Sabbatical

It’s funny how a stressful time can also bring clarity. I started out this year with dreams of contentment, progress, and moving forward. In my head that meant an ever-growing blog following, crazy social media stats, a blooming creative business, and finally, a light at the end of the tunnel on the last year of our lives.

I was talking to my mom recently, explaining to her how spending five weeks inside of a hospital room can make you realize just how unnecessary some things are in your daily life. The stress and the pause that forced on your life can create a vacuum where you have the ability to evaluate your time, your hobbies, your relationships, and the things that are important to you.

My entire outlook on life has changed in the last five weeks. Things that I once thought I was destined to do no longer seem of value. The petty, the dramatic, the time-suckers – they no longer deserve a place in my life. Life is short, and you’re, most certainly, not guaranteed anything beyond the here and now.

You see, I tend to go into things at one of two speeds: full throttle or half-assed. I thrive on the initial excitement that comes with a new idea or project, but as my enthusiasm begins to wane I lose sight of my founding inspiration, and then ultimately my desire to keep moving forward. I went at this year for The Corner Office full throttle. I was going to make my dream come true of writing for a living, and I was going to do it by growing this blog, creating social media pages, and interacting with the other bloggers in this community. In my quest to do this, I lost sight of my original passion: writing.

I’ve spent endless hours in a hospital room trying to go about my daily life – writing, posting, creating graphics, engaging on social media, keeping up with everything, and at some point, I just became so irritated with trying to keep up that I stopped. I took some time to pause. I reflected on what I wanted out of this space and this community – was it to create my own business? Was it to be some amazing, sought after, creative entrepreneur, photographer, graphic designer…the list is endless? No. I wanted to create a space to write, share my story, and, hopefully, inspire other people. I was disappointed with how distracted by the hustle I had become. I was going through life thinking about how I was going to document it for the masses instead of actually living my life. Which, let’s face it, is a huge problem in our society now – we live to share it on social media, not to actually experience it.

As I was packing my overnight back on one of my trips home I picked up my PowerSheets, a couple of markers, and a notebook. I wanted to take some time and search for clarity on how I see my life in the next year – it’s only March. There is so much time left in 2017 to get back to me. The next afternoon I spent a few hours, while Justin slept, looking out the window, sipping on coffee, and listening to…well…myself.

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The conclusion: I need to take a break and spend some time focusing on the real world and the things that are happening right in front of me. I need to be present. And being present means letting go of some things, at least for now.

I won’t lie to you, I contemplated contemplating deleting The Corner Office Blog. Walking away and getting back to focusing on just the writing was sounding really appealing. I asked a friend how crazy I was to even contemplate deleting TCO. She simply responded: You are not deleting your blog. I asked why and she said “I like it” – so there you have it. TCO will stick around, but, the constant pressure I put on myself to post, share, and promote will be going out the window.
I am taking a sabbatical. I’m not sure when I will post again – it could be tomorrow, next week, two months from now, or in a year. I am taking time to start planning my life out again and really listening to myself. Instead of letting the hustle take over, I am going to enjoy, I am going to learn, I am going to engage, and I am going to be present.

The New Normal, Again.

ruleI have been a out of commission lately. Upon Justin’s discharge from the hospital my role as his caregiver increased significantly before he was admitted back into the hospital through the ER late Sunday evening. To say the last week has been overwhelming and a rollercoaster of emotions would be an understatement. To read about how Justin’s doing, feel free to check out my latest update on Project: Transplant.

I learned a lesson in self-care this week. For weeks I have had people ask me: “Are you taking care of yourself?” – with rolled eyes, I said “yes, of course.” I felt fine, a little overwhelmed at times and tired, but I was okay. Coming home from the hospital was a shock to my system. I was excited, my husband was finally coming home after 21 straight days in the hospital, our puppy would finally have his human back, and I could finally take a breather from my constant commute back and forth.

