I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t prepared at all. There was no way to prepare, I can’t give you any advice on how to prepare for the first day back to work except know that you won’t be prepared at all. Even then you won’t be prepared.
I love hugs, the first few days back I got more hugs at work than I have ever gotten at work in total. That was wonderful not only because I love hugs, it was nice because I didn’t have to see the expressions on their faces for a few moments. I wasn’t prepared for the total outpouring of emotion from the folks I work with. I work in a chemical manufacturing plant with mostly men and mostly engineers and production operators. They don’t really do emotion in a big way in the work place like me and my family do at home, they tend to be more reserved.
There were so many people who were worried while I was gone and were so glad that I was back. It was written all over their faces, all over their typically reserved poker faces. It was in their body language, in their word choice, it was palpable and huge. Everywhere I went people all expressed everything about this all the time. It was a lot. It was wonderful, humbling and exhausting and a lot.
I really wasn’t prepared to go back with my hats or my shirts. It felt like people were either looking/ trying to avoid looking at my bust line or looking/ trying to avoid looking at my chemo caps. Eye contact was intense and fierce with emotion and difficult.
I wasn’t really prepared to go back with my energy level/fatigue, it was better for me but still low for regular people. I wasn’t prepared to go back with the chemo memory issues that led to speaking issues. It was hard to find words with all of these intense emotions and insecurities all running through me at the same time.
I was a Jackson Pollock painting. I understood EVERY Jackson Pollock piece ever.
I wasn’t prepared. I would go to work and come home exhausted and sleep. This was my life for the first 9 weeks. Thank God for safety videos. I would excuse myself from the occasional intense conversation to watch computer based training safety videos and ethics videos. Never thought, let alone typed, those words before in my life.
It was a lot, it was intense, it was humbling, it was amazing, it was exhausting, it was tremendously reassuring, it was scary, it was a lot. Nothing could have prepared me, even as I read through this there should be a disclaimer that this is like a picture of Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon, it is so much more in real life than it ever could be in print.
There was a second round of intense emotion when I came in for the first time without a hat on, when I was comfortable enough to come in with my hair all short, curly and white gray. This was much much easier to deal with, plus I got more hugs, which I LOVE, workplace hugs should totally be a daily thing for me. This time was so much shorter and much less intense and exhausting, you will totally be prepared for it and handle it like a pro.
When you are ready to go back to work, know that you are not really ready, you are at the best place you can be and if you find it to be everything described above know that this too shall pass. Life will return to normal, a new normal, or at least something manageable, I promise. On your cancerversary buy yourself a Jackson Pollock print, if for no other reason other than to celebrate that you are no longer there and are grateful to be here!