Running On Empty

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The other day during a group coaching session, one of my clients shared a story about a time in his career, which he was not proud of, but happy it happened.  The story was about when he was working an exorbitant amount of hours (upwards of 90 per week), getting very little sleep, not eating well and neglecting himself.   What he remembers of his story is as follows:  He was walking from a conference room to his boss’s office during a hectic day while trying to meet an upcoming client deadline.  He had been feeling okay that day – just tired with a slight headache but that was normal since he wasn’t sleeping much or eating well.  The pace was a bit frantic and he remembers thinking that he needed to quickly get some updated data to his boss.  His next memory is waking up in a hospital bed with strangers around him. The “strangers” were actually his parents and doctors but he didn’t recognize anyone.  He had passed out at work and remained unconscious through his ambulance ride to the hospital.  When he woke up in the emergency room, he had temporary amnesia.   He didn’t know who he was or where he was. He was terrified.

Thankfully he ended up regaining his memory within a few days.  After a battery of tests came back proving nothing was seriously wrong with him, he was released from the hospital and sent home to rest.  His passing out and temporary amnesia were both related to stress and physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.  He pushed his body to its limits and his body responded by shutting down.  When he wouldn’t stop to rest of his own accord, his body forced him to do so.  He has since changed jobs and left the organization where he was working when this occurred.  That was two years ago.  Today, he’s 32 years old.

I have a similar personal story.  When I was 34 years old, I was working in a similar, high-stress environment as my client. It was a busy time both at work and at home for me since I was also in the middle of a move.  I had been working a lot of hours and when I wasn’t working, I was doing something related to moving.   I remember feeling a bit low energy and “off” on this particular day but nothing which caused me to stop and pay attention to myself.  I remember standing up from my desk to go talk to one of my employees and felt really weird – a combination of nauseous and dizzy.  The next thing I knew my employee was standing over me shaking me saying, “Andria, Andria!”.  I was on the floor in my office and had no idea what happened.  I tried to get up but she wouldn’t let me.  The next thing I knew the EMTs were in my office and loading me onto a stretcher and into an ambulance.  Like my client, I passed out at work.  Thankfully I didn’t lose my memory, however, I did hit my head pretty hard on my desk as I went down.  Like my client, my body shut itself down because I wouldn’t allow it the rest it needed.    I, too, went through a battery of tests, which thankfully all came back negative, and what happened to me was due to stress and exhaustion.    Like my client, I was running on empty.  We think we can do it all (especially when we are young) but we can’t.  It doesn’t matter how young or healthy we are, our bodies have physical, emotional, and mental limits.   We have to refuel, recharge, and fill ourselves up physically, mentally, and emotionally so that we are not on empty.  If we’re on empty, we’ve got nothing left to give.  It doesn’t work – as much as it may seem to work for a while, eventually it catches up with you.

So, take a lesson from both my client and me.   Listen to your body before it has no choice but to force you to listen.   Pay attention to yourself. You don’t want your wakeup call to be hitting your head on your desk as you fall over in your office or waking up without knowledge of who or where you are. It’s much easier to remember, first and foremost, to take care of yourself.

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