Stress Leave Progress Report

So… I went to the doctor today.

This was my “regular” stress leave check-in.

I think it may have been over a month…ok, I know it’s been closer to two months, since I last checked in. Not particularly regular. I have my reasons excuses but they’re not important right now.

What is important is that after I had begun to go through my prepared thoughts on how I was doing 4 months into my time off work (I had been making progress, but felt I had plateaued, was maybe not sure how to continue to strengthen my self emotionally, still not strong enough to return to the toxic work environment, still far too concerned about what others think of me, etc etc), she interrupted me with:

“I’m really concerned; I don’t think you’ve really made much progress since I last saw you.”

What!? Wow.

Ok, maybe that’s what I was actually beating around the bush and saying without saying, but I was floored when she just came out with it. So bluntly. Before I had fully admitted it to myself. And really, I know I am better than I was on day one, but I also know that she’s right; I haven’t improved much since my last appointment with her.

I guess this is why the whole regular visits thing is a good idea.

When I had finished riding the long, cresting wave of defensiveness, I listened to what she had to say.

First off, while I like my psychologist and have been with him a good long while, he doesn’t really seem to be helping me anymore. “I mean,” she asked, “what does he tell you to do to overcome anxiety, stress, your worries about what others think of you?”

All I could think of was that he keeps telling me to breathe. Now, breathing is all fine and good, but I think I need something more.

Granted, I’m not really very disciplined at sitting down and doing breathing exercises, or visualization exercises.

But I think the doctor’s right: I need something more than breathing, or visualization, or even walking meditation (which is what the psychologist suggested the other day). I don’t know what I need but I have a feeling it’s something more than this combination of things. And isn’t that what I’m paying the psychologist to provide me with? Tools? Practical things?

I have NO idea how to calm down, how to stop thinking negatively, how to stop worrying about what everyone is thinking of me.

I guess I just figured breathing and visualizing and meditating and yoga was kind of all there was and that it was my own fault for not really doing enough any of them. But maybe there is more?

I agreed that my doctor can refer me to the clinic’s in-house counselling service so I can get a different, and hopefully more helpful, perspective.

Next issue: She asked me what it is I actually want to be doing, career-wise.

The million dollar question. What indeed?

Well, I answered, everything I want to do either doesn’t pay well (or at all), or is in a sector that is downsizing and experiencing massive cuts. Archives, museums, libraries… That is, of course, assuming that my writing isn’t published by the New Yorker and that it doesn’t take off overnight.

“Why are you so scared? Why don’t you apply to these places?” was her, maybe obvious, question.

For my answer, I refer you to the previous paragraph. Massive cuts, downsizing, no money, unpublished.

Plus, my friends have told me it’s too soon to start worrying about whether I should go back to work, and to what work. The aforementioned psychologist has agreed with me that my own work environment is highly toxic and that my ideal jobs are, indeed, experiencing cuts and have their own toxicities. My husband has expressed concerns about me working somewhere that doesn’t really pay and doesn’t have a pension – for practical, realistic reasons.

The doctor cut in again. “Why are you surrounding yourself with all these negative people? You  have armed yourself with all these reasons not to apply to where you really want to work. You are terrified and you are letting everyone around you confirm your worst fears. Why don’t you just apply? Fight the fear. Do it.”

She also pointed out that the constant fear is the reason I’m so tired all the time. Hm.

I came home and told my husband about the appointment and, aside from a good and expected dose of realism, he was so encouraging and supportive. He has already suggested a whole list of places I should apply.

And you know what? I’m working on it. I’ve sent in an application to one museum and sent my Omar story to the New Yorker while I was at it. I’m working on some other submissions and applications now, too.

This jolt is just one more step in my healing process. Facing those initial fears, actually acknowledging that they were there, has already helped.

My doctor’s shocking frankness was what I needed, though I balked at the time. But she has managed to move me off that plateau I had been resting on for a month or so.