No sooner did we walk in the door of our house did I realize how wrong I was. Being home, while slightly comforting, was completely overwhelming. There was no medical team, no routine, no doctors walking the halls – it was just me, a bag full of medications, some instructions, and our animals. What the hell had we gotten ourselves into?

Having not arrived home until after 9pm, we were both exhausted and decided that going to bed was probably the best choice for both of us. After a crappy night’s sleep our first official day home had started. Justin wasn’t feeling well, but pushed through, even showering before falling back asleep. The visiting nurse came by to show me how to operate his IV pump, clean his port lumens (lines), and take his vitals. So. Much. Information. Just thinking about disconnecting his IV, by myself, at midnight when his drip would be done gave me a whole new level of anxiety. Trying to hold it together, I found myself sitting in the garage, crying to my mom on the phone. I felt unprepared and inadequate to do all of this. I went to bed that night exhausted, but ready to do my part with disconnecting his IV meds. And, quite frankly, I kicked ass. I was quick, confident, and precise as I cleaned, flushed, and heparinized his lumen in under 10 minutes so he could get back to sleep.

Despite my midnight confidence it took less than half a day at home for both of us to feel overwhelmed. We made the best of it, but we knew we had a lot to figure out. By Sunday afternoon, as we were catching our groove, Justin spiked a fever of 100.8, warranting a call to the BMT unit. After being directed to go to the ER for admission, I packed up some of our things and felt a twinge of relief mixed with anxiety. It was scary that we had to head back so soon, but comforting to know he would soon be back in the BMT unit with his medical team. I made the decision, from the ER room, to take the week off of work. I had been working remotely while Justin was in the hospital, but just couldn’t find it in my power to focus on anything but what was right in front of us. It felt like a small self-care win.

I spent the night with Justin both Sunday and Monday, only going home briefly to shower and grab some additional things. When Tuesday morning came I felt panicky, I had a stomach ache, was convinced I had a urinary tract infection, was exhausted, and couldn’t do anything for my husband to help him recover. I was dreading talking to his doctor, assuming that my physical symptoms would mean they wouldn’t allow me to stay with him. I couldn’t stand the thought of being kept away right now. His doctor walked in the room, gave us an update and asked if we had any questions. Justin pointed at me and said “She doesn’t feel good.” I started bawling. She convinced me to go home, see a doctor, and get some rest. I did exactly as she said.

After lunch with my mom, seeing a doctor, doing a quick shopping trip, and picking up an antibiotic for myself, I was home. I sat in the sunroom with the windows open, ate dinner, and just took a breather. Around 6:30pm I shut the house up for the night and went into the bedroom, I was asleep within 20 minutes. Despite the felines waking me up a few times I slept until 8:30am on Wednesday morning, I couldn’t believe it. 13 hours of sleep in one night and I was convinced I could keep going. I forced myself out of bed, made some breakfast, took a shower, and prepared enough food to keep me satisfied for a couple of days at the hospital – something I had never taken the time to do before. I felt ready to get back to Justin.

I had convinced myself, over the last month, that I had been taking care of myself. I didn’t feel any more exhausted than I should, I made excuses for all of the signs of burn out I was experiencing. Of course I felt like this – my husband just had a bone marrow transplant.

That is no excuse. I didn’t adjust my self-care plan based on our new day to day life. I wasn’t increasing my water intake to compensate for the dryness of the hospital, I wasn’t being proactive with my food preparations because it was easier not to, I wasn’t napping when Justin was because I thought that was my time to “get things done”, I was lying to myself and to everyone else about my self-care and right when my role changed, it bottomed out on me. I had to, yet again, create a new normal. One that was focused on our physical and mental health FIRST. Everything else can wait for us.

