I’m a numbers girl. Well, let me clarify that. I don’t really like math and such but I do like dates and number combinations, and things like that. Like, I loved it the last several years when there was a date like 10/11/12 or 7/7/07…that kind of thing. I also love the Timehop app on my phone because it shows me what I posted on Facebook that day over the past 10 years that I’ve had my account. Some days it’s pictures, or quotes, or maybe one of those cryptic, vague posts like “contemplating…” where you really want someone to ask you “what are you contemplating?”. Yeah, yeah…I know, those are pretty lame! I haven’t done that in a while though, and if we were FB friends when I did it…I’m sorry!
Anyway…back to my original statement…I’m a numbers girl. I say that because I really do like to think back to what I was doing last year or three years ago. Where was I in life? Was I happy that day or was it a rough one that I needed some encouragement to get through? Was I doing something fun or was I walking through a difficult season in my life or with a friend? As the date of my “breakdown” (for lack of a better word…but I’m trying to think of a better word and open to suggestions if you have them) approaches I have been reflecting a lot on where I was and what I was feeling this time one year ago. It was on THIS day (8/9/16) that I knew for sure I was in trouble and needed some help! I was nearing the end of a wonderful vacation where I’d had 9 days straight off work and had not opened one work email or seen one work text message. When I left on Friday, 7/29 I had turned off my work phone and vowed not to turn it back on until I returned to work on Wednesday 8/10. And…I had done so without any trouble or angst. During my time off I had spent 4 days in San Francisco with my hubby and the day we flew home we met our son, who was coming home for leave from the Marines, at the airport and brought him home with us.
The next day our entire family (hubby & I, 3 adult children, son-in-law, and grandson) drove to Beaver’s Bend, OK where we met up with my parents and enjoyed a wonderful 3 days of relaxing. We played board games and card games, we ate good food, rode go-carts, and visited a really great petting zoo. When we left on Sunday to come back home I was pretty sad. Since we moved to Texas, away from our families, almost 28 years ago I’ve had seasons when I’ve cried when I leave from spending time with my parents. Wondering when I’ll see them again…missing them…things like that. It always kind of depended on what was going on and what “season” I was in in my life. But when we left the cabin last year I didn’t just cry…I sobbed! And, I sobbed a good part of the way home. I wasn’t really sure why, and I’m not totally sure now. But as I look back I can see that the pressure inside was building as I realized my time away from work was coming to an end and I was going to have to go back to “the real world” in a few days. I don’t remember what I did on Monday, but Tuesday (8/9/16) was the day that should have been a great day…and it wasn’t…and that’s when I knew I was in trouble. I got to spend the day with my son who was home on leave, my daughter, and (at the time) almost 2 year old grandson, Eli. The four of us drove to Grapevine, TX to visit the Sea Life Aquarium and Build-A-Bear (where Eli built Minions) and spend the day together.
I tried so hard to put on a happy face. I’m not sure if I did or not, but the moment I knew I needed help was when I found myself hiding in the bathroom at the aquarium crying because I was thinking about having to go back to work the next day. I literally could not enjoy the present moment because I was focused on the dread and anxiety that I had about going back to work. I didn’t know at that point that things were going to play out like they did over the next week, but I distinctly remember standing in the bathroom stall crying and thinking to myself “this is not right…something is really wrong here and I need to figure out how to fix it before I’m too far gone.” I wasn’t sure what I needed to do, but I knew something needed to change. I made it through the rest of the day and remember coming home and saying things like “I sure don’t want to go back to work tomorrow.” You know…the things you say when you’ve had a great weekend or an especially relaxing vacation? But this was more…it was deeper and I didn’t know how to express that to anyone. Not my friends or anyone in my family. I kept thinking to myself, “just suck it up and do it. This is what you’ve chosen to do and you’ll never have an opportunity like this again so just get over it.” But that self-talk wasn’t working very well for me.
