So … I’m back at work.
Not back, back. The doctor gave me two half-days last week, and three in the coming week. The idea is to do a ‘Graduated Return to Work TM’ which means not plungeing back into things and overdoing it on the first day and then needing another three months off.
I had to think long and hard about actually going back. I’m very ashamed to admit it – pesky Work Ethic TM says that one must always be motivated to work as hard as possible at all times.
But seriously, the difference in my health between Working Blossom and Housewiff Blossom? The phrase ‘chalk and cheese’ has been brought up on more than one occasion. Mostly by my various medics.
It was a serious exercise in pros and cons, deciding to bite the bullet and go back. It went something like this:
Returning to work
|I have a very pleasant job in a great place||It hurts like hell|
|I can earn a crust||It hurts like hell|
|I love my colleagues||Yes, but it hurts like hell|
|I feel like a contributing member of society||One who is half-mad with pain|
I asked a few of my professional team of People in the Know. My counsellor asked me the serious question: if you could work anywhere, doing anything, and money, pain etc. were not concerns, what would you be doing as your perfect fantasy job?
When I honestly, genuinely kept coming back to doing basically what I’m already doing, we both had to agree that I’m probably in the right place for me. (How lucky am I though? I mean, what are the chances?)
Still, Counsellor felt that I should seriously weigh up the benefits of work-at-work VS work-at-home, especially if it should turn out that work-at-work is unsustainable, physically (and therefore mentally and socially).
Everybody else was pretty much firmly in the camp of ‘work if you can, for as long as you can.’ And the person who actually got the casting vote was, oddly enough, our friendly, long-term accountant. He pointed out that I have, technically, well over two decades left before I reach retirement age. If I leave the workforce now, there is every chance I may one day wish to re-enter it. And if I leave it now – not to be too brutal or anything – I’d have a snowflake’s chance in hell of getting back in.
So even though I know that my overall health is guaranteed to be a heap better by not working, it’s a-working I shall go, for as long as I can handle it.
I mean, that’s life, isn’t it? You trade things off for other things, all the time. Brilliant Dream Job VS less pain and better health – it’s not the worst choice anybody was ever forced to make, is it?
For all that, as the time to return to work approached, I found myself in a growing state of toe-clenching terror.
It’s a bit of a nasty situation. Counsellor pointed out, quite rightly, that fear = pain, therefore if I get myself into a state of fear about being back at work, I’m guaranteed to plunge right back into the pain cycle.
Therefore, she gently tried to encourage me to keep considering the positives of what I was doing. And there are so many positives. And I have learned, in the past few months, quite a few different ‘mindfulness techniques’* to cope mentally with the challenges ahead.
But it’s a nasty situation, isn’t it? I’m scared to go back into a situation that I associate completely with sanity-draining, unmanageable pain. Therefore I get scared. And the fear creates pain. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle. And it sort of means that if I can’t hack it and conk out, I have nobody to blame but myself.
Anyhoo, so I went back for two mornings. And it was, quite frankly, lovely to be back.
The first morning I was – I kid you not – so excited, I was jumping about like Tigger. What with all the pain and everything, I had forgotten just what a lovely sort of job I have, and how much fun my colleagues are.
The second morning was nearly as good – except, in spite of my being super-careful (I hardly sat down the entire time, and although I did spend a few minutes at my computer, I was almost entirely reading emails, not typing **), the pain did make its appearance and by the end of the second morning I was very grateful to be heading home for several days’ break.
This is categorically NOT how I was working.
This week I have three mornings to get through and I honestly, honestly have no idea how it will go.
I am at a complete loss. I seriously could not tell you one way or another how things are likely to go. Will I ever get back to being able to work a full day? No idea. Can I genuinely expect to manage my health and perform adequately at my lovely job? No idea.
What will the next two decades of work look like for me? Absolutely no idea at all.
But there are a few things I do know, at this point.
- I actually, genuinely do love my job, and my desire to perform well and contribute is still there, strong as ever.
- My workplace is a good one: they have made it crystal clear that they are prepared to do whatever it takes to keep me gainfully employed and in minimal pain. I don’t know how many people can say that, so I’m pretty grateful.
- It’s as simple as this: to remain employed I will be trading off some of my own health. At least at this stage, I can be employed or I can be relatively healthy: not both.
- Work is exhausting and I won’t be able to keep up the lifestyle I’ve been leading for the past three months.
Both working days last week I got home, exhausted and footsore – more on that in a bit – and to my disappointment, I simply collapsed. Although I insisted on getting in a brisk half-hour walk with friends from work each day after I signed off and before getting home, once I was home that was it. No more energy, physically or mentally, for the rest of the day.
I suspect a lot of that is due to the natural stress of being uncertain of my future. There are so many unknowns for me at the moment, and that can be draining, as I’ve no doubt you know yourself.
So perhaps it will pick up a bit over time, but at the moment it seems that work will absorb most of my energy, and any left over I will try to use for the things I value most: exercise, the Captain, and maintaining my home at a basic level of controlled chaos.
No idea how long that will continue, but I fear I will be batting stuff away a bit, like Wonder Woman with those bracelets of hers. It’s a bummer: some old friends phoned me yesterday and I haven’t seen them forever and it was so good to hear from them! Of course they sweetly invited us over to see them, and I desperately wanted to set a date, but instead I had to explain that my life was a bit up in the air at the moment and I’d have to get back to them when I could.