 

The New Normal: Caregiver Guilt

the-new-normal_caregiver-guiltThere are so many layers to caring for a loved one that has an illness or medical issue. I thought I had experienced all of them, figured out and mastered, this role once and for all. It has been five and a half years since Justin’s original diagnosis, in that time he has participated in countless clinical and research trials, went through traditional chemotherapy, and has now spent a year of his life fighting this disease

I thought I was prepared. I thought I had figured out how to deal with the emotional aspect of being the caregiver to someone with cancer. The truth is, I wasn’t dealing with the emotional aspect of my role at all. I was avoiding it.

There is a part of me that shuts down when my husband is gearing up for, going through, or coming down from a treatment process. I become an all-business freight train. Every single thing that happens in my daily life is measured to what Justin is going through, not by him, but by me. I have less patience for nonsense, including my own.

There’s no crying in baseball.

Sometimes being a caregiver means you don’t get the time to deal with your own emotions, because, let’s face it, it’s easier not to. We all know it’s not healthy to ignore your own emotional and physical needs, but I’m here to tell you, as someone who avoided dealing with my own emotional well-being, it catches up to you.

There is this heavy guilt that comes along with taking time for yourself when you are also caring for someone else. It seems selfish to stop, to yell, to cry, to be still – there are so many other things that you could be doing – that you should be doing.

But just like the Delta Flight Attendants tell you: “Put your oxygen mask on first before assisting other passengers.”

Easier said than done.

Going into Justin’s admission I knew that I would stay the first night with him at the hospital but would head home the following night to spend some time with Bruno, our cats, and just get a good night’s sleep in our bed. As soon as, and I’m talking the minute, we walked onto the BMT unit the guilt set in. It was a pit in my stomach, a swarm of butterflies, all erupting at the thought of leaving him here to go back home the following night. The swarming caused this kneejerk reactionary crying that was unstoppable. I tried to hide it, to just swallow it and be present. It didn’t work.

I spent a good portion of our first night in the hospital and most definitely the second day crying about leaving Justin to go home. I asked him repeatedly if he would be okay on his own, knowing that he would say yes, and most likely needed me to get away from him for a few hours. He always said yes. Always.

As the hours ticked by the guilt was crushing me. How could I leave him here? Why am I reacting like this? Why am I not stronger about this? I felt so incredibly sad about him being in the room alone, and me in the car driving away from the hospital.

It’s strange being in the hospital for an extended amount of time. You lose your bearings and grasp on the real world, you forget about everything outside, the hospital campus, the hospital itself, and ultimately live life on a single floor. You forget what is going on around you. The realization of what’s going on out there while you’re stuck inside is paralyzing and overwhelming. I didn’t want to become part of the outside world while Justin was still stuck inside.

After several text message exchanges with my mother, a good friend, and conversations with Justin, I packed up my things for the night. I procrastinated on actually standing up to walk out the door. Started random conversations, putzed around on my phone, smiled at Justin with tears in my eyes. I was a mess.

Finally, I got up the courage to just go. I kissed Justin goodbye, asked him one final time if he would be alright and made him promise to call me, text me, and Facetime me. The waterworks started, he laughed at me, and pushed me out the door. I managed to make it to the car without having a nervous breakdown, drove the 20 miles back home, pulled into the garage, walked into the house, greeted my puppy, and collapsed on the bed crying uncontrollably. Bruno licked my face, laid down next to me, and once I felt like I had sufficiently gotten my emotions out, I set out to make some dinner and get ready for bed.

It wasn’t until the next morning, after getting a full eight hours of sleep, having the luxury of making my own coffee and breakfast, and being able to spend a few hours at home better preparing for my next trip to the unit, that I realized just how necessary that time was. I felt so much more refreshed and prepared to spend another night at the hospital. You see, I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by feeling guilty about needing to take time to recharge. I was nothing but a crying mess for 36 hours, and I’ll tell you what: crying messes are not useful in the bone marrow transplant unit.

