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My recovery from drug addiction started in 1987, but my recovery from workaholism began just five years ago – in February, 2011.

The following is a very close-to-actual conversation that I had with my physician when I finally started to realize that I couldn’t go on working or “busy-ing” myself to death. I’ve made a lot of progress in the past five years. But I still have far to go.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Denial

Doctor:
I think you have exceeded the limits of your reserves.Me:
Sounds ominous.
Doctor: 
Seriously, I think you need to take some time off of work and unwind, take care of yourself.
Me:
I just took two mental health days and today is my fourth Friday off in a row.
Doctor:
When was the last time you took more than a couple of days away from work?Me:
Fourteen months ago, we went to Mexico for two weeks.

Doctor:
Did you do any work on that trip?

Me:
Just on the plane there and home. And emails. I checked emails, but just once a day.

Doctor: 
And how many vacation days did you take in 2010?

Me:
Three and a half.

Doctor: 
Are you ever able take a break from working or thinking about your job?

Me:
Which one? I don’t obsess over my teaching job because that is only one night a week. Plus class prep on weekends. But no, I always obsess over my full-time job.

Doctor:
And you’ve had high job stress for the entire four years that you have worked there, according to your file? You’ve been in here for stress related issues six times. Although…it looks like the last time we saw you was seven months ago. Did things get better for a while?

Me:
No. Worse. But I was too busy to take time off for doctor’s appointments.

Doctor: 
What was happening just before you got this job?

Me:
I had stage three colon cancer and spent a year undergoing chemotherapy. I got my job the week after I was told I didn’t have cancer anymore.

Doctor:  
So you had a year off, but you were fighting cancer.

Me:
Well, no.

Doctor:
No what?

Me:
I didn’t have a year off. I was teaching while I did chemo.

Doctor:  
Full time?

Me:
No! Not for the first semester. Just for the second.

Doctor:
Okay. I am beginning to understand. What about…before cancer?

Me:
Well we were raising our family so I only worked part-time while going to school. Thirteen years of university in a row, the last six of them were spent on my PhD.

Doctor:
What was your thesis about?

Me:
History of care of dying cancer patients early twentieth century in North America. Ironic, hey?

Doctor:  
So did you have any time off between finishing the doctorate and getting cancer?

Me:
Not so much.

Doctor:
As in?

Me:
I defended my thesis …in the hospital. One week after they yanked the cancerous colon.

Doctor:
It didn’t occur to you to postpone the defence?

Me:
No. I had to get it done because we were in the middle of a move to another province. I had to finish it and get out of the hospital so I could get our house ready to sell. It was fine. The nurses helped me figure out the timing of the pain control so I could make it through the two hours.

Doctor:  
I hate to ask…but before your final run at the PhD…any break from “working?”

Me:
Well, at the beginning of the PhD I kind of took it easy on the studying for sixteen months. So that was for all of 1999, first quarter of 2000.

Doctor:

Great! And how did that feel?

Me:
Not very good. I was taking care of my mother who was dying from leukemia.

Doctor: 
You really need a month off. To start.

Me:
Now isn’t the best time.

Doctor: 
You are crying in executive meetings at work. You aren’t sleeping. You are having anxiety attacks and you think you have Alzheimer’s disease because you keep forgetting words. Now is a really good time.

Me:
You don’t think it’s Alzheimer’s? What do you think it is?

Doctor:
You’re going to need at least a month.

Me:      
Can I keep my blackberry?

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