A few years ago I had what I now describe as my break down. After returning home from two years living abroad with my family, I struggled to immerse myself back into our ‘normal’ life. I’d gone from managing a team of thirty plus staff, feeling respected and ‘important’, to working from home by myself, doing housework and the school run. We’d left a highly active expat community in Manila and returned home to discover we had little in common anymore with many of our friends in Australia. Our social life was suddenly tiny.
I’d left the job that took us to the Philippines not long after returning home, preempting an imminent sacking. My boss had been disgusted that I’d put my family’s needs before his company’s needs in choosing to return to Australia. It left his offshore office without an expat manager and interrupted his plans for expansion. It stung to know that the company I’d been so devoted to wiped its hands of me so quickly.
Every day I fluctuated between crying and raging. Seeking professional help, I sat in a therapist’s office sobbing uncontrollably. Shame overwhelmed me. Shame at how I’d prioritised my work over my family for the past two years. Shame at how vainly I’d loved feeling important, admired, respected in my job. Embarrassment to discover it was a veneer that vanished so easily. The last few months of my job, back in the Brisbane office, were a lesson in humility as I was actively scorned by my boss and co-managers. Even as I wailed and wept to my counsellor, part of me was mortified for complaining about such first world issues. But I couldn’t stop. I was rocking back and forth, snot pouring out, tears soaking my face and chest. It was humiliating how broken I’d become.
My husband, Mick, couldn’t comprehend my guilt over the past two years. From his perspective, we had created more family time than ever before. Without the comfort of extended family and friends in Australia, we’d been forced to turn to each other more for social needs. Our two kids had become close mates as they’d had little other option. We had hired a Yaya (nanny / housekeeper) who worked Monday to Friday taking care of us so beautifully that there had been almost no chores to take up our spare time. Consequently, all my time away from work had been free to focus 100% on our family. It sounds blissful when described like that.
However, I knew that while I’d been with my family in body, my mind had been 100% on my job. As I wept in the counsellor’s office, I admitted that I’d prioritised my job above everything, rarely able to concentrate on anything else. Including the wedding anniversary that I chose to take Mick along to a work dinner with my boss so we could discuss plans for the office expansion. Mick spent our ‘romantic’ night making awkward conversation with my boss’s nephew. We took wonderful holidays while living in the Philippines, yet part of me resented being away from the office because I’d convinced myself that I was the only one who could hold the workplace together. My whole identity became about my career more than my family.
I knew my children hadn’t been aware of my diverted attention and it appeared neither had my husband. But I was now acutely aware of it. I knew that for the past few years, my mental load had always been devoted to work. Now, here I was jumping from that job to avoid the inevitable, spiteful push. I was a social pariah at my workplace. I felt betrayed and deserted. Yet each night when I got home, my loving, patient, beautiful family was there to make me smile and remind me of how vitally important I was to them. And it made me loathe myself for having been so disloyal for the past few years.
As all things do, the crisis of emotion passed. With time and perspective, my anger and resentment at my previous workplace diminished. I’d met a lot of entrepreneurs in Manila and I put all that I’d learnt from them into our own business while working from home. I refocused my energies on my teenage daughter and pre-teen son. I volunteered at a local community centre and discovered new, inspiring and cherished friendships. I enrolled to study subjects that interested me, with no consideration of career – just knowledge. I learnt to meditate. I stopped to breathe deeply and consciously.
I now consider my ‘break-down’ one of the most fortunate things to happen to me. My ego was bruised and I’m so grateful for it. Now whenever I recognise that a choice is being influenced by my ego, I choose a path that leads away from it. I try to focus on empathy and kindness instead. I discovered that less self-importance actually improved my self-worth. It brought me here…