I have embarked down a number of different avenues to rebuild my emotional health and I began this blog as part of that quest for mental fitness. My idea was to share my struggles with others who may be facing the same challenges, to explain how I am dealing with stress, emotional exhaustion, burn-out. My first few posts did focus on this but as I have gotten into it, I have realized that writing in and of itself is part of rebuilding my spirit. And I have begun to write in earnest, sharing some but not all of it here. I have returned to the fiction, poetry and journaling of my earlier life. I have discovered that healing doesn’t hinge solely upon me dwelling on what I have been going through, and where I have been turning to deal with it, but also on finding a creative outlet. Fit to write? More like write to be fit.
Saying that, this is a good time to take stock of the healing process, two months in.
I describe the cause of my stress and burn-out as two-fold, though that is a bit simplistic. First, I am a worrier and very self-judgemental, always imagining what people think of me, or may say to me. I also am afraid constantly, both subconsciously and consciously imagining all the bad things that could happen to me or to those close to me. It creeps up on me more often than I realize, though I am learning to be more and more aware of it. It is there with me on my bike as I ride down a hill – I can see myself flying over the handlebars, being hit by a truck as I avoid a pothole. It is with me as I think of my son walking home from school and all the things that could befall him in five blocks. When a firetruck or an ambulance goes by I immediately wonder about the safety of the people I know. And when I am in a tall building, I imagine it crumbling in an earthquake. All irrational, yet thoughts that are ever present and continuously provoking a stress response.
These flames have been fanned by a stressful, demanding and sometimes demeaning work environment, and doing work that my heart just isn’t in. I look around and see people running hither and yon, panicking over demanded items that, further up the chain, will be left under a pile of papers, or discarded or, even if they are not left to flounder, really don’t make a difference in anyone’s life. At least, from my perspective. We, in my office, aren’t saving lives, thankfully we aren’t destroying them, though I look around and see those who are. We simply aren’t making a huge amount of difference in any real way, but we are whipped up into a frenzy that affects health and family as if we were making a difference. I’ve had friends who have left, to go work places where they really are making a difference and are doing something they love. I have always, enviously, told them how lucky they are to be living the dream.
So, two months ago, I walked into my doctor’s office and said “I need a break.” She wondered why it had taken me so long to ask. Why? Because for a year and a half, I tried to run it out, yoga myself to calm, sit on my roof when my family was in bed, read – and also discuss my stress and dissatisfaction with my work in therapy. Clearly, I needed more. I needed a break.
Two months later, I am no longer on the brink but I am far from healed. A message from work sends me into a panic attack. Wondering whether my doctor will continue to extend my leave causes worry between appointments. My understanding is that if I go on short term disability I will have several months without pay before my benefits will kick in. Not particularly good for someone in my state of mind.
If I can control my day, I am better. To maintain calm, I must ensure I arrive at appointments early so I don’t have to rush, and I need to feel that my day is my own to schedule as I like, to write when I need to, to walk or stare into space when I feel it is necessary. If I am called upon to do something, anything, outside of my plan I need to employ a Herculean effort to stay calm. I breathe, I try to focus on my breath, I try to simply observe the wants and pressures of others, and my corresponding thoughts, as passing me by rather than sweeping me up into their frenzy.
As preventative measures, I try to do yin/yang or hatha yoga at least every other day, I go for massages, I go to a psychologist, I walk, I sit, I practice finding the calm in the storm of my mind, and I write. I have also been working with a naturopath who has diagnosed adrenal fatigue, the physiological effect of ongoing stress, and is following me on supplements to manage that.
Though insurance companies and the medical profession will, I am warned, try to force me onto medication so they can check off the box that says one more person healed and send me back to work, I know that is not what I need. My psychologist, thankfully, agrees.
What I need is time. Time without pressure. Time to undo 38 years of a certain way of thinking. Time to undo ten years of reacting to a demanding workplace by trying to meet everyone else’s expectations, real or imagined, and taking on too much. Time to figure out my own expectations and to be strong enough to live only according to them. Time without worrying that next week, they’re going to send me back in. Time to write. Time to really believe that I have a right to this time. Time to live my dream.