Tuesday, October 26, 2010


OK, so what was THAT all about? Today I feel pretty much back to normal. There's a residual level of "I don't care about what I'm doing so it's hard to generate energy to actually do it", but I no longer feel like screaming and running away when I imagine doing this job for another two months or six months or whatever it ends up being. My therapist said that I wasn't "presenting symptoms of depression", and we speculated that it could in fact be PMS (or PMDD, she called it, premenstrual dysphoric disorder), or my subconscious realizing that T's birthday is coming up, or perhaps it was depression and the anti-depressant I've started taking has actually kicked in, or maybe it was the phase of the moon... Who knows? The plan is to see her again, continue with the anti-depressants, and pay attention three weeks from now when I'm premenstrual again. And not take the medical leave that had sounded so appealing last week, but seems quite unnecessary and even (dare I say) boring today. When I leave, I want it to be under my own power, as it were, if at all possible. Not, of course, that taking advantage of help, support, and a safety net is anything to be ashamed about. But only in the case of real need, and the need isn't there right now. As Emily Litella on Saturday Night Live would say, "Never mind!"

Monday, October 25, 2010


I decided over the weekend that I felt capable enough to stick it out another four weeks. I couldn't face the thought of my co-workers hating me for disappearing, for dropping the ball on them. (I think I have an over-inflated sense of my own importance.) And I haven't told my boss yet, either ... feeling guilty for potentially gaming the system, convincing my doctor that I'm having a harder time than I really am. I mean, I manage just fine most of the time, right? No crying over the weekend, or today, for example. Or is my judgment impaired, clouded by the chemical imbalances of depression?

Tomorrow afternoon I go see my therapist, someone who helped me through an emotionally rough pregnancy, postpartum depression, and T's death. Clearly, she knows me very well and will help me sort this all out. I feel very fortunate to have such supportive professional help.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Surprising Development

Well, now we have an interesting development in our story...

On Tuesday, that brutal day of pain and hopelessness, I contacted my doctor to follow up on the thought that there was something more to these big feelings than just work-related dissatisfaction. I saw her yesterday morning, and though I wasn't as emotional as I had been at other times in the last little while, I still cried as I described my struggle to perform and care about work. Surprisingly, she was pretty adamant that I take a medical leave, starting immediately.

She thought that a big contributor to my difficulties may be garden-variety depression -- a little Zoloft and talk therapy, and 3 months off, would help get me back in balance and enable me to approach the career transition question with more equanimity. I talked her into letting me stay for 4 more weeks, to complete the big event I'm in charge of pulling off, but now I'm even questioning that (the waiting, that is).

After the initial shock of the idea of "giving up" and "running away" and "letting down my co-workers" by taking a medical leave, I must say it's SO wonderful to imagine having peace and quiet in which to unwind and restore myself. I'm not thinking about a medical leave the same way I was thinking about a personal leave -- for a personal leave, the goal was to find my next purpose. For a medical leave, the purpose is to simply be. Make no decisions, don't try to learn or plan or make progress on a path. Just read, and walk, and meditate, and do yoga, and have lunch with friends. With a medical leave, I'm not making any statement about the job, and it will be there when I come back. If I'm feeling better and my doctor agrees, I can return before the 3 months is up. If I'm still in turmoil, she extends the leave.

So I'm going to take the weekend to come to terms with the idea of a medical leave, and think about whether immediately or in 4 weeks is best for me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

It comes and goes

Wow, yesterday was brutal. I felt like I was back in those terrible early months after T's death, where I couldn't think straight for the emotional pain I was feeling. It wasn't the same pain of loss, exactly; it was more like the hopelessness of seeing no way out of a nightmare. Of course, my job is nowhere near a real nightmare -- I have a wonderful supportive boss, all the flexibility and freedom I need, and the opportunity to use my brain every day. So what is so bad? What triggered yesterday's melt-down? (All is not exactly hunky-dory today, but I do feel much better, and capable of slogging through the work for at least a few more months.)

