Just over a year ago, I pole vaulted over my fear of what others think of me and I took a stress leave from my job… that’s right let’s say it again, stress leave. You’ll note the italicization – that’s just to highlight the incredible judgement I imbued in those two words…stress leave.
I clearly remember sitting in my office shaking, tears streaming down my face, all my demons surrounding me while I thought about how to do the impossible, tell my employers I needed a break – I had two bosses so I had to tell my story twice. Clearly my spirit guides felt I needed to really get into the meat and bones of this fear. I had to tell them my unthinkable, that I – wonder woman, the ‘can do’ girl, the strong feminist, the ardent ‘I’m here for you gal’ – can’t cope anymore.
I had been playing it small for some time by always listening to the gremlins on my shoulder that whispered the messages of what others might think if I did or did not do this or that. I ate ‘should do’ for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And, the biggie, the one thing that truly pissed off my feminist card toting self is that I let June Cleaver guide me in my decisions. And, let me tell you there is no smaller role than that of a 1950s suburban housewife who wears immaculately pressed house frocks, passes the time with needlepoint and always has perfectly coiffed hair, even when gardening. But, there I was obsessed with perfection and being someone I thought I should be, rather than being who I actually am. And, yes, my hair was perfectly coiffed.
In the first three months I was off, I struggled to let go of my workplace – to put aside, loyalty, dedication, and responsibility to others. I became completely unravelled. I made jokes about the hellish nature of going through a mid-life crisis with a four year old child. Could we have tantrums together or would that be poor role modelling? But, in this unravelling was a very specific challenge put to me by the Universe. A spiritual lesson, if you will, to really look at who I had been playing at being and strip the layers of this impersonation off so that I could see who I really am.
My work relied on goal setting and metrics and this way of thinking was one of the things I had to let go of in order to come back to me. My therapist told me to do two things. 1) If it does not bring me joy, then don’t do it and 2) Throw myself into creativity. And so I did, learning that art therapy more than antidepressants, acupuncture, yoga, or running was the key to becoming me and rediscovering my heart.
And, once I started listening to my heart again, I locked June Cleaver in the closet, put my hair in a messy bun and drove down the road mapless and seeing only what my headlights could illuminate. I started to pay attention to what my kids were telling me. I mean really pay attention, with my eyes, ears and heart. Our family became a happier unit. I started to relax more in my own skin and found what I was looking for – the internal excitement that feels like fireworks. Ideas and inspiration returned like stars falling out of the sky.
When I look back now, I can see that pressing pause on my job was mandatory and had been coming for a long time. I gave 110% to work and came home with nothing left for my family or myself. The tiny bit of extra I had to give, I gave to friends and this had it’s own dire consequences. This kind of misplaced energy output contributed to physical exhaustion, a myriad of health concerns that could easily be written off had I not decided to pay attention and – perhaps, most importantly – complete spiritual bankruptcy. When you allow your very soul to be sucked dry, you stop fighting for yourself and you can’t play big.
I have since left my fancy pants job at UVic – check out my new LAAH bio – but the years I spent playing small left a trail of carnage that I’m still sifting through. Even while I continue to work on mapping my new way of walking through the world, I know that I can’t ever go back to the place I used to be and now all my energy is focused on funnelling those fireworks of inspiration into fighting for me and creating the life that I’m supposed to have.
All photos are © Christine Roome and Sweet Memory Art – All Rights Reserved