After a nine-month hiatus from full-time work — I had to walk through a big health crisis — I am feeling the desire to report, write and create again.
The Universe appears to be in cahoots with my mission; I am swamped with assignments for stories. These are pieces that require a lot of self-reflection, research and reporting. And of course they all come with deadlines.
I can already feel the adrenaline rush of it all. Which for me, is a warning sign — one that shrieks of hard-earned lessons.
For decades, I fueled myself with little other than adrenaline. When I was a reporter for The Miami Herald and was first hired to work in its Neighbor’s section — a hyper-local insert that went inside the main paper — I remember thinking: Fine, I will do this job and then, in my spare time, I will work on front page stories for the main paper. Then I’ll get promoted to the job I want. Which is exactly what happened. I became an enterprise reporter, a nationally sought after position, at the main features desk at the age of 30.
Problem was, I got so burnt out from working 12 hours a day, six and seven days a week, that when I drove by the waterfront newspaper office on the weekends, I cried. It was an unexpected move for me to quit my job there. After all, I was at the pinnacle of my career. But looking back, I think that exhaustion played a role in my reasoning — or lack thereof.
After my seven-year stint at The Herald, I bought a 3-acre horse ranch in Southern Oregon and opened my own business, a horse treat business for Insulin Resistant horses. There, I worked 12 -16 hours a day for eight years. Without a day off. Not a single day off in eight years!
All of this led to a depletion so great that when the proverbial shit hit the fan — the rental apartment I was living in burned down due to faulty wiring that the landlord installed, my mother and dog died of cancer and my family turned against me in collective hatred over a family inheritance — I did not have the inner resources to deal with any of it.
In 2014 I became homeless. The story of my colossal collapse can be found here, in an article I wrote in the Washington Post in 2018.
I have learned a lot from my plummet to the lowest rungs of this society. But for the sake of this blog post, I will narrow my sharing of those lessons to this one: If I don’t take care of myself, no one else will.
At first, as I clawed my way out of homelessness, I thought that self-care was all about money. I started out writing for a newspaper that homeless people sold on the street for $1, and working as a cashier at a local Whole Food here in Salt Lake City. Within months, I had moved on to other, better paying jobs, and was working 40, 50 hours a week. Then I became a full-time freelancer and found myself pulling 50, 60, even 70 hour work weeks. This continued until the spring of 2020, when I experienced a health crisis that required intense and immediate intervention.
The lesson I have chosen to learn from my workaholism: Challenges continue until the required lessons are learned.
I know now that self-care is about more than counting the dollars in my bank account. It is also about taking care of myself emotionally and spiritually. For me, that often means taking regular breaks from my work to spend plenty of silent time in nature.
These days, even when the deadlines are piling up and those breaks seem counterintuitive, I stop. This weekend, with three story deadlines looming, I drove from Salt Lake City, where I live, to Antelope Island, a 10-mile stretch of protected land in Davis County, UT. It is the kind of place that is so pretty that you turn your radio down in order to better see the sights, which include the soft dappled waters of the Great Salt Lake, gorgeous, desert rock formations, and nonchalant Bison ambling within a heart-stopping distance from my car.
I returned home with a handful of dried flowers, lots of sand on my clothes — and a rejuvenated mind and body ready to receive the necessary cues to meet my deadlines. Instead of adrenaline, I feel a different kind of energy, a less frenetic energy, one with a pleasant flow to it. I had filled my well.
At 55, I still have so much I want to accomplish in the world. This new way is how I want to go about it.