I am taking this entire week off of work. The vacation policy at work has changed and, if I don't use the time before the end of the fiscal year, it's gone. This is an entirely different mode of being for me and for the first time since I started working, I am taking regular non-Christmas time off of work. I have spent years in maternity leave time hoarding mode where I would take a day or two off through the year, several days at Christmas, and then jealously bank the majority in a cyclical attempt to piece together paid maternity leaves for the pregnancy that was eventually coming. My number one priority in managing my time was to have as much time as possible with my newborn, even when that baby didn't even exist yet. And now I'm not allowed to do that and instead have regularly scheduled breaks throughout the fiscal year.
In July I took an entire week off of work in order to go on the first vacation for our family since 2009. Five years between getaways is a long time. In many ways it was just what I needed. I had such a sense of desperation to get away from work. I was ground down. It had been so long since I hadn't been at work, it was hard to remember what it was like to go out and have fun. To stretch my boundaries and break out of the routine. To breathe a sigh of relief. Our family really needed that time together and we all had such an enjoyable time. Even now, three months later, many family conversations revolve around what happened on our vacation and when we might go back to visit the cheetahs. It was so, so good for us.
At the same time, I noticed how little I thought about work. Isn't that odd? I spend the majority of my waking hours doing work that I rarely have a passing thought about while not at work. The few times work arrived in my consciousness, it was only to note how much time I had until I had to go back. I could honestly walk away from my job and never think about it again. I could just decline to go back and not blink. I don't necessarily think that is admirable.
The cliche about taking vacation is that you return to work revitalized and ready to tackle challenges with fresh energy. This did not happen to me. My return to work in July was horrible. All those feelings of freedom had to be stuffed back into the old routine. I despaired at what my life actually looked like instead of the neat picture in my mind of what could be. It took me the better part of two weeks to emotionally recover from the vacation. I knew that returning to the regular schedule would feel hard, but I did not anticipate how bleak it would look to me. In some ways it reminded me of returning to work after maternity leave: raw until the numbness takes over. So I was surprised at the extremity of my feelings and wondered if it was better to maintain my numbness in the routine rather than picking at the scab with the possibilities that free time allows you to ponder.
Now I am taking another week off. We aren't doing anything out of the ordinary this time. The girls have fall break, but I will probably just take the time to catch up on the housework that I am perpetually behind on. I am prepared to crash again next week when I return. Perhaps my own awareness of it will mitigate its effects.
Taking regular vacations from work is a privilege that I thought was just not mine to have, but here it is. Since it has only been three months since the last set of days off, I do not have that same feeling of desperation this time. Just an easy expectation of a light schedule and good company.
Is there value in breaking a routine and breaking through numbed emotions? I think there is. This precious time away is a reminder that I am not that job. I am not my schedule. There is a whole life out there that can be lived even if I can only glimpse it occasionally one week at a time.