Self

How Relentless Work Masked My Anxiety & Ultimately Hurt My Health — What I’m Doing About It

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stressed woman working at computer

2021 was an insane career year for me.

I produced so much content that I literally don’t know how I did it all: 449 podcasts for Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books; 62 published articles including columns for Good Morning America and Katie Couric Media; I launched two anthologies; wrote a memoir and a children’s book (coming out in 2022); co-hosted 36 podcasts for SexTok with Zibby and Tracey; produced episodes of Moms Don’t Have Time to Lose Weight; hosted 26 book clubs; went on 51 other podcasts and social shows as a guest; frequently recommended books on TV; hosted The Zibby Awards; posted about 8 million times on social media; and launched the #22in22 bookstore visiting challenge.

As if that wasn’t enough, in July I decided to start a publishing company, Zibby Books, with co-founder Leigh Newman. We’ve already acquired twelve manuscripts. I’m the CEO.

I mean, really. I have a problem.

It seems obvious to me now as I reflect on the past year, which went by in a blur, but this behavior and workload are not normal.

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I’m not proud of how I did it all; I worked all the time.

It never felt like “work” because I loved every minute of it. I got swept away by the adrenaline of my achievements and conversations, and let my physical and mental health go to hell.

I barely saw friends. I can count on two hands the amount of times I worked out. I ate sugar and drank caffeine all day to fuel myself. I spent a ton of time with my four kids (when they weren’t with my ex), and time with my team, my husband, and other close family members, but that’s about it. I stopped almost everything else in my life.

People keep asking me how I did it as if my year should be some sort of model. It shouldn’t. It was too much. I don’t recommend it. But tactically, in terms of productivity, I happen to be lucky in that I do everything at super-speed especially reading and writing.

I’m completely intentional when it comes to what I’m doing and don’t get distracted. And I have a phenomenal team. I book myself silly every day, eating at my desk or shoveling down food. I’m on my phone a lot, except when I’m with the kids.

I just kept going…and going… and going.

But why?

Honestly, I was trying to run away from the pain of the last couple of years, especially the trauma of watching my mother-in-law spend six weeks in various hospitals with Covid and then, ultimately, dying.

I was in charge of her care. And I failed. I still feel like it was all my fault, that if I’d done things differently, spoken to other doctors, involved other hospitals earlier, advocated more forcefully, perhaps, she would be alive.

Then my husband and his sister wouldn’t have gone through the excruciating madness of grief and trauma that I helped carry them through. I tote around that burden like a giant hiking backpack about to topple me backward. Deep down, I always wonder: could I have done more? What if?

I’m also running away from the uncertainty of Covid life which, as a consummate planner, I’ve had a really hard time tolerating on many levels. I work to block out the specter of death that lurks in every elevator ride or every time I open a door to go inside, anywhere, while I readjust the flimsy mask on my face, a pathetic excuse for a shield from the plague.

I’m escaping the overwhelming fear that something will happen to my kids who only recently were all able to be vaccinated, every parenting decision fraught with risk. I’m also blocking out several other issues in my personal life which are difficult to navigate.

Plus, I always feel I have something to prove given that my dad has been such a phenomenal success, to show I’m not sitting around eating bonbons, a lady who lunches. That I work my ass off and always have.

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Consider it proven.

Work has been my addiction, my salve for open wounds, my safe space when the world spun uncontrollably. My work centers around books, into which I’ve immersed myself so thoroughly that my own life was put on hold so I wouldn’t have to feel and confront the deep pain and overwhelming anxiety. I just kept opening spines, launching Zoom meetings, and connecting with people, taking more meetings, writing more articles. More. More. More.

I can’t do it all anymore.

I don’t want to loft up my success like a bride in a banquet chair during the horah as a model for what others should aspire to. It was a vice. An addiction. A coping mechanism. Yes, I love working hard and seeing opportunities and pursuing them, which I’ll continue to do. But I need to scale back.

