Use Your Voice

As I shared in the last blog post processing Saturday’s last session, I’ve been very anxious about going back to work next week. It feels too soon. Dangerous. I felt that we were underprepared and I was very panicky about the prospect of going into a building with hundreds of people after spending 5 months with no one but my family. We’ve stuck to the rules rigidly through the lockdown. I haven’t gone into peoples homes. I haven’t even visited local attractions as the restrictions have eased. We’ve intentionally been super careful. So going back to work next week full time all of a sudden definitely didn’t feel safe. Linda helped me clarify how I was feeling. Powerless. Powerless and like I was fighting the system. And her phrase ‘there are too many variables’ kept going round my head.

I went over every one of my concerns with Linda on Saturday and processed and wrote about it in my journal and blogged here. I received quite a few messages from people sharing very similar experiences which filled me with the sort of confidence that only validation can give you. Technically the validation should come from inside but in the absence of self belief, external validation is pretty powerful. I felt like what I was feeling made sense. That I had every right to feel concerned.

This afternoon I decided to phone my boss because I realised nothing is going to change if I don’t do something about it… I needed to express my concerns and ask for help. I was incredibly anxious, like pre-session nerves x 1000! I said I wanted the call to be confidential (like the one I had with her a few months ago when Anna stopped working with me and I pretty much had a break down). My boss agreed and said she was pleased I’d called. I explained that my mental health has suffered tremendously through lockdown, that I was still suffering from the grief of losing Anna and that though reluctant to admit it, I am very uncomfortable with the idea of returning to work. I listed all my concerns (that I wrote about in the last blog post) and she listened carefully to each point and was incredibly validating. I asked many questions, all of which she answered. She gave me solutions to almost all of my main concerns. She told me we will be given PPE (provided by the council – masks and visors, gloves and hand sanitiser). She said that many other staff have also requested support as they too are anxious about the return.

My boss told me that she will spend some time going over the new risk assessment with me, she also offered for us to create our own confidential risk assessment just for me to ensure they are meeting my specific needs. She has given me my own room so I will have space for my own belongings and won’t need to use other peoples classrooms. That means I can be in charge of the cleanliness of my workspace, have the windows open all the time, clean the kids hands before entering my room, have it set up to ensure distancing where possible. She reassured me that I won’t need to move around the building which will limit the amount of people I come in contact with, she told me I can wear a mask at all times if I wish. Lastly she told me she’d support me whatever I decided to do. Even if I choose to have the doctor sign me off. She was very receptive, non judgmental and empathic. She suggested I go away and read the documents she’s sent me including a draft risk assessment and I’ve to email with all my questions and concerns which she will either answer or commit to finding answers for me.

I was so relieved I burst into tears when I got off the phone, I was physically shaking. I hardly slept last night from worrying about all of this and imagining her being angry with me for being so difficult. I can’t actually believe how well it went. I could never have had this kind of conversation at work a year ago. It was hard, excruciating actually. Even a few minutes in when I could hear she was receptive and not angry with me I was still so nervous and imagined her losing her tempter but I just kept coming back to this feeling in my core that I am right to feel anxious, that my feelings are valid, that I deserve to have someone sticking up for me… even if I’m a lone voice I am still worthy!

This is me using the voice that Anna helped me cultivate. This is what she was talking about in our last phone call (eleven weeks ago today) when she said we ‘built strong foundations together that will never disappear.’ She said, ‘I will always be inside you,’ and I really felt that today. I really could feel her rooting for me through that call. I felt her calm, assertive presence. She’d have been so proud of me. I realised this afternoon as I processed the call that this is what it’s all about. Healing and progress and ‘living a content, healthy life’ doesn’t mean always feeling happy and balanced. It means having difficult conversations, it means putting your needs first, vouching for myself. Healing means knowing where your boundaries lie, stating them and protecting them!

I have been nursing a weary broken heart the past few days as Linda’s break has brought my grief for Anna to the surface but through that pain I am here taking another step. It hurts like hell but no one else is gonna do this for me. Anna shared the meme below on her twitter account at the start of last month (yes I still occasionally check that she’s still alive by looking at her social media accounts). The message on this little square made me think deeply about the things we value and how we can choose to self support or self abandon. I feel so much better about going back to work next week knowing I have clearly expressed myself. I feel confident that I can state my feelings if my personal boundaries are crossed when we do go back and I feel that I will be supported.

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