Back into the fire: an update on working and life

It’s been some time since I’ve written about my return to work, about how I’ve been managing. For a while – a long while – I was managing so well I didn’t need to think about it. There was nothing really to say.

So I can’t tell you when I stopped feeling comfortable in my skin again. Sometime between February and now, while I was looking the other way, thinking about other things and just trying to keep up, I lost part of myself. The part that puts down markers and holds fast to boundaries and says “no more” without fearing the consequences, without giving in.

Without resorting to desperation.

Without succumbing to panic.

Now, again, I imagine the judgement of others – which is my judgement of myself. I jump at unexpected sounds. I am immobilized by the need to make decisions. I feel fragile.

I know it’s work that has worn me down – or at least I know I’ve let it. I love my job but not to the detriment of my sanity. Others surrounding me are running around trying to keep everything afloat as well. Perhaps they are struggling like me, perhaps not quite – not yet. But the mistake I’ve made is allowing that to keep me in the fire. I’ve turned to them for approval when I say no. I’ve pushed myself to perform in return for recognition, acknowledgement. That amounts to putting my sanity in their hands.

Thankfully, I still have all the lessons I learned while on stress leave. Thankfully, I can now recognize the signs of impending doom, and can mark the distance from here back to my boundaries. There is hope, a way back.

I don’t know how to catch hold of that nugget that is my strength, to catch hold and expand it. But I know I have to.

Maybe the knowing is step 1. Maybe I’m already on the right path.

Maybe it is already time to search for step 2.



This isn’t what I wanted to write today —
I thought gardens and sunshine and light —
but you know as well as I that truth finds a way,
like water searching for its route.

I stare out from this shell
this broken exterior you see as whole
I bind myself in here daily,
held tight with coloured scarves and pearl-strands
I put on a good show —
you’d never guess, any of you,
just how deep the cracks
how close to breaking open this shell
until, pushed beyond unseen boundaries,
I do,
and then you see.

I don’t mean to test your mettle
but your responses reveal your true nature
either cementing how we move forward, together,
or leaving me broken on the floor.


It’s not all as dire as it sounds… but it has been a tough week, pressure-wise.

How not to lose it

Listen to your body
read the signs.
Take the time to stop
stop moving, stop thinking
stop clawing your way out;
it is ok to step away.
Rest your mind.
Focus on small things
objects of beauty
essences of peace.
Inspect the intricacies
of the world around you:
a flower’s petal folds.
Stare into the deep blue and
let it surround you
till there is nothing else
but you and blue.
Read a poem
hear its music.
Follow what makes your heart smile.
Disappear into a cup of tea
and wait, surrounded
by the mint-pepper-honey
its warmth spreading through.
Feel the ground beneath your feet
each step is yours
here, now.
Close your eyes
and just be
just be.


A how-to poem for how to stay sane in these busy, anxious days, for NaPoWriMo day 19

Climb every mountain – at a reasonable pace


I was on a lunchtime run, pounding up a hill about halfway through my fourth kilometer, when I recognized my fatal flaw. I probably have more than one, but this is a big one. (That’s one of the beauties of running – it leads you to insights that are so deep they’re able to knock the breath right out of you.)

Anyone who knows me knows that I tend to make things harder on myself than I need to. But as I forced myself up that hill — faster, faster — the voice from my phone’s running app cut through my thoughts and the driving bass to inform me I had just sped up that hill faster than I had run the flats, faster than I usually run when I go much further but avoid hills altogether.

I realized that I was forcing myself up the hill as fast as possible, putting myself under strain just to get it over with, instead of settling into a reasonable, steady pace. Interestingly, I never run down hills because I’m always too busy enjoying the view.

And that’s when it hit me. I do exactly the same thing for any challenge I face. I try to fly through it, rush, get it over with, get to the easy part, or the end. It’s like a panic response – get to the end, fast.

I do it in conflicts at home, and it just inflames the situation.

I do it at work when I have a big deliverable looming, and instead of getting through things calmly, I thoroughly stress myself thinking that I have to do it all “now” when, for the most part, it will take several weeks of methodical work.

I even do it when I have a to-do list. I can’t handle to-do lists. I have to fly through them, check off all the little boxes, leave nothing hanging over my head. Get to the end.

All this rushing through things leaves me feeling overwhelmed, drained and as though I never have time to do what I want. It never seems I will get to the end of anything I have to do because, let’s be honest, life is just one big to-do list. It’s impossible to rush to the end of it. Instead, it’s better to keep a steady pace and grab the odd moment to breathe, to look around, to stop and take in the view, to remember that there are pleasant aspects to whatever it is you’re in the middle of, and to even sometimes take a break partway through and do something else.

It was a beautiful day for running. I was able to appreciate that once I slowed my pace and stopped pushing myself as fast as possible every time there was a hill. The sun was shining on the last of the season’s golden leaves while purple-grey clouds created a dramatic backdrop over the river and the Parliament buildings. People were out walking and running, chatting and laughing – enjoying the mild fall day. As I came to the top of the final hill – Parliament Hill, as it turned out – I paused, looked up at the Canadian flag waving on the Peace Tower and smiled.

Life is really very good, I thought.

I know there’s a valuable lesson in all this, but I may just need the equivalent of that running app’s voice to cut through my thoughts and remind me every now and then that I don’t have to rush past where I am to get to the end.

Because Perspective


I know. It’s been a while. Oh, I’ve posted the odd poem from time to time, but that pales in comparison to the number of posts I used to publish, and even to the volume of pieces I’ve begun, then archived, or the ideas I have jotted down and abandoned without really working them through.

I’m not sure why but I just don’t have it in me these days to focus, to think long and hard about what I want to say and how to word it, to polish a piece and post it. And since I don’t believe in forcing these things, this means I’ve been silent, and may continue to be for a while longer. This post aside, of course.

I’m sure in some ways it’s related to my work. I’m now fully and completely immersed and it requires rather a lot of thinking and writing in its own right. Those of you who were following me way back when I didn’t work may remember a turning point—it was probably more than a year ago, though the months seem to have all blended together. It was the day I realized that I wasn’t going to suddenly be hit by some lightning bolt of inspiration telling me what I was supposed to be doing with my life.

It was the day I realized that I didn’t have to love and live for my job, but could use it to make the money I needed to spend my free time writing, travelling and being with my family.

It was the day I recognized all the parts of me that make up something greater than my office identity.

Well, a funny thing has happened.

I love my job.

I enjoy my days. I believe in what I do. I think and read and tweet about related topics in my personal time. I meet with people after work to talk about the hot issues.

Total surprise.

I still have parts of me that make up something greater than my office identity but they are all now more closely intertwined. Synergistic.

It does help that the job I returned to is sufficiently different from the one that sent me on 15 months of stress leave. In those dark days pre-leave, I used to say “if I could just sit in a corner and focus on this one main file, I would be really happy.”

Somehow, I’ve managed to make that my job. I feel very lucky on that front. I get to spend my time researching, writing and interacting with a great organization on a topic that I feel strongly about.

Almost better than this new-found enthusiasm, I learned a lot about myself and how I want to live my life while I was off work. It wasn’t wasted time. And it wasn’t a holiday. I did a lot of thinking and introspection and self-discovery. I wrote about it. I chatted with many of you right here about it. I leaned on my friends.

And now, as I approach the first anniversary of my return to work (how did the year fly by so quickly!?), I can say with pride and certainty that I continue to apply all those lessons I learned. The ones about prioritizing, maintaining perspective, protecting boundaries, taking time for myself, positive self affirmation.

I am a better person today because I continue to live by those valuable lessons.

I just may not get around to writing as much. Because perspective.