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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Not-So-Sad Goodbye

There was no doubt about it, I was getting better. I  thought it, I felt it, I looked it, there was no denying this truth. For the first time in more than a year I didn't always hate my life or myself.  I was twenty pounds lighter and who knows how much that number would be if you added in the emotional weight that I'd shed. People that I had not seen much in the six weeks that I had been on my "improvement retreat" noticed the transformation instantly. And so I knew that as much as I hated to I was going to have to return to my regularly scheduled life.

One of my friends had expressed her concern, because while I had changed it was very clear from the phone calls, emails and text messages that I received while away that where I had to return to had not. I was beyond petrified of being drug back down again. I was armed with my stress-busting and anti-anxiety techniques. I had a sane strategy for how I would deal with difficult encounters. I had anticipated and practiced conversations with my therapist and several times in my head with the person that was my nemesis. I was visualizing how the "changed" me would fit back into the world. But, I was still scared of what could happen. What if I started to slide a little, didn't notice and then slid some more until I was right back in that deep, dark hole?

When I visited the doctor, three weeks after I'd collapsed in the midst of an anxiety attack in her presence, I knew that there would be no breakdown this time. So as I filled out the same form that I had before I looked carefully at the questions that faced me - "How much do you feel like your normal self?" I contemplated the answer for several minutes. I was better, but I wasn't whole. I opted for a number that indicated progress, but not perfection - 70 percent. And faced with the question of what still needed treatment, what was still making it difficult for me to live everyday life the answers were the same as before - lack of concentration, anxiety and inability to face work.

When the doctor appeared at the door to the lobby and called my name I actually smiled genuinely at her. Life was finally starting to feel like less work. We talked about medications, side effects, what I had done during the past three weeks and when she said "I think you are ready to return to work," I told her reluctantly that I did not want to, but I knew it was something which I had to do. I needed to face down my fears and my "enemy." So this time she wrote my prescription, talked about when she wanted to see me again and wrote a note that said I could return to work on a part-time basis. We were going to test the waters and help me acclimate.

I went home, looked around my house and saw physical evidence of all my progress. I had filled countless trash bags with things that I should have thrown away ages before, I'd hauled numerous collected items to goodwill, I had organized a good portion of my life again. The progress wasn't complete, just like I wasn't, but it was evident. I still had a list of things that I knew needed to be done, but now they were smaller tasks, ones that wouldn't be as obvious to anyone, ones that didn't feel so daunting. And my mind had begun to feel less cluttered too. The medications had taken hold, the therapy was working, and I was finally making connections that were helping me heal. Everything was less foggy. But none of that meant that I didn't have trepidation about what I had to face.

The next day, when I walked though that door into my place of employment, on time for the first time in ages,  I did so with my head held high - I could do this I told myself. I smiled and greeted people, I answered questions when asked and in general I heard a lot of "welcome back." In my pocket was a smooth rock - my worry stone. In my purse I carried a piece of cloth scented with lavender oil. And on the outside of the monitor of my computer I placed a small note that I could look at as a reminder to breathe and focus. I was armed with all that had been given to me the past six weeks to face the inevitable. The first thing that I noticed was it seemed that nothing had changed outside of me, this was not going to be easy and if I stayed for any length of time it would be even more difficult. I was a changed woman living in a world that was static.

In the end I made it through the day my half day of work and the next one.  Two half days of work and I was exhausted. The weekend was a welcome friend, two whole days of peace. I wasn't sure that after working only two half days that I should have looked forward to a break as much as I had.

On Friday afternoon I went to lunch with one of my two colleagues that actually knew what was going on with me. I could sense her caution when the conversation turned to work. I told her it was fine, I needed to talk about things, I needed to be able to face reality and start again. But that conversation was so important and telling, when it came to my place of employment - I was right in my snap assessment nothing had changed, people were still feeling miserable and everyone was just waiting for the day when the house of cards would collapse. So, while I didn't suffer an anxiety attack of any sort, I did suffer a reality one - if I stayed I wasn't sure that I would make it for very long without slipping back into old patterns, without feeling the heaviness of all that surrounded me. When everyone around you at work is despondent too it's pretty difficult to rise above and remain the only vestige of positivity. How much of yourself do you compromise before it becomes too much? In the back of my mind as I listened and talked with this very dear friend I knew that I wouldn't last long. I didn't want to go back to where I had been. Coming out of the darkness I'd become fond of the light no matter how faint it was.

And so questions and contemplations riddled my mind throughout the weekend. So much of what you do to make a living defines you as a person, but should it? What if the definition is one that you never want to hear in relation to your name? During our weeks we spend more of our life working and with our coworkers than we do with the people that we love - what does it mean when that place where you reside is making you suffer? We'd never tell a woman to stay with the man that beats her, so why don't we say the same to people that work in a world where the abuse, manipulation and esteem-stealing is just as damaging and degrading? And as a single woman, not a wife or a mother, what else do you have when you don't have those societal norms with which to gauge yourself besides what you do?  No one says she's single, has no kids and is currently working to find herself, until then, well she's a woman - what would that even mean? You're a person with no point of reference.

When you hear stories of people assessing their lives before death I've never heard of anyone saying "I wish I'd worked more." In the end your job doesn't love you back. It's the people that we keep close, they way that we live, how we face adversity, how we support others and so much more that really is the important stuff of life. It's the stuff of truly living. There's no denying that unfortunately you need money to survive, but what are you surviving for if you've sacrificed everything that you are or want to be to earn a check? So that's how I spent my time, trying to figure out what was important, who I wanted to be and how did I chart a path there. I was seriously trying to find the best answers to some of life's greatest questions.

On Monday I returned again ready to face another reality. Before I had left I knew that my work hadn't been my best anymore, and really how could it have been with the depth of depression and anxiety that I was suffering? I had completed what I needed to, but when it came to crossing t's and dotting i's I knew that I had been negligent at times. I knew that at some point there would be a discussion about the past and the future. That day arrived on Thursday.

Behind closed doors I chose to only face what had made me so miserable for so long. The one conclusion that was most clear to me was it wouldn't have mattered in the least the level of my work, I would still be sitting in this same place with these same questions. Work was really that bad. I looked at the abuse, the lack of integrity surrounding me, the manipulation and all the other things that were my reality for too long. I was pretty positive that the goal of most of it was to get me to quietly leave, destroying my self worth and my self-esteem in the process was just an added bonus. And when I opened the door to that office again after very little discussion I had parted ways with the place that I had called my employer for one month shy of fifteen years. That passage of my life, for all the good, the bad and the ugly was complete. And the only emotion that I really felt was relief.

Even facing the fear of poverty and failure and uncertainty and homelessness there was not one part of me that was anxious or regretful about the decision. I was liberated. Free. Dare I say happy? And this time there were no tears. And to this day I have not waivered in that emotion. Do I miss the very meager paycheck? Sure. Do I miss all that I had to endure and all the compromises of myself that I had to make for that small sum? Not in the least.  I had learned a lot in six weeks about the woman that I was and the woman that I still wanted to be and now I could actually see myself being able to get there.

When I sat in my car and took a very deep breath before pulling out of the parking lot I said goodbye to my old life. I had no idea what the future would hold but I only knew that it didn't hold this and for that I was most grateful. I started my car and drove away. And never once did I look back with regret.

1 comment:

  1. I swear we worked at the same place. Well, OK..I still work there. But hopefully not for long. I am so happy you got out and got moving down the path to find happiness. :)