It’s story time!
Last week, I awoke in the wee hours of Monday morning, a little before 4AM to be precise, and found myself immediately annoyed. Full bladder. DAMMIT. That means climbing out of bed, into the cold, going to the bathroom, doing my business, crawling back into bed, and desperately attempting to fall back asleep (Which is rather difficult for me. I’m a light sleeper, and once I’m up, I’m pretty much up). I know, my life is ever so tragic. I’ll hold as you wipe your tears.
Here’s the funny bit though. On my long trek back to the bedroom, I suddenly felt an odd sensation. What’s this? A full-body chill? Not exactly a chill, more like a tingling… Wait a minute, I know that feeling. That’s the passey-outey feeling! I think I might pass out. It came on lightning fast, as if from nowhere, and before I had any time to react– LIGHTS OUT. I was done. Next thing I knew I was opening my eyes from the floor, flat on my back, with my wife, Meg, shouting my name as she found me.
What the hell happened?! Well, all I knew in the moment was I had passed right the hell out, and now my head was aching. I started to get up, and Meg immediately noticed a darkened shape around me. She flicked on a light and sure enough — UH OH, THAT’S BLOOD. A pool of blood on the bathroom tile floor behind my head. I had passed out in the carpeted hallway in front of the bathroom, but fell backwards, landing just far enough into said bathroom to smack my head on the tile. Lucky me.
I was perfectly lucid, just confused, annoyed, and sore. We decided immediately to head to the ER. Again, perfectly lucid, I muttered grumpily on the way to the car, “All I wanted was a goddamn decent night of sleep on my day off.” You see, friends, I have been working 12 hour days, 6 days a week during this pandemic. And as most of my day is spent on the job, I want to spend as much time relaxing with my wife at night before going to bed and doing it all over again the next day. Even if we’re just being couch potatoes in front of the TV. And oh, do we ever. We potato. We potato hard. But hey, it’s still quality time together. So very regularly I stay up far too late, guaranteeing that I will not get a full night’s sleep before waking up to clock in for work the next day.
Why am I working so damn much? Well frankly, I lucked out. While many have struggled for work in the last year, my particular company, department, and position fall directly under “essential business” in the communications sector. Furthermore, the department has always offered voluntary overtime hours due to the intense workload vs headcount, even pre-pandemic, and it certainly shows no signs of slowing now. And as I’m now working from home (albeit with a high degree of reluctance from our CEO), working these long hours has become extraordinarily easy. Wake up, quick shower, brush teeth, and clock in for 12 hours. Snack as needed through the day. Rinse, repeat.
No commute, no pre-packed lunches, no dress code. Despite the fact that I’ve been working these insane hours, I can say unequivocally that working from home has improved my well-being by leaps and bounds. I am happier, healthier, and saner than I’ve been since… well, I honestly can’t remember when! It has been the best time of my entire working career. Yes, I miss friends and family, and I can’t wait to see them once we’re all vaccinated. But beyond that, every aspect of my life has dramatically changed for the better. I am no longer wasting 2 hours of my day commuting. I am no longer wasting thousands of dollars on gas, maintenance and insurance. All of that extra cash has been freed up for saving, investing, donating to charitable causes, and yes, a few random quarantine impulse buys. Check my Instagram around last summer for the rollerblades that left me bruised and battered.
Another huge item in the Pros column: My wife and I are no longer ghosts to each other. Think about the typical household in the “normal” everyday grind. We wake up, get ourselves ready for work, wave and kiss our spouse goodbye if we’re lucky, spend 8+ hours at our jobs, come home, have dinner together (again, assuming we’re lucky enough for schedules to line up), spend a couple brief hours together, exhausted, before going to bed and repeating everything over again, day after day. We see bosses and coworkers far more than we do our families. Some may not see this as a problem. Call me selfish, but if that’s normal, I want something different. Life is short, tomorrow is not guaranteed, and frankly, I want to spend more time with my wife than my coworkers (No offense to them, they are fine people). This past year, my wish has been granted. Meg and I see each other all day, have meals together, and go on walks on my lunch breaks. I help her with house chores when I get a spare minute. We joke, we laugh, we keep each company and keep each other sane. Working from home has allowed our marriage to actually feel like a life together.
Furthermore, as the pandemic continues, my overtime has allowed Meg to play it safe and not reenter the retail workforce until she is vaccinated. Not everyone has that luxury of choice, and we are immensely grateful for it. We chuckle to ourselves that we’ve stumbled into an old-fashioned 1950s marriage, with me bringing home the bacon and her doing the bulk of cooking, cleaning, and looking after the kids (our 2 rabbits). But it works for us, and we make a damn good team if I do say so myself.
Let me be clear, so as not to sound like an insensitive monster. I am not dismissing that this past year has been an absolute nightmare and personal tragedy for many. It just so happens that for our particular circumstance, it has been a surprise blessing. And since I know my unique and privileged position will not last forever (I have a hunch my CEO will drag me back to the office eventually), I have committed myself to taking full advantage for as long as I can. GIVE ME ALL THAT SWEET, SWEET OVERTIME. To save, to invest, and put rocket boosters on my early retirement plans.
