I'm Taking a Break from Work

I’m taking a break from work for a couple months. I don’t know how long I'll need, but so far I’m thinking about taking two months. I’ve been told at work to “take all the time I need,” but there are different costs associated with that. The reason I’m doing this now is because I struck a very delicate balance between my three jobs: the work I do for money, marriage, and counselling. Working and marriaging are full time, and counselling is part time. I could handle two long term, and I could manage all three if they stayed in their lanes. Things are shifting now, and I’ve held on as long as I could. There are no better strategies. It has all come down to maintaining my energy day in and day out, and now it’s almost out after a year and a half of this. Well, my fuel tank gauge has just run past the “Empty” reading, but we all know cars have a safety factor built into the fuel indicator before it really runs out. Instead of pushing on with my journey, I’m taking a break in Gasoline Alley to fuel up and to take a nap. Most people, including me, skip the pit stop in Red Deer driving between Calgary and Edmonton because it's a mere three hour drive, but in this analogy, I'm stopping to put my car in the shop for some much-needed major maintenance.

How do I know I need this break? Work’s been getting busier for me, and I de-stress after work for multiple hours. That last part isn't so special, but I’ve been so fully immersed in my 3D printer modelling that I’ll sit at my computer from 5 PM to 1 AM. I won’t get up, I won’t eat, I won’t talk to Carrie, I won't play games, I won't watch TV, and I’ll wake up tired to begin the cycle again. Carrie finished some major assignments recently, so there’s been a lot of extra stress flying around at home. Plus, I’m always checking in with myself about my current stress levels. “How am I doing? Am I okay? Can I handle this task?” A dear friend and ally recently shared how they admired my ability to trust myself, so I’m going to continue trusting myself in taking this step to provide for and to protect myself.

I’m okay with people underestimating my abilities, but there’s a limit to how much misunderestimation I can handle. Working three jobs, I have to settle for underperforming compared to others and even to myself if it were my only job. We don’t have kids yet, but I’m taking care of my inner child, the one that's been neglected and abused by others and myself for years. There’s a stigma attached to admitting you’re not doing so well mentally and emotionally. If I had a broken leg, no one would question that I should relieve the pressure on it or just get off of it altogether. I'm stretched pretty thin, and the conditions that led to me calling for my three year resolution have been re-created now. I feel like I’m tearing at the seams. Not only am I playing with an injury, but I’m also keeping up and even surpassing some of my peers at work. I’ve been pushing myself really hard for a year and a half, so it’s time to find a hospital bed and stop leaning on this broken leg. Physical injuries are obvious because you can see them, but people even doubt those ones.

Michael Scott burned his foot

Mental issues are hard to see, and I'm sure to a small degree, different psychologists would disagree on the right diagnosis and treatment plan. With the recent legal cases lately with Not Criminally Responsible verdicts, sometimes it can feel that getting mental health support is only possible when it's too late. Verily, there's a need to make sure people aren't abusing the system so they can get money without doing work, but I wonder how many people abuse the system versus those who actually need it; I wonder if it's more than 5% or 10%. Luckily, work has been supportive. It's a bummer for my rotation team. I've been in a lot of jobs, either for co-op or for EIT rotations, and almost like clockwork, after six months in the role, my mind just clicks in to the different ways I can contribute. It's the beginning of July, so if I come back before the end of the year, I'll just have to pick up where I left off. I was worried about leaving at a good time, but I was told to not worry about my team and to take care of myself first. That was reassuring, and I feel fortunate.

I’ve never taken this long of a break before. Since 18, I’ve been either gainfully employed or in school. I don’t know how to manage my time and energy necessarily now that I'll gain 8 hours back in each day, so it’s going to be a bit of a new exercise for me. I imagine it’s similar to working from home like I've been doing with TELUS, but I’ll be working on myself instead of Excel. I’ll make time for exercise, house chores (laundry, dishes, tidying, cooking), errands (groceries, dry cleaning, going to the Apple Store), and reading. I’ll get my sleep back in order. I've been meaning to write an "About Me" page for the blog, as well as creating a section for all my fun audio and 3D projects. I’m tempted to spend the time learning to make iPhone apps in Swift, but I’m not sure how much energy I’ll have leftover for that, especially given my three year resolution goal to not take on special projects; still have about a year and a half on that. I think some of my problems spill into each other. Not having the energy to cook, we eat out a lot, and I don’t really exercise much. I’m gaining weight, and that makes me feel bad about myself. The extra stress ruins my sleep, and I have weird nightmares. I wake up with less energy, and that reduces my ability to handle work. There’s a vicious cycle building up on me, and I’m going to break it before it breaks me.

