Work and I mutually agreed to terminate my contract on 31 October 2007. It’s never been entirely possible to move on with my life (as it is now) whilst uncertainity has hung over my work situation.
I started to feel some months ago that maybe going back to my job wasn’t going to be the best things for my health even if I was well enough to phase a return back to work. I had a feeling that I was going to need more flexibility in my working hours than an employer can usually offer and my Occupational Health Advisor had been flexible only within a tight set of rules the last time I tried to go back. She made it clear that if I couldn’t do 4 hours a day and build that back to full hours fairly quickly that they would “have to look at whether we need to renogiate your contract or even if you are fit to be here anymore”. Thanks for the encouragement!
So in lots of ways I had started to let go months ago. For one thing the prospect of being fit enough to work any hours at all seemed to be getting further and further out of reach. For another the flexibility, nature of the work and environment, and indeed the job not ever being quite “me” – added up to a potential trigger for relapse anyway.
I was still under contract – although by this point not being paid – so it made letting go impossible. I am fiercely (and sometimes unwisely) loyal. Whilst my name was on the books I wasn’t about to let go of my “responsibilities” and my “duties” – so a little piece of me was always attached to the job.
I met some of my (now ex) colleagues on 1st November for what turned out to be a very enjoyable lunch. I had been worried about seeing them all again but my fears were unfounded as soon as I saw the first grins as they entered the pub.
Such a group of intelligent, funny, caring, skilled professionals – yet the climate at work seems very unsettled and there’s much apprehension about the future. In an odd way it made me feel better. It wasn’t just me who struggled to prosper there.
I had a horrendous 2004 and most of 2005 at work with stress from the job – only my senior manager saved me at the last moment from walking out with no job to go to (things were so bad). Mid 2005 my duties changed and things settled down a bit – I had more structure to my day to day work and that suited me better right then. My confidence and self esteem had taken a battering – it was a case of rebuilding it slowly with careful supervision from a senior colleague.
In January 2006 I looked up an old contact who is a practising artist and mentor. I finally confessed that there seemed to be more to life and something was missing which I thought was being creative somehow. She worked with me and we found out I really wanted to be an artist. Her prescription was to find a way to take work down to 4 days a week and to spend one day a week doing a sort of creative exploration. To do all the things I have wanted to do for so long and to find where my passion lay.
Work were happy to make a saving on salary and the 4 day a week plan was rubber stamped without a hitch.
I bounded into 2006 a happy, optimistic woman. I was engaged to be married that summer, work was structured and I could leave most of what stress there was at the office, I knew I wanted to pursue my art and due to my husbands commitment my going to part time at work was secure and fuelled by excitement.
MEANWHILE … The only nagging problem had been my health. I’d felt generally run down and out of shape in 2005 with a series of what my doctor said were “viral infections” (everyone’s getting it) at the end of 2005. I felt so … well … not right that the doctor was convinced to order a full set of blood tests. Only my cholestrol (slighty high) and my red bloood cell count (high) were abnormal. The red blood cell count was repeated 3 times with one doctor concluding that “high was probably just YOUR normal”.
I’d put it down to not getting enough exercise and set about putting that right with walking, cycling and a healthier diet too.
By May 2006 I was a happy, optimistic and on the verge of a whole new future.
By May 2006 I had contracted some sort of viral infection and I have not (to date) been well since. My health shattered.
It would be another 7 months before a doctor would mention a CFS, after having pushed myself back to work in July 2006 (followed by a crash after a fortnight) and then another attempt from October-December 2006 (followed by the worst crash yet).
For the last 18 months I have wondered would I ever go back to my job properly? The more time passed the more unlikely it seemed. Finally in September 2007 I faced the idea that it was time to let go – to let me and my employer move on.
I expected on 1st November 2007 to feel a release – to have a cathartic moment signalling the beginning of a new phase. In fact it’s been a series of small shifts and I think that will continue for some weeks to come, maybe longer.
At the farewell lunch I smiled and punched my fists realising I never had to go back and do those things I used to do. I felt a genuine elation. I proclaimed I was “jobless and 100% happy with that” and meant it.
Today I went through all my old notebooks returned on leaving. I was looking for doodles to keep – I found mainly the signs of a difficult 2004-5. I found clues to the problems – months apart the same questions/notes written in my book deferred time upon time by those able to help. I also discovered that I did a lot of work for which I should be (am) very proud. A lot of it went without credit and ended up being dumped when I left the project. I built a foundation and I built it for good reasons which were documented. For whatever reason (not wanting to stress me out by asking questions I think was the official line) it got discarded. Incidentally, having worked 18 months on my own and trying to involve technical help when I cracked and got re-assigned duties a team of 5 replaced me. So I was trying to be 5 people – now I know I did a good job!
What I am saying is it looks like there’s a few layers at least to letting go of it all. Of making sense of things, or accepting there is no sense to be had. Finding bits to keep hold of and bits to set free.
Incidentally – I read William Bridge’s “Transitions” book (ISBN: 073820904XA) some years back and found it tremendously useful for just this kind of phase in life. I recommend it to you if you find yourself with that sort of floundering feeling. He talks about transitions coming from happy things as well as unhappy – illness, bereavement, moving, graduating, having a baby, getting a promotion. We have to allow time for the transition and to embrace the ending of one thing, the start of another and the sort of dead space inbetween.
I remember it’s rare to have a perfect moment of change – it’s not like flipping a switch. I guess it’s more like tending a garden. Hmmm.