Getting back to work

Recovery takes a long time, but getting back to work can be part of the process. People with depression have reported that taking time off work has in some cases been a negative experience because it cuts them off from social interaction, a sense of productivity and allows too much time for rumination.

I took four weeks annual leave in January 2009 hoping I would be well enough to return to ministry at the end of it, but by February, I wasn’t any better, so I was forced to resign. I took all of February and March off work and assumed the household responsibilities while my wife was settling into a full time job. I got all the routines going for shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry and kids wake and sleep times. Then I started to think about getting back into the workforce.

As I mentioned in Things Pastors do to Recover, I began physically demanding work in a greenhouse at the toughest time of year, when all the plants are being torn out and new seedlings put in. My body took a few weeks to adjust, but working up a sweat was fantastic. I did this and electric fencing on a dairy about three to four days per week, always knocking off by around 3pm so I could be home for the kids.

In March of this year (after 12 months of purely physical work), I tentatively applied for a job working as an education officer in a mental health support group with a national not-for-profit charity. This has obviously been more in line with the work I used to do, but again, not too demanding because it’s only two days per week. I decided to apply for the job, because it utilized my strengths and experience. I figure that if I work in my strengths in an area that I’m passionate about, then it shouldn’t be draining. After my three month contract ran out, they created a new position for me and since then, I’ve been offered more days, but have refused.

So, I pick tomatoes on Mondays, then work in the Family Mental Health Support Service team for two days per week. I’ve found three days, to be the maximum I can work and still get everything around the house done without losing it. On the occasions I’ve had to work another day, it takes me to the edge of my capacity and I start to get irritable and short-tempered, and I run out of head-space.

So getting back to work has been a long cautious process, but I’m enjoying what I do and I think that’s a key. I’ve been fairly picky about what I’ve done, because my health and recovery is such a high priority. The better I get, the more engaged I am with my family and the more I look beyond myself. I’ve found I can balance my energy levels with work and home after some experimentation, but have noticed that I need to have at least one day each week with no-one around me at all.

I’d love to hear about how you got back to work and how that worked in with your recovery.

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5 Responses

  1. I agree with most of your comments, Jack but beg to differ on others…. My journey has been similar but different.

    When ‘the wheels fell off’ for us, we saw a number of things as very necesary: 1) get well away from the church we served – to allow new leadership to do what they need to do without the spectre of our presence, and for our own sake – to disconnect from all the memories and reminders of pain. Not that these were bad people – far from it – but because one pours their heart and soul into a church and to lose that is painful. Constant reminders are not helpful to an open wound!
    2) take a long break away from the world we knew and re-charge.
    We did this by exhausting our long service leave and then continuing on aworking holiday – a total of six months.

    In my view, it was the best thing we have done in a while! We went and experienced places and people we has always wanted to and detatched from the humdrum of ‘normal’ life. Quite the opposite of ruminating on the past, it set us up to think outside the box for the future.
    We have been on this journey for more than five years and now feel like we are near whole again.
    I found similarly to you that I was incapable of a full workload initially, but now find I happily cope.
    There is no blueprint for recovery and it is very personal, but there are some key principles we ignore at our peril

  2. reddirt, fantastic comments. I think you’re spot on. In fact if I could have done what you did, I think recovery would be quicker. I definitely agree that getting out of the church context is better for yourself and for the new leadership. You end up being the elephant in the room otherwise.

    Also just being in new places and doing “normal” things is so refreshing. There’s nothing like being in new places to help one think outside the box.

    Interesting you mention five years. My psych told me it would take five years. I said “I haven’t got five years!”. She backed it up by saying that’s how long it takes to get over a divorce and explained that being a pastor and losing your ministry and church was just like a divorce. Now I realize she’s right….

  3. Found your blog via Mclaren. http://brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/brian-thanks-for-your-books.html Glad you found his book helpful as it has a number of pastors. Look forward to reading the rest of your journey.

  4. I did not really have a choice. I had to work as both myself and my wife were burnt out, so both left working for church and I went back to working in the IT industry again. The first year was just a pretty low stress job. Some days, back at home by 3. No long hours…etc. What was good was the job was in a different country to where we were pastoring. That was such an important element in our process. We are still along way from recovery and it took me a year just to be positive about things again, though there are still dark days. Now I feel like I am running on empty and wonder how long more I can go on before I risk another breakdown.

  5. Hey RS, it doesn’t sound good right now. You can’t run on empty for long. I figure we’ve gotta run the emotional tank on positive for as long as we ran on negative to get back to neutral! Would hate to see you breakdown again. What have you got in place to care for yourself? If you run your car without servicing it, it will eventually breakdown…..

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