Mental Illness Awareness Week

Take a break already and stop feeling bad about it

In honor of Mental Illness Awareness Week, I’m going to share candid stories about my journey learning to manage my mental illness. Later this week, I will share my story of mental illness and disability in more detail, but today I want to focus on anxiety, O.C.D. (obsessive compulsive disorder), and taking breaks.

Colleagues and friends are often amazed at my ability to “get shit done”. I can sit down at my desk for 16 hours and power through preparing a grant application on a deadline, without taking a break, and, yes, the grant will even be successful.

Sometimes we joke it’s my super power. This hyper focus is both a blessing and a curse. The ability to sit down and power through something to finish it stems from an extremely unhealthy place. It’s a combination of an obsessive compulsion to complete and perfect work and overwhelming anxiety that I cannot take a break until the work is complete. In fact, if I take a break – to eat, to take a walk, to sleep, to take a shower even – I will experience chest pains, knots in my stomach, and difficulty breathing due to the enormous anxiety that I MUST continue working. Sometimes I even have panic attacks when I take breaks.

If this is even a little familiar to you, I totally understand what you’re going through. As grant writers, grant professionals, grant managers, grant strategists, we are always on deadline. We always have a baseline level of stress driven by deadlines. But this is positive stress, mostly. It should keep us actively moving toward goals and managing productivity. While “getting shit done” is admirable, the impact on my health, both mentally and physically, is severe. I once tore a ligament in my knee pulling one of these OCD work marathons, sitting at my desk too long. Yeah, that’s not embarrassing at all.

Learning to take breaks is essential for our well being. I had to learn (and still learning, really) to allow myself to take breaks. This is hard, because when I take a break, everything in my head is screaming that I cannot. I don’t have time. I won’t finish the task. The client will call. A meteor will hit the planet. The apocalypse will arrive. You get my drift. I have to actively engage in positive self talk that I can, indeed, step away from my desk for 30 minutes to take a walk, that I will not lose anything essential in 30 minutes, the world will not end, and that nothing is so important for me to risk my health.

And that’s the truth of it. When you allow your anxiety to override your basic needs, your health becomes at risk.

Today, I encourage you to choose yourself first.

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