In January, I received an offer for the move I worked for and asked for quite some time. After 8 years spent in CMI (Consumer & Market Insights), I was looking to broaden my skillset and potential future career opportunities. I was lucky enough to have supporters and believers in the organization who were ready to rally behind me for this move, which seemed a bit unprecedented in the world of RB. I had already quite a senior role in CMI and wanted to move to Marketing – function in RB, which is heavily commercial and with a lot of ownership for business decisions – something I never had before.

To say that I was confident that I will nail it would be a lie. I had enough confidence to project that I’m a fast learner and have a good set of soft skills that will allow me to adapt to different situations and challenges. Though I couldn’t be sure that Marketing itself and the challenges it is presenting will leverage & build on my strengths instead of exposing my weaknesses.

In January, I had the offer – Global Marketing Manager Lysol based in the US. My current boss’s condition was that I should deliver my part in preparation & presentation of 3YP on Air Wick in April. Then, I can move on.

When April came around, the world was very different from what I expected. It was quite clear that my physical relocation will have to wait. That I’m about to start a role in a new function, with a new boss, new team, new brand, and new scope from the wrong time zone and from a distance measured in calls, chats, and e-mails.

To add insult to the injury, I had to leave the team I loved so much. The team I was a part of for 2.5 years. In this time, we had so many thrilling experiences, trips, meetings, discussions, and dinners together that people who worked on Air Wick truly felt like family to me. I know it sounds cheesy. But when you spend so much time at work, and you’re so committed to what you do, it is only natural to develop attachment and affection towards people you do it with.

I had to leave it behind and step into uncharted territory, questioning me in every possible way.

So I did.

I’m not going to sugar coat it – I was lost, lonely, and confused for the first couple of months. My new manager was absolutely great and tried as hard as possible to provide me with all the support even though I was in the Netherlands and she – in the US. Naturally, she got promoted 3 months into my Marketing endeavor and to this day was not replaced! I haven’t had a hands-on functional manager for many years of my CMI career and got used to being on my own. Though in no way I expected it to happen in Marketing!

Lucky for me, even before going into the role, I had a good relationship with my “plus two” boss. We crossed paths while working on Air Wick and then had many chats in the office when he moved for his current role to Amsterdam. So when I was left to report directly to him without middle level, I at least wasn’t freaking out about building the connection with the new, very senior boss. I want to note – a boss leading the global strategy & innovation pipeline of Lysol (world-leading disinfectant brand) through the pandemic. So you can imagine he had virtually no time on his hands to guide me through my challenges.

There was a well-established connection on a personal level. Still, I had to earn his trust in my professional capabilities. His leadership style and approach to things are very different from my previous Marketing boss, so it took me a while to figure out how to deliver what he expects of me.

By August, I was absolutely overwhelmed. I decided to be extremely honest about it (even though I was scared, it will be perceived as a lack of agility & resilience). The response was, “yes, this whole situation SUCKS all around but it is what it is and we need to just get through this, one way or another.”

At the moment, this response didn’t help. It was validating, and I felt heard but didn’t provide any improvement I was looking for. In the long run, though, I think it gave me permission to not be a perfectionist, not try to floor people around me with my incredible performance. Most importantly, it allowed me to focus on the main goal – making sure I’m getting through this.

Spoiler alert – starting from August, things began to feel great. I still miss my family & friends terribly and very sad to not have been in Moscow for a year (and even more as my annual Christmas home leave didn’t happen). I worry about their well-being and the potential impact of the virus. I miss my colleagues, socializing, and the fun atmosphere of the office. But in both professional and personal space, I had a breakthrough.

At work, I found my footing and proved (mostly to myself) that I can do this job and do it well. Though one thing which pandemic did is to shrink the role of my work in my life. Not in terms of hours – they were long, and my boundaries between work time and personal time were not always the strongest. But work was always a source of many things in my life, including friends, fun times, traveling, and many different emotions.

I haven’t struggled with work-life balance per se in recent years as, sorry to say that, work was.. my life. That became much more evident and also justified with the move to the Netherlands, where I had no social network outside of the office. With the tempo and intensity of my job & business traveling, I haven’t had many activities outside of work either.

Pandemic made my work JUST work. And once this piece of my life stopped fulfilling my other needs as it did before, I noticed that I’m also willing to give it less of my time, passion, and attention. That drove my work motivation down for a while, not going to lie, but it balanced itself out. When I say “less passion,” it doesn’t mean that I stopped caring or making an effort, just that I left more time and headspace for personal endeavors.

