Back in August 2021, I wrote this article for Medium, for the site-wide prompt: work. I could’ve written about my daily job, or the work I do for my websites, but I concentrated on a different kind of work. I have edited the article and rewritten some parts of it to fit the current circumstances, but essentially t’s the same as it was, and perfectly fits the Wicked Wednesday prompt!
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Work Is Not Always About Being Paid
All my life, I have repeatedly done the work to heal and recover from trying situations.
I am blessed with a healthy dose of perseverance. Sometimes the perseverance was (and occasionally still is) a curse, because I don’t recognize the moment I should take a step back, and allow myself to process what life has thrown my way.
That’s one pitfall of always pushing through, but even though I have been through some tough times (the current one has been ongoing since March 2021), I always came out stronger — and maybe wiser — on the other side.
Sixteen and pregnant
In my penultimate year in high school, I fell pregnant. I did it on purpose, because my teenage mind panicked and told me I had to get out of school.
My parents — especially my mom — were adamant I should finish school, because neither of them did. The year before, my academic and sports achievements were perfect. I was a gymnast. Starting the new school year, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t reach the level I was at before the summer break.
And then I failed a test.
For the first time in my school career, I failed a test. I panicked, didn’t tell my parents, and fell pregnant. It was only when the doctor — not our family GP — confirmed I was pregnant that I realized what I had done.
I left school, but I didn’t stop studying. In those six months from when I told my parents I was pregnant until my baby was born, I studied. She was born on a Saturday. I wrote some exams before her birth, one of them the day before, and then one every day of the week following her birth. I passed well enough to be admitted to university when she was three months old.
But that’s not all.
When I had to leave school, the school director said to have my baby and then continue my school somewhere else. Before I went to university, I went back to him to show him my school certificate.
I did the work and turned a bad situation into something positive.
Divorced after abuse
I got married when I was twenty; my daughter three. He adopted her as his own, and just fifteen months into the marriage, our son was born.
He was seven months old when my then-husband lifted his hand for my daughter. He hit her so hard; she had a bruise in the form of his hand on the side if her face. The force of the slap had also broken the skin in one place.
I left him.
Nothing in me would ever allow for my children to be harmed. I preferred to be a single mother than having my children grow up with an abusive father.
I remarried many years later, when my children were both teenagers, and we already lived in another country. I encountered a different abuse, the kind where after about a year of marriage, he completely ignored my children. Before the marriage and in the first six months he was kind and friendly to them, but a year in, he couldn’t keep up appearances anymore.
It took me three more years to overcome the shame of yet another failed marriage and step out, once more becoming a single parent.
It wasn’t easy — at times it was downright hard work — but I mostly raised my children myself. I will never call myself a perfect mom — god knows, I made my share of mistakes — but I did the absolute best I could with the means I had.
Between my two marriages, and just before I left my country of birth, I was in a terribly abusive relationship. This time, I was the focus of the anger.
It wasn’t only physical abuse. In hindsight, the abuse already started when he still courted me. Mental abuse. Using my vulnerability to get me to move in with them. Him and his wife. Telling me he didn’t think I had it in me to make a success of the relationship.
Then, three months in, I heard him abusing his wife. Hitting her because another man looked at her with too much interest. He bruised her legs, her tummy, her back. So bad, six months later she had to have a hysterectomy.
It was days after this night of abuse, and in a moment he was angry with me, that I challenged him: “Are you now going to hit me too?”
Before I completed the sentence, he had hit me.
I believed it was my fault. His excuses made me believe it was my fault.
Three months later, he hit me unconscious. I was out for seconds, bruised for days, and scarred for a lifetime.
It took me another four more months to finally gather the courage to leave, and this was only after he threatened to hit me again. That time I looked him in the eye, told him he would be a murderer if he hit me unconscious again — I lay in a bath filled with water. He turned around and left.
And so did I, a month later.
Three weeks after I left him, I had a mental breakdown. Weeks of terrible headaches, night terrors and sweats. My mom helped me, allowing me to lean on her, and be stronger again. Hard work, but I did it. I pushed through, and left those bad months behind me, taking important lessons from it.
I’m a perfectionist, not only in my work, but in everything. I also have difficulty saying no and guarding my boundaries. That’s a dangerous combination, especially if your boss isn’t aware that you’re doing more than you should.
I ended up doing the work of three people, and being caught up between the site manager and the owner of the company, as they communicated through me.
In March 2012, I had a burnout. From one day to the next, I couldn’t do anything. All I did was sit on the couch. It took going to a psychologist, and many talks, to nurse me back to a reasonable state so I could get back to work five months later.
Even though I was working again, tears still came easily. I wasn’t healed.
I continued to work with the psychologist, which really helped, but it was only halfway through 2015 that I realized I had to choose for myself. For my wellbeing.
Work isn’t everything.
In 2016, I cut back on work, going from five to four days. That was the best decision I ever made, being off from work every Wednesday.
I felt myself getting stronger — healing — and it’s good I did, because life was about to throw me more curveballs.
Losing my mom
In January 2017, we learned my mom was gravely ill.
Lung cancer. Inoperable. Incurable.
They gave her palliative chemotherapy, but it made her even sicker than she already was. In December 2016, she still walked to the store every day; at the end if January 2017, she could barely walk ten meters in her own home.
I supported her throughout; drove her to every appointment, got the wheelchair out of the back of the car, and took her to the specialist. I was there when her lung collapsed and she had a lung bleed, and she ended up in the ICU, intubated.
I visited her in the hospital every day. Then in the nursing home, and back to hospital again. I listened to her fears, to her sadness, to her regret for giving up. I consoled her, told her it wasn’t her giving up, but the illness being bigger than her.
I stayed with her the last eleven days of her life, sleeping in her room in the hospital for three nights, then seven in the hospice. I watched her die on 12 July 2017, twenty minutes past three in the afternoon.
Early in 2018, the dark thoughts came. I missed my mom so much. Had many breakdowns up to where I was looking for a tree into which I could drive my car.
I realized I needed help.
It was hard work, really hard, but a psychologist — a different one than 2012 — once more helped me. She opened up my grief; helped me to see I may live.
Five years of health problems, and counting
Four months before we learned my mom was ill, my husband’s health also played up. He’s an amputee, and the stump started showing what looked like psoriasis.
I can’t tell you how many appointments he had — I took him there because driving was too painful — but it took up to May 2020 (almost four years later) before finally his stump healed.
We both breathed a sigh of relief.
Then, in March 2021, he had a stroke. A light one, but still serious enough for him to have to go to rehabilitation once a week for three months. While he was in hospital, they discovered enlarged lymph nodes, which had to be addressed once he was home again.
He had to go for a scan, then another, and yet another. Diagnosis? Metastasized thyroid cancer. It was in his thyroid, the lymph nodes on both sides if his neck, and beneath the thyroid.
First step? An operation to remove the thyroid and infected lymph nodes. The operation happened in July 2021. Then radioactive iodine therapy followed in September 2021. Inbetween and after that, many tests and scans, and we are still in the midst of it, with my husband’s quality of life far from optimal.
Our life is upside down, and I still have this grave fear of losing my husband. All of it was an onslaught on my mental health. In July 2021, I recognized I was heading towards another burnout. I knew and still know I can’t help and support my husband if I have a mental breakdown, so it was time to do the work again.
Taking a step back
My manager offered me a life coach to help me with my feelings and mental health. I accepted the offer, had my first appointment mid July 2021, and I still consult her.
She teaches me more about myself, about allowing myself weak moments and not feel guilty about it, but also about taking care of myself. It was following her advice that I cut back on my working hours, and it’s only now that I am getting back to my full hours, which will give me some mental space too, because about two months after taking a step back, I was already doing all my work again, but in fewer hours.
The step back, and the coaching sessions, have allowed me to see many things in a different light. I feel more balanced, stronger, and more in touch with my needs, and able to express them. Once more, I did the work, and I thank the day I made that first appointment with the coach.
Doing the work
Work is not only about doing the thing you get paid for.
There’s also the work you have to do for your own wellbeing. Your wellbeing, which benefits those close to you, be it your family members or your colleagues.
And honestly, the mental work might be a lot harder than the physical kind, but it also brings you so much more when you look at value of life and happiness.
Just my opinion.
Be kind to yourself and do the work.