The next morning, I did get up and go back to work. I was met with greetings from my team and things like “we’re so glad you’re back!” “We sure did miss you.” “Were you ready to come back to work?” “By the way…we really really missed you while you were gone and we’re really glad you’re back!” I knew they genuinely were glad…but I also knew that in my heart I wanted to be anywhere but there! I put one foot in front of the other, plastered on my fake smile, and made it through the day. Well…there were those couple of times I ran to the bathroom and cried and had to talk myself into going back to my desk to keep working. You may be noticing a theme…I cried a lot in the bathroom back then. UGH! Anyway…I made it through the day…literally cried all the way home (all hour and a half) and came in and told my hubby “I can’t do this anymore.” I told him I didn’t know what I needed to do but I needed to figure out what was going on with my health and get some meds straight and feel better or I wasn’t going to survive. We talked about me possibly asking for a medical leave of absence and what that would look like. After all…I did have some physical stuff going on. I think I told you in my last blog post that my heart rate was running in the 140-150 range all the time. Even when I was sitting down doing nothing. My blood pressure was dangerously high. I was crying all the time. I was having panic attacks. And my PCP had referred me to a cardiologist who’d wanted to do more extensive tests to see if something was wrong with my heart. I was still not in a place where I could admit that I was in over my head and sinking fast. I was trying to keep up appearances. I wanted everyone to think I had it all together and that I was strong and confident. When on the inside I was crumbling. Hubby was very supportive. He wanted me to do whatever I needed to do to be okay.
So, the next morning I got up early and went to work. I was always there before 7am and when I got there that morning I sent an email to my preceptor, who had been working with me and teaching me how to do my new job, and asked her if she could come over to my hospital sometime that day and go with me to HR and my CEO and talk to them about a medical LOA. I’m not sure what I said in the email but it was probably something like “I just don’t think I can do this anymore. I need to figure out what’s going on with my health and I thought a vacation would help but it didn’t and I’m not sure what to do, can you come over and help me?” This wasn’t the first “distressed” email she received from me, but it was the first time I’d specifically asked her to come help me and talked about leaving. Up to that point I had been telling her, and everyone else, things like “yeah, it’s tough but we’re gonna make it work” or “yeah, it is a long drive, but when I get here at 6:45am the traffic isn’t so bad” or “I’m not going anywhere, I’m here and I’m going to do this; everything will be fine.” While on the inside I was begging for help…but I was still trying to keep up appearances and not let anyone know what I was going through, and how bad it really was. Around 9 that morning my preceptor called. When I saw her name pop up on the caller ID my first instinct was to not answer. But, I picked up the phone and said “hello”. The three words she spoke “ARE YOU OKAY?” let loose a flood of emotion in me and in that split second, which felt like slow motion, I did what I now think was the bravest thing I’d done in a long time. I said “No, I’m not” and I burst into tears. When I say burst into tears I am not exaggerating. I sobbed! Uncontrollably sobbed. My office mate came over to console me and as I listened, my preceptor said “I want you to get your stuff together and go home. Choose a case manager and put her in charge and tell your CEO that you have an emergency and need to leave.” I protested a little bit about how much I had to do and not wanting to leave my team in a bind but in my heart, I knew I couldn’t stay. I gathered my things, told my CEO, and walked out of the hospital, for what turned out to be the last time. To be continued…
I have learned some things in the past year that have put words to what I was going through and what I did to begin the process of healing. One of those words is VULNERABILITY. The definition of vulnerability according to dictionary.com is “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc”. My biggest fear was of people finding out I didn’t “have it all together”, which is counterintuitive to healing because in order to heal, the first thing I needed to do was let people know I was struggling and ask for help. Please! Please! Please! If you are struggling with something like depression and anxiety…take a chance, be vulnerable, ask for help!!! If you don’t have someone in your life you are comfortable opening up to, please reach out to me. As I’ve said over and over I’m still a work in progress and don’t have all the answers…but I do have more information than I did this time last year and would consider it an honor to be there for you.
One last thing…if you’d like to read more about vulnerability, shame, connection, and healing I recommend checking out Brene Brown’s books. You can find them in your local library, on Amazon, or any other book retailer.