Returning to work after being signed off.
Big day for me, after nearly 3 months off...
Needless to say, my brain is being a proper dick right now...
Biography of a nobody day 60. March 1st 2021.
My first day back at work. My first day back in almost 3 months. Since schools and colleges have not closed in the lockdown's I never really had any considerable time away before. I may not have been physically on site- but I was still working. Therefore this time I have had signed off counts as the longest I have not been in work since my early teens. Needless to say... I was feeling apprehensive.
Some of the thoughts that were going through my mind before I got to work:
What if this sends me back down again, spiralling downwards into depression?
Maybe I am not ready?
Maybe I was never good enough for this job, do I really know what I am doing?
Everyone will see me as weak or different now?
The new staff will know I was signed off, they will instantly act sympathetic like I am injured?
I dont want to be here...
I stomached those feelings and carried on. What choice do I really have? I need to return to work eventually- and even if any of the above is true- I won't know unless I at least try a day. I allowed myself to continue feeling and walked proudly into the staff room with the best smile I could muster... completely hidden under my mask... hopefully the eyes showed enough.
Talking to people again... in person...
I talked with my manager for about 15 minutes then started to make the rounds answering all the staff who were asking how I had I been? how I was feeling? what is it like to be back?- You know- the easy to answer stuff... not! Well, I found it infinitely easier to open up honestly about it than I thought I would- the answers I had prepared in my brain on the walk from my car to here fell out my head and I was just honest:
'My time off was really crap at first- Then I had some counselling which was amazing. I feel 100x better. I am happy to be back- I just hope I can pick up where I left off except feeling a lot better so ultimately doing a better job!'
Or, words to those effects. I even briefly took off my mask (At a social distance) to proudly show off my beard... which was probably a mistake. I saw the reactions I got and instantly declared I was only showing everyone then planned on shaving it off this evening... Why did I do that? I like my beard... I think? I look older and more manly... ish... but it is itchy as hell with a mask on... meh. Maybe I should shave it off. Either way- I accidentally opened a dialogue on peoples opinions on how I look with my home-cut hair and un-tamed beard. People are then obviously going to give an opinion. They all agreed the hair was good, the beard was not so good- different is the word they used.
Different, I think we can unnanamously agree, is peoples nice version for 'I dont like it, but you do you'.
Well, it is itchy with a mask. Off it goes then, it is always nice if someone comments positively on your looks, as shallow as that may be it feels good- if I can get that little boost by shaving- why not.
I always liked talking to people... but this is weird...
By 11:30 am I had been at work just over 3 hours. I had finally sat down with a coffee in a quiet part of the staff room and had a moment to reflect. I had met everyone who was back so far, I had met my cover staff who helped keep my students going including a new permanent staff member and a returning staff member who I am really fond of. My main thoughts... I feel like crying.
Like most guys... I don't really do crying- as toxic as that fake area of masculinity can be- I really don't. I have shed fewer tears at funerals of loved ones than I have when watching How to train your dragon. That isn't due to me actively holding it back- I think I just detach from emotional situations. But, my eyes were wet, and I think if someone were to have given me a hug I would have crumbled. I felt strangely strong and weak at the same time. I sat for a good 15 minutes counterarguing in my head what I was feeling, why I was feeling it, what did I want to do about it... then... it slowly started drifting away. I drank my coffee, I ate my sandwich, I had a Kit-Kat... I started to feel ok. This really isn't that hard I told myself. No one is staring at me like I am going to fall apart. Everyone's lives just carried on regardless. I am fine.
I think a massive realisation kicked in that I am not the centre of the universe.
Let me explain this: I wasn't worried that people would notice I was gone, or if they didn't. I wasn't worried that people would want to catch up... I was worried that people would have been angry that I was off work. That I had constantly featured in their days as a negative thought about how annoying or useless I was being... but why would they? They all know the events that led to my being off. I wouldn't have (and haven't) held those things against people before- everyone needs time sometimes. They haven't been hating me or annoyed at me since I got signed off because... they have busy lives and life carries on. The idea that I haven't been spared many thoughts- Knowing that the world doesn't revolve around me- gave me a release from the situation or thoughts I was feeling. I am not selfish or self-centred- and strangely I was grasping onto this notion that everyone would be bothered as a way to further hurt myself. Why?
Well, no idea- but people generally don't care what you are up to unless it directly affects them in a regular and positive or negative way. Though people may have occasionally wondered where I was- or wondered why I was off- or thought that I shouldn't need time off- whatever- it certainly wouldn't have been regular if it happened at all. They have their own problems. I am not the centre of their universe.
'Life... Uh... Finds a way...'
Once I realised that it was just business as usual and no one really changed their attitude towards me at all. They were just happy I was ok and back at work- I could feel myself physically, emotionally and mentally relax. I figured- They just carried on... I can be myself like they are being. So I did, I got involved in some workplace banter, started having some fun, and felt pretty good. Very good even. Glad to be back (properly) in my mind.
I got my back to work timetable which featured the sessions I would steadily be receiving back until I had all my old classes. Luckily for me, the first classes are the practical groups- I have missed the engineering practical massively! As I adjust back to full-time over the next 4 or 5 weeks I will have plenty of time to reflect on how I am feeling and lots of spare time to plan whilst my brain is catching up and reigniting itself to be useful for busy days. Academically busy days.
I slowly allowed myself to come completely off the subconscious defensive I have entered the building with this morning and I started to feel fresh. I completed some mandatory training that had timed out in my absence then left work feeling pretty good. Tired, but good.
I am really happy that I went back. I am allowing myself to be proud, however, small the steps I am taking may be- they are all in the right direction. One baby step at a time...
Baby steps are still steps- and if I have to climb a mountain with baby steps- well, I am now mentally prepared for that challenge.
That is the main thing. I may struggle, I may stumble- but I am physically and mentally prepared to stand back up. I can pretend that I was physically and mentally prepared all the years up until depression caught me- but realistically I had just never had anything (Or a bunch of anythings) know me down this low before. I had fought away the pain, loss and struggles I had faced... but never to this degree- so I would say I am actually stronger having fallen so low than if I had continued to never struggle. The things I have learned about myself, my place in the world and in others lives over the last few months will push me further than I have ever been.
At least, that is how I feel after reflecting upon the day. I didn't feel like that on the day. I was so overwhelmed in the morning I got completely lethargic in the evening. Luckily I had my daughter around to keep me happy and being active- but I wasn't able to write anything down. It has taken me nearly a week to be able to translate my day into words.
I hope you manage to find some parallels between your worries and feelings and mine- so that you can see how returning to work isn't the disaster you think it may be. It wasn't for me. People may have some negative things to say- but- if they did say anything to me I feel fully equipped to either engage them constructively or ignore it- either way, it won't weigh me down like it would have done. Baby steps...