The Poster Child for Not Taking Care of Myself
I have a work ethic that
sometimes often…Okay, most times pushes the boundaries of balance. If you give me a task or a goal to achieve, I will do WHATEVER it takes to exceed it. Whatever encompasses a wide array of items that personify the not taking care of yourself paradigm in spades. It leads to burnout, stress and even health consequences. I want to share my story so others, especially my teammates, will be empowered to make changes before they suffer the consequences. The result is My Work-Life Balance Manifesto.
The past few months I have been working 10, 12, 15 hour days trying to keep up. I have done this regularly, and willingly, over the past year as I helped design and build a new department for my company. There were no predecessors, no how to guides, and no step-by-step directions. The system was created one procedure at a time through trial and error and a ton of sweat equity. It was exciting to be part of something that had never been done before. I ate, breathed and embodied the mission with all my heart. My self-imposed goal, as always, is to exceed all expectations.
The Wake Up Call
This need to exceed came crashing down on me this past week in the form of a BIG health scare. It is a story of overwork, overuse and under asking for help. I am exhausted, on the edge of burnout and I paid a high price – my vision. Most people do not know that I was born blind in one eye. I can see light and shapes and color, but cannot read or discern with my left eye. If something happened to my right eye, I would be legally blind. So this is highly frightening for me and an eye-opening experience. (PUN intended.) I am sharing this so you, yes YOU, will take some precautionary steps toward prevention of this digital eye strain I am experiencing.
Somewhere between 50% and 90% of people who work at a computer screen
have at least some symptoms of eye trouble.
I love my job. Empowering bloggers to thrive is my purpose and passion. That is why I love what I do and the space we are creating for them to grow. My co-workers work just as hard as I do and are just as passionate about their roles. I am writing this for all of us who work digitally and spend many hours each day on devices. Personalities often clash and sometimes burn and hurt. The hardest part of this was having to admit that I cannot do it all! My dreams of being inducted into The Super Woman Hall of Fame died a terribly painful death. I was forced to face some truths about myself. None were easy to see. (Another PUN! Geesh!)
The ten days before my crash, I had been a doing a large amount audio and video editing in addition to my regular computer and work tasks. This technical editing is precision, tight to the computer screen work. Somewhat akin to searching for a needle in a haystack. Doing such finely detailed work took its toll on my eyes. By Friday of that week, I was suffering from what I believed to be a migraine. That was just a hint of things to come.
Over the weekend, I designed a custom invitation to my granddaughter’s fifth birthday celebration. She loves Elsa from Frozen…I mean she has the ‘wears her Elsa dress every day’ kind of fascination with Frozen. They wanted to use the Frozen font. And, of course, there is no Frozen font. It is a hand drawn logo. So I spent hours creating her name in the Frozen manner. The invitations rock, but that was close work over the weekend…so my eyes had no rest.
Monday, I hit the ground running with my normal Monday morning tasks of gathering the weekly stats from almost 40 courses. That very detailed work must be exact. I ran to the eye doctor for help and to order new glasses at lunch. Then I worked on more video/audio editing, created the weekly tweets, helped students who were having trouble, added new members…the usual Monday routine. By mid-afternoon my head was throbbing and my eyes were constantly watering.
Typically, I get up about 6:30 in morning, sit down at the computer and do my daily morning prayer with Sacred Space. I then take a meditative walk or do yoga. I return to my computer with my cup of tea to blog, check Facebook, and design my Gratitude Pause for the day. I check into work between 9 to 9:30. I sit here without getting up for most of the day. HIMself enables this behavior by bringing me breakfast and lunch. (He is so good to me. 🙂 ) I work through lunch most days doing my Twitter tasks because it is the only time I have to do them. I stay at the computer until my tasks are finished for the day, however long that takes.
Balance and boundaries are nowhere in this schedule. After work I engage with my friends, followers and fans via Facebook and Instagram, do research or just putz around on the computer. I usually close down sometime around 11PM. Sixteen or more hours staring at the computer every single day for years is not healthy.
I worked again Tuesday on my regular tasks but it was painful. I was using the eye drops the doctor had prescribed and I was consciously looking away from the computer screen as much as possible, but it was too late. The damage was done and I was suffering.
I did not sleep Tuesday night. My eyes were hurting so badly, I could actually feel the roundness of my eyeballs. If the moved a tad, I felt as though someone was stabbing me in the eye. They throbbed and kept me awake with the pain. It hurt so badly, I was nauseated. By morning my eyes were swollen shut and I could not focus as you can see in the photo below. I was on the doctor’s doorstep when they opened Wednesday morning. They told me I was experiencing Computer Vision Syndrome. If you wear corrective lenses or contacts you are highly susceptible to this syndrome.
From the American Optometric Association (AOA). Please click the link for more on this topic as well as tips on prevention and care of your eyes if you work on a computer.
Computer Vision Syndrome, also referred to as Digital Eye Strain, describes a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use. Many individuals experience eye discomfort and vision problems when viewing digital screens for extended periods. The level of discomfort appears to increase with the amount of digital screen use.
