Mama said there’d be days like this.
Sometimes when we’re feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or sad, we simply need a time out.
That was the prescription our midwife gave us after Lucy was born. Kim and I had come into the delivery day mentally depleted, our first child already a few weeks overdue. Then the labor itself was a marathon. After the birth, Kim almost fainted because of a drop in blood pressure. As she recovered, it was on me to put on Lucy’s first diaper and figure out out to dress a four-hour-old (it’s like trying to gift-wrap Jell-O) before clearing an inch of ice from our car so we could drive home from the birth center.
The prospect of going home to attend to the 24/7 needs of a newborn was overwhelming, to say the least. Aware of our exhaustion and sensing our uncertainty, our midwife said, “You know what I want you to do? When you get home, I want you to order in the biggest, cheesiest, gooiest deep-dish pizza ever, and savor it.”
And we did. It was glorious.
It was just the little treat we needed to keep going. We still rely on the magical properties of pizza from time to time.
Sometimes we require something stronger, like a “sick of it” day. In most workplaces, if you have the flu, a persistent cough, or you’re going through more Kleenex than me watching the opening scenes of “Up,” you get to take a sick day and stay home from work. But what if you have a case of the Mondays (or a case of November)?
Kim and I recommend taking a “sick of it” day. (You can still tell your boss it’s a “sick day.”) It’s kind of like playing hooky, but it’s really a chance to shift momentum and throw life a curveball for a change. You can do anything you want, but no work and no chores. Treat yo self.
But what happens when those days mama warned us about turn into weeks, or months, or years?
Our body will tell us if we’re paying attention. I like to think of our negative emotions as a check engine light for our body and soul. You know, the light that illuminates our vehicle’s dashboard to tell us that something’s off. Most people handle it like my father-in-law handled the check engine light on his old Chevrolet Celebrity – with a thick black piece of electrical tape, hiding the light from view.
Or not. Ignoring a problem rarely works. If you’re in a funk right now or enduring a hard season, it might be time to call a time-out and see what the inner check engine light is trying to tell you.
I preach the power of optimism. But it’s unrealistic to expect we can go through life on a positive high all the time (and I’m leery about people who seem to do so).
Maybe you’re experiencing caregiver fatigue. Maybe it feels like everything you touch turns to shitake. Or maybe you’re burned out from the last three years of pandemic, politics, and pivoting.
It’s ok. Welcome to the Human Club. You’re normal!
We don’t have to be afraid of feeling the feels and examining what they have to teach us.
Uncomfortability can be useful. We need to pay attention to our inner check engine light, not ignore it with a never-ending Netflix marathon, a bottle of wine, or any of the countless ways we self-medicate to numb ourselves to escape our pain.
It’s giving us a heads-up that something may need to be addressed. For me, it’s usually a warning that I need to ease up on adding new commitments to my calendar, a reminder to spend more time in my secret hideout, or an invitation to get a little more rest. (Often it’s a combo of all three.)
This approach from Steve Jobs is a good guide. He said, “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
Are you in need of a change? It might be time to talk to someone, like a counselor, pastor, or medical professional. Maybe you need to take that difficult first step toward healing a relationship. Or maybe it’s time to finally embark on that new career path.
Remember, for now doesn’t mean forever. It may feel like there’s no end in sight to the malaise you’re experiencing, but it only seems that way.
Don’t be afraid to peel back the tape on your check engine light and see what it has to tell you.
Maybe a gooey, cheesy pizza and a night on the couch is exactly what you need. Maybe a “sick of it” day will do the trick. Or maybe it’s time for a baby step toward a bigger change.
Let your inner check engine light lead the way.