Friday, August 5, 2016

Codependence at Work

As you know from reading my blog, I have been having some pretty strong reactions to the idea of going back to work. And by work, I mean some sort of full-time office-based job for a medium to large sized company. In short, a return to the corporate world and all of the expectations and demands that come with it.

The main reason is that I have finally found peace in my life. I am happy and content most of the time. And I have been able to spend over a year respecting my body and what it needs. Simple things like eating when I am hungry, drinking water and getting enough sleep. Especially the sleep.

In fact, every time I even contemplate the idea of going back to a full-time office job, the first thing I start to resent about the job is the potential disruption to my sleep. I need a good eight hours of sleep each night just to survive. I realize there are many people who live on much less, but I have come to the conclusion that eight hours is what I need. And if I don't get it, my heart races and I start to feel that familiar tingling sensation in my chest. Which makes it harder for me to focus or get things done.

There are some days when my body is completely worn out. For whatever reason. And I might even need an extra hour of sleep in the morning. Sometimes when the alarm goes off, I turn over and sleep until 9:00. Getting a new job with a set schedule and, potentially, a lengthy commute puts that extra hour of sleep at risk. Or even my required eight hours of sleep. I worry about how quickly that lack of sleep will take its toll on my body and my ability to function.

And of course, there is more than just sleep. An office job limits my ability to take my morning yoga class and have ready access to healthy food and fresh water. Of course some workplaces are better than others in terms of access to these things. I just remember that the "free" ice and water machine available at my old job tasted like chlorine. So even though it was available, I never wanted to drink it. I had to buy a bottled water from the soda machine, or more often I just waited until I got home.

I realize this probably sounds like a laundry list of overblown worries. Or even worse, I sound like a character from the once popular business book Who Moved My Cheese. Admittedly, I never read that book. I never made time to read back then. But whenever I would encounter someone in the office who seemed set in their ways or inflexible, I would anoint them as one of those "who moved my cheese people" and wish that they would just get over it already.

Now I am starting to understand a little about where those people might have been coming from. At least on some level. Maybe they were always a little bit apprehensive and protectionist. Or perhaps some of them, like me, had experienced a series of life events that caused them to drastically change their perspective.

Quite simply, I have a found a new rhythm. Or maybe I have tuned in to the rhythm that was always there. And that rhythm can change from day to day, or from week to week. My energy levels and moods vary, which results in different needs and priorities. At this stage in my life, I guess I am looking for a job (or some way of supporting myself financially) that allows me to honor those rhythms.

Now some people may be reading this and shaking their head in disbelief, saying "Of course you're so happy. You get to do what you want all the time. But that isn't real life. No one gets to eat when they want to eat and sleep when they want to sleep. We have responsibilities. We have priorities. We have real jobs!"

And maybe they are right. Or maybe not. I wonder where we all got the idea that it is ok to deprive ourselves of what we need just because we have responsibilities.

I was talking with a former colleague this week and we were reminiscing about working together late nights and weekends writing proposals at one of the many crazy jobs I have had. She told me that she still remembers one night that we were working late and trying to push through and I wanted to take a break and get some dinner. I don't remember saying this at all, but she remembers vividly that I told her "We are human. We need to eat!"

She said that even today, when she is sitting at her desk working a little too late, she will hear me utter those words. We are human. We need to eat. And then she will smile to herself and go take a break.

I feel a little like Liz Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, where she talks about being the person who gives out "permission slips" for creativity. Except that I am giving out permission slips for people to put themselves ahead of their job and other responsibilities - at least once in a while. And I would be delighted to be that voice for the people.

I had to learn my lesson the hard way, at great sacrifice to my health, the effects of which I still feel today. I can only hope that everyone else I care about doesn't have to do the same. Which brings me back to my present dilemma. To work, or not to work. Or maybe it is more like where and how much to work. That is the question.

As I shared with you previously, I am a codependent person. And I have gained some pretty good insights about how that has impacted my relationships and family life. But as I thought about going back to work and having to give up my sleep and potentially sacrifice my health for a paycheck, I was reminded that codependence can happen at work too.

All of those same feelings about being responsible for other's problems and putting the needs of others above your own. That is codependence. And that is exactly what I am so afraid that I will have to do if I take a new job. Ultimately, it is a feeling like I have no choice in the matter. A fear that I will have to do whatever the other person (or in this case, the company) wants me to do, regardless of whether it is what I want.

Ideally, I will be able to expand my writing business (RK BLISS, LLC) and continue to work on my own schedule. But even if I have to go back to a more traditional office setting, it is just a job. And although I will have some added responsibilities and a more defined schedule, I do not owe them my entire life. I still have a choice in the matter. If I am tired one day and I need extra sleep, I can just tell them that I will be in a little late. Or I can work at home. Or even take a PTO day.

I will admit that this was a hard concept for me to comprehend. Yes, of course I could do those things. But what if I need to take some time for myself once every few weeks? What if they write me up? What if they fire me for taking too many mental health days? And all of those what if's kept building in my mind. Until I finally stopped myself.

So what if they do all of those things? Even if my worst what if came true, unlikely as it may be, it is certainly not the worst thing that could ever happen to me. And if my potential new employer is the type of company that would write me up and fire me for taking care of myself, then I guess I would just have to find another place to work.

I am not the same person I was when I started on this path three years ago. But the only memories I have from the corporate world are through the eyes of that "old" version of me. Until the situation arises, I truly have no idea how the "new" me will relate to the corporate world.

Most of the time, I would like to believe that my what ifs are much worse that any situation I might actually find myself in.  But no matter what happens, the one thing I need to remember is that I have a voice. All of us have a voice.  And we all have the opportunity (and the obligation) to do whatever we need in order to feel safe, healthy and at peace. Consider this your permission slip.

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