I’m not sure if I’ll get paid during this time. It depends on how my doctor and insurance company see my situation. I’ve written before about how we lived off of just my income alone when Carrie was burned out. We cut a lot of expenses, we don’t live in a house in the suburbs, we have one vehicle. We pretty much live off of one income already, but the rest is for saving, paying down debt, and having fun. Every day for work, I take a car2go, buy breakfast, lunch, and dinner, sometimes coffee, so there are a few savings from me not working. Not sure how it all adds up, but we’ll (have to) make it work.

What’s going to be different when I get back? I don’t know. That’s what the break is for. Someone asked me this question when I shared my situation. I hadn’t even finished my sentence, and they were already asking how I was going to fix things. Slow down and stop problem-solving. Maybe try to just listen for a sec.

There are some thoughts and themes I’d like to explore right now, but I’m not sure I could really handle it while stretched so thin between my three jobs. Taking some time off, I might have the wherewithal to approach some of them. I’ll probably write more. I’ll have so much more time to think and read and process that I’ll have more material to push out. That might be through longer posts or posting more often, but not sure yet. Let’s see what I can handle. One topic that I’ve been avoiding is appreciating the good I’m doing through writing this blog. It's not everyday that someone goes through this kind of experience, but it's even rarer to have the opportunity to have a community and format to continually share about it. I'm honoured and I realize the responsbility I have, but I haven't let it sink in emotionally yet. I know I’ve also hurt some people, so I’ll have to engage with that reality as well. I’m no celebrity, influencer, or thought leader by any means, but I think I’ve been able to reach a good amount of minds and hearts. My goal was small in number but significant, to reach just one person who might be facing a similar level of abuse.

Another theme I’ve been resisting until now is self-compassion. I know I should feel good about myself in general, but I don’t allow myself to feel too good. According to my counsellor, it’s still contrary to some of my core beliefs about myself, so I'll reject most compliments unless they reach a high bar. However, there’s been a shift in me that she and several others have already noticed. Some have mentioned it's easier talking to me now or that I seem more grounded. I try to practice self-compassion, but I still don’t think I’m as compassionate to myself as I am to others. In lots of little ways, I’m trying to put myself first, like this past Friday night when I insisted on getting my $20 cover charge back from the bouncer when I learned there was a guest list. I’m suffering from a case of extreme Canadianism, so I’m trying to be less polite and more selfish like any good person should. That’s self-compassion, right?

Here are a few more things I'll probably explore in time:

  • Should I be mad at God? A reader asked me this question a while ago, and I've never really thought about it until then. It hasn't really hit me.
  • Pride. Do I not have any pride? Why do I talk so openly about my problems? How did my family's pride contribute to the abuse and excommunication?
  • Courage. Doing normal things takes a lot of energy and courage. Keeping up is a struggle.
  • I've always been a loner. I recognized this even in grade one. We didn't have any extended family close by, I never went to pre-school, and there weren't many people my age at church. I've had a few best friends, but they were always taken from me too early.

If someone says you're carrying some emotional baggage, what are you supposed to do with it instead of lugging it around? Are you just supposed to drop it? You can do that with physical luggage, but not the emotional kind. Let's say your plane has landed and you're leaving the airport with your emotional baggage until you reach your lodgings. I suppose you should unpack your bags. Now suppose you have a lot of suitcases, it would take a long time to unpack those things and assign places for them in your home. In the same way, resolving your emotional baggage takes time, and when you have 20 years of catching up to do, it feels like you're moving and unpacking an entire house of belongings. In simply moving from Edmonton to Calgary, it took an entire week for me to throw away old junk because of all the memories attached. In fact, I needed a few days' worth of Carrie's help because I started quick and slowed down as I got more and more reminiscent. Random notes from high school, movie ticket stubs, Valentine's cards. I had collected so many momentos that I felt almost chained to them, and they were small and cute little memories, not the traumatic, burning, imprinted memories of family feuds. I know it's not all going to be solved within a few months of time off, but I also know that I can't stop feeling everything at the same time. Even though I said counselling was a part time job, consider that an hour of counselling per month with one blog post a week takes as much energy as a job requiring up to 20 hours per week.

Why do I need a plan at all? What if I just exist for those few months? I'll be carrying a smaller load, so hustling every day would be easier. I shouldn't stress myself out too much trying to relax.

Why am I doing this all now? Why not later? The dam has burst, and I just feel all my emotions all the time. If I was sensitive before starting therapy a year and a half ago, I'm super sensitive now. I want to be healthy. It's been too long that I pushed aside my sanity in favour of external accomplishments that don't really satisfy me inside. What if people are able to manipulate me because of an emotional wound that I neglected? What if I fall into a traumatized state again? Have I even left the cocoon of abuse?

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le