I can’t remember the last time I traveled for work - it must have been about 4 years ago, a short-haul flight for 1 or 2 nights. Certainly before my son was born and before my mental health leave of absence.
Flying for work back then was a privilege and nice add-on benefit to the international scope of my job. I enjoyed the process of packing, having conversations with colleagues while waiting to board, meeting new colleagues, visiting their offices and getting to enjoy nice meals together.
Today I am back in a plane, at the window seat, alone; en route on a long-haul flight for a work project. I’ve admittedly felt stressed leading up to this day. Unusual, but also unsurprising.
As I look out the window while the plane takes off, my mind goes back to the day I realised I wasn’t well. The physical symptoms remain fresh in my mind and in my body as though it was yesterday. 2 years ago, at this time, my calendar was filled with various therapy and doctor's appointments. I feel a lump in my throat.
I pause and try to identify what the emotion is behind the lump in my throat and the tears I am trying really hard to fight back (I didn’t manage to).
that I get to work and to feel healthy doing so
to have the trust of others to contract me for important projects
to have a supporting husband who checks in every so often if the work I do and the effort it takes are worth it, relative to my wellbeing
to have a family who can help with child care while I’m away
to have a son who will not say no to a week with his grandparents (that counts as a grand holiday in his books!)
I miss my family and I’m barely 30 minutes into my flight. But I know I will be back in a week, energised and feeling well. Because meaningful work fills me up, even if it can be hard sometimes.
Returning to work after a mental health break is not an event marked by a day on the calendar. 2 years since my burnout, it’s still a process I am going through - a highly introspective and vulnerable one.
Everyone’s process is going to look different.
This is what my process of returning has looked like:
re-assessing my values and what really matters to me, with the help of the Personal Agility System
confronting with self-compassion how much my life was NOT in alignment with #1
getting to know myself again and accepting that my identity is evolving - to recognise that I am multi-dimensional. My identity is not bound to one thing as it used to be.
holding myself accountable everyday for how I choose to spend my time
being surrounded by my “recovery team”: family, close friends, therapist, coaches and mentors
most importantly, being kind to myself. there will be good days and bad days; and between the two, I will always choose to celebrate the good days.
If you're going through this process right now, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone, there is no "one right way" to experience it and there is no fixed timeline that needs to be met. Be kind to yourself.