holiday when I’ve collapsed onto a sun lounger and barely got up.

But the past two months have been beyond relentless, and I’ve started feeling it physically as well as mentally. I started getting breathless when rushing to the train station or around an airport or going to a meeting. Then I started feeling breathless and a bit dizzy when walking up a flight of stairs. Then I couldn’t always catch my breath when sitting at my desk or carrying on a normal conversation. I wrote it off as being out of shape, but a dear friend threatened to literally kick me if I didn’t make an appointment to see my GP. Turns out I had a blood clot (and needed to cancel a long haul flight to Indonesia the following week…very scary!), and I’m deeply anaemic. So all the things I’ve been putting down to not doing enough exercise or meal planning – breathlessness, dizziness, brittle hair and nails and so on – all due to anaemia.

I’ve been signed off from work for at least two weeks and have been given iron tablets while we get to the cause of the anaemia, and – having stopped pushing myself through the exhaustion – I can’t understand how I’ve coped as long as I have. Being frank, this really sucks. I’ve gone from giving several talks a month to barely being able to finish three sentences without a deep breath in. From jet setting academic to burned out couch potato in one week. I feel antsy and bored and really unsettled.

But, as my very dear friends have pointed out, what I’m doing now is called ‘healing’. It’s not a comfortable place to be. I’ve pushed myself far too hard for far too long, and I’m going to need to make some changes. As I write, other people – my team, my line manager, my colleagues, my husband – are all tearing apart my workload and reconstructing it so I can do less. I’m at peace with this (or at least I am in theory…), but what I haven’t yet decided is what to do differently.

Words of wisdom from @emilyley


So one of the things I’ve decided to do is to resurrect this blog and to use it to help me find my way back to good health. To rediscover whatever the hell it was that I enjoyed doing before leading two large international research programmes. To force myself to give up some of the things that I enjoy in order to create space for some of the things that I love.

Because if I don’t, I’m not sure how much more my body can take before it really starts to fight back. And I’ll only have myself to blame.

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