I started working 32 hours a week on August 30, 2015.
Everything stopped. My healing. My hobbies. My exercise.
I was desperate to hold on to my job. At the end of August my FMLA again ran out, and – according to my job – I either needed to work full time (40 hr/wk) or take an unpaid medical leave of absence. For my healing, I would have taken the unpaid medical leave of absence. For my security, and for my mortgage, my love of good food, and my pride at being able to support myself, I chose to work.
Now, there is no way in the world I can work full time. Period. Probably, if I was listening to my body, I’d work about 20 hours a week at my job. I was already at 27 hours per week, trying to make my FMLA stretch farther and last longer.
A request for reasonable accommodation under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was my only option, my last chance to keep working. Last year, I requested to work 25 hours a week under the ADA, and they rejected that option as unreasonable. I subsequently was forced to either lose my job, or go on a two month unpaid leave of absence until my FMLA reset. I chose to take the leave and return to fight another day.
This time as I filled out my ADA request, I was not alone. Mary helped me. My Voc Rehab counselor helped me. We discussed. We used strategy. I stretched the realm of what was actually possible for me. And, from that, I ended up with an ADA request that said I could work 32 hours a week (!!#%??) and can perform all of the essential functions of my job.
I can perform all of the essential functions of my job. Period. My mental acuity has returned to a good 80% of what it use to be, at least in the morning. I know my job well and have been doing it for over eight years – no surprises, very few new things to learn. Perfect for one recovering from a brain injury.
Now, the other part. 32 hours per week. Pre-injury, that seems like a gift – a light load, barely working at all. Gee, what would I do with all that free time? Post-injury, it makes me smile and laugh a bit insanely.
Craaaazy. Craaazy. Just Crazy.
What’s the difference between 32 hours a week and 27 hours a week, which I was just managing with my sanity intact? Good question.
The difference is being able to exercise. Make dinner. Chat with friends. Have hobbies. Creating a budget. All of it. Five hours made a huge difference in my life. I was cutting my ability to function so close to the bone, to make 27 hours a week, that those five extra hours pushed me off a cliff. I went from okay, I’m making it to ut oh, not making it.
The irony of a brain injury is that I am not the one who notices it the most, because my brain isn’t working so well. My life becomes a fog, there is no time for extra feelings or extra thinking. Only the now, the right now in front of me, can have my attention and that right now gets what I have – whether that be something or nothing.
Now, to be fair, life has not bombed down to where it was before I started seeing my acupuncturist. No. I don’t have headaches every day, or at least not all day anymore. I’ve only been drawn down that far a few times in the last few months (those that live with me might have a difference count).
I become a zombie when I’m chronically overdrawn… so I don’t really notice how crappy things are, except to moan all of the time about how tired I am….
The lack of energy makes it impossible to think too deeply about “things”. Analyzing a situation is an executive function, after all. Part of me thinks it might also be the brain protecting me while it heals.
I realized how zombie-like I had become this past Thursday.
Thursday after work, I grabbed dinner out because Mary had an art opening at Champlain College and I wanted to stop by there before going to my clay class that same night. At Subway, I decided to get a soda to go with my sandwich. It was 20 oz I think – rather crazy to think some people drink that stuff every day, that I use to drink it every day as a teenager. Anyway, I got some Coca-Cola and enjoyed it with my meal.
Then the caffeine started to kick in.
Caffeine is a powerful drug. It is a wonderful, mood enhancing upper whose power to change one’s attitude cannot be overstated. It must be used wisely, as there is a cost to the body’s health for the artificial time of abundant energy. Most people probably don’t notice, just like I didn’t notice before brain injury. Since I so often play it so close to my edge, my cliff, it is much more noticable when I push my body and mind too far.
Anyway, the caffeine kicked in. My awareness sharpened. I actually see more when I have more energy – visually perceive more of my environment. I also become more aware of social cues, how someone might be feeling, what is expected of me – within the limited frame of my current ability – not to where I was before.
I attended Mary’s opening. She has excellent stuff. Here is my favorite from the show:
The opening was an awkward mixer, as they often are at the beginning. The food spread and open bar was excellent – a testament to the affluence of the college and their willingness to spend lavishly on non-class-related items. The irony, for me, was that they probably spent as much printing and framing Mary’s work as they would pay her for teaching an entire semester class as an adjunct professor. This one time, though, it worked to her advantage (my commentary, not hers).
I wasn’t particularly energetic, even with caffeine, after a 6 hour work day and it being 5 pm. I made it through okay, still not use to the slight awkwardness people have with my more butch affect. It is very noticeable to me, with so little energy and so few walls, and I no longer have the surge of energy and aggression to push back against it. One of many small battles I do my best to gracefully survive right now because I don’t have the energy to win.
Anyway, after thirty minutes I headed out to get to my clay class.
As I walked in to the clay studio, I walked into a world notably different than my usual one.
People were friendly instead of cold and distant. I chatted, made minor jokes. Noticed and commented on others work. Had some ability to see each of the people around me as individuals with independent needs and feelings, versus a mass of not-me that I somehow had to handle in my sphere as I struggled to do this thing I remember as “fun”.
Turns out I do know how to center clay on the wheel. I’d been having a fucking hard time making that work the last month and a half of class. That night, it just worked. The teacher, Chris, demonstrated several bottle and spout making techniques, and I was able to moderately absorb the information. Then, I had the mental ability to try out making bottles on the wheel. I felt like I was playing around, laughing as one and then another bottle experiment self destructed, while usually I had been feeling intensely frustrated and depressed each time my creation died.
I started feeling just the delicate tendrils of ideas, of creativity, the tentative feeling of wanting to make something just beginning to blossom. There had been no energy for organized plans. I had made several halfhearted attempts when Chris asked at the beginning of class what we wanted to work on – plates of the same size, a bowl with 5 lbs of clay – but those things hadn’t sunk deeply enough to connect with my heart, with my core. There was no spirit behind those desires. But, this Thursday, under the influence of caffeine, I could finally just start to feel that light stirring of desire needed for any hobby.
Last Thursday made me realize how much I give up, every day, to be at work. I never considered myself a workaholic or someone particularly focused on my job… but the threat of no way to support myself and desperately trying to hold on to something familiar and concrete has slowly caused me to put almost every single one of my life eggs in one basket.
On the plus side, I got good news Friday.
“Your position with the Military Department as a Military Environmental Analyst ll is a full time position and working full time is an essential function of the position. As a result, the Military Department considers a reduced work schedule as unreasonable. However, in light of the fact that you have provided documentation indicating you expect to be able to return to full duty within one (1) year, your request for a reduced work schedule is granted at this time.”
I get to keep on overextending myself and should be secure in my job for another year or so. I can actually do a budget (when I find energy for such a thing) because my income production is finally safe. A sigh a relief.
On the negative side, I get to keep overextending myself. This is my life, there is no end of work in sight. I do, usually, slowly adjust to a larger schedule. I would say this past week is the first one in 2 1/2 months that didn’t make me feel overextended and hysterical. That’s a plus. I know it will get better. I made a promise to my body to stop abusing it, and told her I would not increase my hours again for a year. Now I just need to keep that promise to myself, and slowly, over time, as I heal, I can again put together the fragmented pieces of my life.
It is a blessing to have this opportunity to heal, to become whole. So many people who have had a brain injury have not come as far as I have, so quickly. Thank you Goddess for my life.