I, Hamster.

“I can’t do this,” I tearfully cried.

I had been back to work for exactly two hours and 30 minutes (after an 18-month maternity leave) when one of the clinicians had asked me to submit a brand new grant to pull foundation funds for future program use (something I readily and easily did pre-maternity leave).

I can’t do this! I hastily thought again.

As you can tell, I’m the picture of eternal patience and resilience.

Just before that, I had been pulling out my hair while unproductively waiting for my ancient desktop to load my dormant Windows profile in order for my email and calendars to update. I work in an old rickety hospital and had been gone for a year and a half so really, the length of time I was away was in direct correlation to the amount of time it would take for my profile to update. Translation: a very long ass time.

I was feeling irritated (close to belligerent), and it was only day one of my return. I had the rest of my life ahead of me (and I actually like my job in normal times, ha)! The clinician could have been speaking Macedonian for all I knew (I’m not Macedonian); I didn’t understand squat of what was coming out of her mouth. My frustration had grown exponentially by the second.

To be fair, she was speaking English perfectly fine. She was simply asking me to do something I had no issues doing before. She assumed she was talking to a fully-functioning adult, but she was wrong. I was the problem. I was the one who was confused, unhinged.

What grant? What submission? Into a foundation? Which foundation? Huh-frick’n-HUHHH!?

You know when people say things like, “Hey, could you do that thing we used to do because the thing that we had to do didn’t actually work so instead the workaround was to do this thing before doing the other thing? Remember?” Then they’d top it off with that simple, “Remember?” As if that last crucial word was the key to your memory lockbox and everything you did pre-child would suddenly present itself as a magical solution. No, Robin. I don’t remember.

All I wanted to say to her was, “No! I have not a clue! I have been making a tiny human with my own organs for the better part of the last two years (if you count my pregnancy, breastfeeding and pumping). I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning!”

Eighteen months prior, this all would have been a breeze. (Sure thing, Robin.) I was on that hamster wheel doing my thang. I knew everyone, did everythang, managed all, and had it all perfectly balanced but just a mere 18 months later, my brain was total mishmash. Suddenly, that year and a half was a lifetime ago; a time when gravity did not affect body parts, sleep was abundant, and my brain was vibrant.

My co-worker, witnessing the trivial exchange while registering the doom on my face, flew into immediate action. She sensed the imminent eruption of a nervous breakdown and went across the hall to grab my director. My director then pulled me into a private room and asked me what was wrong (almost three hours into my first day back). What followed was a series of high-pitched, unintelligible, monosyllabic words laced with tearful blubbering in between heavy sniffles but most of what came out was this:

“I. can’t. do. this. I thought. I could, but I. can’t. It’s. too hard.”

My director, bless her heart, thought I was having separation anxiety from Charlotte but unbeknownst to her, I was happy as a goat to be away (are goats happy?).  Don’t get me wrong, I love my kid but having the much-needed break from her was what we both desperately needed.

After she pulled me back from the ledge, I calmed down and we both came up with a reasonable game plan for my slow return to regular responsibilities.

Do you ever feel like you have everything figured out and getting back on that hamster wheel would be harder than stopping it? Were you ever off work for a lengthy period of time and if so, what was your return like?

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28 thoughts on “I, Hamster.

  1. I understand this feeling, though I don’t entirely know why. I can’t think of a specific instance, but still I empathized. So nice of your coworker to jump into action and get you to talk to your director, who came to a logical solution, despite coming to the wrong conclusion about the cause of your distress. I hope you felt much much better after that.

    So many little funny parts in this, I can’t remember them all. Gravity, and clear mind, and abundant sleep, and the word ass somewhere, and “thang.” 🙂 Thank you for my morning entertainment. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I know what you mean. I’ve performed the same role for nearly a decade, but switched industries for about 3 years. Switching from Industry A to Industry B, and then back to Industry A was a bit challenging. Again and again, I found myself thinking, “I know how to do this. Wait, how do I do this?!” There was more of a learning curve than their should have been, but it worked out.

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    • I’m so glad things have worked out for you after switching industries, it’s tough. I did the same in my late 20s. I found it very confidence-sucking… I almost hated myself because I second-guessed every choice/move I made and I wondered if I had reached my peak and was on my way down based on a bad life decision… but I persevered and glad you did too!

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  3. Remember? is only slightly better than “Don’t you remember?” which gets processed as “What the hell is wrong with you?”

    I don’t think I have anything that compares to this feeling other than feeling a bit overwhelmed the day I’d come back after having a sub for many days. That’s not even in the same universe as 18 months.

    Now I feel obligated to use “thang” in a sentence tomorrow to my wife. “Doing laundry is just not my thang.”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh this sounds so scary, I’m so sorry! I think it’s amazing you’re writing about this because I expect many women experience this coming back from maternity leave. And often, unfortunately, I might guess that they have very little support from their employer. I think it’s amazing you were able to be honest with your boss and that she was happy to find a solution that works for both of you. You so got this, and you’re a totally amazing goddess J! xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Aw thanks Libby – I guess the 18-month part wins me a few less sympathy votes haha lol (trust me, we know we are blessed) but yes, it was tough and you’re right, a lot of women probably don’t talk about it as openly because they feel like they need to live up to who they were pre-child at work and who they are at home (new mama)… it’s tough but lots of women have done it successfully before so we just kind of have to trust the process and give ourselves some grace here and there!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Good questions. The closest I can come to your 18 month maternity leave was a month off for a gallbladder operation that went sideways and when I did return I was so traumatized + tired I couldn’t add a column of numbers… which was a good part of my job. I remember feeling panicky but talked myself down from the ledge because I had to work to make money to pay the mortgage– and I really liked our house so I forced myself to use my brain and never told my boss I was having problems. She never noticed otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You powered through – something to be said about that! Sometimes I can do that but often when things seem so overwhelming for me I just break and the only way it shows or comes out is through my eyes lol… those damn tear ducts just can’t be controlled!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve never had children, but coming back to even the easiest, no-brainer job, let alone one that you had to use your brain for (like yours) after a long vacation is not easy. You feel like your mind wanders and you want to be anywhere but there. If that first day back doesn’t send you scurrying to buy a lotto ticket (or two or three), I don’t know what will.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think I may have referred to you as a buttercup in that job-changing situation but, if it makes you feel any better (now that I have apologized and we have moved on), I know how that lost and drowning thing feels.

    Like you, I knew I would need to spend time around non-mommy adults to maintain my sanity. Sometimes, going to work was like a staycation.

    My excuse for losing the memory and self-confidence on the job after the children was that moms lose gray matter after every birth, and it’s never to be found again, or at least not like it was before!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I feel like this pretty regularly I think 🤣 I don’t ever feel as if I have anything figured out. As soon as I so much as entertain the thought of being “hot shit” I’ll trip in heels and land flat on my face 👀😂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yep, that’s me… except I never think I’m hot shit lol even when I sort of am hot shit (at my job) I still think, maybe I’m lukewarm, you know, not scalding hot shit but like okay to dip your toes in the water warm lol ok you get it I think lol

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