The biggest, most tangible, side effect has been my health. I’ve gained 20 pounds. My cholesterol, always enviably low, has skyrocketed, while my fitness level has plummeted. I developed an autoimmune disorder. I have eczema patches. And more.

I don’t post about the repercussions. I hide the ways my body protests. But I can’t anymore.

Because for all the good work I do to help my listeners, followers, and readers feel more connected and inspired, I’m misleading them by lauding my output. There has been a steep cost. A toll is taken. As I’ve perched on my desk chair, leaning into my microphone, smiling, my blood pressure has gone up.

My life, ironically, has been put at risk mostly by my own doing. Despite all the precautions I obsessively took, I got Covid anyway. For nine days in bed, I was very sick, with lingering effects for months after (some of which still persist). But I got through it. The biggest fear happened. And yet, my body suffered most at my own hand.

Last week, at the end of December 2021, I hit bottom.

Emotionally and physically. I canceled my planned vacation and checked myself into a health clinic for two days, dragging along my husband, the ultimate trooper. Many assessments confirmed what I knew: I had put my health in jeopardy.

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I have a lot to rethink in the new year. What can I realistically accomplish professionally while leaving room for health, fitness, and wellbeing? I have a children’s book and my long-awaited, deeply personal memoir coming out in April and July respectively, projects which require a lot of TLC to flourish and to which I want to devote energy.

I want to keep writing and even start a new book. I love podcasting. I love all of it. But I’m going to curtail some pieces for my own sanity and, also, to set a better model for those watching what I’m doing.

There’s so much I can’t control.

As I watched President Biden’s speech last night on my phone in my closet while getting ready for bed, I could feel my heart rate spiking. Omicron. Hospitals staffing up. Deploying government resources. Preparing for overcrowded hospitals. I can’t bear it. I can’t go through this again, the PTSD levels of stress from what our family went through. I find myself hyperventilating as I read the news and brace myself.

I just can’t.

What I can do is take care of myself. Drink water all day, not coffee, with electrolytes thrown in. Do weight-bearing activities and move my body daily. Sweat. Squat. Lift. Walk. Stretch. My body is completely out of alignment from my time on my phone and hunched at my desk.

I can lose weight and lengthen my projected lifespan by eating more healthy foods — fiber, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats — all of which I happen to love. I can sleep more. See friends. Go to therapy regularly. Set boundaries on work time. Get out and experience life.

It isn’t rocket science, and yet. My whole brand is based on what moms don’t have time to do. But I was the one not doing it all. What is life if we don’t make the time now for what’s important?

The world will continue to throw me curveballs. All I can do is get myself in better shape to catch them. And if that means downgrading myself from the major leagues to the minors, so be it (although I don’t really think that will need to happen). I know that whether I release seven podcasts a week or three won’t truly change the world. Perhaps it will even improve my ratings. Who knows?

I’m going into 2022 with a newfound self-awareness. I’ve stopped the engine propelling me like a Nascar race car looping around and around long enough to get it serviced.

My goals next year? Make my two upcoming books successes. Connect with many authors on my podcast but not too many. Help authors by recommending their books. Write personal essays that mean a lot to me and that help others. Make Zibby Books a fantastic publishing company for years to come.

Now, enough even writing this essay! It’s a beautiful day out. My daughter just got into her first choice for high school. I’m over-the-moon excited. The day opens up before me expectantly, arms outstretched. So I’m closing the laptop and getting ready for a long, hilly walk with my husband after a healthy breakfast of eggs, whole-grain toast, and fruit.

My mantra for the last few years has been: don’t miss the plot. I may have done so last year. But 2022? Behold. A great story is about to be told.

Zibby Owens is a creator and host of the award-winning podcast, Moms Don't Have Time To Read Books. Her upcoming memoir, Bookends: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Literature, comes out July 1, 2022

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This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.