Beating the Back to Work Blues
Well this week marks the end of my third week back at work, how the heck did that happen! It has gone by, much like everything else over these past nine months like a puff of smoke! That is life now I guess, a combination of time standing still yet in another crazy paradox, whizzing on by at an alarming rate. The end of this summer will mark a whole year since Billy died and I just cannot believe that, time is a strange concept for me now.
I feel like I have lost a whole year of my life, I have been treading water navigating this unprecedented journey. I hate that terminology, it sounds so wanky and is the kind of thing you hear Z list celebrities rambling on about in diary rooms on crap reality TV shows; but that is what this is. A very different and very unexpected journey into motherhood. A journey where I have found myself to be a mother to a son who cannot be here, a son who although our time together was heartbreakingly short has shaped my life, strengthened my core and given me so much. I hope you can see that wherever you are my little Billy bear. You have made me stronger and more compassionate than I ever thought was possible.
I had to dip into some of my new found Billy strength recently when returning to work. I had decided to take most of my maternity leave entitlement after much going back and forth in my mind with a return date. I initially felt like I was ‘taking the piss’ by taking my maternity leave when I didn’t have a baby at home to look after. But just read that sentence back and you will get a little insight into how messed up life has become right now – a mother on maternity leave without a baby to look after is a stark reminder that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong so take all the time you need, and then some.
In the end I took off eight months from work, six months of those were my full paid maternity leave. However, it would be fair to say that I got a little too used to being a domestic goddess and the thought of returning to work became extremely anxiety inducing and at one point, I actually came very close to handing in my notice. I am so glad that I didn’t do that though. I work for a wonderful organisation and in a lovely team of very supportive people so to leave that behind would have been a huge mistake. And guess what, a lot of the anxiety I had built up eased off as soon as I had finished my first day.
Returning to work after the death of your child is certainly a huge hurdle to climb. I have yet to speak to anyone who found it easy but what echoes so loudly from everyone I have spoken with is that the thought is usually worse than the reality. It certainly was for me. I think this largely depends on your employer and the support network they offer you but most employers will appreciate the sheer gravity of what has happened in your life and should be willing to offer you as much support and flexibility as you require.
There are highs and lows on this road, there are good days and there are very bad days. There will be days where you cannot face the inane office chit chat, where you don’t feel like going for lunch with colleagues and instead need to sit alone in a coffee shop gathering your thoughts. We are moving into a working from home culture here in the UK and that is a fantastic thing in my opinion, better work life balance, less struggles with the daily commute but for me right now, so important for those days where I don’t feel like putting on a brave face and being all smiles and positivity that day. I can lose the brave face when I need to and get my face buried into a spreadsheet without anyone worrying I am on the cusp of an almighty meltdown!
The early days of returning to work are quite unpredictable, for most of us we are still fairly raw into grief and we will still have plenty of bad days and our moods can be unpredictable. There are triggers everywhere, our patience levels have lowered drastically and a lot of us have been living in a little bubble with not too many people around us. Then suddenly you are back into the noisy office environment where there is chatter, deadlines, having responsibilities and duties and you have to function and be the old you. But you are likely to not be the same person you were last time you were working, there is an anchor that can weigh you down at times, so much sadness and hurt. This anchor though is what will also give you strength that you didn’t know existed. I use that anchor to pull myself back up when I have had a low point.
For me going back to work felt like I was letting part of Billy go, the time off I had taken was our time together, even though of course I realise that he wasn’t here, but those days were my time for him. I felt as though suddenly that was it, times up, move on. But I realise now that I am never going to move on from Billy, I am just taking him with me as I move forwards. Moving forwards but never moving on.
I feel like I was walking down one path, almost at the finish line ready to go through one door and I got pulled off that path and the door slammed firmly shut. So the only option I have right now is to walk down the other path that I don’t really want to be on.
The old Hannah, the bubbly, mildly humorous, hard-working and driven woman and the new Hannah, the mother to a child who died, with new priorities, who has experienced more than many people will ever do in their lives, who now realises more what is important in life – they need to meet somewhere in the middle and reconnect. I still have a sense of humour, I’m still a hard worker and I’m still a mother. The only option I have right now is to merge my old and new selves, reconnect and go forwards to the next part of this journey.
Returning to work is probably the biggest and most significant piece of the puzzle for letting your old self and new self re-connect and taking a step forwards. The structure and routine has been good for me, having other things to focus on has been a good thing. But having those moments where you feel your emotions rising to the surface whilst you are working is tough, trying to concentrate on work and deadlines when your mind is wandering onto your situation is not easy. Putting on a brave face and repeating the well-rehearsed answer to the well-meant questions or navigating the awkwardness you inevitably meet with some colleagues is tricky. But I think it will get easier in time.
For me one of the hardest things was actually walking through the door and back into my team. But I was met with love and support and once I have got stuck back into things, I am starting to feel a bit more like my old self and that is a very welcome distraction to the tragedy my new self is working to overcome.
I hope anyone returning to work soon is receiving the care and support that you deserve. It certainly isn’t easy but I think you will find that it won’t be as bad as you are expecting it to be.
Love Hannah x