“I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.” ~ Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
Sometimes I am the last person to follow my own advice.
When I graduated from nursing school many years ago, I was greeted at the end of the ceremony by the Director of the Nursing Education program. “So you are Bethany Jones,” she said, “the only student nurse to never use a sick day.” When I asked what award that earned me, she responded: “My heartiest congratulations!” Of course, that did not mean much to me. I remembered that early in the program, I had told another student that I hadn’t called in sick because I had never been sick on a day I was scheduled to be ‘on duty’ (student nurses in those days worked a schedule just like any other hospital worker, and received a stipend). Her response was astonishment. ‘You don’t call in sick because you’re sick!’ she admonished me, ‘why waste a perfectly good day being sick? You might as well come in to work when you’re sick. You take a day off when you’re well, so you can enjoy it!’
But I had been raised by people who routinely told the truth. And calling in sick when you are perfectly well would be a lie. It was not that I could not lie, it was that I couldn’t tell a lie on my own behalf. I had called in sick for my friend when we had been out drinking before she was scheduled for a night shift. That had a bad outcome. She actually did get sick and ended up in the hospital where she should have gone to work! The law of intentions works with bad intentions too!
But in my household growing up, merely feeling ill was no reason not to go to school, or work. I used to joke that as a minister’s child (parson daughter), the only way you could miss going to church was if you had diarrhea and a fever. One of the above was not sufficient.
It is a heck of a thing to have a conscience to answer to. Many of those who went to school with me have a similar ethic. An inability to say no; a commitment to a job; a drive to always give your best, no matter what it costs you. This is an admirable quality in an employee. But it is not always appreciated, and, especially in this country, you may find yourself taken for granted.
When we are teaching new student nurses the ‘fundamentals’ of nursing, one of the topics we cover is ‘sleep hygiene.’ One maxim of good nursing involves always choosing the least invasive solution before resorting to stronger interventions. So, if a person complains of being unable to sleep, you start assessing their sleep habits in order to suggest some healthy changes, rather than recommending a ‘sleep aid’ in the form of a pill. Our bodies are creatures of habit. Is your bedroom associated with sleep, or is it a room in which you eat, watch TV, study, follow social media, make phone calls, maybe even work out? If so, your brain has now associated your bedroom with being active. When you turn out the lights, your brain starts protesting and reminding you of jobs unfinished, of tasks still to do. One simple solution is to return your bedroom to the place for one activity only (well maybe two, but intercourse is a good stress reliever and sleep inducer, so go for it!). After a while your brain will comply, and your bed will once more be a place of rest. There are other things that you can do also, such as avoiding strenuous exercise, or a large meal shortly before bedtime. Both are known to interfere with sleep.
Sleep hygiene. Things you can do to induce a good night’s rest. Last week I recognized that I needed to take a day off from work. I had been feeling run down (at least 3 of my close friends and family had informed me how exhausted I looked), so although I was not ‘sick’, I needed what we used to call a mental health day. A day to do nothing. And then it hit me. Working from home had changed my whole attitude to work. We joke that ever since we took our nursing program online, our students think that means we are ‘on-call’. We find ourselves responding to emails at all hours. Since we no longer have office hours where students can drop by and vent, or complain, or get a free counseling session, students reach out at all hours of the day and night, including weekends. And we respond.
I realized that I had lost the separation of work and home. Since my office was in my home, if I sit at may computer in my off time, I might as well check my work emails while I am there. No place to go on the weekend due to the pandemic? I might as well sit at the computer and catch up on office work, or grading, or planning. Instead of arriving home from work, changing out of my work clothes and relaxing, I am in work mode from dawn to bedtime. Not healthy.
I reached out to some friends, and we went for a drive out of town. I remembered that feeling of a road trip, of going to the Keys and feeling the weight of responsibility dropping off my shoulders, of sitting a little straighter, breathing a little deeper. We must maintain balance if we are to stay healthy. We have to set limits, step away from the computer, ignore the emails, if we are to stay topped up and energetic.
Last week we lost another icon, a beacon for justice and human rights. The Notorious RBG (gotta love whoever gave her that title) was known for her work ethic. In her case her job was her purpose, her reason for living. And we asked so much of her. We asked her to fight through malignancy and prayed only for her health so that she could continue to keep the wolves from the door. She battled cancer and came back to work; she fought infection and kept on dissenting. Even with her last breath she was thinking of us, fighting for us, the fist in the dike, trying to hold back the waves of inequity. A meme I saw this week captioned her picture thus: Now we are Ruthless: act accordingly.
This Friday morning, I remind everyone to seek balance to maintain health. Limit your screen time, protect your me time. Fight the good fight when it is called for, but choose your battles wisely. And whenever you are given the opportunity, dissent in the name of RBG, justice, equal rights and world unity.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!