Today was my first (half) day back at my office — tomorrow I start back full days — and it was great to see my coworkers, to be back at my desk, and it even felt good to dig into the mountain of email that’s accumulated in my absence.
(You know you like your work when you don’t mind sorting through ten gazillion emails.)
When I started my leave from my job earlier in the summer, I wasn’t entirely sure how long it would be. I just knew that after several years of being battered by life circumstances beyond my control, I was going to end up like one of those famous people you hear about who are hospitalized for unspecified “exhaustion,” if I didn’t get some significant mental, physical and emotional rest. And I ended up taking exactly four weeks away from work, and that feels like just the right amount of time. I’m returning to my work feeling more physically healthy, centered and focused than I have in a very long time.
What did I do during my time away? Well, the easy answer is “very little.” After several years that have been almost unimaginably exhausting and stressful, during the past four weeks, I took every opportunity to do as little as possible, and I even had doctor’s orders to be lazy like that; my doc told to me that I was to rest, rest, rest.
And so I did.
Not only did I try to sleep eight to 10 hours every night, I also took lots and lots of naps. After two-plus years of having a very tough time sleeping in general, my body has been majorly sleep deprived, and I am trying to re-balance my sleep bank. I think I am still behind on sleep overall, but I am getting caught up. I’m forcing myself to go to bed much earlier, and I am working on some relaxation techniques to help me fall asleep faster and more deeply when I do climb into bed. The napping on warm summer afternoons over the past few weeks felt decadent, but also very healthy. I am so grateful to Jon for insisting that I sleep as much as I could while I was away from work, and for arranging things so that I could.
What else did I do during my leave? Well, if you read my personal blog at all, you know I’ve been spending at least part of most days working out in my garden. That’s been absolutely fantastic, and I continue to find gardening the most relaxing, fun and healing thing I have done since losing my son. It’s a real gift to have discovered this. I never would have predicted that I’d become so enthralled with gardening, but I am. It’s absolutely THE best therapy I’ve found. It’s making a big difference in my overall well being.
Another thing I did in the past month was spend lots of relaxed time with my children, and I loved getting the “bonus” time with my two oldest in particular. Teenagers are often go-go-go in the summertime, and as a working mama who is generally gone from 8 a.m. til 6 p.m. during the week, I miss out on much of my bigger kids’ summertime time, so getting to be the one to do mundane things like fix them lunch and drive them to friends’ houses during weekdays was just wonderful. We had some great talks together in recent weeks – about college, spirituality, work, politics, loss, family and life — and I treasured the unhurried time with all four of my children.
So that’s the easy answer about what I did during my leave; I rested, spent time with family, and dug in my garden. But I also used my four weeks of leave to begin something I had delayed and put off because I knew that it would challenging … and a little scary. In the past I’ve said that unless a therapist can make my child NOT be dead, I just didn’t see what he or she could do for me. However, I’ve now started working with a therapist who specializes in grief and post traumatic stress disorder to address the not insignificant trauma and grief that I have been carrying around like a lead weight. I continue to be unsure how talk therapy can really help with this, but smarter people than I am tell me that it will, and I really trust and like the person I am seeing for counseling, so I am trying to have an open mind about it, and to just show up for my sessions and try my best to be present and willing.
In addition to working with a psychologist who specializes in grief, during my leave I also began meeting regularly with another professional who works with people on what I’d describe as life-work balance and personal productivity issues. She’s a PhD organizational psychologist, and her work with me is more like what you might call “life coaching.” She is working with me to address some of the more practical, logistical parts of my busy life that I’ve identified as areas that I want to improve and make more satisfying and successful. I am already finding my time with her hugely helpful. I plan to blog in some detail about how she’s working to coach me because I think y’all will maybe have some of the same “aha” moments I am having when she helps me think through better ways to approach certain tasks that so many moms with jobs outside the home deal with on a regular basis. She’s phenomenal.
Hmmm … what else did I do during my leave? Oh! Yes! I did also break my toe within the first week I was out of the office, and now, after four weeks of wearing nothing but flip flops while my toe heals, today for my first day back in my office, I managed to squeeze my still swollen, slightly misshapen piggie into a pair of “real” shoes. That was painful, and none too attractive, as that side of my bruised, lumpy foot oozed out of the top of my shoe. When I got home, it felt most excellent to kick off the leather ballet flats (the most comfortable shoes I have that are work-worthy) and slip back into my flip flops.
So anyway, that’s what I did during my four weeks of leave, and now it’s time for me to get back to work. I feel tan, rested and ready … okay … not actually the tan part, but definitely more rested and very ready. And also very grateful for the gift that this leave offered me and my family. I recognize how lucky I am to have been able to have this time to rest and heal. I don’t take it for granted.
Thanks very much to all of you who emailed me or messaged me on Facebook or Twitter with encouragement and kind words in recent weeks. I truly, truly appreciated your compassion and thoughfulness, and the way you shared your own stories of healing over time after major trauma or losses. I learn so much from other people who are further down this path than I am.
And hugest thanks of all to my amazing, sweet, lovely, funny, clever, and kind husband for holding my hand and making me laugh and think and smile through every minute of everything since the day we first met. I love you, Jonathan Hickman.
And now, I am going to get ready for bed so that I can be up and at ‘em with plenty of sleep tomorrow morning when I head in to my office for my first full day back on the job!
READ MORE FROM KATIE OVER AT MAMAPUNDIT (HER PERSONAL BLOG)