The most common symptoms associated with Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or Digital Eye Strain are
- blurred vision
- dry eyes
- neck and shoulder pain
These symptoms may be caused by:
- poor lighting
- glare on a digital screen
- improper viewing distances
- poor seating posture
- uncorrected vision problems
- a combination of these factors
The extent to which individuals experience visual symptoms often depends on the level of their visual abilities and the amount of time spent looking at a digital screen. Uncorrected vision problems can all contribute to the development of visual symptoms when using a computer or digital screen device.
The Damage Repair Process
I was told to take a break from ALL digital devices for minimum three days – no computer, no phone, no tablet. I placed hot compresses on my eyes and used the moisturizing eye drops several times. Wednesday was a day of horrible pain. I had no choice but to take pain medication which I hate to do because I get so crazy, then nauseated, then sleepy. I kept my eyes closed most of the day because I could not focus. I looked every bit the hot mess I was.
Thursday I was a little better…the constant pain was tolerable but I was still having trouble focusing. I kept up the hot compresses and eye drops and added a few exercises. Again I slept and rested my eyes most of the day.
Computer vision syndrome is similar to carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries. It occurs when you’re carrying out the same motion over and over again. Just like those other repetitive stress injuries, computer vision syndrome can get worse the longer you continue the activity. –Web MD
By Friday morning I could focus better so I decided to try to do my work. I was diligent about following the doctor’s orders and had made a pact with myself to not overdo it ever again.
My Plan for Moving Forward
I accept full responsibility for the burnout, stress and vision problems. I am taking steps to better care for my eyes and myself. I encourage you to think about your eyes and how you work and care for them.
- I purchased customized computer glasses. This is especially helpful if you wear contacts, which may become dry and uncomfortable during sustained computer work. Computer glasses also are a good choice if you wear bifocals or progressive lenses, because these lenses generally are not optimal for the distance to your computer screen. I placed large, orange BLINK sticky notes on my computer to remind me to blink and look away from the screen.
- I bought an anti-glare filter for my computers and paid $99 for the protection on my new glasses.
- I adjusted my brightness on the computer and made the text larger so I am not tempted to move closer in.
- I rearranged my workspace so that the computer screen is about 20 degrees below eye level (about 4 or 5 inches) as measured from the center of the screen and 20 to 28 inches from my eyes.
- I rearranged the position of the ambient lighting in the room so there is no glare from lights bouncing off my computer screen.
- I am setting a timer to remind me to look away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. When this becomes habitual, I will discontinue the timer. 🙂 I am shutting the computer off for lunch and after work each day. I will allow myself to come back on for an hour in the evening. I will keep it closed most weekends now also.
- I have committed to vision therapy. It is a structured sequence of neurosensory and neuromuscular activities prescribed to improve visual abilities. Since I have an imbalance in eye teaming, eye exercises will help remediate deficiencies in eye movement, eye focusing and reinforce the eye-brain connection. It trains the eyes and brain to work together more effectively.
- I am using eye moisture drops and heat compresses twice a day.
I tell this story to help my co-workers and others who work digitally. I do not want anyone to experience the pain I have experienced this past week. I also am opening up about my need to overachieve and how that is adversely affecting my health and well-being. I am able to work these prolonged hours because I do not have many other demands (like children) who need my attention other than HIMself.
Altered The Cat in the Hat (character) from The Cat in the Hat (book)
As I write this I am realizing just how out of balance my life has become. I have tried so hard to not be the squeaky wheel asking for the help, which I need to accomplish my job. I have taken on more and more and just put in the work to get ‘er done. But it came with a cost…exhaustion, burnout and acutely painful eye strain.
My Work-Life Balance Manifesto
I am trying to change the script of my life at home and at work. Getting into a healthy rhythm has been difficult. I have not defined clear boundaries, nor have I practiced self-care. I have tolerated and been accepting of things I should have halted long ago. Fears have incentivized longer hours and burnout. That stops today as I reconcile the how with the why and create a plan for moving forward.
I pledge to take care of myself as I am a valuable asset. . I will do so by:
- Separating work and life. Even though I work from home, I will disengage during on off hours. The work day never seems to end when you work from home and carry a digital device with you everywhere.
- Meditating and exercising more often. “When I talk about balance, not everything has to be the completion and achievement of a task, it also has to include self-care so that your body, mind and soul are being refreshed,” says executive coach Marilyn Puder-York, PhD, The Office Survival Guide.
- Unplugging. Experts agree: the compounding stress from the never-ending workday is damaging. It can hurt relationships, health and overall happiness.
- Asking for help when I need it. Just because I can do it does not mean I should do it.
- Until I have help at work, I will cease trying to do it all. Instead of doing it all, I will prioritize my day and work only on those tasks in the time I have. When I get help at work, I will focus on activities I specialize in, which bring the value to my company. I will delegate everything else.
- Setting boundaries of what I will accept and what I will not accept into my life.
- Striving for excellence and letting go of perfectionism. Nobody cares anyway.
- Making quality time true quality time. “There are times when you should just shut your phone off and enjoy the moment,” says Robert Brooks, a professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and co-author of The Power of Resilience: Achieving Balance, Confidence and Personal Strength in Your Life.
- Unhinging self-worth from performance.
Final Thoughts and Resources
I have researched this topic on and off for the past several months as I realized I could not continue at the pace I had established. I have found a great many articles that have helped me form my manifesto. Here are a few that may help you: