Yesterday life got on top of me. Yesterday I cried at work. And you know what happened when I cried at work? Nothing. Nothing bad actually happened. No one laughed, no one commented, no one gave me a disapproving look. I spent so much energy trying to hold it all together because of some irrational fear of the consequences if I fell apart, but, when I did fall apart, I was handed a tissue by my lovely manager and that was it. She told me she understood and that was it. Nothing else happened. I wonder how many other Mamas have been in a similar situation when they’ve returned to work? I bet some of you can relate?
But why do we feel like emotions are unprofessional?
I am always banging on about how, “it’s ok to be not ok”. Yet, still, yesterday morning I felt like it wasn’t ok to be not ok. Not when I was in the office. Pasting a big fake smile on my face, I gritted my teeth and jumped in the car, telling myself that the thirty minute drive into the office would be enough time to gain some composure. It wasn’t.
The voice inside my head was shouting phrases at me like, “Charlie pull yourself together, you need to be professional.”, “If you don’t compose yourself everyone will think you’re a drama queen.”, “People will laugh at you if you ‘lose it’ at work.”.
I’ve since been reflecting on whether any of these things are true – where are these beliefs coming from and would I think those things about a co-worker in a similar position? And the answer is no I would not and Anxiety is a liar. A loud, cross, shouty liar at that!
As a result of that lying little sh*t, that resides in the darkest corners of my mind, I was beating myself up for feeling emotional and putting undue pressure on myself. This was additional pressure on top of what was already a very stressful week.
What do I see if I put myself in my manager’s place?
I see a tired Mum who is exhausted & missing her child.
After a fairly restless night, following a monumental emotional meltdown at home the previous evening, I woke early in the hope my mood would have lifted. It hadn’t. Miss EEE wasn’t even awake when I left the house at 7am. This meant that I hadn’t had the chance to kiss my little girl goodbye. Knowing that, on account of the early start, I would be able to leave the office early to maximise playtime with her was little consolation at that point in time. All I wanted was the instant gratification of seeing her beaming smile. There was that voice again, “Your daughter will feel like you’ve abandoned her and won’t even want to play with you when you get home. In fact, she probably will have forgotten who you are.”. What a load of BS my Anxiety monster fills my head with. To quieten that nonsense voice I asked Mr E to send me a few snaps of my Baba playing. It did make me feel a bit better, but I still missed her and that was a totally valid feeling.
I see a Mum who is grappling with her conscience about returning to work.
This week marked the end of my phased return to work from shared parental leave, stepping me up from 3 days in the office to 4. Anxiety has been lying to me all week telling me that I am letting down my baby girl by not spending enough time with her. It also tells me that I am not good enough in the office because I constantly feel like I am on catch up. Lies such as “any other normal Mother, without mental illness, would be able to balance the demands of home (like cooking, cleaning and life admin) with having super productive days in work.”. JUST NOT TRUE! I realise now that this is totally NORMAL. I need time to get used to this new working mum setup and I will get there. Maybe not this month but soon.
I see a brave Mum who is tackling some hard issues at the moment.
Why this week, with everything else going on, I don’t know, but I decided that now would be a good time to visit the GP and push for a more specific diagnosis of my mental health struggles. On the same day, I had an IAPT therapy session working through some difficult past traumas. It feels like everything I’ve ever tried to push to the back of my mind and lock away is now front and centre. I play out different ‘what if’ scenarios in my head a lot of the time at the moment and it’s emotionally exhausting. Of-course all of this was bound to throw up some tricky emotions. Emotion does not make me any less professional or less of a loving Mother.
What have I learnt?
So after all this emotional turmoil what have I learnt? Well, 3 things:
- Sometimes I need to cut myself some slack. Any Mama would struggle with a week like that. It’s a lot.
- To gain some perspective it really helps me to step back from the situation and think how I would react to a friend, family member or colleague who was struggling.
- Putting extra pressure on myself to always keep a lid on my emotions when I’m struggling probably just exasperates the issue.