I’m past the one month mark of my self-created sabbatical. The first few weeks were wonderful. It was a slow sloughing of accumulated stress through simple living, almost like shedding dead skin with a gentle exfoliating lotion. I was surprised at how quickly I recovered from the pressure of my job, my subsequent resignation, and then some frantic packing and moving across the country from Pennsylvania to Arizona.
It’s an extravagance to be able to leave work behind and just be. I don’t do much that matters these days. Besides paying two monthly bills, there is nothing I have to do. I’ve built a loose structure for my days: breakfast, exercise, shower, read, lunch, read, maybe some TV or computer time and then make dinner for my parents. It’s a pretty simple set-up and the repetition makes it soothing. I need soothing because all this mundane, as nice as it is, is making me antsy.
When I left my job, I decided to take a sabbatical until July. By definition my sabbatical would be marked by the absence of work, giving me the time, space and quiet needed to heal. I told myself I didn’t have to job hunt for short or long-term work, especially since I have plenty of money saved. It sounded great, a release from the strain of employment, from the anxiety of unemployment and the thousands of have-tos and shoulds that swill in our stomachs and can make us sick. I’ve discovered that sabbatical is a wonderful gift but it is hard to indulge in – it’s like being served a whole cheesecake after years of rationed meals served from unmarked tin cans. It feels sinfully decadent, selfish, and partially irresponsible to give myself so much rest.
A starving person who stuffs themselves at the first sight of food often gets sick, throwing up all those desperately needed nutrients. The image is a little graphic, but I often feel the urge to regurgitate all this good rest and replace it for the scraps of busyness, stress, responsibility, and expectation that kept me (barely) alive for so long. I’ve limited job searching to a casual surf of the web once or twice a week, but a dangerous undercurrent of anxiety whispers that if I don’t search more I might miss a great opportunity, maybe even my dream job. Maybe it is just the stark contrast of life pre and post-sabbatical that is making me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the news reports about continued high unemployment that gives me a rising sense of urgency. Was I deluded to quit my job in this economy and am I even crazier to stay cocooned in this sabbatical for another month?
What calms me when I get dizzy from all these considerations is the belief that time is a unique and necessary gift that I’ve given back to myself. This rest is good. With a simple daily life I have unlimited space to care for myself. But simple is not always easy. The lack of stuff in my life leaves a subtle layer of unease, especially when I drive past the employment office on the corner or the day laborers grouped in abandoned parking lots.
I’m breathing deeply these days. On the exhale I remind myself that I will leave this safe place soon enough and be a responsible citizen again. I inhale and resist the urge to push this sabbatical away. I’d never give back my family, my education or my KitchenAid mixer, some of the best gifts I’ve ever received. So I’m determined to not reject this rest, however indulgent it feels.