Breakfast. It’s breaking the fast, the first thing you do after a long night’s sleep. In between or after getting out of bed, brushing teeth, getting dressed. It’s also the one meal I have a special relationship with, the meal that in some way marks a big change I made in my life.
My relationship with breakfast has not been an easy one. I’ve tried many different breakfasts since I was a child:
- two slices of bread with hagelslag (a sort of chocolate sprinkles) and a glass of milk, when I was young
- two slices of bread with peanut butter (of course, in the Netherlands, only Calvé Pindakaas) and a cup of tea, when I got older
- a bowl of yoghurt and a muesli/cruesli mix, when I suddenly experienced a huge displeasure in eating bread in the morning
- back to two slices of bread, with cheese, when I experienced yoghurt as too cold on an empty stomach, and hagelslag too sweet
- two slices of bread with a cooked egg, once a week on Sunday, until I started to get nauseous after eating egg or while looking at someone eating egg (true story, still not completely over it)
- back to yoghurt and muesli/cruesli, when I couldn’t handle bread in the morning once more
What do these breakfasts have in common? Most of them are quick to prepare and eat, and you can take them with you while commuting. Except for the yoghurt, this can get messy in combination with your paper notebook or laptop. So, speedy preparation and easy handling were the only thing I thought about while shopping for breakfast ingredients.
NOT ENOUGH SLEEP, NO ATTENTION FOR BREAKFAST
I had an interesting career path during and after completing my study in psychology. I had been working before I went to University, I continued working during my years as a student, and after graduating I worked in a few different jobs which each lasted for about 1,5 years.
The last job ended in 2013. A year and 9 months I commuted between Rotterdam (the place I live) and Amsterdam (the place I worked). Working in Amsterdam meant waking up at 06:30, snoozing two times, getting in the shower, making breakfast (if I had some at home), or buying breakfast on the train station, for example a croissant and a ‘Goedemorgen’ fruit yoghurt drink, which I recently discovered contains way too much sugar.
It was always a challenge to wake up this early. I tend to fall asleep late and sleep on average one sleep cycle (1,5 hours) more than most people. So, if I fell asleep at 01:00 (not an exception) and woke up at 06:30, I got 5,5 hours of sleep while needing 4 more. Therefore, breakfast was one of those things I didn’t give a lot of attention. Instead I tried to figure out ways in which I could sleep longer, fall asleep earlier, set the alarm a little later, getting a later train, working from home two days instead of one so I could skip the commute, etcetera.
Although my job was fun, my colleagues were awesome and I loved the possibility to work from home, it didn’t take long before I started to experience a loss in energy. In addition to my sleeping problems I started getting headaches. And not just normal headaches, these headaches built up during the day and became so intense that I didn’t want to move my head, because flashes of pain would travel from my shoulders to the back of my head.
Sleeping was the only answer. After a night’s sleep the headaches were always gone. But, they started to appear more often. First I had them once a month, then twice a month, then twice a week, then I couldn’t imagine not having a headache anymore.
It was no way to live. But, not good at sharing my troubles, I continued to work as usual. My manager got sick, I took over her tasks, in the meanwhile struggling to keep up with my own tasks and managing a team of young colleagues in a very dynamic, fast growing and challenging environment.
I tried ten months of physiotherapy, but that seemed to make the tension in my neck, the likely cause of the headaches, only worse. I was desperate. While on a holiday in Morocco, where both Cathal and I were sick for almost the whole two weeks, I decided to make a list of ‘final things to try before quitting my job‘. I showed Cathal the list, he agreed with the steps I wanted to take, we discussed how life would be if I didn’t work and have an income. And, finally, I started sharing my struggles and admitting to the world I was almost out of energy.
THE JOB OFFER
As if being rewarded by the Universe, in the same week I took this huge step forward, I got a surprising job offer. It was a job as an independent worker (freelancer) in an amazing project on the subject I’ve loved since I first heard about it: autism. And it meant not having to commute every day to an office anymore. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. I negotiated three days of work for a full year and jumped: bye bye job in the office, hello future of ‘selling myself’ and deciding my own work hours. Because of fewer and more flexible hours I got a chance to work on my body and get better while at the same time still receiving an income.
It worked. Although I’ve had additional therapy for almost all of 2014, I got better and better every week, regained my energy, worked my own hours and felt happier and more free than ever. I loved it.
One of the things that is illustrative for this change in life is the way I handle my breakfast. No longer a matter of ‘quick and easy’, I can now take time for breakfast. Not just for preparation, but also for learning about food and how it can support your body, and, of course, for eating and enjoying it. Having experimented a lot, I finally found my favourite: oatmeal with soy milk, with an addition of raisins and cinnamon, or fresh fruits like cherries, strawberries, peach. It takes 10 minutes to prepare, and, with the addition of a good cup of tea, at least 20 minutes to consume. Time I now finally have to spare.
So, over the years, breakfast has evolved from the struggle that it was to a celebration of a new way of life.