I think I underestimated how low my energy reserves had become. Although I had tried to be sensible over the long weekend, the conference straight after the tough specialist appointments that week left me depleted. Empty. And I didn’t realise it. If I was more aware, I would have worked from home or the library that week. But I didn’t. I’ve tossed up time and again whether I make what is written next public. After weeks of observing those around me, I decided to make this post public because what happened is part of this story and none of us our immune from losing it, sometimes. If we think we are immune, then we are lying to ourselves. And it’s all part of being real.
Knowing that my energy reserves would be low after the long weekend away, my plan was to bury myself into a pile of marking. I started as I normally do. Early in the morning with a siphon coffee at a local cafe. I was focused on this one task, ploughing my way through essay after essay, marking rubric after marking rubric. I moved next to my office and with the door nearly closed, I continued, essay after essay, marking rubric after marking rubric. Noise cancelling headphones in my ears. All I could hear was the voices of the Thomas Tallis Singers. About half an hour later, I became conscious of someone at my door. I looked up and saw a co-worker who had obviously been knocking at my door. I took the headphones out of my ears and gave him permission to come in. He asked whether I had a few moments. I did, so I pulled up a chair for him. I listened. I heard a plan being unfolded in front of me that affected my own areas of administrative responsibility. I could see that it was a draft and the result of his first stages of brain storming, but I couldn’t grasp why this was being presented to me in a conversation that was supposed to be a few minutes. While I let his words sink in, a number of questions were going spinning in my mind. Why wasn’t my co-worker asking me to join him brain storming with a blank piece of paper? Had I failed in my administrative oversight? Is my job just administrative and not leadership? And when my colleague stopped, he asked me for my feedback. And I knew then that there wasn’t much left of me. I was left completely disarmed and vulnerable. I no longer had the energy. My energy had been spent over the past seventeen weeks trying to keep going, trying to walk, trying to do life, trying to do my job. There wasn’t anything left any more. And I couldn’t speak. I tried to grasp onto words, but as soon as the words were on my lips, they were gone. There was just silence. Trying to grasp onto any composure that I possessed, all I could say is that I needed to clarify a couple of questions with the Principal. I wasn’t being passive-aggressive, using silence to avoid giving feedback. I no longer had the energy to cope with being steamrolled, again.
When my Physio saw me that afternoon at the rehabilitation hospital, she asked me what was wrong. I was sheet white and she noticed. I couldn’t push through exercise after exercise as I did before with as much stubbornness. I felt physically weaker and I just couldn’t pick myself up. My Physio asked me the questions that I had been asking myself since that conversation with my colleague. Should I be working? Wasn’t trying to cope with the events of the seventeen weeks enough for one person? And she had a point. Despite my attempts to be sensible, to give myself space, I no longer had the energy to be resilient. I questioned for weeks afterwards whether I was cut out for my job and whether at 33 if I was too young and not emotionally mature enough for my role. I wish, when this happened, that I was kind and gracious with myself, but I wasn’t. What I think got me through the next few weeks though, and as a few more punches were landed, is what I did know about myself. What I did know is that how I react emotionally is not reality. I know that how I react to a situation is not necessarily the real situation. I’m able to sort through what is emotion and what the facts are.
I did lose it that day. No one is perfect. And we all reach our limits. We could be the most self aware people, put all the strategies in place that we possibly can, but we reach our limits, and when pushed beyond those limits, cracks widen. This is all part of being real, but being real is a challenge in our culture where being real is seen as weakness.