The recovery from surgery was a long one and I was off work for about 2-3 months. In that time I did a lot of reflecting on what had happened to me.
During my time off a family member was involved in an accident and before I knew it I was surrounded by the familiar sound of beeping hospital machines and a blurred sea of green fashioned as indoor décor. Instead of someone leaning over my bedside, I was leaning over theirs offering water to cope with the dryness induced by the oxygen mask.
I met up with my boss for lunch one day and I remember going over the events of the accident. Suddenly I couldn’t tell him when I was going to return to work. It was as if the hospital visit had retraumatised me. I explained that I wasn’t ready to return to work just yet – but instead of explaining that I thought I was a bit mentally injured, I said that my physical wound hadn’t yet healed.
During this time I also began reading more about Narcolepsy. It was then that I discovered Julie Flygare and her memoir ‘ Wide Awake and Dreaming’, She wrote about her experience and symptoms and how she was eventually diagnosed with Narcolepsy. I was shook by the parallels I saw with her story and mine. It was probably the first time in my life that I felt fully validated and seen and i know i sound American and cringe but its true haha. Every emotion she felt, every difficult experience, I related to on a different level. It wasn’t just that she studied Law too that made us so alike, it was the shared experience of our condition being misunderstood. The lightbulb moment when someone finally took our symptoms seriously. The college (uni for me) parties where your friends got used to you being a bit snoozy. The relief when being diagnosed and someone recognising that you weren’t going crazy.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that reading this book changed my entire life. The shame that I used to carry around surrounding my tiredness, the hiding of my symptoms so everyone else would feel more comfortable, the embarrassment when I used to fall asleep at inappropriate times. All of it was laid out in these pages. I was completely mesmerised. It was then that I accepted that I had a lifelong, incurable condition which would impact me in a number of ways which I had been ignoring to date. It’s weird living your life like that. It’s like you have a box of shadows which you keep the lid tightly shut on. You create this false narrative of your life which is appropriate to show other people. You don’t tell them about the horrors of your hypnagogic hallucinations because that would make them uncomfortable. You learn to say nothing about your unbearable tiredness because they think they know what extreme tiredness means and compare so you shrink into yourself embarrassed having said anything. You don’t want to look like a failure, so you portray this sunny, hard exterior which looks like nothing will hold you down, not even this condition. For more on Julie and the wonderful work that she does for the Narcolepsy community check out project-sleep.com. It is an invaluable resource for every person with Narcolepsy not only in terms of community but also in research and advocacy.
I returned to work eventually but I wasn’t the same. The time I had off allowed me to face how I really felt about my life and how it had turned out to date. All the disappointment from the repeated exam failures, having to leave my job, the surgery, the family member’s accident, all of it stacked on top of each other. I’m not sure if I had a breakdown or a breakthrough but all I knew was that I couldn’t function in the corporate world anymore. Even sitting in the breakroom annoyed the life out of me. Why were people complaining about mundane things that were fixable?? Didn’t they know that they were so lucky to have their health?? Why were they getting wound up about things that weren’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things? I was hypersensitive to the trivial things in life. Didn’t everyone realise how fortunate they were to be walking about in the real world and not trapped in hospital, their life slipping away?
As the months went on post-surgery I just couldn’t shake this feeling. I didn’t have to sit in that seat every day if I didn’t want to. There was a world of options out there but oddly the corporate way of working made you feel like there was only one. It was the time investment too. I didn’t want to just walk away from a career that I had spent 4 years plus building. I didn’t think that would look good. But the time in hospital made me wonder if we were all working to impress others or ourselves? Who was the person that mattered more when it came down to it? The people’s opinions that you worry about aren’t there in hospital when you are faced with your own mortality. So why do we allow their opinion such weight in our minds? I still don’t know the answer to this question. It could be the only explanation for why people stay in jobs they hate, that and the belief that they don’t have the power to change their circumstances.
A few short months after returning to work, I made the decision to leave. My consultant had advised that I needed to take a daytime nap and that my workplace needed to facilitate this. I put in the request but knew that no matter if it was granted or not, I had already mentally left. They tried to accommodate me but I just feel like I didn’t really want to be accommodated. I remember thinking that perhaps I was losing my mind in my decision to walk away from a career that was guaranteed to give me a stable income with a clear route to promotion and a salary increase. There was a free counselling service which entitled me to six sessions for free. I attended two of them via the phone and chatted out my rationale. I think I was scared of regretting my decision. I didn’t want to look back in ten years time and think that I made the decision purely out of post-surgery trauma. The way I look at it now, I definitely think the surgery quickened my decision but if anything it made me see clearer than I had ever seen before.
So as I write this blog on World Mental Health Day what have I learned since taking that decision? Here’s 10 things that I have reflected on today…
- Life is too short to be miserable in a job that can replace you in a heartbeat. You are not indispensable to these companies, but your understanding that you make the decision to live the life and mental space they put you in IS indispensable . I’m not sure if that makes sense…but you get what I mean. Basically, if you are going to stay with a company you hate, you need to understand that you are making the decision to stay and put up with their toxic vibes. You can rant and complain all you want about them but at the end of the day you are making the decision to stay and put up with them. I know people are going to say oh but what about my mortgage and children and car etc. Yes, I get all that, but in this market there are so many companies that would bite your hand off for your skillset. Don’t forget that and don’t settle for less. Know your worth.
