4 months after…
While writing these pages im my blog theheartknows, I let myself be guided by my wish to remember everything that happened, especially my feelings, the healing progress and personal experiences since the operation.
I want to keep reminding myself of the changes I perceive in myself since the emergency and life threatening acute ascending aortic dissection, type A, and I have a need to understand what went on before and why this led up to such a dramatic experience. Already, the Gabriela before the event seems to fade away and I sometimes cannot relate well any longer to my memories and the anxieties I had lived with before. The Gabriela after the event does not give the same relevance to some circumstances and day-to-day events than before. Some things clearly take precedence now, mostly related to how I feel about certain things and what my body is telling me.
I have needed to shift my perspective to other things in my life and have come to regard them as more important. Now, I consciously need to take better care of my body as it still feels extremely vulnerable. It shows me every time without fail when I attempt to overlook the signs and just continue as I was used to before in any stressful situation. I am learning for the first time how to take a step back, breathe and take it slower. This is extremely difficult for me to do! At times, when I feel under pressure, I might quickly try to convince myself that I can just continue a little longer with my work or some other chore, to finish it and only then take it easy. But in such a situation, I inevitably end up with a high blood pressure and not feeling well. My threshold for stress is markedly lower.
When I now ask myself what I feel is important in my life and what I still want to achieve, there is a distinct diference to the goals I had before. And yet, I am sometimes afraid that I might fall back to the way I was before, how I had handled situations and what had been driving me then. I perceive the differences in myself now, after the operation, but at the same time, I am still in the same environment, still living in the same apartment and still working for the same organisation, if not in the same position. My writing about my feelings and perceptions from this altered perspective after the emergency helps me to remind myself of what I now find important and worthwhile compared to how I was leading my life up to this event.
Back to office work
Going back to the office, about 4 months after the emergency operation and acute ascending aortic dissection, and meeting my colleagues and team members was stressful for me and I was fearful. Of course, I loved seeing all again and feeling their relief and compassion about my emergency and slow recovery but after all this time of not being part of the organisation, I felt left out. Things had changed since then, especially as the organisation already had been in the process of many system changes and expansions of various departments. During the months I was away, a lot had been achieved and newly implemented of which I had not been part of.
Even though everybody was eager to share their news and try to fill me in, I had missed all the different stages of development in-between and had not been part of the decision makings.
I felt ambiguous toward the changed situation when I came back. My assistant had taken over the department, first only on an interim basis, and while being grateful that she had done a wonderful job, at the same time, I was also alarmed. While she is very outgoing and direct, I am usually calmer and naturally, she had handled the projects well but different from how I would have taken them on. By now our customers and suppliers as well as the entire department had gotten used to her approach and she had been successfully leading the entire team toward the necessary technological changes.
When I first returned, I had been assured by my boss that my assistant would be in my management position only to hold my place for me until I had fully recovered. They were waiting for me to come back full time and be able to dive back into work as before. They hoped for me to sooner or later be handling the full work load again, including frequent overtime and travels. It was made clear to me that this would be the precondition before it could be considered to have my assistant step down again from the management position and to let me take over again. Even this first day back in the office, I wasn´t too sure that this could happen again at all.
Then months passed and it became clear that I would not be able to come back full time any time soon. I feared that they might now consider me as not reliable enough and not really stress resilient. Even working only part time, I felt the little responsibility I was given as a burden and was unable to handle any kind of stress. My blood pressure would start rising to dangerous levels alone from my own wish to complete one little project by the end of my working day. I think this reflected on the others as well and after a while, it became clear to my team and my boss that I would not be able to go back to my old position and job in the near future, if ever again.
Some of the team members in my department had either been newly employed right before my emergency or had been hired while I was in hospital. Therefore, they did not know me and they were naturally shown their job and responsibilities by my former assistant who was now heading the department. I felt like the newcomer when I returned and resented that feeling at first. I needed to let go of my position, responsibilities and of being the point of contact for questions and concerns. This was not easy and I felt left out and not needed in my department. At work, I had the desire to be able again to perform as before and be a reliable and able team member. However, my body showed me quite clearly that I could no longer keep up, no matter how much I resented having to see the changes and not be part of them.
When discussing my work situation and possibilities with my boss, I had to admit that I would be unable to fulfil the management requirement and I understood that I needed to permanently step down. I felt humiliated and was hurt every time when I heard that a new decision was taken and implemented without my active participation. I would now not even be included in new processes right way. As I was in the office only twice a week, sometimes I would routinely do a task, only to find out later that a procedure had been changed and should now be handled in a different way.
At times, when uncertain about procedures, I might not dare to even ask as everybody seemed incredibly busy and overworked and I did not want them to have to take time to fill my gaps and explain changed routines to me.
No longer needed
This became especially apparent to me during their intense preparatory time for specific yearly meetings which I had previously always had actively participated in. And now I was going to miss them altogether. I felt rejected and useless as I was not even planned in for our biggest yearly event still some months away.
I felt like a stranger in the office and most people in our department felt like strangers to me, too. By then, the IT system had completely changed, my office space was somewhere else, all my office belongings had been moved for me before I came back and not even the telephones worked in the same way any longer.
There was a lot for me to learn during the 2 days a week I was allowed by my doctor to work in the office, and my opinion regarding new proposals was not needed any longer. Nor was I asked to join any discussions about our strategic goals and objectives, which had also changed and expanded during my absence. I first had a lot of reading up to do and everybody thought it best if I took the time to familiarise myself with the new IT systems and the strategic decisions taken before even considering attending any meeting or other event.
Even though I was uncertain as to whether I would even have the strength to attend the exhausting meetings, I sometimes left the office feeling that I was now really useless. It was hard to accept that life had gone on and so much had changed within the short 4 months I had been away. I was finding myself at the side-lines, clearly manoeuvred out of my position by all the things that had happened. I had to cope with the feeling of being inadequate and not needed.
Another part of me was relieved not to have to attend the upcoming endless meetings, to have an excuse to miss all the intense preparations and especially not to have to be on a plane to get there.
I was beginning to take a close look at myself and was starting to feel the wish to find out what I really wanted from now on and what could, in the future, become more important to me, perhaps more important than trying to re-identify with a job that was no longer mine.