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(On a number of levels!)

I just read a thing on a Beyond Blue forum, which summed up how I feel at the moment:

After spending the last few years finding ways to either eliminate, change or cope with stress at work I have found myself at a point that I have taken stress leave. Yes, probably like most others, I never ever thought this would happen to me.

I have just extended my stress leave as I am still not coping with the simplest stress triggers.

Extending the leave period makes me feel worse than ever and wondering what to do. I am beginning to think that there is something badly wrong with me and I don’t know how or what I can do to fix it.

Even though I have taken and am taking steps to work on my mental health and wellbeing, I still feel like the person who posted the above.

I like what one of the people who replied to the OP said, framing stress as a kind of currency: “There will be sometimes though, that the amount of currency that is being demanded of us is greater than the amount of currency that we actually have at that time. That could be due to a significant transaction, such as the loss of a loved one, or it could simply be an aggregation of all the tiny little stressors that we encounter throughout everyday life. Simply put, there is insufficient balance to make good on the world’s demands. . . there is nothing wrong with you, you simply need to find your path which will allow you to replenish your stress account.”

I know that stress is a part of all jobs and life in general, that’s what keeps us moving forward and getting anything done. So I know that there is no such thing as a stress-free job or life. Just got to be compassionate with myself and know that I’m building up my capacity to deal with the stresses of various kinds. Filling up the stress bank account.

Depression and burnout going hand in hand is a bit messy; which parts are about being burned out and which parts are the depression that I’ve been dealing with all these years? Mix in a big dollop of guilt, it has the makings of a very unpalatable dish. If I had the energy to draw a Nick off Norton comic, he would be saying, You keep saying you have no energy but the truth is you’re lazy. You’re not as sick as you say you are. You don’t deserve sickness benefits. If you can do X, Y and Z, why can’t you do your job? You’ve been malingering for so long, like the boy who cried wolf…pretty soon everyone is going to abandon you.

PS I know that those things aren’t true.

I am very glad that I am not in the sleeping-for-the-entire-day phase anymore. But I still need a lot of rest. It gets a bit boring. For example, here are some things I have done this week:

Monday: Got up, pottered around. Had a rest. Gave a massage. Had a rest. Went to band.

Tuesday: Rested most of the day. Gave a massage. Rested more.

Wednesday: Went horse riding. Conked out and slept. Went to band.

Thursday: Went for a 30 minute walk then joined a different Connect Group (like Bible study) for the first time, went to an appointment, slept all afternoon.

That probably sounds like bliss to some very busy people. And all of the things that I’ve gotten to do this week have been wonderful: massage brings me lots of joy, to be using physical skills, to be connecting with people and helping them feel well, to stretch, to earn a little money; playing music always makes me feel good; horse riding is something completely different to my usual activities and means I’m out in the sunshine, seeing glorious landscapes and the thrill of cantering up a hillside is delightful; studying the Bible and talking with other women is nourishing.

But I worry. If I need this much rest still, how can I ever get through five full days of work in a row? I really thought I was well enough to go back. I felt well enough to dip a toe back in. I thought I was sensible, proposing that I start small and increase my work hours bit by bit. But the stress triggers were so instant I couldn’t even cope with minimal hours, and the realisation that I really was still quite unwell was a shock.

Trying not to think about the financial implications of this whole situation. Pretty much back down to the wire again, which isn’t ideal. But our heads are still above water. Norton says, You probably will never be able to work properly. You’ll never have money. What’s wrong with you that you still don’t know how to handle your money? You’ll probably have to sell your house. So what if we do? I hope we don’t. But the world won’t end if it came to that. Also I’m still able to pay all my bills and eat well. We’re incredibly rich really.

I know it won’t be like this forever. But when you’re in it, it feels like it will be.

So when I’m resting, what do I do? You’d think I’d even be catching up on TV shows or movies or books, but I don’t have the patience or concentration span for them most of the time. I’ve been reading Helen Garner’s latest book, One day I’ll remember this, which is excerpts from her diary from 1987-1995. Its fragmented but thought-provoking style suits my attention span and mood.

Dreams have been disturbing and very detailed, lots of people from my past popping in and out of my mind. Being trapped in strange places. Dreams that take hours to shake off after I’ve woken.

I want to be physically more active, but need to be really careful with it. Some days I can manage a lot of activity and some days I go downstairs and back up again and that’s about all the movement I can muster. Which is scary.

I try to journal. Some days I write a lot. Other days are blank. But that’s pretty normal.

There’s a lot of thinking time too. I dream up schemes and things I want to do, and then immediately have to curtail them because of my current reality. I try to keep them in a pocket for later. I’ve also been blindsided a few times by the reality of being single and childless, which I guess I was due for (it comes around every so often and I hadn’t had a bout for a while). I wanted to write more on that but haven’t got any coherent through-line to write about, and wasn’t sure if it would even be anything anyone would want to read about. Hard to tread the line between sharing what it feels like and being a bit ‘woe is me’. Maybe I still will write it. Heck, I share everything else about my life online, why not that?

Thank you to people who are praying for me, thinking about me, asking me how things are going. It means a lot! It reminds me that I still belong in the world.