Navigating a Professional Conference with Mental and Physical Issues
Any time I leave home to go somewhere overnight, there are so many questions...
- What will it be like where I'm staying?
- Will I be on the first floor/is there an elevator?
- Will the bed be too firm for me to be able to sleep? Will it be too soft?
- What will the weather be like?
- Is the water filtered?
- What will the meals consist of? Will I have choices or have to eat whatever is provided?
- What kind of seating is provided? (Tiny seats like wedding chairs don't work for someone like me.)
- How will I get there?
If you've been a part of my blog for any time, you know that all of these issues aren't just because I'm a diva. Though not necessary, these legitimate questions and answers make a big difference in how well I do while I'm gone.
Earlier this spring I attended a conference for professional communicators in a city about five hours from my home. It was a big deal to get invited to go as a freelancer and I was excited about not only learning from some great speakers but also getting away for a few days.
However, there was a wrench in the plan. My dad went into the hospital the Wednesday before I had to leave on Monday. My mom had recently had surgery on her hand and was still very dependent on the help of others - mostly from my dad, actually. I had no idea what to do.
After talking to my mom and to my now-fiance, I decided to go but to drive myself in case I needed to come home early.
Maybe it was the stress of making the decision, helping to take care of my mom, other work issues, a physical illness that made me more fatigued and nauseated than usual, or just the way my brain works, but I entered a bipolar low mood cycle (i.e. depression) right before I left home.
When there was a lecture that was really exciting, I could push through to attend and even engage with what was going on.
But I quickly found out that the only way I could do that was if I took a lot of breaks.
I'm the kind of person who gets to a professional conference and wants to learn everything I can - not one who skips the workshops and heads to the local attractions or goes shopping at a nearby mall. So it was really difficult for me to miss any of the sessions... but I did.
Before all of the therapy and learning about my physical and mental issues - and realizing that it was okay to not be "on" every second of every day, I would have pushed it to attend
activities (WHEW! That was hard!)
But pushing myself to make the most of the time there would have been miserable. (It was bad enough even with the breaks I allowed myself to take.)
The first night we were there, I did okay through the few first-day sessions. But when it came time to eat supper, I knew all of my "spoons" were used up. (If you don't understand that reference, go to https://theswaddle.com/what-the-spoon-theory-means-for-people-living-with-chronic-illnesses-disabilities/#:~:text=The%20metaphor%20uses%20spoons%20to,to%20get%20through%20the%20day )
Again, before I learned it is as important to rest when I need it as it is to be productive, I would have pushed it and gone out to eat with my work buddies. I wanted to go since they are a fun group of people and we were planning to eat in the French Quarter of New Orleans, something I've never done before.
But instead, I made the difficult, though smart, decision to stay in my room and order Chinese take-out.
And now, months later, though it would have been nice to have the energy to go with them, I have no doubt it was the right decision.
Another thing I did was walk out of a workshop that was good, but wasn't directly related to what I do. Keep in mind, my social anxiety makes it almost impossible to walk out. But I was trying to have discernment on which classes were the most impactful to what I do - and leaving one that I realized wasn't in that category gave me enough spoons to make it to those that were.
It's taken a while but I finally feel that I am starting to recognize my limits and put that information to good use. I might not be able to do as much as I could years ago - before the plethora of mental and physical illnesses started invading my life - but I can still do a lot.
I guess that old saying, "Work smarter, not harder," applies to not only work... it applies to the lives of those of us with these issues.
Take care of yourself. Take breaks. Do what you need to do and take breaks as needed so that you can, at least sometimes, have the energy to do what you want to do.