However, as I touched on earlier, I may not be as pristinely healthy as I thought. Let’s jump back to me in the ER. They run all the tests. EKG: normal. Blood test: normal. CT scan: normal. No internal bleeding, no skull fracture, no heart or blood issues. In short, they have no idea why I passed out. All they can confirm is that there is no emergent issue present. I will need to follow up with a primary care physician for further investigation. I have been meaning to get around to a full physical and blood screening for quite some time now, but I am certainly not delaying any longer after this episode.
The real fun came as the ER doc, with no warning or bedside manner whatsoever, proceeded to close the wound with a total of 4 staples to the back of my head. No anesthetic either. The rest of the ER heard how much fun I was having, as I involuntarily shouted “FUUUUCK” as every staple went in. I literally had no control over my mouth. I was amused for a moment though, as I realized the only other time that has happened was on the Guardians of the Galaxy ride at Disneyland. Free fall rides are decidedly not my brand of fun.
After the ER adventure, Meg and I returned home and managed to get a few more hours sleep. The next few days, I had a pressure headache that felt like it would last forever. I moved my head too quickly one way, throb. I moved my eyes in literally any direction, throb. But eventually it passed, and I was grateful to not experience any more severe complications. It could have been a hell of a lot worse. The staples came out with ease exactly one week later, which according to the doc was a surprisingly quick turnaround. Apparently, they usually give them 10-14 days. Go Weapon-X healing factor!
Meg and I did our best to retrace my steps. What could be the culprit? My blood levels were fine, no low blood sugar or lack of food or water. In fact I had a few glasses of water and a large bowl of yogurt and granola not long before bed. So what gives? During a long conversation with my dad, as I informed him of my early onset Life Alert status, a few things I had been ignoring became abundantly clear. You know, those things you already know deep down, but you need someone to remind you point blank before it clicks in your brain? May I present the following pieces of said evidence:
- I had completely given up any and all attempts at exercise for several months. Combine that with a job that has me sitting ALL DAY LONG, that’s a recipe for disaster. These desk jobs, they’re killing us. Blood clots and other circulation issues are common in office workers. Human beings were not meant for this amount of sitting. We sit, and sit, and sit. Sure, the company encourages you to get up and move around on your breaks and lunches, but we don’t always do that, do we? And what do I do after I get off work for the day? I continue sitting, in front of the TV. I may have good genes, no obesity issues, and a penchant for healthy protein shakes for lunch, but I am 35 and not invincible. I need to start doing a hell of a lot more to actively combat the potential years being shaven off my life from this sedentary lifestyle.
- Other than my healthy lunch shakes, my eating habits had also taken a turn for the worse as of late. Dinners being the usual culprit. Oh, it’s the weekend, so let’s get pizza. Oh, it’s book club night, let’s get Del Taco. I don’t feel like cooking, what coupons do we have on the fridge? Burgers? Sold. The slippery slope is very slippery. I believe in balance and making room for fun, but admittedly, we had gone off the rails in the past few months. Time to reign it in.
- The sleep, or lack thereof. Out of guilt and sheer stubbornness, I pushed my bedtime later and later. Again, working these long hours, I’ve been adamant about carving out a decent amount of time to relax at night, to spend with Meg, or to simply just relax and do my own thing. Consequently, I found myself consistently exhausted in the mornings as that 8:00AM alarm went off. Never getting quite enough sleep, always wishing I had one more hour or two, and relying too heavily on caffeine to keep me going. I love coffee, probably never giving it up, but there are limits.
I told myself it was no big deal. This whole situation is temporary anyway, right? I know I’m burning the candle at both ends, but I can take it. And so what if I go easy on the eating right and exercising? I deserve to enjoy myself and be slovenly for a while. I can always get back on the wagon later. Well, apparently my body just replied, “Haha, fuck you. Fix it NOW.”
At least, that’s how I’m taking it: a sign to get my shit together. All this overtime and saving and investing won’t mean a damn thing if I destroy myself on the way to my precious financial independence/early retirement. Hopefully, the follow-up doesn’t reveal any further underlying issues or anything severe that can’t be rectified with my sharp turn back to Healthyville. If so, I’ll take it as it comes. But I’ve always been an optimist, so until further information presents itself, I’m chalking this fainting spell up to my recent habits of crapitude.
Since last week, I’ve been getting to bed earlier, and I’m already feeling a marked improvement from that alone. We’ve doubled up on groceries, so we don’t run out mid-week and use it as an excuse to grab fast food. And I’ve rededicated myself to moving my body through the day. Standing more often, regular stretching, and quick yoga on my breaks. I even dusted off the old doorframe pull-up bar on my lunch the other day and got in a few rounds of chin-ups and push-ups. It feels good to get back on the horse. I love how I feel when I’m consistently exercising, and yet it’s so damn easy to lose the habit. I’m hoping this marks the last time I find myself starting over again.
Lastly, regarding my long hours. Will I cut back? At the moment, I am undecided. Perhaps, but not by much. The problem is not the job. The problem is me using the job as an excuse for laziness. There is still plenty of time for proper sleep, plenty of time for exercise, and plenty of time to eat nutritious food. I just needed to choose it. Just as I have chosen to make this path to FIRE a priority, so too must I choose to make my health a priority once again, and find that balance between my lofty ambitions for the future and taking care of myself in the present. Your health is non-negotiable, folks.
I mean, it’s either that or I start wearing a crash helmet to the bathroom at night.