In March 2012, when I was 21, I collapsed at home. I had a lingering cold for a few weeks but thought nothing of it, continued working, going out and traveling. The cold turned out to be a virus that was attacking my immune system and left me hospitalized. It took one month of treatment in the hospital and another three months of visits to a rehab hospital to relearn how to walk, hold a fork, tie my shoelaces and do all the other everyday activities that we take for granted.
I made a full recovery, but during what was a pretty scary time, I realized the importance of taking care of the number one person in your life: yourself. It’s time we all stop feeling guilty for being a little selfish and here’s why:
It’s okay to say no.
Before I was hospitalized, I was running myself into the ground, working long hours at my first full-time job. I had just graduated from university and wanted to progress my career quickly. I was also taking on freelance work, unpaid internships, going to the gym and maintaining a social life. Sound familiar? We all do it. We push ourselves to the breaking point, too afraid to say no in case we let someone down or miss out on a great opportunity.
But learning to say no won’t just give you some breathing space — it will also allow you to focus on doing what you really like and do it well. Running yourself into the ground because you don’t want to let anyone down will help no one.
Admit when you need help.
Pride is a relatively useless emotion. I’d only been in hospital for a few days when I realized I really needed to go to the bathroom. There was no one around except for my boyfriend so I tried to hold on as long as I could, but there was no way in hell I was using a bedpan. So, my boyfriend pushed me in a wheelchair to the bathroom and helped me onto the toilet.
I have never been more embarrassed in my life, but after five minutes, I had forgotten all about it and so had he. Think about how many times you didn’t ask for help just because you felt like you should be able to do it on your own, or you didn’t want to bother someone by asking. We're always happy to help when someone asks us, but when it comes to the other way around, for some reason, we freeze up and try to do everything on our own. Sometimes, you just need to put your pride aside and admit you need help.
Do what makes you happy.
After losing almost a year of my life to illness, I felt angry, sad, frustrated and a whole range of other less-than-positive emotions. Given this self-pity party, I couldn’t see the silver lining: the chance to press pause and re-evaluate. My life felt like it was at a standstill because I had to give up everything: work, gym, a social life.
But when I stopped to think about it, the reality was that I actually hated my full-time job and it left me hardly any time to do the freelance work that I did enjoy. Going to the gym often left me exhausted and all those internships meant I didn't have any spare time to see my friends. Luckily, you don’t have to go through a serious illness to press pause.
You can do it right now. Think about your life — the parts you like and the parts you don’t. Then, plan what steps to take to make it better. No excuses. Life is short, so find what makes you happy and do it. Right now.
Keep it in perspective.
When something big (and bad) happens, you realize everything that you had been stressing over wasn’t a big deal. Before I fell ill, I worried about everything: what people thought of me, whether I said the wrong thing, what I was going to wear and whether my stomach was flat enough. I didn’t realize how stressed out I was until I had to focus on only one thing: recovering.
All the other stuff suddenly seemed so insignificant and I’m much more happy and relaxed as a result. Complaining about your job, family, friends and wardrobe is fine every now and again – we all need to vent — but it requires a bit of perspective. Think about what’s important in the scheme of things. You have enough problems about which to worry, so prioritize; worry about the big stuff and don’t sweat the small stuff.
We could all use a little more perspective. Take a step back and appreciate what you do have and you might find that what you thought was ruining your life isn't so bad after all. By focusing on what is truly important and letting go of all the stuff that isn’t, you’ll be on your way to being more relaxed, happy and focused.
Put yourself first, do what makes you happy and keep it in perspective. Look after yourself first, because only then can you attempt to take on the rest of the world.