PMS aside, I think it might have been a combination of things. Last week I was given a new project to take on, ironically the type of project I've been asking for for a very long time (years!). But I was already so far gone in my disengagement that having to commit to something new, summoning all the needed energy, motivation and focus, felt beyond my abilities. I don't doubt my skills and capabilities to do the job, I told my boss, I doubt my motivation. (See? I am so fortunate to have a boss I can say that to, and not feel at risk for my job!) Committing to something that just doesn't feel in line with my life's purpose anymore felt so wrong. My essential self was screaming "NO!"

Of course, it probably didn't help to have spent so much time in spreadsheets, planning and plotting how I'll be able to afford not working. Knowing it's possible for some period of time makes it very seductive to imagine quitting when the going gets tough.

And on the "quitting, doing something new" side of the equation, I've been a software professional my whole career, pretty much all my adult life. That's more than 25 years of identity I'm considering stepping away from. What am I, if not a program manager? Will I be able to add enough value to the world if I don't leverage the experience and knowledge I've gained over these 25 years? Not knowing where I'm pointing yet, and contemplating jumping anyway, was really scary.

So I have reassured my essential self that I am serious about doing something different. I just need to get to know her better, to understand all of what is meaningful and energizing to me, before making any significant moves.

If you have gone through a career transition, what was it like for you? How did you know what the right next step was?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Spreadsheet Wishing

I spend hours in the evenings with spreadsheets and budgets, estimates and what-if scenarios, trying to find a way to feel comfortable walking away from my job. How long can I be unemployed? Do I downsize the house, and if so, how much? I feel unwilling to give up the luxury of this house, but I can cut my expenses in half if I downsize and do after-school care for B instead of have the nanny. Why don't I just do it?

I spent much of today crying on the job. Is that grounds for termination? I talked with HR, I talked with my boss. I met with a good friend tonight to review my many spreadsheets. The prudent thing to do is stay at this job until the next step becomes clear. When will that be? My boss and I agreed that with a new project, you need a couple months under your belt before even knowing if it's got the potential for being satisfying and/or engaging. Can I get through the next 2 1/2 months, until January? I have a small stock grant that vests at the beginning of February, and the final class in a certification program is held in March. Can I make it that far? Do I even care about professional certification in a profession I don't know that I'll remain in? Oh, I can't wait to be on the other side of this turmoil and see how it all turns out.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Work Continues

Since the Grief and Growing weekend in August, I've felt like I've turned another significant corner in my grieving. I feel done with active grieving, and my life feels normal again. I don't automatically cringe when seeing a happy family together, or feel the urge to share my story with new acquaintances. I am more sensitive to how that story makes others feel, and I just don't need to be heard so much anymore. Sure, my life is not what I want it to be, but it is what it is, and I'm comfortable in it. There are many positive things about it, including being able to make my own decisions, having quiet evenings to do my own thing, and being able to develop a really strong and secure bond with B. Of course, it's lonely, and I don't want to be in this situation forever. B has taken to asking "Why are we all alone?" and I think it comes from a need to hear me say again "because Daddy died".

Our anniversary was on September 21, and I just so happened to be having dinner with T's sister, father and father's wife that night. We toasted to the event, ruefully and with a smile. A few weeks later I set aside an evening and pulled out the wedding album and video, and reminisced about that happiest day of my life in 2002. Interestingly, I also was reminded of one or two things I didn't like about the wedding -- how T frowned and gestured to me as I came down the isle (OK, so the bouquet was bouncing somewhat dramatically), how I forgot to get a photo of our hands together in our wedding rings (I loved T's hands and have no real pictures of them). How our life together wasn't always what I had wanted or hoped it would be. But it was what it was, and I still sometimes miss him so much it aches.

So if my active grieving is complete, what's next? Well, the work issue has really come to a head. I have such a hard time going to work, focusing on work, caring about anything I do. The only thing that motivates me is helping others, not letting others down. My boss's requests keep me productive, otherwise I would just drift away and forget all my commitments. What am I going to do?

I've engaged a life coach to help me through this crisis. It's painful and difficult to live in the moment, but exciting and energizing to visualize doing something with my time that matters to the world and brings me joy. And I know it's out there -- I just have to do the work to find it.