7 February 2016

One Working Day at a Time...

Waking up at 6:15am, the nerves and apprehension kicked in. Not only was this the first day that would challenge all of the rigid eating timings that my days had become so structured around, it was also the time that I would step back in an environment where I was previously deteriorating day by day. It was the first day of my phased return to work.

I had already discussed and established the need for flexible eating whilst at work with the support workers at Evolve, so in my mind I knew that this would just be another step towards normalised eating. I also prepared a meal plan earlier in the week and made everything that I would be consuming the night before, so I was organised and relaxed. Planning is something that I feel is crucially important during recovery. Not only does it take out the element of overthinking and panicking if things are not available for you to eat, but it also removes the decision process when you have other things to think about.

As I consumed my breakfast, I reminded myself that if I started to feel hungry before the ‘normal’ snack time of 10:30am, then that is absolutely fine! I need to start listening to my body, and recognising when I am hungry. I am aware that on my current weight restoration plan, hunger is something that I am still not really experiencing, but I expected that with an increased level of activity at work, this could be something I encounter. With limited thoughts about food in my mind, I started to worry about other aspects of my working day. ‘Would I be able to remember everything?’ ‘Will everyone get annoyed if I ask questions?’ ‘What about if I make a mistake?’ Ordinarily this would have caused an increased level of anxiety and I would have been extremely reluctant to get in the car and drive to work. However, throughout my entire recovery treatment I have learnt that if you always turn away from a challenge or task, then it only feeds into the anorexic thoughts of failure and low self esteem, and there was no way that I was going to succumb to that! Instead, I rationalised the fact that everybody at the school knows that I had been in hospital for intensive treatment and not been at work for 6 months. The likelihood of my colleagues expecting me to resume my everyday tasks, without asking any questions and without making an error was extremely small. I also reminded myself of how incredibly supportive and patient they were whilst I was struggling before my hospital admission and consistently throughout my time off work.

As soon as I walked through the door, I was hit with a complete mix of emotions. Excitement, happiness and joy to see all of my colleagues and hear some lovely comments that confirmed just how much progress I had made. On the other hand, I experienced nerves, frustration and sadness. Seeing the desk that I used to sit at and munch on two dry cream crackers, which I convinced myself classified as a snack. Seeing the bins where I used to throw away the majority of my food, slyly hiding it under other wrappers that were already in there. The memories all just came flooding back. However, as I see everybody smiling and complimenting me on how well I look, I didn’t sense these memories as a trigger to reignite the past; I acknowledged them and congratulated myself at just how far I have come.

9:45am arrived and I started to sense hunger, so I pulled out the 3 chocolate digestives that I had in my bag. I wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed at recognising my hunger; in fact it prompted others to reach into the biscuit tin in the cupboard without a care in the world. It all just seemed so normal. No thoughts of regret, doubt or negativity, instead I was focused on having snack and then tackling the next job on my to do list. The experience was the same again at 12:00pm when a colleague and I went to the staff room for lunch. As she tucked into her one course of food, without hesitation I started to dig into the first of my two courses. I have kept in regular contact with my colleagues throughout my time in treatment, and I have been overwhelmed with their support and acceptance of my situation. Amongst the emails, I also enjoyed a few hospital visits from them, which was lovely, and way beyond what I would have expected from an employer. My willingness to talk about my situation helped me so much throughout my first day at work, as I wanted people to be able to ask me questions and for me to explain everything. I am very honest about my experiences and I feel that this made for a more pleasant environment, as nobody was afraid to mention about food or anything eating disorder related, which is how I wanted it to be; normal!

Throughout the day it became increasingly apparent how much I was able to focus on my job tasks rather than food, watching the clock or doing everything I could to stay on my feet as apposed to sitting at my desk. The other women in the office kept reiterating that the jobs I was being given DID NOT have to be completed by the end of the day, as this was something I would always stress about and would cause a lot of anxiety due to my perfectionist traits. So I remained relaxed and concentrated on just doing one task at a time to restate my previously learnt understanding.

I have to point out that I am aware this was only one day of many that I will be spending at work in the future, and I am aware that every day may not always go as swimmingly as this one has. I am mostly realistic in the expectations I set for myself, as I realise that although it is important to maintain optimism and motivation, recovery is not a smooth journey.

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