Another selfish post. I’m writing it as a reminder to me so I remember what I learned over this sabbatical time.
Note to self: It’s not optimal to plan sabbatical during a Covid-19 outbreak.
It was the worst of times and the best of times (yes, I know I did that quote in reverse — it was on purpose). This was a sabbatical I would never plan, and would never recommend. But it was a gift. On many levels. It basically became a summer of mental and physical health.
I’ve written about this before so for regular readers who don’t need to get the summary again, feel free to jump past the review to see what I’ve learned.
Going in I had great plans.
A company trip to Austria followed by time with my dear cousin in Denmark, back to NY to visit relatives on Long Island and friends in NYC before seeing Mom Pollock then heading west for our youngest son’s wedding. We’d stay in Utah for a month (originally planning to see friends in Alaska during that time) before heading east using a southern route to see more wonderful relatives. Finally we were to anchor in MA for August and work on our apartment. This would be followed up by two weeks of catching up at work then a trip to Florida for a company-wide meetup for our Grand Meetup.
Plans?!?! Haha. Covid cancelled all the travels, the wedding was postponed, and my neck pain was a symptom of a problem that was worse that I realized.
The last month I worked I was in so much pain I literally had a scarf tied around my arm like a sling because the weight hurt my neck so much I couldn’t type without the scarf. But that led to painful bruising. You just can’t win sometimes, you know?
During sabbatical, I spent the majority of time resting away from screens, going to Physical Therapy several times a week and exercising the other days to try to get my head turning again and to relieve stress in my shoulders, neck and back.
Tomorrow I start work again, and I’m about 80% recovered according to the latest analysis from my physical therapist. Now the trick is to keep healing and not regress. Prayers, good vibes, whatever are welcomed 🙂
What I Learned:
So this is a lot. Small things, but a lot.
- It’s time to prioritize. I’m learning limitations. What do I really value in life, and what am I willing to do to claim those values? Sabbatical has taught me to get quality by slowing down. I don’t need to be everywhere doing everything. After anger, frustration, despair, anxiousness, etc (and not necessarily in that order or even as one-time-dealings) as I faced weeks upon end of not traveling, I finally settled into a happy place. Of course traveling will always be a joy to me, but I think I will slow it down a bit. Even when the world opens up again.
- People-ing. I’m over-social. During this sabbatical I learned that just because I love people, it doesn’t mean I need to be close friends with everyone. It’s totally okay to enjoy the company of hotel guests for a few days and not give an email address so we can be in touch in the future. That said, it’s a gift to sit down and have a Zoom coffee with close friends and family on a regular basis. And to visit with local friends as schedules permit.
- Passion or Pain?. My current after-work passions of Python and MySQL are very fun, but if I have to limit screentime, then it’s time to drop them as hobbies and find new off-screen hobbies. So I have done that. Maybe someday in the way future I will be able to enjoy those again, but for now, they have to be put to the wayside.
- Technology. My job is more than a job to me. It’s a connection. It’s a life force. I love WordPress, and I love the people who use it. But I need to be able to shut a computer off at the end of a work day and focus on non-screen time. Ironically, I think my WordPress friends would be the first to tell me this was true.
That’s why I started drawing (just for me — never for a gallery or even gifts). The truth is that I am not gifted in that arena. It’s okay. Moving the pencil across the paper and shading are peaceful endeavors for me. And when I draw something, it makes me look closely at what is around me. I have to be still to observe, and I see more beauty.
I was talking with a loved one about this, and she commented on a unique conversation she had with someone who was terminal. She didn’t want to talk about the past as others were doing, and there was really no point in talking about the future so they talked about the present. What do you see now? How do you feel? What do you smell?
It is really life-changing when one starts to do this, and it becomes a habit.
My other non-tech hobby has been cooking. I know, I know. All of you who have known me for the past 48 years can go ahead and laugh. Who would have figured? My current favorite recipe is Zucchini Soup with Curry Spices. I’m using this cooking hobby to also connect with my grandgirl. Haha.
Avalon is now one-year-old, and I get to see her next month. She is totally into Frozen II so I try to watch that while I cook so I can learn the songs and enjoy singing them with her. Olaf is really funny. I think his parts are my favorite in the movie.
- Pain or Passion Part II. While my job is more than a job to me (it’s a connection, a mission and a meaning to wake up every day to me), it’s not worth living in constant pain over. Quality of life is best.
To get back to my job in a healthy manner, I have been tracking my natural rhythms (and Chris’ as well) to find optimal work times. I’ve consulted with my physical therapist and my job coach, and hopefully now have a decent plan for managing pain and balancing all I love.
My goal is to keep my 4-day work week so I don’t have more than two consecutive workdays. That way, if I am needing time to rest my body and lie flat, I have regular opportunities. I’ll check in with physical therapy every other week now for a bit then hopefully once a month.
Meanwhile I’m also getting a lot of great benefits from deep tissue massage. My scapula is still twisted and my left shoulder is still higher than my right, and my trapezius refuses to relax no matter what I do so the massage and physical therapists are helping work through those issues and move my bones back in place.
During my work day, I’ll have reminders that notify me to check how I’m standing (not slouching) and to make sure I’m not letting tension manifest in the rising of my shoulders. I will also make sure to move my head side-to-side and up and down regularly. After work, I’ll make sure I hit the treadmill (if it’s dark out) and do my shoulder exercise routines from therapy.
One of the main reasons I improved so much (physically) during sabbatical was because I exercised numerous hours a day. From treading water at times to lifting weights during specific routines assigned by my physical therapist to miles and miles and miles hiked in the woods and around our town. The woods walks were on a pretty steep incline, and my heart rate hovered in the upper 180s for those walks. As a side benefit, all the exercise lowered my cholesterol, too. I hope I can keep all that exercising up by doing an hour or two on work days and woods hikes on my days off.
Hopefully that will all work. I guess time will tell. I do know that getting back to the state I was in back in May is not an option if I can help it at all.
I’m very thankful that Automattic offers great health insurance benefits, which lets me get the help I need there.
- Sleep. This is kind of a big one. I’d had insomnia for a few months before sabbatical. Then for the first couple of weeks of sabbatical I kept dreaming I was on the job. That’s not very relaxing, and I was exhausted. Chris said I was even typing in my sleep. When I mentioned this to some of my colleagues, they said it was not unusual. Two nights ago I started dreaming work again. It’s time to take action and proactively take steps to stop thinking of work in my sleep.
If you have any suggestions on how to do that, I’d love to hear it. I’ll be researching on my own, too. That’s probably a good question for my job coach as well.
So in summary, the sabbatical wasn’t the joy of world travel or even much local travel. It was a time of anchoring. Body and soul. It was hard mentally — learning where I go too far and where I don’t go far enough. It was challenging physically — yet now I’m stronger and feel healthier than I have experienced in a really long time. I’m able to be more present (and enjoy it).
As a bonus, the time spent at our apartment allowed us to knock lots of items off our dream list so my home is truly my sanctuary.
I’m ready to go back to work, and am really looking forward to tomorrow morning. It’s been tempting to sneak into Slack and my P2s to see what’s going on ahead of my first day. But I didn’t. It’s that work/life boundary I’m learning. See? There’s hope for me yet 🙂