- My environment and the people I spend time with are crucial to my mental health. I can work on myself and identify triggers and the rest of it but there are just people and places that don’t suit me. It’s easier to keep certain people at a distance than to let them influence the way I think about myself. I know that I thrive around certain people and find myself criticising myself after interactions with other people. I am too old to have petty or bitchy people around me. I hate the shitty feeling after clashing with someone or feeling like you are constantly trying to prove yourself to someone who is not going to see your worth anyway. Yes, their criticism says more about them than it does you blah blah blah but that doesn’t mean you constantly have to be understanding of that and listen to their shit. I saw a Tiktok recently…i mean…from my research… that said stop trying to psychoanalyse people and justify their behaviour…some people are just a**holes and it’s SO TRUE.
- Having said that, eliminating people and places can sometimes make you feel very restricted. Sometimes people pop up and you have to deal with it and you get aggravated but I think that’s necessary too. You have to work on your own response to them and not lower yourself to their level. In saying that, I know I get SO raging sometimes but recently I’ve realised that all it does is burn me out and them? Their opinion is still the same.. Sometimes it’s easier to bury the hatchet so you can move through your life peacefully. Some people will not change no matter what you do and you need to realise that it isn’t your job to make them see your side of the story. What is up to you is how you are going to react and I used to hate that way of thinking. The whole you can’t control other people but you can control your response used to aggravate me. But it’s pretty true when you think about it, you can either let them get under your skin and react the same every time or you can move on and focus on something else more worthwhile that will bring you happiness. The energy you use being annoyed at them could be put into something that benefits instead of depleting you.
- No matter what I do, at the end of the day there is always me. I used to be on a spiral of blame where I was like if only this changed I would be happier and if this person didn’t act like this I wouldn’t be as annoyed. The truth is that I am an anxious person and probably always will be and I carry myself around through life. Even when something positive happens or someone treats me well, I’m constantly scanning for danger. This as I’ve learned is a trauma response. I am looking for the next disappointment, the next thing I can attribute blame to for my lack of success in my life endeavours. I’m aware of this self sabotage now though and I can feel when my reaction to something isn’t balanced
- When I started writing this blog I thought that I was going to have a start, middle and end tied up in a bow. There would be a happy ending despite adversity and I would move on to help others in a similar position as myself. That isn’t exactly how it’s went and I’ve realised that the struggle is far from over. I still get times where I am feeling too anxious to function and the racing thoughts never seem to end. I think for me, I can relate to others more when they admit that their mental health isn’t perfectly healed. In turn, I believe writing even when I’m struggling and vunerable is worthwhile. Too often I see bloggers and instagrammrs portray this perfect life and it only makes me feel worse. So I am determined not to make this blog like that or give anyone the impression that I have my shit together whatsoever. I’m still learning everyday.
- I went to CBT therapy when I was actually in a good place. I thought I wanted to identify my thought patterns so that I could prevent myself from being anxious ever again. That’s not really how it works though, it gives you a set of tools so that you can cope with your anxiousness, it doesn’t eliminate it all together. I think recognising that is super important, no one can be cured completely. They might get anxious way less than they used to but they aren’t superhuman. I think sometimes thinking that you have to constantly work on yourself to be a better version of you leads to the thinking that you aren’t good enough as you are. This is something I definitely struggle with because I am constantly on a spin of wanting to be more organised, get better at managing my Narcolepsy, work on my side projects more, be more successful quicker, be productive etc. The list is endless and it’s exhausting. I low key suspect that I have inattentive ADHD but that’s a story for another day. Identifying that you are just having an anxious day and being kind to yourself requires less energy than trying to think and analyse your way out of it. Feelings are there to be felt, and I definitely fight against that but it’s true. I overcomplicate and hurt my own feelings sometimes.
- Leaving that job didn’t automatically solve my life problems like I thought it would. New problems arise overtime and your anticipation that life will be perfect and rosy and never be crappy at times is hurting your own feelings.
- There is no point thinking about what you should have done or beating yourself up for not completing a task the way you thought you would. It literally only burns your energy. Move on and keep moving, don’t stop to think just keep looking forward to the next thing. I can get caught in a hole of disappointment in things not turning out the way I wanted. This stopping to overthink is my sticking point. Some days I can’t get past it to take the action that I need to take to go forward. Realising that sometimes the first step needs taken and then the rest will follow is important for me because I think I let myself overthink the full thing and I cannot get forward.
- Find your own version of happy. There’s a world full of opinions on what makes someone happy. For some it’s wealth and success, for others it’s human connection and the impact they leave on other people. When you are surrounded by people that place a high value on wealth and a low value on their own personal time to enjoy it, you can be tricked into thinking you want those things too. I realised that yes, to an extent wealth is important to me but I value my own personal freedom more. Within a company, there is a ceiling to that personal freedom. If you continue to work for a company long term you really need to make sure that their values align with yours. In an interview you should think about whether they are good enough for you and if they are going to meet your needs, not just whether you will give them the answers they want to meet their requirements for a suitable candidate.
There’s probably more I could say and things I haven’t worded correctly but that’s just a few things I have thought about. Mental health is different for everyone and if you are struggling you should always consult a mental health professional. It can be a bit like dating, some aren’t for you and others will be so you need to find one that fits and don’t give up at the first hurdle.
One book that I would recommend reading is :
Warning – it is not an easy read – I had to skip some of the bits on abuse but what I understand now is that my reactions in the present are an accumulation of my life events to date. There are many gems in this book but I have included just one below that I think applies to my life a lot at the minute:
I also saw Dermot Kennedy recently and have become obsessed with his music and the pure artistry of his lyrics. His song Better Days is so beautifully written and something you should play on your down days:
Your story’s gonna change, just wait for better days
You’ve seen too much of pain, now you don’t even know
That your story’s gonna change, just wait for better days
I promise you, I won’t let go
-Better Days Are Coming, Dermot Kennedy
Don’t give up hope
The Girl Who Ran Away In Her Sleep