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.


finding a place to breathe

it leaves me breathless
wind hot and stifling
caught in my throat
the overwhelming sense of
too much
too much strife and stress and
lessons to teach
too much responsibility
the need to
impart, instill, instruct
and be kind and gentle, too,
while assailed by thoughts and changes
world-spinning-too-fast changes
world-weary work
changes that happen every time I look away
every time I look back
or blink

I can’t keep up

you ask me sometimes
why I’m angry, tired, annoyed
(I hate that but
it’s worse when you don’t ask
because then I can’t stop and smile
and tell you–me–that it’s all alright)
showing me a mirror
helping me look into a soul
I’d forgotten to inspect
mine, yours

can I just have a moment
to find a small patch of grass
green under blue sky
maybe flower scented
a moment to curl up there
and rest
lullabyed by the birds
I can see, hear, feel it now
come, lie there with me

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.


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?

When Childrearing Goes Awry

I’ve discovered that stress comes from more than just work. Of course, I knew that already. But as I ease my way ever so carefully back into the work scene, the greatest source of stress has come from home. My lovely refuge of 15 months is no more.

From the informal polling I’ve done recently, I assume that if you have, or have had, or once were a nine year old boy, you pretty much know what I’m talking about.

Actually, that may not be fair. There are plenty of lovely nine year old boys. Sadly, mine is not one of them at the moment and a number of people I’ve spoken to seem to have had or are having a similar experience.

Which experience exactly? Well, in our case, two calls home from two different teachers two days in a row. Disruption of class. Arguing with the teacher without backing down. And now something that is for the moment a mystery but will, I fear, turn out to be something equally serious when the teacher and I do finally speak.

This all follows on from last year’s final report card which now appears to have been only an indicator of problems to come, though at the time seemed pretty serious and worthy of the consequences meted out (no activities during the week, parent-imposed homework).

So, now he’s off the school soccer team and grounded for a week. But I have this dreadful premonition (based on what others’ experiences have been and this mystery call I’m expecting) that this is only the beginning.

And then what?

How many more consequences can we dream up?

And why can’t he just be a nice boy who behaves and gets to do fun things?

We are very close, the boy and I, but this might be part of the problem. I think our closeness has given him the impression that he is part of the parenting team. That we are a team. When what he needs to see is that my husband and I are the team, the team that is responsible for teaching him the way to be in the world. We love him but parental love is about the hard decisions made for the greater good. And I’ve been too forgiving and too easy up till now. And look where that got us.

My husband has been trying to tell me this for years. At first, I thought he was too harsh. I thought I understood my son and what he needed. But now I see what I didn’t see before. The error of my ways. My hand in the problem.

It’s hard to turn back 9 years of damaging leniency, for him obviously but also for me.

I doubt myself.

I feel terrible.

I can’t think about anything else.

It’s hard to write (so I’m giving in and writing about the problem at hand).

I have tortured dreams about him, his teachers and, for some reason, oil falling apocalyptically from the sky.

Even worse, he’s a good little manipulator. He grips his head and tells me I can’t imagine the pressure he feels. He says he doesn’t know why he does it. He looks at me with big eyes and says maybe he should go to a psychologist. I’ve taken him, by the way. There’s nothing wrong with him, nothing a little discipline won’t fix. Quite simply, he wants to do what he feels like doing. He’s impulsive and he’s had no incentive until now to curb those impulses. He’s smart but his intelligence is misplaced. I wish he’d use his powers for good instead of evil.

At this moment, I’m sitting in a local coffee shop on a rainy Saturday while he and two fellow Navy Cadets stand in the grocery store next door raising money for their cause. It’s a long day. They’re on their feet for eight hours, smiling and saying little more than “Thank you sir, thank you ma’am” and representing the Navy. I’m hoping some of the respect and discipline of that institution will rub off and make a difference.

In the meantime, I’m shaking from caffeine, frustration and anticipation of the showdown to come, and wishing that I could have instead made the most of what should have been a perfect, relaxing writing day.