I tried to avoid everyone today. I wanted to hide in a hole or crawl under a rock. It was my first day back at work after such a sad week and the Thanksgiving holiday. I knew it would make my stomach turn every time someone casually asked me how my holiday was. I had so much anxiety over trying to figure out how to answer that question. So, I figured it was easier to avoid people as much as possible in hopes I wouldn’t have to fake my way through a generic and emotionally stable response. My strategy was pretty solid and I got through the day without breaking down or having to talk to many people. I only sent one pathetic text to my husband telling him how depressed I was and that I wanted to go home. I think I only had to answer, “how was your holiday” twice today. Totally faked it with a semi-smile on my face. Unfortunately, one of these people stopped by to tell me her dog died. I decided it was best to keep my sadness to myself and offer whatever empathy I could muster because she deserved to have that too. It is a mixed blessing to have had several previous difficult life experiences allowing me to perfect my “return to work survival strategy”. The first day is always the hardest and most risky for unpredictable emotional collapse. And you don’t want to risk this in front of just anyone. I know where to park so I can get directly between my office and car with minimal risk of running into someone. I know what bathroom to hide in if I can’t fight off tears. I’m skilled at the use of email to alert people I’m back and working on stuff, delaying actual direct face-to-face contact. I have Kleenex in my office. I know what type of work I can do that helps distract me from my emotions but has a little wiggle room for error in case my brain tricks me into thinking it is actually working properly. I’ve returned to work after much worse…losing my Dad to cancer, a death of a loved one two months later, and then losing my Grandma within the same year. I’ve worked through divorce and walking away from my home and completely starting over. I fumbled and cried my way through work after a traumatic miscarriage at 15 weeks. Through all these experiences, I’ve continued to learn how to return to work while still grieving. I know how much space I need and will try to protect that space as much as possible. I know whom I can trust and who will support me. I know who to share details with and who to keep at a distance. Then starting with the second day back at work, I continue to endure and wait for enough time to pass to feel normal again. And I wait long enough through the stability of the daily grind so that when someone asks me how I’m doing I don’t have to fake it.
Photo by CJE – Peru