I’m an anxious person. I deal with an elevated level of baseline anxiety my whole life. In the years of therapy, I developed a lot of healthy coping mechanisms to deal with it. Before the lockdown in the EU, I was preparing to move to the US. I was so unbelievably anxious, much more than before the move to the Netherlands. I knew the adaptation period waiting for me will be hard (as I already been through it). I was fearing certain aspects of bureaucracy and visa challenges, I wasn’t sure about many potential challenges of American system.

All in all, I didn’t feel that the US is necessary the right place for me at this stage of my life for a variety of reasons. So when my visa interview was canceled, the travel ban was imposed, and the whole world went into indefinite lockdown, I felt a certain sense of relief. My personal anxiety became a collective one. Weirdly, it made it easier to bear.

In March, my life entered vacuum space. There was no movement – in the most literal but also in the most metaphorical sense. I didn’t go out anywhere. My daily step count was below one thousand; I was working till late at night because of the time zones difference. When I wasn’t, I watched all sorts of video content (streaming TV, TikTok, YouTube – you name it). In June, there was news that L1 visas are not going to be issued until 2021, which made the fact that I won’t be moving anytime soon crystal clear.

I didn’t mind all of it. I was dealing with enough challenges, so I was rather grateful to be staying in my safe space and spending so much time with my husband. In this time of uncertainty our relationship was the greatest source of support, comfort and joy.

When the first wave ended, and the situation seemed to be much better, we went on vacation to France & Spain. We drove around cute towns while avoiding people and crowded places, walking a lot, and not thinking about work.

In August, fresh after vacation and celebrating turning 30, I decided that I need to do something to up my self-care (which obviously greatly suffered in the first months of lockdown). I also decided that it will be an ultimate priority. I was always honest with myself that whenever I try to commit to structured self-care, the moment work comes into play, it all goes out of the window. I never had enough resources and personal capacity for both the work and myself, however sad that may sound.

I couldn’t find support at work at the time, so the only way I could get through it is by shifting focus on my well-being – nobody else could do that for me.

I always had a very uneasy relationship with my body. When I was 17, I was diagnosed with PCOS – the #1 endocrine disease affecting women. It wreaks havoc on the body through hormone imbalance. It affects me in many different aspects – energy levels, stress levels, weight gain, irregular periods, hunger, cravings, body composition, reaction to exercise, and so much more.

13 years ago, it was a very under-researched condition. And it still is, on a global level. It is a multifaceted syndrome that combines many different causes and outcomes. Overall, treatment is all about fixing the symptoms and issues caused by it but not the root cause. In my case, I know that the underlying problem is in my impaired glucose tolerance and reduced insulin sensitivity (insulin resistance). That ultimately means that in my case, PCOS is positively associated with the development of second type diabetes.

I was very slim as a teenager. I was a sporty kid. I loved all kinds of physical activities – swimming, dancing, skipping rope, and all the other games I enjoyed. As I reflect back, I realize that it all went down the drain with puberty and the onset of PCOS symptoms. I started to resent my body. To hate all of the extra kilos I was putting on despite my best efforts. I hated exercising. Hated how weak I felt when I did exercise. Hated how I felt when I didn’t. I was angry, desperate, and full of very dark feelings towards myself.

All this time I tried to do something! Even though I’ve heard “no pain no gain” so often, something was telling me that I can’t get to happiness & health by torturing myself (through restrictive diet, intense exercises, obsession over scale numbers) and cultivating this hatred that was killing me on the inside. In 2015, after a couple of years of therapy, I finally accepted that I shouldn’t be putting myself through this mental abuse for any reason anymore, even if the reason seems to be the most sensible.

Doctors were telling me that I need to lose weight, and then my condition will improve. I knew that was a lie as I could remember how I was 55 kg and still had it in full effect. I gained a lot of weight over the last 10 years, and I knew it is not a great sign. I wanted to stop it so badly, but I also knew that it is a symptom, not a cause.

For the last 5 years, I couldn’t find a switch in my brain, which would allow me to approach this topic not through abuse, toxicity, and hatred but through love and care. In 2015 I discovered Pilates with a personal trainer. It was the first time I managed to commit to some type of exercising twice a week and not resent it. It helped immensely with restoring a connection between my mind and my body, and overall it’s fantastic mobility work which I do to this day. It’s also a very low-intensity workout (in my case!).

In my endeavor of getting my weight gain under control, I tried step aerobics, dancing, swimming, Bikram yoga, restorative yoga, spinning, skipping rope, HIIT. I either couldn’t stand it, or it felt like it was not enough. And all of it was opening a portal to hell in my mind.

Fast forward to this August when I suddenly had the resource to put myself first. My PCOS is driven by a whole variety of issues. Still, the underlying one is the following: when carbs come to my system, my glucose level is rising. As a response to that my body produces insulin to transport glucose to cells that need it to function. Here comes the problem – those cells of mine have reduced sensitivity to insulin.

