Rainbow Theory

My heart races. Quick to anger, I stop and breathe in the moment – just one moment, mine – try to taste the sweetness in the calm I’m reaching for.

That moment is elusive.

It hides in a rain drop, in a sun ray.

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Just one way I was inspired this week by the Yeah Write prompt.

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Checking In, Seeking Balance

It has been months since I last wrote here about how things are going with me. Last fall, as I prepared to return to work and then slowly reintegrated, I had been concerned that I would lose sight of all the self-improvement work I had done during my time off and that I would have difficulties balancing work, family and writing. I also worried I would slowly slip back into the panicky, stressed person I was prior to what ended up being 15 months of stress leave.

So. Now that I am fully re-immersed in work life, how am I doing?

Well, at this very moment, my brain is completely drained. I have no space left to create, no energy to worry about word placement, no time to replenish what has been quickly drained. But there is hope. I was doing well – really well – up until about two weeks ago. And I know I can get back there. I just need to get my routine back, and some sense of normalcy.

And I also know that before I can write anything creative, I need to write about how I got here.

By January, I was doing so well at keeping issues at work and at home in perspective that I stopped seeing my psychologist and reporting in to my doctor. I was sleeping and eating well, running weekly, writing at least twice a week, and had a good balance between work, family and myself. And I was enjoying my job.

Things started to unravel a bit when my husband had to take a 6 week trip for work (and the injustice of it all was that he went back to Cape Town – you might remember from last year just how much I love it there!).

It’s difficult trying to do the housework and cover the family responsibilities of 2 people, while also being out of the house for most of the day. Running is always the first thing to go; there’s something to be said for staying put at lunch instead of heading out to expend energy in sub-zero temperatures. I also became a little more edgy. But I kept writing. And I figured I’d settle into the new rhythm and would relax again.

Two weeks ago, though, things got a bit crazier. My son had four big activities, four days in a row, so that was something to focus on, and my grandmother passed away. She was almost 100 and had been suffering from dementia for a number of years, so it wasn’t a huge surprise, but still, it was something to reflect on, to come to terms with. Flooded with memories of people and places long gone, I realized she had been to some extent the last anchor to the care-free aspects of my childhood.

The funeral was last week in Toronto, so I organized my work, notified my son’s school, and started packing and preparing for the 4 hour drive. In the midst of that, I had car issues and had to take the car into the dealership, garage issues which meant I had to organize a repairman, and my son had a huge cadet competition the day after the funeral, in a different town, meaning I also had to organize his uniform and prepare to leave Toronto at 6am the following morning.

Somehow, we did it all. Like clockwork.

But.

It. Was. Just. Too. Much.

Still, here we are on the other side of it all. I feel pretty proud of myself for shepherding us through everything. And I’m proud of him for keeping up, too. He even read at the funeral – beautifully – and his cadet drill team placed second. We pulled through.

But I still don’t have the brain space to even think about creative, focused writing.

I am, however, reassured to think that I generally managed to keep things in perspective. To mostly bite my lip, pause, and avoid replying when it was better to say nothing. To focus on the positive. To be in the moment. To recognize my strengths and successes. To realize that things, overall, are going to be ok. That I am still ok.

 

Do Not Fear the Cog

I’ve lost track of the time. I know I could figure it out if I looked at a calendar, but off the top of my head I have no idea how long I’ve been back at work.

It’s a strange feeling. Strange, but actually — surprisingly — pretty good.

I feel energized. Well, not today. Today I feel tired but that’s because I was so energized last night, so happy with life, I couldn’t get to sleep and when I did, I dreamed of massive tidal storms washing me away. I’m sure that means nothing, though. Ok, maybe it means something. Dream experts would say it means I feel overwhelmed. And it’s true there is a certain relentlessness to life now that I actually have to get myself to work each day. But once I’m there, I actually feel good.

Yes. I did say that.

And I did say I feel happy with life. Even at work. Actually, partially because of being back at work.

I don’t feel like I never left. I was worried I would. I was worried all those old habits and tendencies and all that old stress would slowly take me over again. But, no, not so far anyway. I feel different than I did when I was here before. Now I grit my teeth and clench my stomach out of habit rather than for any real reason. But I understand this, which is half the battle.

And I like my little cubicle — I finally moved and have some privacy now. It is, dare I say, almost cozy, filled as it is with my former plants, family photographs and my son’s artwork. It is a place I can sit, ponder, catch my breath and work steadily from one task to the next. It is the little corner with my favourite files I had hoped and wished for for months before I took my stress leave.

I feel lucky.

I know I’m lucky.

And the assault on the senses of being back in an office full of people and sounds has, for the most part, become routine. I like my colleagues. I like the “good mornings” and the “have a good evenings” and the chats in the kitchen. As crazy as it sounds, I even like the filthy kitchen. How could that be?

Well, I’ll tell you. It’s the routine. It’s the knowing what I am doing, who I am and what my roles and responsibilities are. This is the reason, other than writing, that I originally wanted to work in an office setting. I know myself. I know that what I need more than anything is predictability. Sure, I’m more creative when I’m spontaneous, but I’m an anxious person by nature and in between the brief bursts of creative spontaneity, what I really need is a boring, predictable routine.

