Why I didn’t take self-care seriously? … A Confession

Dr John Ng 5 min read

“Self-care is giving the best of you instead of what’s left of you.”

Katie Reed

Everyone recognizes that self-care (or soul care) is very important. It’s important but not urgent enough for us to take it seriously.

I am a classic case of “It’s important but never urgent” enough. I was one of those who believed in self-care but never did anything about it until … in 2005, I almost died.  At 41, I was still young. I had lots of energy. As a Type-A person, I lived as though there was no tomorrow. My adrenalin was driven by activities and performance. The more, the merrier. I thought I could go on forever: Super-charged all the time without stopping. I would pack my life with one activity after another, without any pauses.

On top of that, I slept late and woke up early. I hardly had more than 6 hours of sleep. My weekends were packed to the brim.

That year, we had successfully executed a large leadership conference with about 1,000 participants from 30 countries. I was in the third heavens!

The Sunday evening after the conference, we had organized a farewell dinner for our speakers. That same afternoon before the dinner, my family had scheduled a badminton game.

After sparring with my wife, I would normally have a more “serious” game with my son, Shun who was 14 then. That day, my chest felt congested and was in some pain, which I had never experienced before. I thought it was just a chest spasm. But, I decided to quit playing. I told Shun that I could not continue the game. Fortunately, he agreed. Usually, being a competitive player like his dad, he would insist that I played with him.

However, I continued entertaining our guests that night, which ended around 10 pm. I did not get to bed till 12.00 am and I had to be awake at 4.00 am the next morning to fetch some speakers to the airport. We were known to be gracious hosts!

Those jam-packed activities were nothing unusual for me. And I loved doing them.

After seeing our speakers off, I had also volunteered to return my daughter’s books to the library since it was on the way back home. But, I forgot to do so and went straight home. Normally, I would just tell myself, “Forget it. I will do it another day.” That fateful morning, I decided that since it was still early and I had nothing else to do,  I would drive -to the library to return the books.

After parking the car, I had to walk about 50 meters to drop off the books at the library. Then, the severe chest pain came back. I was feeling breathless. I knew something was amiss. I returned home quickly and told my wife, Alison about the two episodes. She immediately contacted my cardiologist-friend, Dr. Peter Yan, who graciously accommodated our request to see him. He squeezed me for a 9.00 am appointment.

To cut the long story short, after an angiogram, Peter found that my left artery was 99% blocked. Two other arteries were 50% and 70% blocked. He did an angioplasty on the spot and put in one stent and two balloons.

Peter told me that if I had played badminton with my son that evening, I would have probably collapsed on the court. Without that extra effort to the library, I would not have discovered my heart condition.

It was a wake-up call. That was when I took self-care more seriously. That was the turning point of my life.

For many of us, we all recognize the importance of self-care. We acknowledge it rationally as important and even discuss it vigorously, swearing by it. But we seldom do anything about it until a tragedy strikes. Only after a health crisis strikes, then we will consider self-care more seriously.

What did I learn from this life-threatening event in my life?

  1. I will not take any drastic steps to change my lifestyle until I face a health crisis.
  2. I will not consider self-care because my A-type, driven by adrenalin personality has an incipient way of hiding my true health condition.
  3. I will always have plenty to do and will not stop until I am forced to stop.
  4. I had to change my lifestyle and work pattern, in order to last the long haul.

Share with me if you have any similar experience.

Next week, I will share with you the signs of lack of self-care.

Dr John Ng
Chief Passionary Officer,
Meta Consulting

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