Insulin is a “key” to open these cells and deliver them food, but with my condition, this key doesn’t fit or fit worse than it should. In response, my body first tries to produce more insulin to shovel glucose into cells. When that doesn’t happen, it decides to store all of this “unneeded” glucose into the liver and fat tissue. The problem is that cells still didn’t get enough glucose and send signals to the brain that they need more, quickly. You can imagine it is getting progressively worse with each round (more insulin is produced, more cells become insulin resistant) and has a very lasting and detrimental effect on the body.

I always perceived this issue to be body vs. me. I’m trying so hard to do better! It just resists all my attempts, making everything much more difficult, and always lets me down. Only this year, I suddenly realized that my poor body is constantly going through it, all my systems are derailed by this condition, and it is suffering all the damn time. There is no agenda against me. And if anything – I let it down with all my questionable lifestyle choices (work stress, lack of sleep, traveling, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, etc.).

I honestly don’t know what took me so long to figure this out. I always knew it rationally, but somehow it clicked on the level of true acceptance only this year. And once it did, I realized that I need to do 2 things: 1) ensure more consistent and slow insulin production 2) boost cell sensitivity to insulin. One is all about nutrition, the other one – about exercise.

Then I had another revelation – I can ask for help! I’ve been trying to crack this for so long, and I never felt like I deserve individual attention & approach to this issue. I’m a smart girl, I’m fully capable of doing my research, and I should have enough willpower and grit to make it work, right? Well, that never worked, did it?

I decided that I’m making a lot of money at my corporate job, enough to allow myself to get the help I need to better care for myself. I found a nutritionist, a masseur, and finally – a personal trainer in a proper gym studio. Primarily not to achieve a certain weight goal, not to make sure that my workouts are fully effective but to allow myself to do something 100% tailored towards my body and my fitness level. My goal was health. My goal was to reduce my body suffering.

I wanted exercises to be challenging enough to push me outside of my comfort zone (= doing nothing more than walking), but not too hard for me not to resent them. I wanted to be in a “zone of proximal development ” and not “utter discomfort which I can’t stand.” I wanted to trust a person to guide me to strength, not to force me there through pain and suffering. To allow me to slow down and take a pause if I felt like I couldn’t push forward but still motivate me to not give up long before my limit.

I’m happy to report that I found exactly that. Whenever I looked at some of the girls posting photos from their weight training in the past, I couldn’t even imagine that would be me someday. Lifting weights seemed like something absolutely out of the range of my capabilities (or desires).

I’ve been working out with a personal trainer 2 times a week with no breaks since August (a total of 31 workouts to date). While my progress may be slow, it is very consistent and encouraging. Last time I was doing a Romanian deadlift with 47.5kg, and next time, I’ll do 50kg. And I’m excited about it!

It let me discover many things about myself I never… appreciated or acknowledged. Apparently, I have very strong legs and very impressive core muscles (thanks, Pilates!). My understanding of different body movements is so well-established (thanks, Pilates!) that I can quickly get a new exercise with the right technique and stick to it. My arms were weak, but they’re becoming stronger very fast. My heart is a mess, my endurance is non-existent, but I learned to understand my heart rate dynamics. I know now when I need to take a small break and safely start again or when I can keep going.

For the first time in my life, I feel strong. Hideous to say that, but sometimes after workouts, I feel pumped. And overall, I feel much more energetic.

I ensured that my nutrition is well-balanced and full of needed macro-and micronutrients but not too restrictive to not over-obsess about it. I started cooking simple but nice dishes adapted to my PCOS – nothing crazy healthy, but fitting to my body’s needs. Thanks to the nutritionist, I realized what was missing (I was eating technically clean for some time already but had a tendency of undereating and completely missing protein).

We’re walking every day for at least 30 minutes. In the beginning, we were trying to find a new route through our beautiful town every day, but in the last couple of weeks, we made all the same loops following one beloved path. Restorative walking is a powerful thing that is often overlooked. It is not about burnt calories but rather calibrating your mind & body and spending quality time with your partner (or yourself, which is also great).

I eat well. I exercise regularly. I walk a lot. I sleep enough hours. And I’m trying to stress less.

While lacking support from things I used to rely on, I found it within myself. It’s so simple but also unbelievably hard.

I feel healthier than I was just 4 months ago. And yes, I lost about 4-5 kg along the way. But for the first time in my life, it truly was not the goal itself. And I didn’t hate myself or the mirror in the process. Also, for the first time.

2020 was a horrific year for the world and for a lot of people. But it was a very good year for me personally.

Here’s to a better 2021! And may you and all your loved ones stay healthy & happy and experience much more joy and ease next year!