Sometimes the hardest conversations are those you have with yourself.
Despite outward appearances, I still haven’t recovered fully from that eventful few hours just over four years ago. I think I have done well to maintain an air of “I’m fine” since then, and to be honest I’ve largely believed that. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I have been lying to myself and others. More a case of concocting a story that’s plausible enough to hide behind. Subtle, but important distinction.
My motor functions have returned to normal: right leg and arm both functioning as they were before my TIA. I’m ever so relieved about that. However, I can’t say the same about some, but not all, of my cognitive abilities.
To many people, especially at work, I give the impression of being on top of things: always busy and making a decent contribution. Truthfully, though, I might be all of those, but at a price. I’m having to work 25% harder just to keep up, but I’ve not told anyone that, or admitted it to myself, until very recently.
I feel like I’m on a confidence and competence roller-coaster. For example, I can be delivering a presentation and be in full flow, but know that at any minute I could trip over a word, or momentarily lose my train of thought. I used to take those blips in my stride, but more recently the rebound has not been quite as sharp. Self doubt has crept up on me, and it’s hard to shake off.
The support from close colleagues has been terrific, but I am conscious that as time goes on there is a risk I’ll become a passenger, or worse a liability. I have carried a heavy and varied workload over the last year or so, and I know this comes with the role. I just have not been able to cope as well as I have in the past. I’m not sure how much of this I can attribute to the continuing recovery from my mini-stroke, my workload and associated burden that has placed on my brain, the pace of change in the workplace, or the passing of Father Time.
I suppose the cause doesn’t matter as much as the impact.
The Mask Has Slipped
I have laughed off the numerous times I’ve forgotten someone’s name (or applied the wrong one), looked blankly at someone who comments on an email I sent the previous day (and can’t quite remember what was in it), or skipped a lunch break because I’m worried I’ll lose my train of thought for a specific piece of work. The one thing I haven’t done is ask for any allowances in work: that’s probably down to not wanting to accept, or believe, that I may not be capable of doing the job I’m paid to do.
Eileen would say I’m stubborn.
Applying a coping strategy to mask my issues has left me mentally exhausted far too often. Too tired to go dog walking, other than at the weekend. I can’t concentrate sufficiently to follow the plots on the detective shows on television or a long film. I’ve given up on trying to read a book as I just can’t remember characters’ names as the chapters pass.
I’ve finally realised that the stress of trying to maintain this pretence is no longer worth risking my health for. So, it’s time to be honest with myself, take stock and move on to something different. My physical, mental and emotional health requires a bit of medication, but not the chemical type.
After having a long chat in my own head, and then with Eileen, I have applied to take early retirement at the end of this year. Not an ill-health retirement, but one of choice.
This is the biggest, and most difficult decision I have had to make for quite some time. It fills me with dread and excitement in equal measure. It comes with potential financial risks, but could produce even bigger benefits.
I accept that money is going to be so much tighter as a consequence, but time on this planet is short. I’ve spent all my adult life looking out for others. This is the most selfish (in a good way, I hope) thing that I can remember doing.
This decision is not a defeatist one. Although I am finding some things more difficult, it’s not all doom and gloom.
My map reading and sense of direction have never been better, so there is obviously something happening as my brain rewires itself. I’ve taken more time to get out into the fresh air and noticed how wonderful nature is. I reckon I’ll be spending more time out and about.
A New Start
On my first day at the University of Ulster, when I was training to be a Careers Adviser, my lecturer asked the class what was meant by “career”. We were all wrong, of course, as we came to an agreed position that it meant the jobs people did. With a knowing smirk, having deliberately set us up to fail, he told us that a “career” is what we do with our lives, and the roles we take on.
I’m looking forward to my career continuing for some time.
I may be fortunate and find another job, but I’d be equally as happy doing some long overdue DIY around the house, helping out with a bit of volunteering, spending more time with Eileen (obviously), and generally seeking out new challenges. I’ve even recently enrolled in an evening class!
There will be plenty of roles to keep me busy: husband, dad, brother, uncle, friend, tourist, football supporter…….
Spending time with Eileen will be more rewarding than attending a meeting. Taking Maxx out for a walk will be preferable to the daily commute. Writing on this blog site or authoring a new book will (hopefully) keep the grey matter ticking over as much as being in my current job. If I can find something that allows me to give something to a deserving cause, that would be great.
I know I’m going to miss the great people I work with, and will blub like a baby on my last day. They have done so much to help me through the last few years. Those closest to me know how tough this decision has been, but I think they have recognised that the time is right to move on for my own good.
So, at fifty-five years of age, I’m finally taking the advice I have been so keen to dish out to others over the years.
I have a blank page that needs filled……
ADVERT: Male, 55 years old, with occasional memory lapses, who will forget your name but will give 100% enthusiasm, seeks considerate and understanding partner* to share experiences.
*organisation, I mean. I’m not looking to replace Eileen!
I often finish my pieces with a quote, but this time I have two.
“We are all just a car crash, a diagnosis, an unexpected phone call, a newfound love, or a broken heart away from becoming a completely different person. How beautifully fragile are we that so many things can take but a moment to alter who we are for forever?” Samuel Decker Thompson
“You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing, but what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover will be yourself.” Alan Alda,