I learned a valuable lesson with this new chapter over the weekend: taking care of yourself is imperative, and giving into the guilt is not an option. No one can be “on” all the time, it’s not a realistic expectation and chances are, no one expects you to fill quota anyway. Take time, be still, breath, recharge, and go back in the ring.

Fully Commit to the Foolishness

fully-commit-to-the-foolishnessIn an effort for full disclosure, I am stealing a line from a former executive I used to work with. I was standing in a room in front of the entire workforce within our organization, as Ice Ice Baby pumped through the sound system, and I was being forced to run through a tunnel of managers “like a basketball player” as my new “nickname” was announced.

“Emily, sometimes you’ve just got to fully commit to the foolishness.”

It was a groundbreaking moment for me.

I wanted to tell her, and my boss that was making me partake in such foolishness, to go take a flying leap. But I didn’t. I ran out as “Emily, don’t hesitate to facilitate, Paffenroth” was booming over the crowd. Ugh. I’m rolling my eyes even now as I type this on the screen.

She was right though, sometimes you have to let go of the reigns and just commit to the foolishness. Trying to make sense of everything and fold it up into a nice, neat, little box won’t make it any less foolish. The commitment allowed me to let go. To break free of how mortified I was, and how out of control I felt. It no longer was about the foolishness, but about how I was reacting to it.

I find myself, on a regular basis, having to remind myself to pick my battles and sometimes, fully commit to the foolishness. My constant need to fight the good fight can be downright exhausting. Not everything is going to make sense at the beginning, or even at the end, but there’s something tucked within the foolishness, even if it’s just a lesson about yourself, or at the very least, a good story to tell.

I mean, come on, can you picture me running through a crowd of people like a basketball player to Ice Ice Baby, at an all staff meeting!? Of course, you can’t! But it’s funny to think about, isn’t it?

In the midst of a difficult day yesterday, I found myself just feeling like I couldn’t keep up my pace. I couldn’t fully commit to everything going on in my life, I was overwhelmed. It left me in a holding pattern, a freeze, where I literally just sat on the floor of our resource center, padded the wall with bean bag chairs, put my laptop on my lap, and laid my head back. I contemplated just sitting there for the rest of the afternoon, I contemplated taking all of my PTO in the next two weeks, and I contemplated fully committing to the foolishness.

No one was asking me to run around to a 90s rap song in front of every staff member at my organization, so the foolishness wasn’t quite as blatant. The foolishness was me thinking I was failing if I didn’t give everything in my life 100%. That if I let some things go both physically, and mentally, that I wouldn’t be filling my role.

Regardless of my perception of what letting go means, I had to do it. I had to just focus on one task at a time, I couldn’t process everything all. the. time. I had to fully commit to the foolishness of knowing I can’t do it all. At least not by myself. Still, in my head, that seems foolish. I’ve always done it all before, why is this different? And in response to my own question: “it just is”.

This season in my life is just different than any other I have been through before. I can’t assume that will already be equipped to handle everything put before me, because nothing can prepare us for lays ahead for Justin and I. So I took a deep breath, and just tackled my work to-do list at that moment. I finished our February calendar, ran a process meeting, and went through all of my e-mails for the day, and then when 5:00pm came, I shut work down and focused on me. With yoga class at 6pm, I sat at the desk, put my headphones in and listened to the second half of one of my favorite podcasts until it was time to get up and hike it down the hallway. One thing at a time.

A Snow Day

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All week long the people of southeastern Michigan had been talking about the impending snow storm. It seemed as though it was anything anyone could talk about. Chatter of weekly plans turned into grumblings about snow. Not really the uplifting and anticipatory conversation we’re all used to.

As someone who is usually not a fan of snow, I was dreading the change in weather, that is until Sunday when it actually started snowing. We had no plans, the grocery shopping had been done, errands were checked off the to-do list on Saturday, and our plan was to enjoy a day on the couch. With six inches of snow accumulating outside there’s not much you can do but sit back, relax, and watch the world turn to white.

