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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ticking Time Bomb

Inside my head I could hear the tick getting louder and louder. The sound bore resemblance to one of those old-style clocks where you could hear the mechanism that moved the second hand around the face and then the even bigger click when the minute hand made the jump forward 60 ticks later. After a while the sound blends into the background and you only notice it once in a while and when you do it leaves you wondering how you can tune out such noise so much of the time. Tick - tick - tick - tick ... Every morning in what was usually those peaceful minutes when you move from sleep to awareness I would hear the clock. Tick - tick - tick ... It wasn't something I could turn off - it just ticked incessantly gaining volume and intensity. There was no ignoring it's existence and yet I would turn away and pretend that it wasn't there until it became so loud and persistent that I had to look at it head on and face what it would mean - my return to work was nearing.

Tick - tick - tick ...

The first day I awoke thinking I have three weeks, but then every day after I would think I only have two weeks and six days left. This just wasn't one of those countdowns that ended in a blissful event. Instead my countdown felt like one to doom.

Each day I felt myself getting a little better. I was dealing with every day life and surprisingly I was doing it pretty well. Even though my energy and concentration were still lagging I would easily wake, shower and dress and face the agenda of the day. There were even parts of the routine to which I looked forward with anticipation instead of dread. The medication and the therapy were doing their jobs. But when I let my mind wander it would often think of how many more days. I had accomplished a lot in such a short time but not enough to quell the anxiety about returning to the madness.

Tick (ten days) - tick (nine days) - tick (eight days) ...

I wasn't looking forward to this development and yet I could no more stop the progression of days then I could the ticking or the countdown. It was inevitable, but I didn't have to like idea.

When I went to my last therapy appointment before I returned to the doctor to see if she would release me back work, my therapist and I talked about dealing with the return. I felt the tears well up in my eyes. I tried to breathe and blink them away, but they spilled down my cheeks anyway. We talked about using coping techniques, we discussed how to deal with manipulation and underhandedness when I faced it again, we ran through an imaginary conversation for my first conversation with my abuser. None of it made me feel more prepared for the inevitable. All I could envision was that time bomb exploding and me being blown right back to where I had started.

So still every morning I awoke, looked at my mental countdown calendar of days, heard the ticking and then took a deep breath and pushed my anxiety away until at some point the thought crept back in again later in the day. It was always lurking in the corner. I would tackle a project and I'd look and think how much of this am I going to actually get done in four more days. And then it was there - the ticking, the countdown and the anxiety would wash over me.

On Tuesday I received a call from the human resources department. The person was inquiring about my return to work on Thursday. I told her I had an appointment the following day and that's when I would know if the doctor released me. She was kind and told me to call her back as soon as I knew and she enumerated  what I would need and how to report any accommodations I might need for my return. That's when it all fell apart. The poor woman on the other end of the phone heard me sob as I asked questions about how you do accommodate an inept, abusive boss? Can a doctor actually order her to make accommodations to be more intelligent or fair? Can I get a note that says you can't take out your psychosis on the people that you manage? Was asking for a non-hostile work environment a reasonable accommodation? I choked the questions out between my sobs. I could barely even catch my breath. And here I was again facing not only the clock but the realization that for all my work nothing had changed.

When I took a break to hyperventilate the woman on the other end of the phone said so simply, "maybe you aren't ready to return to work yet." It was the understatement of the day. All those ticks that I heard and all those numbers counting down caught up with me. I had been the ticking time bomb and I had just detonated.  Eventually once I hung up the phone I composed myself but the breakdown had exhausted me, so for the first time since I began my sabbatical I took a nap to sleep off the exhaustion, the headache and the anxiety. When you aren't awake you don't have to face things and for the time being that was my short-term solution. I awoke feeling better, but I knew that the anxiety was creeping along the edges and it wouldn't take much to bring it front and center again.

The rest of the day I distracted myself and survived. I tossed and turned and woke up several times throughout the night in a sweat that had nothing to do with the temperature of the room. My heart beating quickly I would breathe taking large gulps of air to fill my lungs. And then I would feel the tears that I'd been crying in my sleep. Slowly I'd calm myself down. I'd turn on my ipod and listen to music and think happy thoughts until I fell asleep again, only to wake up again in the same state a few hours later. And soon enough it was morning. I faced the countdown and sound of the clock. Tick (one day). My last day of peace and sanity was here.

When I arrived at the doctor that afternoon I looked like a much improved woman. And for the most part I was. But I knew what was hiding just below the surface. I sat in the lobby, cast side glances around the room and assessed those sitting here. How close were these people to falling apart? What was just below the surface of their exterior? I liked to guess which of these people were the temporary insane and which ones were lifers. It helped pass the time while I waited. I would wonder what facade I presented to those here? People were called back to individual therapy appointments, my therapist appeared and smiled at me as she called her patient for the hour back and eventually as the lobby began to clear the doctor appeared at the door and said my name.

I followed her into her office and took a seat while she looked over my therapy notes and the intake sheet that I'd filled out that day. I'd answered questions like how close are you to your normal self  (40 percent) and what every day activities and relationships are problematic (concentration, exhaustion, work). As she looked over the notes I started to feel the anxiety build. It started in the pit of my stomach and I felt instantly nauseous. It became more and more difficult to breathe no matter how hard I tried to take deep calming breaths. I stared ahead at her bookcase that sat directly across the room from me and all the titles on the spines blurred. The room seemed all of a sudden very warm but as I felt myself begin to sweat a chill came over me and I felt cold down to my core. I shivered and folded my arms and rubbed my hands up and down over them trying to warm up. I focused on her looking through my chart. Finally she turned to me, smiled and began to ask how I felt since I'd begun taking my medication. She asked about side effects. I was freezing, but I was holding it together as I talked with her. But she only needed to ask me how I felt about returning to work for the anxiety to rear its ugly head. It made my breakdown on the phone the day before look like amateur hour. And maybe it was because I'd been doing so well, but even I was surprised by the intensity of what came to the surface. As I had an anxiety attack and sobbed she sat by and waited until I could at least focus on her words and then she said simply "You aren't ready to go back to work."

I could reset the clock with a new three week countdown. Hopefully this time the ticking wouldn't be so loud or omnipresent.

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