Getting better

Sometime round about the beginning of Autumn 2010, I started feeling not quite right. It was hard to put my finger on what it was though – I had hypertension, an upset stomach, overall unhealthy, quick to anger, forgetful and generally emotionally unwell. The problems nearly always surfaced around the office, and a colleague was the one who finally diagnosed it as stress. Stephane had commented that I was quick to over-react to simple questions, and complaining a lot more about work than was really reasonable. As someone who was unfortunately familiar with stress, I think he was more able to pick it out.

It was a surprise to me. I’m a very chill person by nature, and had never really felt stress before, and it had been at least a decade since I had been introduced to a new emotion. Stress, as it turns out, is the kind of thing that builds up slowly, and can take you by surprise. It also is the sort of thing that you can’t just shed. Like Christmas kilos before beach season; what snuck into your life takes a long time to shoo out, even if you’re trying.

I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and chalked it up to work. I’d been working on a project that was going gangbusters in terms of users and reach, but was bleeding resources like a stuck pig. As much as I was happy to be in demand, I couldn’t meet it if I was the only person left working on the project. I tried taking vacation, working with management to change things, investing time in hobbies, home life, church life, whatever, and the stress-o-meter continued to rise. Slower than before, but it was still going up. I hadn’t reached burn-out yet, but I was very close.

So, I quit. I decided that if work was having such a negative impact the best thing I could do was cut it out completely. I signed up for a 1 year sabbatical, with the intention to resume my old position after 12 months, and moved to the other side of the world. I didn’t stop working entirely, but I did make a dramatic change in my work environment, and responsibility levels. I also did everything in my power to not talk about the previous 6 years or so of my work life, hoping that shutting it out and starting over would make me better faster.

And 12 months later… I wasn’t better. This was my second big surprise.

A year felt like a long time. And as far as years go, it had been a great one. I spent all of my free energy on making Xavier’s life awesome, and by consequence had spent 12 months having an absolute blast myself. We soaked up a ton of vitamin D, met a lot of happy people, completely reversed our financial situation (from debt to solid savings) and ‘discovered’ a lot of wine and friends along the way.

But, the stress wasn’t gone. I know this because around the end of January 2013, I spent an afternoon going through the motions of planning a move back to my old job like I’d originally planned, and I had a remarkably violent reaction. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as vomitus of the psyche, but this is what happened, and it took several weeks to wash it all off again.

So I did a bunch of other things. Some of the things that I probably should have done in France. Things that really weren’t that important in the grand scheme of it all. But things that got me moving again. And, as of this past Thursday, I can say that I am fixed. This time for real.

I know this because on Thursday someone sat me in a room and started talking about the hideous, boring, terrible things that I spent three years in France talking about. And I didn’t die inside. I got excited. I literally jumped from my chair to help them explain their ideas, to draw pictures for them, to refine things, and to cheerlead where I could. I knew this stuff, and wanted to share my experience with them.

And at the end of all that, I felt good. Not because I’d helped someone, or because the result of their project was anything super interesting. I felt good, because I didn’t feel bad anymore.

That was really nice.

It took about two years of active recovery, and I still have to actively manage my stress levels, but I think I’m finally getting better.

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