Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Self-compassion: A work in progress

Now on day 5 of a pretty awful cough I decided to stay home from work today, something I do maybe 2-3 days a year at most (my place of work is a children’s hospital). Yesterday I felt guilty for my loud coughing and had the feeling that my presence was likely unwelcome as a spreader of disease. So, I stayed home today, pager on, colleagues at work notified of my staying home, and switched my laptop on and started the day with the hope that I would get through editing a research paper that others are waiting for me to complete so they can then do their parts. What ended up happening was that I just felt physically unwell and achy all day and did not get any of my hoped for writing/editing done. Instead I did a bunch of tasks around the house I rarely have time for (putting up a bookshelf for example) and puttered around checking my emails pathologically often but not really doing anything with the ones that required more than a few minutes thought to answer. In the end I did not do much work at all – had I done no work it would have ultimately made no difference at all – I will continue to deal with the never-ending “things to do list’ when I feel better. But I spent most of the day with a vague sense of guilt (after all I am not really that sick) and dissatisfaction that in the end served no-one, myself included. If you ask me what I would advise a friend or colleague if they were to take a sick day I would say to them, with a semi-lofty combination of concern and loving-kindness “to stay home and take it easy, don’t do any work, just take care of yourself”. Why am I harder on myself than I am on others (at least for this kind of thing)? I suspect that many of us are the same – we would advise those we care about to rest when ill and put things in perspective, but are less likely to feel “ok” with applying that to ourselves. All of this is in the context of me being more frequently asked (and wanting to be asked) to write about “self care” in medicine. I am also the one who started a “work-life” balance email list at work and a dedicated  facebook group. It appears that I need to both listen to my own advice and put my words into practice (“walk the walk”), even as this rant/blog has me “talking the talk” yet again.