Day 9 – Soft kitty, warm kitty.

I woke up to a quite unusual sound, like a belling call from a stag during rutting season. That couldn’t be it, so I got up to see what lunacy came off in the bathroom. Unfortunately, no stag party (I am easily amused),  it was my love being quite sick. That can only mean one thing. Get the poor thing back into bed, make tea, check for fever, cancel on work and to nurse him to death, or to healthiness, more accurately. Right? RIGHT? That’s what yours truly would have done a year ago. Forget all about my needs, my plans for the day, my own health; basically putting someone else’s needs before mine – even though they did not ask for it. I am not talking about letting the poor thing rot on the sofa, till the suffering becomes too great. I am very caring, let me assure you. Excellent nursing practise was given, no need to file a human rights complaint. I just paused for a minute, after I made tea, got some pretzel sticks, checked for temperature and made sure, he was as comfortable as he could be, regarding the situation. Was it really so easy for me to jump right back into my old patterns? It is a relatively small thing to care and nurse your love for one day, but for me it was a symbol of everything I did and sometimes still do – putting everything and everyone else before myself. At work, I used to take as much responsibility and assignments as I could, when everyone else’s plate was already full. My own plate included, but hey, how can I be regarded as a valuable employee or colleague, if I don’t work my butt off, if I don’t put in as much effort and passion as I can? After work, I went home to take the lead there, too. I was exhausted, but nevertheless, I cleaned, I organised the place, I bought groceries, executed everyday commodities and prepared dinner. Eventually, after dinner, I allowed myself to relax, and that meant going straight to bed. No one demanded of me to take control over everything and manage my life, others lives, work and household. Of course, someone has to do these things, and I am so much more energetic and efficient, no one else can do, what I do, right? I am tremendously valuable. I made myself tremendously valuable to everyone, my family, friends, colleagues. I only felt valuable, if I worked to exhaustion, sometimes, till I heard a ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’ – and if that wasn’t the case, I worked harder, longer and busy as a beaver.
Your day is already jam-packed? Of course, I will look after your kids or run some errands for you! Can’t make it to the shops or the post office before they close? Why didn’t you say so earlier, I’d love to do that for you! (No sarcasm, I really loved to do these things – only then I felt loved in return, too). That would have been fine, if not my own day would have been jam-packed already as well. Since years. I never stopped for a second, not realizing how deep my exhaustion went over the years and how automatically I jumped into my pattern of helping, doing things before they even were asked of me, working, cleaning, listening – performing ‘normally’. I never even took my holidays at work – I am way too important and happy to go away!
Those memories came back to me on Day 9. I was determined, to be a good girlfriend, valuable nurse but not to let my love’s sickness interfere what I had planned for the day. He made it relatively easy for me, as he was pretty much passed out the whole day, stayed awake for minutes at tops, just to have a sip of tea, to assure me, that he was alright, needed nothing and was feeling much better already. He made it quite clear to be honest, that he wasn’t a child anymore, was well enough to drink enough fluids and to call or ask for help, if he got worse.
Right, so, there I was. Not really needed. Fighting the impulse to think, I was only a good girlfriend, if I stayed home and forgot about everything else. After I washed the dishes, made the bed – pretty much, did what I could without disturbing my love and what was needed to be done, I was a little restless for a while. What to do, what to do? If you remember, I had made plans, the day before – and that’s what I set out to do. I went to a place, I never go alone. Usually, because I felt like ‘ooooh, but we need to share that experience’, often because I can’t carry all of that junk and always, because I just didn’t go there alone, as the independent being, that I now am. Decisions have to be made together, the tiring journey there, is much more fun together and, after all, it wasn’t just for me, that we had to go there, we needed stuff or inspiration. Are you catching up already? Yes, I am in fact talking about a trip to Ikea. When I got worse and worse, these trips usually were as fun as a ride in hell. Everything about it made me tired, exhausted, cranky, aggressive or desperate. I ended up hating to go there, but, you know, we both back then worked a lot and neither of us had the time or nerve to go alone. Us couples need to stay together, in good times and bad.
I am really relieved, I no longer think that way. I went there, knowing what we needed. Not only was the trip there much shorter and pleasant, than usual, I didn’t feel angry, exhausted or aggressive or overwhelmed for the first time in years. I got my stuff, even walked around and browsed a little and carried everything back home. That part wasn’t so great, as I forgot the real huge bag we have at home and was struggling with carrying 10 kilo on each arm. But I managed. Without desperation, tears or anger. When I arrived home, I was tired, I won’t lie, and I felt pretty much deadly exhausted. But instead of following my usual pattern of nursing, cooking and hovering around like a bumblebee, I sat down, and relaxed, gathering strength again. Honesty, I promised you, though, so, ok, I went grocery shopping that evening and made a meal for myself and my love, but come on, the man was sick! Show some heart, you guys. It could have gone way worse. And he was back on his feet the day after – without my constant nursing. I guess the world does keep on spinning for a day, even without me. Hard to accept, but a good lesson.

