How a health crisis inspired me to modify my "work hard, play hard” mantra

I’ve been a go-getter for as long as I can remember. My mantra in life was always “work hard, play hard, all day, every day.” And that’s what I’ve always done, up until about 15 months ago.

That’s when I got sick. A sore throat quickly led to an ER visit, and then another and another, until I was admitted to the hospital because I couldn’t swallow water.

It felt like shards of glass were scaling my tonsils and traveling down my esophagus every time I tried to ingest something. It was pain I had never felt before in my life. I was determined I had strep throat, but that test came back negative. Then I was tested for Covid—also negative. During a seven-day stretch in the hospital, I was visited by specialist after specialist: an ear, nose and throat doctor; a gastroenterologist; a cardiologist; my primary care physician, and others. None could put their finger on what was wrong.

After months of tests and procedures, I was ultimately diagnosed with laryngopharyngeal reflux, or LPR, sometimes called “silent reflux.” I started a strict regimen of meds, rest and a mostly liquid diet and though things have improved in places, I’m still not myself. I’m on a mission to understand what has gone haywire in my body, meeting with new doctors often. For now, I’m following a lead from a recent blood test that I may have an immune deficiency. I’m hopeful I can get answers to treat what’s wrong and return to my normal self.

But “normal self”—what does that even mean? Through the past 15 months, I’ve been mired in this mysterious health problem, but I’ve gained clarity on one thing about myself. And it is probably true for many of you out there as well. We go and go and go until we crash at night. Do you ever stop, slow down, relax and make time for yourself?

Me before my health crisis was pushing to my absolute limit. It was how I perceived success: wringing every moment out of the day in an effort to give to those around me. My husband and three children—two sons each playing team sports competitively and a daughter who is a social butterfly—had a whole calendar of activities, and I insisted on never missing a thing. I’d fall into bed at midnight and be back on my feet by 5 a.m. daily, hustling through work then starting my second shift as a super mom, where I was grocery shopping, cooking, planning and attending games. I was burning the wick at both ends and drinking 7 to 10 Coke Zeros a day to power through it all.

The many doctors I met during these months talked often about rest, “me time,” reducing stress. They threw in tough rules, including sleeping more and at an upright angle, completely overhauling my diet, exercising and managing the way I spent my time and energy. It was a major lifestyle adjustment. And I wasn’t ready for it.

It has been trying and tough. I’ve had to re-prioritize everything in my life. What do I have to do, what do I need to do, what do I want to do? What destresses me and takes me away from the day to day? I’ve committed to sleeping 8 to 10 hours a night. I have completely changed the way I eat. I’ve picked up some hobbies to help me reduce stress, including rehabbing furniture, taking an old piece and finding its fresh new beginning.

And I’ve started missing things. I no longer drive four to five hours in the span of a day to make sure I don’t miss one of my son’s college baseball games. I attend what I have the capacity for without running myself into the ground. Because now I listen to my body. It was the type of thing I had never allowed myself to do—I love my kids and want to be there for every moment. But I realized I was being there for everybody else and never showing up for myself.

I always said I couldn’t find time and it was a true statement. I couldn’t find it, I had to commit to making it.

The change from one year to another is a time to reflect on where you are and what you want from your life moving forward. I share this in the hopes it will make a difference for you in 2023 if you’re experiencing anything close to it. It’s a chance to think differently and approach your life with thoughts for improving it.

I’m blessed to work for a company that has my back and is just as eager as I am to find out what’s going on in my life and support me through these changes. I’m very grateful for Interrupt, my leadership team and my colleagues for their backing and support during these months.

As I move into the new year, I’ve got a new focus on life and some new goals to follow.

Suzanne’s New Rules for a Balanced Life

  • apply my mantra, with a twist: give your best at work, enjoy play too, and strive for balance every day
  • make time for yourself with the same gusto you do when you make time for others
  • we’ve only got one body and one life on earth—take care of it!
  • sleep and rest more (no more four to five hour nights, our bodies need eight to ten!)
  • exercise (even if it’s a brisk walk or a 30-minute video—do it!)
  • eat healthier (make good choices; our bodies are fueled by food)
  • don’t stress, because it will all work out in the end
  • be grateful for everything you do have!
  • be good to people; there’s enough negativity in the world
  • work together, not against one another
  • love hard! Tell family and friends how much they mean to you daily
  • do the little things and savor them

If you’re someone who feels they are squeezed to the max, I hope you can take this as a sign that it might be time to take better care of you. If this story helps you discover that, then I’ve paid it forward. I’ve learned that listening to my body and prioritizing myself means I can be my healthiest, most present self when I am there for others, whether it’s at work or at home.

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