After close to 6 months, the time has finally arrived for a Return To Work. Not quite ‘in at the deep end’ with a sudden rush back to a busy, hectic schedule, but a phased return following an assessment with Occupational Health. Even so, the very thought of returning to the workplace is itself daunting.
What will people think of me? Will they be angry that they’ve had to do all my work while I’ve been away? I’ve had surgery, as well as cancer, and yet somewhow I also think that if I look relatively healthy when I go back, people will assume I’ve been ‘wagging it’ and skiving. And the much publicised response to the recent Channel 4 show Benefits Street shows what people think of ‘scroungers’.
But, I do want to look my best. I don’t want to look ‘ill’, or ‘weak’. I want to be a triumphant Alexis Carrington turning up for her first day in court in Dynasty. All hats and shoulder pads.
I’ve counselled many people who’ve been on long term sick, and who’ve had to face a return to work. I know that just getting through the door is an achievement. Lots of people will have panic attacks even contemplating returning, andI know of people who have had to turn back on their way into work because the reality of the situation has been too daunting. I’ve given myself only this expectation – I’ll try to get through the door. If I get there, it’s a successful return. If I don’t, I know I’m not ready … yet.
But it’s also my own expectations which are the real difficulty. Only I know how vulnerable and weak I feel. I’m the only one who’s had those conversations with myself, who’s heard this chattering monkey that accompanies me and knows me so well it can remind me of all the times I’ve ‘failed’ in life. Who knows what everyone else is thinking and saying around me, what whispers there’ll be in the canteen or in the corridors or around the water cooler.
Because, I just know that they’ll all be talking about ME, ME, ME. And that there’ll be a pile of work left over for me to do, and there’s all these chages coming in, and what if I was never really up to the job in the first place? Somehow, after 13 years, I’ll get ‘found out’ because I’ve been off sick.
And it’s only a partial return. It’s not even proper work.
My parents have insisted on driving me in. Which is both very sweet and helpful, but also underlines my continuing dependence on them and on other people. It doesn’t help, of course, that I crashed into a bus recently. Anther sign of how I can’t even concentrate on starting up a parked car.
The morning comes. I’m up early, even thought my RTW starts late to allow me to miss the rush hour trafffic. I arrive early. Everything on the way becomes an omen, good or bad. I’ve lost count of the magpies I’ve seen and forgotten what the numbers are supposed to mean. ‘Hello, captain.’
I’ve remembered to put on my clothes. I’m not arriving in pyjamas, which I’m sure is an achievement. I remeber a story of a woman who returned to work after bringing up children for a number of years. On her first day, she went out with a manager she was trying hard to impress. She was so used to being with children and using their language, that as oson as she saw a tractor, she excitedly grabbed the arm of her manager and jumped up and down shouting and pointing ‘DIGGER!’
As I walk through the car park, everyone’s not at the window pointing and staring. Even my identity card is till working and, finally, I do actually make it through the door. People rememebr me, and politely ask how I am. Some are nice enough to say how well I’m looking. Even without the hat and shoulder pads.
That was a week ago. It wasn’t easy, andI’m not sure that it’s got easier since, to be honest. Last Friday, when I went home, I lost all sense of time and didn’t even know what day it was. I was giddy and light headed and I think it all got to me a little. One of my little ‘moments’.
Today’s been another day. And tomorrow, or the next day I go in again, will also be another day.
It’s some sense of normality, I guess. Whatever that means for me now. Everyday, I battle demons of self-doubt. Everyday I overcome most of them. Most, if not all of the time.
One thing, though, has changed with all this. Work is no longer the be-all and end-all for me. It pays bills, and it will pay for me to go on three short holidays I’ve booked (yes, even in times of austerity!) , so that I’ve got something to look forward to beyond not turning up to work in my pyjamas.
Wish you were here …