I took a mental health day.

My personality has a penchant for overworking. It’s easy for me to get absorbed in strategy and doing “my best” to the point of forgetting my humanity. Last week, I hit my wall. Hard.

When Monday morning rolled around, I already had a headache — and it wasn’t getting better. I kept telling myself, “you love your job. Your employer is fantastic. You’re so lucky you get to travel while you work. Stop being ungrateful.” Despite that all being true, it didn’t make my headache go away.

I woke up with  a headache on Tuesday. I woke up with a headache on Wednesday. I woke up with a headache on Thursday and realized I was in Migraine Land. This wasn’t about needing more sleep. This was about needing more rest. Outside of federal holiday/floater days, I hadn’t taken any actual time off since last November.

Yeah, that’s not good. But I’m not alone.

The U.S. is notoriously terrible when it comes to paid time off. While the rest of the developed world lives with the expectation of down time, holidays, and recuperation, many Americans have a sense of guilt when it comes to unplugging. Add to that our lack of mandatory time off, and it’s easy to see why: even if our employers are entirely okay with it, our lack of a federal precedent has created a culture where rejuvenation as an expectation in our lives simply does not exist.

It was really difficult for me to take that day off. I felt like I needed to be vomiting in an ambulance en route to the ER to have a “sick day.” I pondered whether I needed to suffer. Should I just put in for a day off two weeks down the road and use up one of my precious few vacation days? (Side note: my employer has a solid vacation and sick policy by American standards; I’m fortunate.) I contemplated it. But with every hour that passed, I felt my mental state degrading more. I was losing focus, losing patience, losing peace. I was losing, period.

I finally caved and wrote my boss, and in an hour’s time I’d set up my fill ins and was winding down for the day.

I can’t even explain the immense relief I felt. Three days. I had three full days ahead of me to focus on mental and physical well-being.

By Friday evening, I found myself in the nearby city of Chester at a beautiful and historic hotel where the room was themed in honor of this guy. I thought about getting ahead on a handful of work projects. I pondered working on the final line edits for my upcoming novel, Sixteen Days. But I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t do much of anything that day. I took a long, hot bath. I watched TV. I ate hot food. I laid in bed and actually enjoyed just relaxing there, feeling the crisp, cotton sheets and fat, fluffy pillows envelope my body in a beautiful state of relaxation.

I healed.

When I woke up on Saturday, I was ready for miles (over eight!) of walking around Chester. And today? More walking, a cappuccino, a stroll through a cemetery (I really fancy them…), and a little too much time on social media.

I still need to take a real vacation, and I have some plans formulating for September. But this three day stint was a start. My headache is  gone, my mind is clear, and I know I’ll get into my work tomorrow and be a better employee. I don’t think the self-imposed guilt I feel at taking time off has fully disappeared yet, but this weekend I learned it’s important to take care of me, too.

So, c’mon, Monday. I’m ready for you.

 

Mirrors.

Two months ago I saw a picture of myself and gasped. Like I literally gasped. I can’t even show you the picture, because I deleted it after throwing up in my mouth a little.

My long hair — my security blanket, my love, my I’m-afraid-to-be-seen-so-I’ll-just-hide-behind-this-big-ass-blanket-of-hair — was weighing me down. I looked tired, weary, and uncomfortable. Despite having almost always been “the girl with long hair,” I suddenly wasn’t me.

I booked a hair consultation the next day.

When I went in, I told the stylist I wanted my hair to look like this (and if she could make the rest of me look like her, that was cool, too). After trying to bleach some of my raven tresses to no avail, we settled on purple extensions to complete my foray into the goth-lite realm, scheduled a full appointment out for the following week, and I spent the next several days emotionally parting ways with hair that was mere inches from my waist in the back.

It’s funny how, when something feels right, the fear subsides.

I sat down in the salon chair five days later; the stylist asked, “Are you ready?”

I took one blurry sans-glasses look into the mirror and emphatically responded, “Yes! This is so overdue.”

And with that, a foot of hair was chopped off in a matter of moments. Some two hours later I emerged a new person, not because I’d made a physical change, but because the physical finally matched the girl on the inside.

After a long two years of what I realize now was a severe struggle with depression, I looked in the mirror and finally saw myself in the reflection. I wasn’t the drab girl that “could be”; I wasn’t the girl who “if only.” I was me. Andrea. The girl with sexy — and much shorter — black and purple hair, who suddenly felt like she owned herself.

Mirrors. They only work if we’re brave enough to look. IMG_1666-1.JPG