Taking action is, I think, the best way to combat the fear.

That, and pumpkin loaf smothered in peanut butter.

And writing it all down has helped, too.

Now that I have laid out everything helpfully in words, I think it’s probably time to get back to those applications and submissions.

Wish me luck.


20 thoughts on “Stress Leave Progress Report

  1. I am on the fence about applying to a library graduate program due to cuts in my area. It’s frustrating to think I finally know what I want to do career wise (school librarian) and to know jobs are hard to find, not to mention 2+ years of school and a 30k price tag! Good luck to you!

    • Yes, good luck to you too! Unfortunately, going back to school isn’t really an option for me, due to the whole money thing. Wish we could just do on the job training and go from there. I mean, I know these are skills I am capable of picking up through training. Anyway, there is still something to be said for at least *knowing* what you want to do.

      • True! It seems like many schools are relying on aides to run the libraries in a district with a ‘floating’ librarian. That would be a cheaper route! I told my husband come hell or high water after this year I am done with project management! Good luck to all us ‘career changers’!

  2. You brave lady, Silverleaf; I can totally empathise, having been through this myself so recently. In the end, I gave up the known world of well-paid teaching, and am now writing full time. Sometimes when the anxiety will not leave, it is your body telling you something of great significance – and, because it is like a scream, nothing external is likely to calm you down. I speak from bitter, pain-wracked, totally agitated experience here. Sometimes, the poison just has to be released before healing can start. That bluntness has obviously uncorked the bottle, as it were – and I think things WILL start to happen now. Thinking of you. Sending love and good wishes. Ali xxx

    • Thank you so so much for your very kind message. Your comment brought a smile to my face, and some goosebumps. I hope you’re right and that this is the uncorking, and that I will continue forward. xx

      • I think you will – but, it may be painful; I say this because, for very different reasons, this is roughly where I am at right now. Our bodies are such powerful communicators; trouble is, we either ignore them, try to brush their messages under the carpet or assume (as I still do) that their hosts of symptoms indicate a serious physical problem.
        I do not make money from my writing – not yet, anyway. But, teaching had become a toxic environment. For me, anyway.
        Follow your heart and your instinct. xxx

  3. Good luck. Im a counselor, I think that you will like what you find if you follow through with it. Counselors are trained specificaly for what you seem to be lacking with your psychologist.

    • Thank you – that is certainly encouraging. The thought of telling the whole saga from the beginning – again – can be daunting but it’s worth it if it helps in the end. I appreciate you taking the time to share your views.

      • You may not have to tell it, unless you feel you have to. Counseling is about moving you forward in the present and only adressing the past as is needed. A good counselor will help you learn ways to manage the issues today and build skills to overcome obstacles. If done right, it is also fairly brief. I hope it all works out for you! I have a certain style that you may or may not like, but it might give you an idea. I am fairly non clinical-if you want to see go to and look for the anxiety stuff, or happiness. Im not trying to plug my site, or tell you what i think you need, you won’t hurt my feelings if you don’t.

        • My god your site is wonderful. I’m just reading down through the first few posts. Useful, brilliant, and very amusing. I’ll get to searching for anxiety (well, not literally, that I can find pretty easily) and happiness in a bit… Thanks for your comments yesterday, and I’m glad I checked out your site.

        • Thanks for the kind words. I hope that I can help people with what I know and the way I am able to share it. Affirmation that someone benefitted is affirmation enough to continue.

  4. Hey there,

    I usually don’t spend a lot of time reading blog posts, but when I saw yours, I was intrigued. You see, a few months ago I was working in a toxic environment. I was overworked, doing nine video production jobs, and being severely underpaid and undervalued. Needless to say, your story struck a chord in me and I had to keep reading.

