How Vertigo Changed the Way I Work

An unexpected lesson in slowing down and gaining more focus.

Image: Shutterstock

Busy, busy. Type, type. Click, click. Life as a business owner can often be non-stop, especially if your business is service-based with expectant, loyal clients you want to impress and keep happy.

My name is Sarah and I am a graphic designer by trade, and for the last 7 years I have created, grown and nurtured an independent creative agency based in the North West of England. My clients range from large, well-known retailers to individuals starting-up their own business. I love what I do and it shows in the work I create and in the testimonials of the amazing clients I service. As well as the agency, I run a website called ‘Beacon’, a guiding light for individuals and families navigating divorce. The site was built following my own traumatic divorce, it allows me to share my experience to help others as well as offering various experts, professionals and contributors a platform to offer information and guidance.

Beacon launched in December 2016 and is a passion of mine, although at the moment my main source of income is still my design agency. As the New Year started, a new chapter began and I remember the excitement of starting a new year with so much to look forward to and so many plans for both businesses. I worked long days, weekends and split my time between Beacon and the agency. When I worked late, I found it hard to sleep — I’m guessing it was because I had spent too many hours at my desk staring at a screen and I hadn’t given my brain enough time to slow down before I placed my head on the pillow.

By the end of January, still with excitement in my bones, I ploughed through projects whilst still drumming up interest and contributors for Beacon. I must have looked like a living zombie. The lack of sleep was starting to show in my outward appearance and I hadn’t had time to visit the hairdressers with all the exciting projects I was working on. Although I worked so hard and so many hours, I still thought I could achieve more and mentally punished myself that I hadn’t achieved certain goals, and even worse I was sporting a reverse ombre look (my roots were so bad I had two-tone hair, not good). Working hard was nothing new to me as I have always been a ‘workaholic’ (of which my uncle thinks is genetic as we are all like it on my dad’s side of the family).

As I was building my Instagram account for Beacon, I started to follow various entrepreneurs, successful vloggers, bloggers and people who were making money by looking like they were having THE BEST LIFE EVER! Why was I working all day everyday to still take home a salary (plus a bit extra)? Don’t get me wrong, I have a very comfortable life, great holidays and a drive a nice car… but these people were on holiday all the time, doing yoga at 11am, meeting friends for coffee in the afternoon and playing with their French Bulldog all evening… how could I get where they are? Earning money whilst seemingly doing nothing. I remember thinking…

… “All I need is a few weeks off from what I am doing now. I need to relax, recoup and draw up a plan for the future. I am aspiring to design the life I’ve always wanted. The life I deserve”.

Taking a few weeks off was NEVER going to happen as I am self-employed, I have no-one to lean on or pay the bills if I don’t work. And if I don’t work, I don’t get paid, I can’t pay my rent, I can’t eat or leave the house to go and socialise. So back to the grindstone I went.

February 2017, I am sat in the hairdressers finally getting my hair coloured and cut after months of neglect, chatting to my stylist about how busy I am, how tired I am, how exhausted I feel, how I need time off… blah, blah, blah. I left the salon feeling a million times better. I had been pampered and preened and the walking zombie now had luscious new locks and a spring in her step.

Later that evening I felt a little more tired than usual, so sloped off to bed early. I had a date planned with a great guy the following day, so thought it best to take advantage of the sleepiness and try to get some beauty sleep (plus it may help to get rid of the bags under my eyes).

The next morning when I awoke, I stumbled out of bed. Half asleep I visited the bathroom for my morning tiddle and felt hungover as I sat on the cold seat of the toilet. “That’s odd!”, I thought to myself. I hadn’t had a drink in ages, I’m not that fussed with drinking, and I hadn’t had any alcohol the night before. I stumbled back to my bedroom and lay down on the bed. The room spinning, I lay on my side and closed my eyes, hoping it would slow down. I tried to shift it mentally with breathing and meditation, but I had an overwhelming urge to be sick. I felt my way to the bathroom and lay on the floor for what seemed like hours, but it was only minutes. I hadn’t managed to make myself sick so I decided to make my way (precariously) down the stairs so I could sit on my garden bench for some fresh air.

The cool air soothed me and calmed my spinning head. I was wondering if I’d perhaps had an adverse reaction to the hair colour or if it was something I’d eaten the day before. Should I cancel my date?

