So yesterday I had an emotional breakdown on my way to work, because I was sleep deprived and overwhelmed with lots of varying emotions (per usual), and I told Mark, “I am done. I cannot do this anymore. I am talking to her today.”
And Mark was like, “What are you going to say?”
And I was like, “I’m going to tell her the truth. That I’m at my breaking point.”
And Mark was like, “Are you sure this is a good idea?”
And I was like, “It doesn’t matter whether or not it is a good idea. If it doesn’t go well, I’m prepared to quit. Wish me luck. I’ll let you know in a few hours whether I’m still employed.”
In September, in an extreme act of trust and compassion and generosity (insert any other altruistic descriptors), my boss agreed to let me work three days from the office and two days from home each week. It meant a lot to me, and it was kind of a big deal for her to allow this given that there are like two other employees at my company with similar work arrangements, including NO ONE ELSE in my department.
During our initial lunch meeting, when I pitched my idea, I was able to channel some of my old skills and basically sell it, and, in doing so, I made huge, confident promises with a smile plastered to my face.
So imagine my shame and embarrassment to have to go back to her now and say, “Remember when you went out on a limb for me by agreeing to my flexible work arrangement? Yeeeeahhhh… Well… Despite the amazingness of it, it still isn’t good enough – it isn’t working for me…”
Though, since Matthew’s death, any shame and embarrassment (and related stress) I feel over anything is rare and comparatively (to before) minor. And, if I feel it at all, it’s short-lived. Because nothing that could possibly happen to me (besides a similar tragedy) is super upsetting.
I’ve already lived through the worst.
Having my boss think I’m a bit unstable (or even unstable enough to fire me) doesn’t phase me. And, when I almost walked out of our office’s breast-pumping room without putting my shirt back on, the thought of my co-workers seeing me half-naked didn’t really phase me either. I hardly batted an eye.
So yesterday, I just put it all out there, telling of my boss some variation of the following:
“I am completely overwhelmed. And, some days, I don’t think I can do it anymore. And I’ve contemplated quitting. Is this normal?
I feel like that one woman who used to work here. Pat. Remember her? The one who had like 15 surgeries in one year and seemed to always be wearing a boot cast? The one who you avoided in the copy room because you feared your productivity might be derailed hearing about her latest catastrophe?”
“Oh my gosh!” my boss interrupted me, “I don’t put you in her category at all! At least your catastrophes are getting progressively less awful – your last one was a cold,” she laughed again (which provided me with some renewed confidence).
“I think about her (Pat) all of the time…
But anyway, I’ve been doing some thinking… About being a new parent to a living child and what I’m able to do versus not able to do, so I’m just going to say some things, and I don’t know what any of this means for my career here…
I’ve decided I can’t put Joel in daycare.
I’ve decided I can’t hire another nanny after getting burned by our first one.
I’ve decided that I can’t continue to ask Mark to work from home or rely on his mom (great as she is) to fill in my childcare gaps on a consistent basis. (Mark’s mom lives in Iowa, and she might get snowed in, and there will come a time when she cannot visit for part of every week.)
I’ve decided that, although I love our new babysitter, I can’t leave Joel alone with her, or anyone else, for more than half of one day. I just can’t.
And it isn’t all about my anxiety. I want to spend a lot more time with Joel. I have this constant, overwhelming feeling that life is short. My first son’s life WAS short – 20 minutes outside the womb… And any of us could die tomorrow. Sorry to be so morbid…
I want to work here. I’ll continue to get my work done.
But, in this season of my life, this is just where I am… And this will continue, not forever, but into the foreseeable future.”
And, much to my surprise (even though she is a very nice person), my boss listened to and accepted every word of what I had to say, and she agreed to everything for which I asked. She basically agreed to give me some more time to get my schedule (and my life) figured out, as long as I continue to produce quality work ahead of important deadlines.
And then our conversation dovetailed into Matthew’s death and my grief, which we have never talked about before (in much detail).
I confided in her that there are days when I think I simply cannot do it (have a career and be a mother) anymore. And there are other days when I feel like I can do it, and while I think this is normal for all mothers, I think I am up against some extra challenges given that there are still days when the grief and anxiety completely incapacitate me, and it is very difficult to keep rallying from these types of days.
“Do you think these types of days will get farther and farther apart with time?” she asked, with not one hint of a tone of judgment.
“They already have,” I explained, “After Matthew died, for three months I cried for almost the entirety every day. For about nine months, I cried every.single.day to varying degrees. At some point, when I became pregnant with Joel, the fear took over, and there wasn’t as much room for the grief and the crying… But then, for the past 90 days, I’ve been crying every single day again. I’ve had some very difficult days lately. The holidays will never be easy for me – Matthew will always be missing… I’m supposed to have two boys here, and I have one…”
She listened intently to every word.
Our conversation then somehow evolved back into how overwhelmed I feel… I explained, “Since Matthew’s death I’ve been living one day at a time to the extreme – for so long I had to live this way in order to survive. Now that I have Joel, I have more responsibilities, and I can’t operate in this exact fashion anymore, but the problem is, I no longer remember what it’s like to live any other way… To think about tomorrow. To assume there might actually be a tomorrow.
When I was pregnant with Joel, I didn’t spend much time planning the life I’m living now – the life that included him surviving… I didn’t plan for him to die, necessarily, but I didn’t exactly plan for him to live either… I think this is adding to the difficulty I’m experiencing now with returning any sense of order to my life… I’m still trying to catch up on so many things that most people do prior to the birth of their child (i.e. negotiate work arrangements, line up childcare, etc.).”
And, after I said all I wanted to say, I looked across my desk at her, and, I could see it in her eyes and on her face that, maybe for the first time, she understood some of the trauma I’ve endured.
And it felt good – to feel understood for once versus experiencing the usual isolation of being misunderstood.
I’ve made it no secret that work’s been challenging for me in a variety of ways, for a variety of reasons. Until now, I’ve hung on, primarily for financial reasons.
But recently, some things have happened, most notably this interaction about which I’m writing, that suggest maybe my work resembles more than a paycheck.
So many people have hurt me along my grief “journey.” Probably most of these people have hurt me unintentionally. But still, despite any pure intentions, a number of these people are gone from my life, probably forever. And a number of them I don’t miss. And who knows? Perhaps they don’t miss me particularly either.
But in this situation, it feels good to see some redemption. It’s good to know that after feeling hurt by someone in some pretty big ways, it’s possible the relationship is still salvageable, even months later. It’s also good to know that, sometimes, you can feel like you’re asking for something outlandish, but, if you go ahead and do it, you might just get what you need.