Why I Left My Family and Job to Run Away To Panama

I’m not proud to share this. I yelled at my son.


Not a slightly-raised-voice yell but a foot-stomping-fists-clenched-teeth-bared yell.


My son is not yet two. It was neither his fault nor my finest moment.


After yelling at him I sank to the floor and ugly cried. I did not comfort him despite his quivering bottom lip. Instead I pitied myself for unleashing on him when he was never really the cause. Although if he ever chose to sleep or tone down his own epic tantrums I might not have unravelled so quickly – seriously dude. I guess it is true what they say about the apple and the tree.


If this doesn’t fit your picture of me, we likely know each other through my rose-coloured and carefully curated social media account. In reality I am just like everyone else; a mother, a wife and a business woman equally susceptible to stress and on most days just trying to keep my shit together.


I am a classic overachiever who is easily overwhelmed and who has always struggled with guilt.


I sensed it coming. I was burning myself out.


Almost two years previous, I gave birth to my son on a Thursday and took my first meeting the following Wednesday. I willingly traded away a maternity leave egotistically believing that my business would not survive with me at the helm everyday. In fact I decided my son’s infancy was a great time to grow the business. I rebranded and built a new website. I continued to make special exceptions for clients who “needed” to see me (again my own ego, not theirs) outside of my working hours and while I was still healing. I took on large volunteer obligations at my daughter’s school. All the time with only part time help at home and no administrative help at work. If the phone rang at work, it went straight through to me. I promise you there are times when I have answered clients calls in truly inappropriate situations or locked myself in a bathroom to hear over a crying baby. God bless all the kind clients who have pretended it was otherwise.


I wore it all like a badge. I believed that doing more and constantly trying to make everyone happy would somehow make me more worthy, more successful and more liked.


The problem was never that I didn’t love what I was doing. I am acutely aware how lucky I am for my life. My children are healthy and happy. My husband is supportive and a true partner who I adore. I am surrounded by an incredible team and run a successful business but my gratitude was not shining through. I was giving so much of myself to everyone and everything else that there wasn’t much left for me.


I became irritable with my husband. I would get easily frustrated by questions from my 5 year-old daughter. I noticed I was lacking passion and began to resent work and volunteer obligations.


Then I monumentally yelled at my son.


When a business coach reached out months before about a retreat in Panama where we would focus on business growth while immersed in unapologetic self care, I immediately jumped on board. I believed it fit the profile of what I was trying to be and gosh darn it, I deserved it.


In my head I committed to building my empire while doing tree pose on a beach sipping on green smoothies.


Fast forward 8 months and I am now sitting on a plane to Panama, en route to a retreat I thought I wanted and deserved, in the full realization that is something I desperately need. I am crying while writing those words and admitting them out loud to myself.


Professionally I am well aware of the consequences of chronic stress, both good and bad. Our nervous system was never built to run a marathon of continuously self-imposed, or otherwise, stress. In this department we are physiologically more suited to sprint. An overburdened nervous system can decrease thresholds for coping and can manifest as pain, tension, mood changes, anxiety, depression or lack of engagement.


Sound familiar?


Research has however also proven that regular self care can calm a heightened nervous system. Breathing, yoga, mediation, prayer and movement can all have positive effects on our bodies and help to modulate stress.


Knowing this, I kissed my sleeping babies goodbye, embraced and thanked my husband and for the first time in a long time, I left to truly work on me. It was time to practice what I so often preach.


If you think that leaving my family and work is self indulgent or unnecessary you haven’t realized what I did that day on the floor after yelling at my son, which is this:


I alone am responsible for my happiness, health and success.


While others may inspire me, support me, motivate me or discourage me, only I can own how I show up to every situation. Only I can work on myself and replenish myself. If I don’t there is no way I can bring the best version of myself to everything else I love so dearly.


It is not indulgent.

It is not selfish.

It is not unnecessary.


It is critical.


Panama is about making me a better mother, wife and leader because I cared for myself first. It is about reclaiming the pieces of me so I can fully give myself to others.


Let’s see how this goes.

Melanie Stevens Sutherland, Clinic Director & Senior Orthopaedic and Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist

Melanie is a graduate of McMaster University and brings 16 years of experience as a senior physiotherapist to Body Co. She has enjoyed a long tenure working with active populations at prestigious sport medicine clinics. Past clients include Provincial, National and Olympic level athletes as well as members of the National Football League, the Canadian Football League, the Ontario Hockey League, the American Hockey League, the National Lacrosse League and Major League Soccer.

Following the birth of her own children, Melanie developed a strong interest in women’s health. She has taken specialized courses in pelvic floor physiotherapy and women’s nutrition. She is passionate about helping women find strength and confidence in their post-natal bodies following pregnancy and delivery.


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