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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

My Fall From The Top of My Stairs to The Bottom – The Value of Wake Up Calls

Maybe you have done it too. You are in a hurry. You have on a long sundress (well, maybe not for you guys), and you turn and almost pivot on your puppy.

Unfortunately, you do it at the top of your stairs.

I did it.

And then I fell.


Hitting steps multiple times. The way that leaves more than a few bruises. Luckily, I landed without any broken bones. From behind, under the sundress, I looked like I tangled with someone with a baseball bat.

And they won.

It's like a wake up call. It's a reminder to slow down. It's dodging a bullet in my opinion.

We all have wake up calls that are subtle.

One of my patients came for an emergency appointment the morning after she was babysitting her brother and sister-in-law's toddler. She brought work to their house thinking she could to get caught up while she was giving her brother a night off.

After opening the back door to let their dog out to the backyard, she didn't notice that she left the door open a bit. After a few minutes she suddenly realized her 3-year-old niece was nowhere to be found inside the house. She saw the door, ran out to their backyard and found her niece, alive but struggling in their hot tub. The potential of a fatal outcome caught her attention.

That was her wake up call.

As we talked about all the stress she was under, she told me of other, more subtle, reminders she experienced in the weeks before.

  • She ran a red light without realizing it.

  • She left a candle burning all night in her living room.

  • She left her credit card at a restaurant.

  • She forgot her gym bag when she went to work out.

  • She couldn't remember her own phone number when she was filling out a form and had to pull it up on her cell phone.

Each subtle reminder, on its own, is not loud enough to get your attention. You can brush it off, blaming it on age, being tired, or that you just have more than usual on your mind.

Right now do an inventory of your own subtle clues that you need to slow yourself down and ask yourself:

  • "Am I more distracted than usual?"

  • "Do I seem to be forgetting simple things?"

  • "Am I overlooking details, making mistakes, and having trouble recalling what I have known forever?"

  • "Are other people noticing that I'm not at the top of my game?"

It's possible you have a lot on your plate but hopefully that is not your typical lifestyle.

If you are living that way, it's a slow burn.

To get yourself together before you have a wake up call of your own, here are some suggestions:

  • Make sure you get at least 8 hours of sleep at least 4 nights a week. I'm just being realistic here.

  • Take technology breaks regularly. Turn off your cell phone, put down your iPad, or power down your computer two weeknights, all day Saturday, or until you get to your office in the morning. Turn off all the TVs in your home for one day. Remember the days when people felt like they were fully engaged in conversations, when work hours started at 8am, and when your family spent quality time "together" in the evenings and weekends? Those times don't have to end. It's up to you.

  • Be selfish with your "Yeses". Sometimes it is okay to miss going to happy hour after work, to call someone back the next day, or to pass on another volunteer opportunity. For every "Yes" you give, that could likely be 2 "Noes" you have to give to your family.

  • Laugh each and every day . . . often. Really. Think about the people in your life that make you laugh from the bottom of your gut. Spend time with them. Enjoy what is simple. Watch those silly videos about dogs that are afraid of cats. Take your family to a park and play cards. Ask a toddler to say the word "spaghetti" 3 times fast. I think laughter clears your brain, kind of like flushing your nervous system.

  • Don't hesitate to ask for help. You may see asking for help as a sign of weakness. In reality, asking for help is a sign that you value other people so much that you are willing to accept help from them. It is a compliment. It is a way that you can give back. It's possible that you are like most people . . . you don't mind helping others (sometimes at your own expense) but when you need help from others, you hesitate. I'm right about that, aren't I?

The subtle signs that you have too much going on can start to add up. Then you get smacked hard with a wake up call. In my case, it was a gigantic slide down my stairs.

I'm lucky.

My patient and her niece were incredibly lucky too.

Don't push your luck. It just may run out or propel you, like a bobsledder, from the top of your stairs to the bottom.

Until next time,


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