I am embarrassed to write about this. Embarrassed because I know you’ll probably shake your head and think the way I managed the year was stupid. Would you believe I was told a story like this before my return, and guess what I did? Shook my head and said the woman warning me was stupid.
This is real and you need to listen. Returning to work is challenging. It’s stressful. Stressful on your body, your family, your relationship, your career.
In March 2016, it was my turn to go back after my second baby. I’d been promoted and had the general manager role I’d always wanted. My ego was still driving me and I was determined to prove I could do it all. I was sick on day one of my return. Then on day two. Then still sick seven months later. I don’t really know what happened, but I got caught up in it all.
I worked four days a week and had Wednesdays off with my girls. That should have been time to be just a mother. But I was so sick that month after month, Wednesday mornings saw me ringing doctor after doctor for a last-minute appointment. I would be told I had a sinus infection and sent off with a script for antibiotics. Weeks later, it would happen again. Sick. Random doctor. Script. Sick. Random doctor. Repeat.
Then it happened. In late August, feeling incredibly sick, I was running a team day but had to keep leaving the room to use my asthma puffer because I couldn’t breathe. The next day my husband insisted I go back to the doctor, who prescribed more antibiotics. This was now my seventh script in six months. I started crying. Finally, this doctor realised something was really wrong.
He sent me straight to hospital where I was rushed in and they pretty quickly worked out I was sick. Really sick. I was put on a drip and nebuliser to help me breathe. Tests showed pneumonia behind my diaphragm, scarring on my lungs caused by being so sick, blocked sinuses and bronchitis. I was living on borrowed time.
Are you shaking your head yet? I ended up staying in hospital for three weeks and took two months off work.
So how did I get to this point? For whatever reason, I just believed being sick was part of being a working mum and being busy. Wrong.
People warned me—like I’m telling you now—but I didn’t listen. Returning to work is hard, so you need to listen to your body and stop when you need to.
Here’s what I learnt:
- Lesson #1. Try and always see the same doctor. You need continuity in care.
- Lesson #2. Stress does awful things to your body. Put yourself first and look after your body and mind. Find time each day to de-stress.
- Lesson #3. Take sick days when you are sick. You don’t hesitate to be home with the kids when they are sick, so squash down any mama guilt about taking sick days and take what you’re legally entitled to.
- Lesson #4. Drop the ego. Embarrassingly, I kept going because my ego got the better of me. In the end, people thought less of me for not taking control of my illness sooner.
- Lesson #5. Listen to your friends and family. They kept telling me something was wrong but I was too proud to admit I wasn’t coping. I just assumed another course of antibiotics would fix me.
This story is one I’m not proud of. I could run teams at top corporate levels, but couldn’t figure out my own body and mind needed a break.
The good news is lying in a hospital bed facing potentially life-threatening news made me really think about my values, how I wanted to live my life and what was important. (Circle In makes me happier than ever.)
Don’t be like me. Look after yourself and don’t let your ego or perfectionism or mama guilt control your life. Take control by doing things on your terms, rather than everyone else’s.
Written by Jodi Geddes, Co-founder of Circle In