I have been off work for a year. Well, almost.
For those of you who have been following me for a while, you may have noticed that my posts about stress and stress management have dwindled. For the first few months, I wrote a lot in this journal about my stress leave. I have posted updates from time to time but the longer I have been off, the less I have written about it.
I think this could be considered a sign of progress?
Though I have been writing other things, this doesn’t mean I haven’t been working through all the things that sent me packing in the first place. I just haven’t always felt the need to write them out.
Now, at the almost-year mark (I’m not so precise and organized as to need to write about this ON the anniversary), I am thinking seriously about returning to work. And that has brought the whole thing into sharper focus again.
In mid-June 2013, I turned up in my doctor’s office exhausted, frustrated and beside myself. I was unable to concentrate, unable to keep track of emails or any other elements of my job that required a focused mind. I was snapping at everyone, including myself. I felt as though my life was slipping me by and I had no idea anymore who I was or what I wanted to do.
My doctor told me I should have come to her earlier – months earlier. And she wrote a note saying that I was unable to perform my duties, that effective the next day, I would be on stress leave for one month.
At the time, I was sure I wouldn’t need more than a month. A whole month! Even a day seemed like a lot to take off, but I knew I needed a break. I just didn’t realize how much of a break I needed.
I went in to work the next day to notify my boss and my staff and to tie up any loose ends.
I asked my friend to water my plants.
I took a few things with me – clothes that needed to go the dry cleaner, shoes that needed to be fixed – but left most of my belongings as they were at my desk. I would, after all, be returning in a month.
I spent two weeks getting used to not going to work, and another two weeks on holidays at a beach in Maine with my family. By the time I returned, it had started to dawn on me that I was going to need more than a month.
Now I can barely remember what personal effects I left at my desk and my friend tells me in her droll manner that some of my plants suffered separation anxiety and have died. My life has changed, my priorities have changed, hopefully my outlook and approach to life have changed. The office, I hear, is pretty much the same, though possibly more toxic than when I left.
And yet, I’m going back.
Originally, I was sure I wouldn’t go back. I thought I would find something that was more “me” to do for a career.
Instead, I found writing. Or re-discovered it, really, after 20 years of not writing.
And in doing so, I found myself. The real me. The me that was missing all this time.
And I realized that I may never have a job that I am passionate about, a job that I was born to do, a job that I feel is deeply important, either to me or to the world.
But that’s ok.
Because I am more than my job. And that’s why no job has ever really been fulfilling enough, why a few months in, I always discover it’s just not what I had hoped it would be. Why it’s never quite “me” enough.
My job and what I want to do with my life don’t have to be one and the same.
That is the thunderbolt of realization I have been looking for all this time. The same thunderbolt I was wondering about a month ago in South Africa.
Now I understand that my writing is my outlet. It is my space. The space I create and the place I can be creative. The space where I get to be the real me, where I get to do what I want to do. It is the answer to all my “who am I?” questions. It is where I find fulfillment.
This doesn’t mean I don’t like my job. There are things about it I really like. But I have never been career-driven or ambitious, I have never felt moved to climb the proverbial ladder; I work hard and have a strong work ethic, but no passion. And now I understand why. My job will never be for me what a job is for the lucky people: the epitome of who they are, the job they were born to do, completely fulfilling and exactly everything and all they can be.
For me, that is my writing. It is not my job. And it’s ok to have both separately. This explains so much.
I never would have figured this out if I hadn’t taken all this time. If I hadn’t had all the time in the world to think and write.
Armed with this new knowledge (knowledge is power!), I really am preparing to go back to work in September. I’ve started talking with my boss about my files and about integrating slowly, part-time at first. I am learning how to explain what my boundaries are and consciously trying not to over-commit, over-perform, or over-deliver, both at work and in my personal life. After all, that’s how I ended up on stress leave in the first place.
So I am making progress.
This doesn’t mean I don’t worry about going back to work, or that I am completely comfortable with it. I’m not. I’ve started having dreams about returning. Not nightmares exactly, but uncomfortable dreams about the disquieting nature of returning to a job you left in a state of stress and confusion more than a year prior to your return.
I’ve had a few moments in which I’ve thought, “I’m rushing things. I’m not ready to go back yet. Aaah!”
But generally, I think it’s time. Or at least in September it will be time.
As long as I can keep writing. As long as I can establish and hold firm to the boundaries that give me the time and brain space to keep this going.
Because writing is the one thing I do just for me. It is what will keep me sane, happy and fulfilled no matter what else is going on around me.