My body was turning on me. First hyperthyroidism, which sped up my metabolism and left me unable to sleep for days. (Most people lose weight. I didn't.) Then hypothyroidism, which slowed down my metabolism and made me want to sleep all the time. (Most people gain weight. I did! Twenty pounds!)
The thyroid, one of many body parts I'd never given a thought to, is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, just below your Adam's apple. It influences everything from digestion to metabolism to reproduction. When the thyroid is out of balance, so are you.
I craved balance. I was desperate to be somewhere in the middle of hyper and hypo—where, obviously, I'd been my whole life, taking it for granted because I didn't know any better. We often need a malfunction to appreciate all the things that function.
I decided to give myself July. Yes, the whole month—dedicated to myself, for myself. To regroup. Rejuvenate. Restore my soul.
By the end of my show season, in May, I was so exhausted, I was numb. But I still had commitments I needed and wanted to fulfill, like being in South Africa to take my girls to see their first stage play, The Lion King. That was a treat worth traveling for. One of the girls—Thando, whom you may remember if you watched our special—wants to be an actress. After seeing The Lion King, she told me, "It was so spectacular, my eyes didn't know where to land."
So I spent June with my 150 daughters, who are happy and thriving. But in July, I actively worked at doing nothing. I had no schedule. I told my office, "Call me only if someone or something is dying or burning."
I flew from Africa to Hawaii, which involves a 12-hour time difference that takes some adjustment even when you're well-rested. I made the transition by sleeping and waking when my body wanted to and not a moment before. It took a week for my internal clock to reset itself. I took vitamins. Drank soy milk. Munched on golden flaxseed. I ate only fresh foods: grilled fish, corn, tomatoes, spinach, artichokes, broccoli from the farmers' market, mangoes from my neighbor's tree. I hiked with my dogs (who daily rolled in cow poop along the grassy trails), then came home and bathed them. I actually read the stack of books I'd chosen to read by summer's end. I dozed. And drifted into the afternoons waiting for the sun to set. I watched 28 consecutive sunsets. Took pictures and marveled at how each one was so different.
After 14 days, I started to feel my self returning. Not fully—just an awareness that I wasn't as tired and rote as I had been. By the end of the month I'd given myself, I was better in myriad ways. Not only was my physical health improved, but I'd also become mentally stronger.
I won't tell you how many people challenged my decision to give time to myself. I have never gotten more requests to do something or be somewhere than I did the moment I declared that I was going out of circulation. And these were from people I normally would have said yes to. But I was steadfast in my commitment to finding balance and reordering my life's priorities. So I said, "No, I can't come to Italy." And, "No, I can't be in Boston no matter how important you think it is." And, "No, I won't have you fly to Hawaii for a meeting here."
I may have lost a few friends, but I know for sure I saved myself. And learned that making the decision to look after yourself is the ultimate in healthcare.
As I write this, I'm wrapped in a blanket on the back of a friend's boat off Vancouver Island sipping a glass of nice red wine…watching the whales swim by. The earth has rotated to yet another sunset, and my balancing act continues.
From the October 2007 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
We Hear You!