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I went to work five days in a row this week. I know this is something a large percentage of the population does without much difficulty or thought. For me it was a struggle.

It’s easy for me to forget the toll that being in the hospital for most of 2014 has taken on me. I often feel so disconnected from the vague memories I have from that period. ECT effectively erased many of the experiences from my memory, and the ones I do recall are clouded with uncertainty. But I have my written reflections that I occasionally read through, and Kathryn tells me what those dark days were like for both her and me.

The most difficult aspect of rebuilding my regular life after my mental health stabilized was learning how to cope with the up and down days that still occur, without such strict control enforced on my environment. In the hospital I had next to no responsibilities – I did not have to cook for myself or clean anything, my activities and doctor’s appointments were scheduled by someone else, I could not leave at will or have access to any number of ‘risk’ items that are present in my normal everyday environment. No one expected me to show up anywhere on time or follow through on any commitments. If I got anxious and didn’t want to do something, or just felt like staying in bed all day, there wasn’t anyone trying to pressure me to do otherwise.

But the hospital is not like real life. In real life, I still need to follow through with my commitments on difficult days, especially when others are relying on me. Things are not magically all better now that I’ve been home and stable for a decent period of time. My mental health is something I still have to manage on a daily basis. The difficult days are fewer and don’t wipe me out quite the way they did in 2014, but they still come.

The transition back to work was perhaps the greatest challenge of all, and took far longer than I expected. It was only last fall that I began taking shifts again, and even then sometimes a week or two would go by where I didn’t work at all. I love my job and that made it so complicated when I felt like I couldn’t go because of how anxious I felt. It was discouraging to have week after week pass by without making the gains I was expecting myself to make.

It’s been about six months since I began a contract at work that involves working five days a week. With the contract, a routine was established that makes consistency a whole lot more achievable, but that doesn’t mean it has been easy. The temptation to call in sick when I feel like I can’t cope with another day sometimes feels too strong to resist. Once I get to work, things always go well, it’s just getting there that seems to be the hardest part. And I admit I give into this temptation far more than I wish I did.

It’s hard to admit weakness. Especially in the workplace, where confidence and showing your strong side seem so valued, to say I struggle with working all my scheduled shifts feels vulnerable. I greatly value being a reliable staff for my clients and my employer, and I know I’m letting them and my coworkers down when I don’t make it to a scheduled shift.

Consistency is the one area that I need to work on most in relation to work. And I know that each step in that direction will make the next one that much easier. Working five days this week may have been a small triumph, but it is one that I am deeply proud of accomplishing.

Note: These Mindfulness Moments are short reflective exercises that encourage us to pause in our day and notice our self and our surroundings with practiced attention. All of these ideas are ones I’ve learned along the way in my study of mindfulness, and many more are available at length if you just do a little digging. These are just examples. I recommend moving slowly through each step. There is no need for hurry here.

Nicola's Rock Pile

(Photo credit: Nicola Gladwell)

  • Sit or stand comfortably.
  • Beginning with your forehead, scan each part of your body by drawing all of your attention to that place.
  • Notice each sensation you are experiencing one at a time, and release any tension found present in your body.
  • Notice any signals your body may be trying to give you – are you thirsty or feeling stiff, for example?
  • Focus all of your attention to your present moment, letting go of thoughts and distractions, bringing yourself repeatedly back (without judgement) to the sensations you are experiencing.
  • Stay in this moment, breathing calmly, for as long as you are comfortable.
  • Take this sense of awareness with you as you continue your day.
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