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Day 1 – clarity

Today is the day. The day, where it all officially starts. I kept avoiding to name an actual starting date for my 40 day challenge. I thought “hey, I did a mini-challenge today already, that’s not worth posting about it, let’s do that another day!”. Or “was that really a challenge already? Better wait, till I do something really worth of being proud!”. I was afraid of what that day 1 meant: 40 days, if possible in a row, in which I am going to face fears, inhibitions, challenges and  to do very new things for me. It also took me some time to really believe, that everything I do in these days, is meant to help me grow, enrich my life, and help me to get better. I don’t do this to impress someone, I don’t do it, because my therapist told me to, I do this for myself. What I do, what I think and know for me to be challenging, is definitely worth being posted. Even if it only is, that I managed to sit in my chair for 1 hour, enjoying the peace, quiet and silence, without my mind carousel starting to spin or phones, books, tv or cleaning having to protect me from my thoughts, fears, or inability to sit still without furiously cleaning the flat, cooking till exhaustion gets me, only to feel worthy. Now then, enough explaining, let the challenges begin!

I recently lost a job, I’ve been working in for over 8 years. A job, that filled up my life, my soul, my whole being. I loved the job, the company, the colleagues, the ability to travel, work hard, get creative do projects for good reasons. I filled the gaps and blanks in my life with the people I learned to know there, made the companies missions my missions and didn’t think it was weird, that my life consisted of just that one thing. In therapy, I later learned, why I did what I did. Why I worked countless hours, neglected friends outside the business and felt whole, fulfilled and sort of important and happy, even by doing so. I loved the challenges (ironic, isn’t it) that the job brought, the travelling, the people and most of all, I loved betraying myself with thinking, that this was it, what a full, rich and important life meant. I had no time for my friends, trying out new things, doing sports or even holidays – work is much more important, you guys! I didn’t see how I slowly lost myself. Food didn’t taste as good anymore, watching tv was the only way to switch my mind off, I had no more interest in reading, creating, cooking, meeting anyone, being. Sleep stopped to offer relaxation and rest, my relationship suffered greatly and I turned to a ghost more and more. The only thing, that kept me going, was my costume, my mask, the machinery I created for myself to handle it all, to still be able to work and seem “normal”. Concerned friends were shut out or if they kept persisting, I presented them with my perfect mask impression of someone, who can do everything, handle everything. My job, the company or colleagues weren’t responsible for my breakdown or the burnout. In this environment I was able to feed into my drive to be perfect, to work harder than everyone else, to feel a sense of achievement, that, in my eyes, was the only thing, that justified my existence. That made people like me. This performance urge, as my therapist and me call it these days, has driven me since I was a young child. Perform, achieve, do before it even is demanded of you was the only way I thought love, happiness and acceptance would come to me. That all sounds way gloomier than intended. This is the start of something new, something good, something exciting. Onto challenge number 1!

When my mask and life collapsed, I got signed off work, first for a few weeks. I told my boss and colleagues I’d be back in 2 months tops. That was 11 months ago. I am still not able to return to a working schedule or a job, let alone define what that could be. 6 weeks ago, I got a letter from accounting, letting me know that my services aren’t required anymore. No personal word, no explanation, no phone call, no warning. I was thunderstruck. 8 years of hard work, friendships and challenges (again, ironic) and that’s how the company chose to let me go? I cried, retreated, blamed myself, grieved and raged. The first really great thing about that experience was, that it didn’t hit me as hard as it could have. The months of rest, relaxation, work in therapy and steady way towards recovery paid off. After two weeks I decided, with the help of my therapist, that I needed closure, an explanation and a talk, with my former boss, to get rid of all uncertainty, fears and self-blame. So I started calling. First, with hesitation, happy, that he didn’t pick up immediately, then, more certain. I rang constantly for about 6 weeks (I spared him for 2 weeks, as he just welcomed his third child, a precious baby girl into this world – congratulations, you guys!) and tried it again today, convinced, he wouldn’t pick up again. And he didn’t. (If you think all that building up to a certain point and this is it, I encourage you, to read further.) So I decided, that this was going to be my challenge today. I was determined, to talk to him today, no matter if in person, via email or a phone call. I called the office, and hey, someone picked up! Someone I knew! I told her, that I needed to talk with our boss and she did exactly that. Not surprising, since she is someone, that gets things done. I waited for a few seconds and there …deep breath….he was, talking through the phone to me, joking that this was his first work day back, and what a coincidence it was, that I caught him just then. Long story short, we talked, for about 40 mins. I remained calm, friendly but adamant, which means, I expected of him to explain how he made the decision, why it wasn’t possible for him to call me and talk to me and why on earth he thought it was ok to end 8 years with an impersonal letter from accounting. It was a good talk and he did, what I expected of him in a respectful, kind and caring manner. I told him a few things about my sickness and my last few months, that further helped him to understand. We hung up on very amicable terms, talking about having coffee with the whole team as a sort of goodbye. And now, deep breath! It took a while, I went through a hard time, there was frustration on both ends but I managed to lead the conversation as I planned to. I was able to issue my frustration, sadness and anger, without losing it (tears, you guys, they are very hard to hold back for me), shouting, yelling, blaming or erratic behaviour. And he thanked me with caring and kindness and a better ending to that mess, than I had hoped for. I will still need to look for a new job, of course, and that is scary and will be the topic for a lot of therapy sessions, but I can brave that path knowing it wasn’t me, my work or my lack of skills or abilities, that lead to the dismissal. I can look back at those 8 years without fear or uncertainty about myself. I can look forward now.