Looking back one of the first signs something was awry was ignoring scrabble, specifically words with friends.
It wasn’t that I didn’t care, I really did. I love scrabble.
I’m not that good but I love playing anyway.
Of course I like winning but I am also happy with the brain exercise.
Then one day, I just couldn’t think properly anymore.
I remember the exact moment. I didn’t know what was wrong with me.
My brain wasn’t working. I couldn’t put the letters in any order. My mind would wander and I couldn’t focus. So I stopped playing. That was a mistake.
On the road you are isolated and just that little connection helps you feel less alone. A laugh and a game with a friend brings memories that help blur the beige walls of the hotel you are staying at and bring colour to the end of your difficult day.
I was working 6 days a week and driving 3,000 ks out west NSW for my job.
So that meant I was clocking up 24 hrs of driving in a single workweek.
That’s just under 25% of my waking week on the road alone.
I didn’t recognise the signs of burn out. I just kept going because no one else could do the job at that time. I was rostered on and I’d do it.
I wouldn’t let my elders down. They needed me and I looked forward to hanging with them every week.
I also wanted to keep my job. I loved my job.
I didn’t notice my exhaustion and because my work away from home meant I lost my connection with friends and I didn’t have anyone checking in on me.
My teenage son was lost in the hubris of either forging independence and/or losing himself to another world and he no longer kept in regular contact with me.
The grief of his distance confused the symptoms of my work exhaustion.
I was falling asleep crying most nights and when I wasn’t working I’d have no energy for anything,
My music suffered. I wrote no new songs.
I usually wrote a song a week as that’s what made me the happiest.
I had very little happiness for a long time.
The joy that I did find, I got this from hanging out with my friends kids where I could loose myself in their silliness.
The irony, that’s not wasted on me, was it was my actual job to bring joy to 150 elders with dementia every week.
Send in the clowns!
Even though I was seeing friends when I could, I would put a mask of coping on as much as I could. I was deeply ashamed of my constant inability to function or be happier. I wasn’t a good friend because I had so little to give.
My immune system was also shot to shit. I was sick a lot of the time but I kept going. Ta fucking da!
Never cancelling work but cancelling social engagements or hanging out with friends because of sickness/exhaustion.
Desperately, I wanted to write.
Anything, a poem, a blog, a song, my book..... anything.
But my brain was black and what I wrote was shit.
I had nothing.
This fueled my unhappiness and my feelings of failure but I still wanted to keep working so I could buy some land, so I’d finally have a home, a place to rest and be still.
This thought of stability and security kept me going through those days when I’d wake up and say I just can’t keep driving.
I drove myself through the insanity of my toxic work environment, through the days of sadness, through long nights lone and the growing pain in my shoulder that I thought would go away in time.
Now I am pretty broken.
My arm doesn’t work from the RSI of all that touring and playing music.
It will take 6-18 months to get better.
I tear up at least once a day either from pain, frustration or just plain old sadness.
I’m on workers comp but the guilt and the pressure to get better makes it feel like a burden.
That in itself makes me feel even guiltier that I don’t appreciate the support I have.
My mind is being a nasty fucker and it takes all I can to be vigilant with my thoughts and refocus on healing.
I woke up last night with a big anxiety attack because I was so scared about what I was going to do for work. The dark haze of the night and my anxiety made me disorientated but I am an expert at this now, as I wake up at most nights with these.
I got up, had a bite of a banana and some water and focused on my breathing and repeated in my head.. 'this too shall pass.'
Then this morning I had a big epiphany that the trigger for this anxiety was exactly the same I used to get in the mornings before hitting the road. Yet back then I knew how to bury it. I just keep ignoring it til the night and then a few drinks would take the edge off.
But this time I have no distraction with work.
I have only my head and my constant pain and discomfort.
The company that drove me into the ground went into voluntary liquidation just before Christmas, owing their employees tens of thousands of dollars.
Although we had our duty of care for our elders drummed into us, their duty of care towards their employees was negligible.
Now months later, I can’t play guitar, I still can’t focus on anything for long and I have 5 different medical professionals looking after me, so I can function again and get back to work. At first it felt I finally had people that supported me, I don’t have much of a family nor did the company I worked for care much, but now I feel overly handled and pressured into working when I am just so fucking confused and messy.
I am not going out much, I can’t.
I’m simply trying to get better.
It’s seems to be one of the most difficult things to do.
All I know now is that if I invest back into my health, like I should have before, I'll be alright.
So it's baby steps for me.
Today I will do two big things. I will clean the place I’m renting and I will do my physio. I hope to go to dinner with a mate but will have to see how I go.
I used to do so much and now it’s an achievement if I wash up.
This is what happens when you ignore the signs of stress.
Please don’t ignore yours.
You have a duty of care towards yourself.