It is November 14 and I am on vacation. It is the first vacation I have taken this year and I will never – ever – go so long without a vacation again.
Normally I take a week in the spring, two or three weeks in the summer and a week in the fall or during the holidays. This year, I took a week off in the spring but it was no vacation. I felt myself slipping into a depression and took the time to deal with that. Throughout the year I have taken a day here or a day there when I wasn’t feeling well or needed a long weekend.
I realized in September that working so much with so little time off was affecting my mental health. Some mornings I woke up and wondered what day it was. Sometimes I tried to figure it out but I got to the point where I was like, f- it – it really didn’t matter what day it was.
I had to work – either at the newspaper or in the yard or on my 85-year-old house, which seems to be falling down around me. I felt that the only thing saving me from falling into my black hole was the floor beneath me – my medications. And I was flat on my ass on that floor.
The last two months have been hellish. As journalist for 30 years I’ve seen a lot of nasty stuff. However, September and November brought two new cases that raised the depravity and brutality bar. I won’t go into details but both involved mothers who ended up dead – one without a head – and orphaned or dead kids.
I was supposed to begin my vacation last Friday but after the second memorial service last Wednesday, I told my editors that I was leaving – now.
“What about your weekender,” one editor asked about a story I had planned to write for the weekend.
“Ain’t gonna happen,” I responded, then left. I had allowed myself – even volunteered – to cover the stories without considering that I had not had a vacation and that these were horrific homicides and gut-wrenching memorial services.
I should have known the end was near when my sleep went south. I have an app on my phone that monitors the quality of my sleep by detecting my movement while I sleep. But for my dog sometimes jumping on the bed, it seems accurate. My worst night sleep was November 4. I had worked 7 straight days, much of it on the case involving the decapitated mother.
According to the app, my sleep quality that night was 50 percent. Last night – 6 days into an 18-day vacation – the quality of my sleep was 91 percent.
Sometimes I wish I had an editor who would rein me in or at least inquire if I’m okay because I have no OFF switch. I will literally work myself into a depression. I have tried for years to acquire an OFF switch but all I have is an ON switch that is permanently ON.
I know it is my responsibility – not my editors’ – to set my boundaries. I got myself into this jam. I could have taken time off earlier this year but there always seemed to be another great story breaking and I did not want to leave.
You would think after 30 years I would know that there is always another great story around the corner and that the paper is going to end up in your driveway in the morning whether I write the story or not.
I am not watching the news or reading the paper during this vacation. I have also not read my work emails. This is not easy. I just turned down a radio interview with a public radio station in Miami after I choked out the words, “I’m…on…vacation…” I think she was as surprised as I was that I turned it down.
I have a monster to-do list to work on during this stay-cation. I have already ticked off a couple of the big tasks. I have also taken a couple of monster naps. Hopefully, I will get to the point where I don’t know what day it is because I am so relaxed.
But for now, it’s still Thursday.
Life-work-balance image available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 14 Nov 2013