I've done a lot of thinking about whether my decision to take a leave of absence from being a music therapist for two and half months has been helpful. A lot of people have asked me, and here's what I have to say about it:
1) I am absolutely shocked that I didn't spend the entire summer feeling guilt-ridden about having "abandoned" my clients. After all, I am responsible for their happiness and their very lives, am I not? (Now... you see why I needed to take a break?) This fact alone indicates to me that I was correct in my recognition that "it was time."
2) Toward the middle of August I realized that I couldn't quite remember my schedule. I know this sounds like kind of a weird thing, but when you work in an institution (heck, when you live in an institution) your whole life revolves around your schedule. There are a lot of people who need services, there are a lot of people who provide services, and somehow or another we all need to show up, be available and have space to do our thing in some orderly way. Hence, schedules.
Even though my schedule has changed many times over the last 20 years, I have always been fairly certain I'd be thinking through my schedule daily for the rest of my life (well on into retirement). It felt that indelibly emblazoned in my mind. I actually had to go in to work this past Wednesday (my first day back) and ask our secretary if she had a copy of my most recent schedule. Woah. That was unexpected.
3) And, speaking of retirement (well, sort of), I actually have gotten to the point where the idea of retiring, eventually, from the institution sounds good to me. In fact, I'm even eager to get there. Can we say, "enmeshment problems"? Who knows? Maybe I'd even consider moving on and doing different work before I retire (as in, I'd still be a music therapist but with a different group of people). It would never occur to normal people (I am not one of them) that this would not be an option (leaving one job and going to another, I mean). For me, it took an actual leave of absence. Hm.
4) This realization happened after my return: The first three days of work have been exhausting! Okay, yes, I've got a cold, and that isn't helping at all, but... I'm saying... exhausting! Walking around from building to building with a guitar on my back and a bag of instruments slung over a shoulder, doing session after session, chasing after clients who head off to parts unknown, dodging clients who suddenly decide to freak out while I'm walking through their day area, trying to cram in paperwork time, preparing for a whole bunch of memorial services and monthly religious services, and figuring out what I've missed in the two and a half months since I last showed up for work... I just get home at the end of the day, check my email, brush my teeth, and dump myself into bed!
Until you take time off from the perpetual motion that comes to be your daily life, and then go back to it, you don't know how hard you work! I guess I just got to be so used to doing my usual routine (and what I described above wasn't even usually my whole day, because I've had private clients as well) to the point where I didn't even notice how much constant effort I was putting in to just getting through a day. Wow. Just... wow. Definitely eye-opening.
5) I'm noticing that I feel calmer in my interactions with my clients. I'm always going to be neurotic about safety issues, but I feel less compelled to do something when it seems as if nothing is happening in a session. Before my leave I knew that I didn't have to do anything, but I felt the need to do something. Now that I've given myself the time I've needed (boy, have I needed) to listen to my own thoughts, face a lot of feelings, slog through so many issues around how I relate to people and such, I'm more willing to simply be with and wait for my clients to get where they need to go when they're ready.So, was it worth taking time for myself? Absolutely. Am I glad to be back at work. You bet I am.