Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Taking a mental health day cures what ails

The first time I heard the phrase "Take a mental health day," I thought it was crazy. The words came from one of my newspaper mentors, a woman who'd been in the journalism game when it was run mainly by men. I idolized this woman. She was everything I wanted to be, strong minded, strong willed, with a strong sense of what made a good story tick. But when she mentioned to me that I needed to give myself a break and take a "mental health day" I thought she'd lost her mind.

At the time I was working a lot of 12-hour days as a newspaper section editor with a small child who spent a lot of time curled up under my desk (after day care hours). My day started a 5:30 a.m. and ended later than I would rather admit. I had everything planned, every moment of every day. I even made a special time grid (talk about crazy). And to have this woman I admired telling me I needed a mental health day (when I didn't even have time to breath without scheduling it) pretty much pissed me off.

She was right, of course. And by the end of that week I had an asthma attack and was stuck in bed missing deadlines and awaiting the "I told you so" from my editor mentor upon my return.

You'd think I'd have learned from that experience. But sometimes, you have to learn the same lessons over and over and over again. I've spent a lifetime learning this one. My personality is such that even working from home I only sit down when I am writing. I don't think about recharging my batteries or taking a time out. I go and go because, well, stopping seems so wrong.

But it's the taking a breath time that reminds me what I want. And yesterday is a perfect example. I was overtaken by a 24-hour bug that wasn't bad, but it kept me laid up on the couch. It turned into a wonderfully unproductive day. I finished a book. I watched "The Three Faces of Eve" with my movie buff son. I thought about the next step in my quest to get my latest stories published. I breathed.

I know it's easy for me to say that we all need to take a mental health day once in a while. I'm at home now with the dog, cat and kid. But I still have that drive we all have to make the most of the day and get as much done on the 'to do' list as I can.

All it takes is one day to cure what ails you, though. Turn off the cell. Don't rev up the laptop. Sit around and be a couch potato for once. I dare you.

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