As the day progressed I felt better, although a little unsteady on my feet sometimes. I decided to go on the date even though I wasn’t 100%, I really liked this guy and didn’t want to let him down or give him some lame excuse. I made it to the end of the date and explained how unwell I felt and couldn’t wait to get in to my bed… without him.

Sunday morning and more of the same. The room span like I was laid down on the floor of a carousel or spinning top. The only thing that stopped the spinning was sleep. So I slept, and slept, till it was Monday morning — I lost Sunday completely. Worried about the condition I was in I made an appointment with the doctors that morning and headed straight over to see my GP. After some vomit-inducing exercises and instruments shone in my ear, nose and eyes, I was diagnosed with Vertigo…

(FACT: The term vertigo is often incorrectly used to describe a fear of heights. The medical term for a fear of heights and the dizzy feeling associated with looking down from a high place is “acrophobia”.)

… I digress. Vertigo can be caused by a variety of things including an ear infection, inner ear issues and even in some cases stress. It is a symptom, rather than a condition itself. It’s the sensation that you, or the environment around you, is moving or spinning… and it’s a blooming nightmare if you get it.

Having never had Vertigo before, this was all new to me. My GP gave me Betahistine tablets to stabilise my balance and powerful anti-sickness tablets to stop me wanting to lie on the floor.

If you are like me and believe in the Law of Attraction or what you put out in to the Universe can come back to bite you well, I certainly misjudged the the laws and the Universe. I had asked for a few weeks off to recoup, but I hadn’t been specific enough to say that I wanted money in the bank, a relaxing beach holiday and no client projects outstanding. What I did get was weeks and weeks of lying down, unable to work, unable to drive, cook, clean, watch tv, write, look at a computer or phone screen, talk without stopping and waiting for the world to stop spinning. I was in a messed up place and not even positive thinking could get me out of this one.

My dad (bless his heart) came and stayed for a week to care for me and my amazing friends came over to keep me company, attempt to make me laugh and tidied around my little house. They even took me food shopping, which can only be likened to being thrown in to the weirdest computer game of ‘Supermarket Sweep’ with blurred aisles of colour and the white-knuckle ride that is navigating a shopping trolley. Vertigo showed me that I am surrounded by love which made me feel very grateful and blessed… but on a negative note it only highlighted further that if I don’t work, I don’t get paid!

Fast forward 6 weeks and I am finally starting to work again, but this time it’s DIFFERENT. I still get bouts of dizziness and unsteadiness but I work in short focussed bursts. I don’t procrastinate on projects and I don’t waste time clicking around the internet as a distraction. I can only work for 2 hours at a time with 1–2 hours break in between, however, things are getting done.

Fast forward to June 2017

How Vertigo changed the way I work:

  1. I plan my week not my days — all projects are written on a sheet and the ‘urgents’ are highlighted so they don’t get lost. I don’t plan it by day as I don’t know how I’ll feel, but I set myself actions to be completed by certain days/dates.
  2. I work in 1–2 hour focussed bursts. When not creating content for social media, I leave my phone in another room and ignore any calls or texts that come in. Whatever I am working on gets my full attention.
  3. I have a timer app on my desktop that records the time spent on each project, which then cuts down on my admin time as it just prints off a timesheet each week/month.
  4. I make time for me. I schedule in time for things I want to do (including hair appointments) so that I can take care of my mental health as well as my physical appearance.
  5. I book in time with friends. I live and work on my own. Spending weeks in a house without leaving it at all, being almost bed-ridden, has taught me to appreciate the freedom I have and the friends I have.
  6. I sleep. I have prioritised sleep over work some days and if I feel tired in the day, I will have a nap then work later. My days are more flexible. Most days I do not set an alarm and trust my body to wake up when it feels refreshed and recharged.
  7. I’ve learnt to stop punishing myself about lack of ‘work/life balance’. If I’m happy then I’m balanced. It’s my choice to be self-employed and therefore my choice to work in the evening and go out in the daytime, or work a weekend and take 2 days off in the week.
  8. I don’t compare my life to the almost ‘too good to be true’ lives that are portrayed on social media.

Vertigo gave me the time off I had asked for, but at the cost of financial inconvenience… however, my new way of working has changed my life for the better, so I suppose I should be grateful for all that this bout of dizziness has taught me!

I look forward to getting back to writing again and hope you will get to read more of my adventures, useful tips and advice very soon.

Originally published at journal.thriveglobal.com

Work Smarter, Mental Health

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