I felt rotten, I can tell you. ***
So if you find that over the next few weeks I regretfully cancel something with you, or call you by the wrong name even though you’re actually related to me, or appear to forget who I am or where I am or what year it is, don’t panic. It’s not you, it really is me; and I think it’s temporary.
Okay, two more brief whinges.
The foot thing. The weird Rare and Uncurable Nerve Condition TM that I have seems to have taken up residence in my legs and feet at the moment. It is almost 100% certain to be related to the stress of all of this uncertainty and fear. You know that feeling you get in a muscle right before it decides to cramp like a complete monster? That vulnerable, twitchy tender feeling? And you try to stop the inevitable cramp that will follow and you hardly ever can, so at least you have time to get in a few good curse words before you are rendered mute with agony.
Well, that’s the current state of my feet and legs 100% of the time. And yes, they do cramp, inevitably, but mostly they are saving that great pleasure for the evenings.
So when I wake up in the morning, my feet and legs feel like I’ve spend the night sleep-jogging. They are bruised and tender and quick to wrench and swell. Because the nerves have actually spent the entire night twitching the muscles involuntarily. And it is really exhausting.
So of course at work I want to limit sitting as much as possible, and keep moving, to keep my back nice and mobile and reduce pain. Meaning that by the end of a four-hour workday my feet are super-sore, as though I’d been running on marble for the entire time.
No reason I’m telling you all this, you understand. Just a bit of a whinge. It helps.
Next whinge: I have been gradually losing weight for months. The AIP didn’t help, but I suspect some of it has also been due to a loss of condition from chronic pain, and more of it has been from a rather nicer cause: plenty of lovely exercise and incidental movement during my time as a Housewiff.
I don’t like to admit this, because I don’t think it has actually been altogether a healthy thing for me. And it’s frankly inconvenient because most of my clothes no longer fit well and I can’t afford new ones and it’s pointless anyway as the weight is statistically likely to come on back when it’s good and ready. And mostly because it triggers me doing the Thing.
It has just gotten to the point of being visible to others, so of course getting back to work every second person was more than happy to blurt out some comment about it.
And I had to suck it down and cope, because people actually think it is a compliment to comment on another person’s body like that. *****
But the fact is I don’t like to hear it and it makes me feel vulnerable and judged. And when the weight comes back I will now be ultra-aware of the silent judgement of each and every one of those people who have spoken up.
So therefore, every ‘compliment’ about my weight immediately translates to pain and fatigue.
That sounds awfully ungrateful, doesn’t it? But one of my favourite colleagues walked in and saw me and said ‘You look really nice. The time off suited you. How lovely!’ and I felt brilliant and probably glowed for a good hour after that. See how easy it is to deliver a compliment that heals and doesn’t hurt?
But that’s the society we live in. I have no control over what others say and do, only how I respond to it.
So on top of coping with uncertainty over my ability to work, and my silly crampy feet, and the knowledge that I will have far less energy and vitality in the future, I have to work on being less emotionally fragile.
But I don’t want this whingey post to end on an overly-grumpy note, so here is a list of nice things that are going on in my life at the moment.
Christmas was lovely and I was spoiled with lovely gifts including a big voucher for a book shop – oh joy! – a new irrigation system for my veggie garden, and a divine flamingo statue with whom I have bonded to a ridiculous extent, and have named Gerald.
This is Gerald. Isn’t that a winning smile?
My veggie garden is enjoying the irrigation and is rewarding us with many delicious zucchinis, and a bumper crop of tomatoes that we will enjoy as soon as they ripen. Ripen, my pretties, ripen!
My very first zucchinis.
It was a revelation to realise that even if I could have any job on the planet, I’m already in the place I most want to be. Feel free to keep reminding me of this when I get whingey again.
I’ve finished the AIP and am focusing on enjoying eating the way I really want to – plenty of fresh fruit and veg, fish and seafood, whole grains because in spite of what some people think, grains are probably not in league with the devil, and all they really want is to make those of us who can manage them, very happy. And the odd mince pie. Because mince pies, I’ve decided, are not just for Christmas.
And I made this spelt and olive bread. SPELT AND OLIVE. I mean, it’s genius, isn’t it?
Oh, happy new year, by the way! Are you currently living on kale smoothies and frantically attending the gym? Or are you still making it through the backlog of chocolates and ham-bone soup?
* Ugh, how trendy does that sound? I can barely handle typing it. But … well, they do work. A bit.
** As always, this blog post has to date taken me about four or five days to type, I’m getting good at going back and updating information/changing the tense.
*** And I had a massive brainfog moment, and called this person who I’ve known for a good decade or so by the wrong name on the phone. Even though he has the same first name as the Captain. Then I had to explain that it was a brainfog thing, and of course it sounded terribly forced and unlikely. And when I got off the phone I had to go and smite my own forehead in punishment. ****
**** Yes, we’ve all had to do it.
***** I disagree. Want to compliment somebody on how they look? Tell them you like their hair, or they are looking well, or something else that isn’t likely to trigger all manner of bad feelings and behaviours.