My entire Sunday was spent on the couch watching movies with Justin while some chicken enchilada soup simmered in the crockpot. It was relaxing and exactly what I needed. As the evening rolled in I let my hopes of a Monday snow day grow and started thinking of all the things I’d do if I was given a second day within the four walls of our house. It wasn’t long after that I got the text message from my boss, a snow day was granted. A day with no expectation and no where to go.

I let my alarm ring as usual, around 5:40 – I might have let it snooze a few extra times, but I was up early, like usual, drinking my coffee and watching Morning Joe. Justin and I spent some time outside finishing off the driveway and sidewalk from the last of the snow we got overnight – him with the snowblower, me with the shovel and salt. After spending time in the backyard with Bruno in the snow, thoroughly frozen, we came inside to thaw and to start the rest of our day. I got to work on some projects for the blog, watched some television, made some food, and again, relaxed while I could.

While I haven’t accomplished much and I’m still not, quite what you would call, a fan of snow, I was grateful for the last two days isolated from the rest of the world. It was refreshing to have two days with no expectations or agenda. I highly suggest that to anyone needing a recharge, and I won’t lie – the snow storm helps.

I hope, snow or not, that everyone had a productive (in whatever that means for you) Monday! My biggest accomplishment, other than the delicious chicken enchilada soup, was FINALLY finishing my About Me page for the blog. Head to the blog and you can check out the new format too! Have a great week!

Signs and a Single Question

signs-and-a-single-question

I like to consider myself a logical person. I need an explanation and an understanding for everything. If you’ve been following The Corner Office for a while, or know me personally, this isn’t a surprise. I need information. Data. Understanding. A plan. I don’t believe in signs, or that the universe provides guidance as you go through life. There’s no explanation for that. No logic.

It does not compute.

2016 brought some hits to my little family. It hasn’t been easy, quite frankly, it has been one of the most difficult years for me personally. In that stress, anxiety, depression, and time of unknown I’ve been searching for the signs and looking for the explanation for the challenges that have been presenting themselves at every turn. It was surprising at first that in the absence of logic, I search for understanding in the universe – a concept that I don’t buy into. I suppose an explanation, any explanation, is better than nothing.

They’re small, but they’re there.

I was ambushed last week with some unexpected news, it came at a time when I wasn’t prepared to take it in. I was engaged in something else, something that needed my full attention and when I looked down at my phone are read the text messages it hit me like a ton of bricks. I turned my back to the group of people that I was supposed to be training, closed my eyes and when I opened them there were two of the most supportive people I’ve ever met staring back at me. Concerned looks on their faces, and I started crying. In that second I knew that these people were in my life for a reason, most likely for this very moment. To quietly comfort me while my back is to a room full of people, get me to refocus, and move forward in what needed to be done. Then the walked away. They didn’t push, they didn’t drag information out of me, they knew exactly how I needed to be supported in that situation. My relationship with them was for this exact moment.

The clarity made me further realize what will be important in the coming months – taking care of myself. I will be forced to make decisions on how my time is spent based on what my mind, body, and spirit needs. Justin’s transplant is looming around the corner and it will be the biggest fight of his life. My job during that time will not be anything other than supporting him to heal, a major part of that will be taking care of myself. My natural inclination to hustle, to push through, and raise the bar will be replaced with one question:

what-do-i-need-right-now-1

Whatever the response, that will be the new plan of action. Instead of creating an aggressive to-do list, I will be taking each day as it comes. If I need to rest, I’ll rest. If I need to focus on work, I’ll work. If I want to blog, I’ll blog. Caring for Justin and taking care of myself – that’s my new 2017 goal. Nothing more, nothing less.

In the last four days there were a series of signs that brought me to this place. A series of conversations, pieces of information, random social media posts, and observations pointed me toward reframing my expectations for 2017. I’m grateful that they were there and that I was open enough to see them fall into place.