Through challenges in my life, I have often examined my physical and mental health from the safe distance of an outsider.

Even when I experienced a serious illness, a good friend told me that I seemed to be researching my illness rather than being ill.

After my ‘unremarkable recovery’ as my medical notes commented, I went back to work and carried on as normal.  I didn’t think about it, I just thought that was what you did, and I rarely stopped to think any different.

It’s hard for me to put into words what happened next. But after a period of time being back at work, I felt a mixture of growing anxiety. Things became a little less easy and an over-riding perfectionism appeared out of nowhere.

To those on the outside, I looked as if I was functioning normally, in fact in some senses, over-performing.  A bit like a functioning alcoholic, I guess. But for me, everything seemed more of an effort and I knew something wasn’t right.

In these situations, despite the onslaught of brain fog, on a subconscious level I knew what I should do.  An observer would have said there needed to be some time for reflection, some time to process what had happened, and to understand what was causing these feelings.

For some, they would argue that no examination is needed, because you already knew.  However, the struggle from actually knowing, to changing something is more of an uphill battle than many realise. Looking at steps to change a situation can help, but not if you have an overwhelming inertia and are unable to take those steps.

At this particular time in my life the only way I can describe what I felt was that I imagined myself as a house of cards, so precariously put together that removing one card from the bottom would mean a total collapse of the structure.

In fact, such was my desperation to find a way out of the fog and darkness that I had the over-riding urge to ‘experiment’ with this theory.  I looked at my life and looked at what I felt was holding me together and what was making me function on a day-to-day basis

I came to the conclusion that the daily routine of work and the preoccupation of dealing with others’ needs was like some large elastoplast or glue that was papering over the cracks.  When I had come to that conclusion, the solution was easy but, in some ways, rather drastic.  Remove the plaster, take away the scaffolding. Take away that bottom layer of the House of Cards and see what happens.  My logic was that if I took away this safety net, then I would either experience a significant mental breakdown, or things would be OK.  A huge risk and one that I would never for a minute suggest that others take, but one that I felt I needed to.

So, after a definitive resignation, and no job to go to, I left my job and sat on my sofa and watched and waited. And waited.  And waited.

The breakdown didn’t happen and to this day I don’t know why.  I’m not medically trained, I am no psychotherapist, and I don’t recommend what I did.

However, what I do wonder is if this was a period of extreme stress and anxiety, naturally residual after you have survived a serious illness and you think and fear about what happens next.  Your life has to some extent gone back to normal, except for the fact that it hasn’t gone back to normal.  To this day, I wonder if what I needed was a longer period of time away from work after this illness and even when returning a recognition to myself that I needed to do things differently.

So much research is dedicated to stress and in particular work stress, so in fact what I might have needed was simply a break, a re-evaluation, and a recognition of how remarkable my recovery had been.  And as part of that recovery, some guidance of how to make that recovery part of the next chapter of my life.

Image: Courtesy of Sigmund.

© stripedsisters 2021