I think it is a bit ironic that this post is supposed to be about personal wellness in higher education, and I am currently trying to rally from a bad sinus infection to be at a presentation for NASPA, and this is the second time I have done this. NASPA is my national learning conference of choice and it is usually during the month of March. I have been going to NASPA since I went to the 1997 meeting in Chicago and save a few years I rarely miss. This is even though each year it usually falls primetime during the height of allergy season for me. If I am being honest, not many bothers me except seasonal allergies. I am rarely sick, and I can tend to handle everything. But there is this small window of time each year when my sinuses decide it is time for me to take a break and keeps me in bed for a day. Unless I must be at NASPA.
The last time this happened was a few years ago when NASPA was in Baltimore. When I got there, I was already not feeling great and then the weather went south. An unusual snowstorm coupled with my lingering allergy symptoms and I was out of commission for 36 hours. And I will admit, I am not a good sick person. I tend to struggle with the basics like, staying in bed, denial, and thinking I just will my body temp to decrease. And then when that does not happen, I resort to balling up under covers and whimpering. I am such a bad patient. For that year, I did get the presentation done and then collapsed into bed for 16 straight hours of sleep.
So overnight I just fell apart and I gotta say, I feel like I have been hit by a truck. My nose if stuffy, body aches, mild fever, and I know what you are saying – no, this is not COVID, got the rapid test. Nope, just a reminder in a pandemic that we can all feel ill for many reasons. So, what does this have to do with personal wellness and higher education? Well, in my opinion, everything.
As student affairs professionals we do not “self-care” very well. I think from an early age we are taught that to work 8 hours is to work 12 hours and the more we work the better it showcases our ability to be ready for the next opportunity. As Graduate Assistants we are taught that “the job description says 20 hours, but you will work a lot more in our office.” Basically, telling me and my fellow G.A.s – we need you to work for less than minimum wage. And we ate it up. My fellow G.A.s would be there from 8 in the morning until 8 at night and it felt so good. Afterall, I was young and all I had was school and work. As I got older the hours did not change. Take the expected hours on a project and double it so you can do a great job! As mentioned in a previous poet, there was a time I stayed awake for four days straight to work at a Hurricane Shelter. No wonder I am always tired.
As the pandemic has raged on the idea of self-care has taken center stage in higher education. There have been dozens of think pieces and lots of ideas surrounding this subject. And I guess I am trying to do the same thing. But honestly, I have no idea what the answer is other than, when you have to you suck it up and do the presentation and then when you are done, you go to bed and get some rest. Here is where I think that we mess up as SA Pros. We have this sense that work and life should not come at the expense of our leisure and social media status. As Higher Ed Pros we have a habit of thinking we have to be on top of every issue, feel for everyone else, and watch all of the Netflix and read all of the articles. There is a competition as to who can SA Pro the hardest. Until that life gets in the way of our leisure, and then we get mad.
I am not going to lie; I was that guy for a long time. I used to believe that my down time was mine and I had a right to it. And, in some ways, that is still true. But I am also slowly learning that my leisure time also needs to include time to repair, not just recharge. And the reason I was (and am) getting sick in March is both biological (my allergies are real) and psychological (March begins the slow descent from another school year. I am just tired and if I do not stop, my body will make me. Because to me, I believe wellness means listening to your body, mind, and soul and taking their suggestions seriously. If you do not you will find yourself curled up in a ball during a conference anyway. So, what does that mean for me? Well, yesterday I wanted to have some Sunday Funday, but I went to bed early. I slept for 12 hours and I stayed home all morning. I called in sick for once. Got a healthy lunch and came into the office to complete my NASPA presentation and then I am going back to bed. I find if I give my body these 48 hours, I will be good to go in the morning. I also know that I will likely not do any of this very well. I like to work. It brings me joy and that is not going to change. I also like my leisure time. That also brings me joy. There will be times I do not balance these well and thus my wellness will suffer. So instead of pushing through, I skate along and then get to the other side.