    I knew the stress was slowly killing me, that I had to do something to combat it. Then, out of my greatest distress, I discovered my calling. Making brainwave entrainment/meditation music (not what I expected). I use frequencies that are scientifically proven to relax you, and lull you into theta state, which is a state of brain activity usually experienced in REM sleep or when you’re “zoned out.” Profound healing and inspiration occurs in theta state, and I’d like to invite you to try it. You can stream the songs for free via this link:

    If you’d like additional information on the music, please visit my About page on my blog. It has full details on what the music does for your brain, your sense of well-being, and overall quality of life. I truly believe the music will help you become more centered, like it has for me and countless other people.

    Good luck, and I wish you the best of luck and happiness in your future endeavors.



  5. OMG – I had to do a double-take because after I experienced my traumatic melt-down – and saw the doctor 4 months later – I had the same blunt response – “you’re not any better than when I first saw you.” And like wise: “Huh?”

    Lol – yeah, I laugh about it now – because it’s been over a year – but still, the sting and shock. And you know what? Even though we’re only cyber acquaintances, and I don’t know your whole story, nor you, mine – I *think* I can safely say this: “Accept the objective opinion for what it is – it is most likely the truth. Your healing progress is a journey. All your efforts will contribute to the sum total of the whole. Accept the help offered to you – even if it seems to kill you – and remember, you are re-building a new, stronger and happier you. Surround yourself with supportive, encouraging people – and follow your heart. Take baby steps, the small ones where we first learn how to balance and weigh in, and soon, you will be jogging and running along your path to health and happiness. Good days, bad days, – all one moment at a time – but don’t be afraid to keep trying.”

    Peace, Silverleaf 🙂

    • That is so kind and helpful, Pat, thank you. It means so much to me that you share your story and experience and thoughts. I think your advice is spot on. It is hard to stop and see the baby steps for me, so the few I’ve taken must be hard for others to see as well, but I recognize too that this is just the beginning of my journey and that I have to give myself time. I really hope this jolt will move me, even a bit, past the plateau/rut.

      • I’m sure you will be fine. Some times it’s the hardest hitting or most surprising bits that startle us, but also recognize our self-call to action. Every little bit is a part of the process – I’m sure you will find your way. Just remember to be extra gentle and good to yourself. And remember – if you aren’t, the people around you are less likely to be so as well. So be kind and self-loving and others will follow suit. 🙂

        Thank you for sharing your story pieces – it’s comforting to know there are others too – and together, we all grow and learn through our journeys.

        • Absolutely 🙂 What you said about being gentle to yourself and others will follow suit is interesting. I never thought about it that way. That’s my second aha moment of the day!

        • Lol … and 🙂

          Well, it took me long enough to figure it out – but it seems to be true. If we’re constantly down on ourselves, hard and self-demanding, in short, withholding and dishonest, then those closest to us sort of have no choice but to respond the same way. It may be difficult to engage – but if we learn to be gentle, kind and honest with ourselves, and learn to treat ourselves with self-respect, then others will respond in kind, usually. Like attracts like. Just as negative attracts negative. So, yeah, be GOOD to yourself – even if it feels tiny and insignificant. Try it and I’m sure you will see results. 🙂

  6. Yay! Taking action is such a potent remedy to anxiety. I know this from personal experience. In fact, a lot of cognitive behavioral therapists will say just that. (Check out A.C.T : It is acting in spire of our anxieties and fears that works the muscle we are trying to strengthen. The one that makes us fearless. I am actually really good at acting. 🙂 But have to do that in spite of most people telling me why it’s not a good idea, or practical, or going to work. There will always be people like that — and as your doc said, it’s your job to either eliminate them from your life or recognize them for who they are, and don’t take what they say as gospel. Hang in there!

    • Thanks for the link and the encouragement 🙂 ACT sounds more along the lines of what I have been searching for, because just sitting and breathing SO isn’t doing it for me, at least as a sole solution.
      Aside from fear of heights – and centipedes – it seems my greatest fear is putting myself out there and changing my whole, comfortable life. I’m not going to court the company of multi-legged bugs, but I think I’d like to throw myself into the other stuff.

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