My husband used to tease me as he tried to encourage me to climb the ranks. He’d say, “but you’re just a cog in the wheel.” And he was right. Is right. But the thing is, a cog is fine for me. I like my place in the wheel. I know my place in the wheel. I like my work. I am happy.

What more could I possibly ask for?

Is this progress?

As my work hours pick up, I’ve started to feel like I’m running.

Not running in a good way.

Running to catch up.

Running out of time.

Running after all the things I still have to do when it is already 9 o’clock at night.

Running out of breath.

Last week, with one full day and two half days, I had enough time. That full day knocked me sideways but I had sufficient opportunity to recuperate. This week, I was supposed to do three full days but by last Friday at noon, I knew I would have to cut back.

So, I turned yesterday into a half day and spent the afternoon regaining my equilibrium. Breathing. Doing nothing. I think this means I’ve learned something, that I’ve stayed aware, protected my boundaries and taken care of myself.

It’s not that work has been unpleasant. Not at all. In fact, my managers have been extremely supportive, encouraging me to take as long as I need to reintegrate. I appreciate this; I can’t imagine having to fight against unsupportive managers in addition to the general exhaustion I’m feeling. And the work itself is interesting, even inspiring at times.

So, though my head hurts, my brain feels tired and I’m having trouble focusing and stringing thoughts together on paper, I believe it will get better, if I give it time. If I’m patient. Organized. If I move methodically through one task at a time. If I forgive myself when I don’t, when (like this morning), I get carried away on a wave of panic.

I’m trying to reassure myself that, in time, I will get the hang of it. I can still fall into my restful mindset quickly. All it takes is catching myself in the moment, closing my eyes and ears, looking around and breathing in the sky, the trees the smells, remembering to let all the thoughts and stimulation and judgement and people just slip past me, untouched.

This is progress. Right?

What running is teaching me about working

After my husband completed a 100 km run a few weeks ago, he told me the key to finishing it was taking things slowly. Not barrelling along or racing against time. It is more important to get out there and to finish than to exhaust yourself trying to do it quickly.

I’ve kept this approach in mind as I begin to re-introduce my body to running, after a year or so away from it. I have been running more slowly than I used to and ignoring the time as I go. I’ve also decided not to push myself, running only about 3 or 4 km each time over the past few weeks. But this past Tuesday, with my take-it-slow mantra in mind, I tried my old 6 km route. It’s been a long time but I enjoyed the familiarity; my body just sort of fell into step, as though it remembered exactly where every crack was, where every dip or hill was.

It’s a beautiful run, winding along in the sunshine beside Ottawa’s Rideau Canal. I looked around, enjoying the view of the meandering water, the reflection of the sky, the stately trees and lush gardens, the few leaves that are starting to turn red. I lost myself in my music. I experienced that wonderful feeling that I used to love, the feeling of floating along effortlessly, as though my mind had separated from my body.

Not only did I finish it but I felt like I could have kept going. Every time I felt myself speeding up or thinking about getting to my destination, I forced myself to slow down and think only of the moment.

It made everything feel easy.

And that’s what I’m thinking I should be doing as I reintegrate into the office.

Yesterday was my first full day at work. By lunchtime, I was looking for the exit, wondering how on earth I would ever complete the day, never mind the full three days I’m supposed to spend there next week.

I had been asked to write an urgent (everything is urgent) page and a half of speaking points for our Deputy Minister to use in an upcoming meeting. There were a number of frustrating issues about the task – the fact that no one had actually requested it, the fact that the speaking points already existed in another document being sent to the same Deputy Minister, the fact that I didn’t have access to any pre-existing files from which I would be pulling the information – but I did it, sent it off and then felt like crawling away quietly to hide.

I can’t really explain why this little burst of work took so much out of me. Though I never heard back from my boss, who I think sensed I was a bit overwhelmed, I don’t think I did a bad job on the task. Perhaps it was because it was the first time I had delved into all the places I had forced my mind to abandon over the past 15 months. Or the shock of writing for work instead of as creative expression. Or that I had only just regained access to my computer and had 15 months of emails staring at me.

I knew I needed a break from the office if I was going to make it to the end of the day. So I went for a walk. I found a welcoming corner in the shadow of one of the many monuments in our city, took off my shoes so I could put my feet in the grass, and sat there, watching the sky and emptying my mind of all thoughts.

It was then that the correlation between returning to running and returning to work hit me. If I’m going to make it through this adjustment process, I’m going to have to move slowly, avoid pushing myself too hard, stay in the moment, stop thinking about the destination, be it the destination of the day’s end or of the point in the future at which I will be working full time again, and I’m going to have to recalibrate when I notice I’ve stopped doing all these things.

When I returned to the office, instead of continuing to panic about making it to the end of the day or how I would ever survive working three full days next week, I spent the afternoon slowly going through tasks, small tasks, thinking of nothing beyond what I was doing in the moment.

And look at that. I made it to the end of the day. I made it to today, with its familiar comforts of my kitchen, my coffee, my time to myself, my writing.

There will be times that I panic. But at those times, I hope I will learn to take a deep breath, pull myself back, slow down and be in the moment.

For now, though, I’m off to do another slow run.