The subtitle of this blog is, “Life through the eyes of a young public relations professional.” I have therefore decided to share with you what’s been going on with me professionally. In January, I began experiencing severe pain in my abdomen. After a series of tests and visits to multiple medical experts, I was finally diagnosed. While my condition is not life threatening and I will recover with time, I am currently in a lot of pain and have been since January.
I have chosen to share this with you because quite frankly, the last five months have been a complete nightmare. After being hired at a dream agency and finally feeling like I was settling in, this happened. This crippling pain. Pain so bad I was doubled over. Every day was unpredictable. At first, I would have good days and bad days. On the bad days, I would wake up in so much pain that I literally couldn’t stand.
As the weeks rolled by and as I would break down crying in pain at my desk, I kept thinking, “You’re not trying hard enough. You can do this. Just a couple hours to go.”
I come from a family that believes in good work ethic and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. No complaining. No whining. I LOVE my job and my team. I didn’t want to fail. I didn’t want to let anyone down.
As a hyper type-A personality, I am all about control. I don’t feel the need to control other people or situations, but I put a lot of effort into making sure that my life is completely in control at all times. By the middle of May I began to realize that no matter what I did, my health was completely out of my control. There were no more good days. Every day was a painful nightmare. For those of you familiar with the pain scale (0= no pain, 10=kill me now pain), I was living between a 6-8 every day.
Now while I love my job and I frankly hunger for and strive in stressful situations, it was taking a toll on my health. This year, Forbes named public relations as the #2 most stressful job. Granted, this stress level is more like what my boss experiences, I am nevertheless surrounded by it daily.
When I met with my doctor to discuss my progress she said that out of all her patients, I was progressing the slowest and she recommended a leave to put my health first. Taking the medical leave would allow me to: actually get on top of the pain with medication and do all the therapy available.
Two weeks ago, I met with my boss and was offered a medical leave. (I know, I have an incredible boss.) While it was honestly the LAST thing in the entire world I wanted to do, I knew I had no choice. While I am total perfectionist and admittedly a work-a-holic, I had to realize one simple truth. You only get one body.
One week ago, I began my medical leave and I’ve realized something: I don’t know how to relax. No seriously, I’ve tried everything. In this area, I feel like a baby learning to walk. One step at a time. I know I won’t learn to run by next week. My days now consist of lots of therapy and medication to keep the pain under control.
This has most definitely been the most challenging experience I’ve ever had professionally. Landing a dream job, learning how to adjust to life after school, working with new people and learning so much every day was enough. Throw a health issue into the mix and talk about a curve ball.
Who knows if I did everything right. All I can say is I did my best and tried to be thoughtful about each step. I obviously had no precedent for this. Nevertheless, here are some of the lessons I’ve learned in the process:
Communicate with your boss. Pretend to be in his of her shoes. Keep them in the loop without providing every nitty gritty detail. Respect his or her time. I will admit that there was a bit of luck here. I have an incredible boss both professionally and personally. Without her kindness, I truly don’t know what I would have done.
Don’t just say what you mean, show it. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but many people talk a big game about work ethic and how much they love their job. In this economy, words are empty. Be the first to arrive and the last to leave. Show you care with your attention and the quality of your work. If you need to ask for a favor such as time off, you’ll be more likely to get it. But please, do it because it’s the right thing to do, not because you have selfish motives.
Don’t complain. Nobody likes a whiner. Call me harsh, but you start to feel like you’re babysitting without getting paid. If you must whine, don’t do it at work. I was always taught that when you go to work, you leave your personal problems at the door. I am constantly reminded that this is a great idea that if people actually got on board, it would make the workplace a much more productive space.
Don’t feel guilty about taking care of yourself. When I initially agreed to take a medical leave, I felt guilty. I felt like a failure. Have you ever seen someone balance plates on top of long poles and spin them in the air? I felt just like that, except I wasn’t good at it and I was starting to become startled when a plate would drop and shatter on the ground. There are a lot of things in life that you can control. Off the wall medical issues that just spring up are out of your control. Admitting you can’t do it all isn’t a crime.
I’m interested in hearing from your experience. Have any of you ever tried to balance a medical issue with a job? What did you learn?