Sucheta Das Mohapatra
We often expect others to sympathise and empathise with us, ignorant of the fact that they are perhaps undergoing their own struggle and may not be aware of our problem. Although work-induced stress cannot be discounted, it helps to do a reality check and not have unrealistic expectations of ourselves.
A cousin had bypass surgery recently. Regular morning walks and being particular about having a balanced diet did not help him keep his heart healthy. The reason he guessed was ‘office stress’ but not many understood this. “He works in a public sector bank. No pay cut, no job insecurity. So, what is the stress,” wondered many.
Another relative working in a public sector insurance company explained, “The performance indicators and goals have now become extremely stringent and along with that unrealistic expectation of being always available for work has increased the pressure on officials in the pandemic period. Hospitalisation and deaths due to COVID-19 among colleagues are also taking a toll on our mental health, which is affecting our physical health too.”
Struggle to have a child
I could not agree less. The conversation brought back to me the years of struggle I had to have a child. With no support system in the city, many of my friends had quit work after child birth and I did not know whether that would be viable for me. So, it took me four to five years to decide whether I should go for it at all. Relatives, neighbours, friends, directly and indirectly, tried to find out if I had a fertility issue. I was tired of explaining and decided I will have one. But my determination was solely not enough. The next four-five years were nerve-wracking.
I was then working for an aerospace and defence publication where the annual air shows and defence exhibitions were a much-awaited affair. During one such aerospace exhibition, which was soon followed by a defence exhibition, I miscarried. But I was unaware till I went for a check-up after the shows culminated.
After an ultrasound, the doctor declared I will need a dilation and curettage (D&C) as abortion pills may not work. On the day, my husband I both went to the office as usual and took a half-day off to reach the hospital by 3 pm. The D&C was done but the anaesthesia put me to sleep for longer than usual. I woke up late at night and the next day early in the morning my husband left on an office tour. I also took off for two days and returned to work.
This was just the beginning. Medications, tests, and ultrasound examinations became a routine and when nothing worked, I went to another doctor who tried to detoxify me with minimal use of synthetic drugs. A few months later, I conceived again and going by my doctor’s advice, I requested the office if I could work from home (WFH). It was granted with a bargain for 20 per cent less pay. I was okay with it. Back then, WFH was not the norm and was an absolute no in the print industry. Coordination was tiring. One day, when my husband was on a tour, I bled profusely and that was the end of the pregnancy.
Once again, I went through several rounds of check-ups and tests but nothing was found amiss. My doctor thus deduced it was only because of ‘stress’ and suggested if I can ‘quit full-time work’. It was not an easy decision and I did not. So, she referred me to an infertility specialist who advised IUI and IVF treatment. The procedure, I was told was lengthy and involved several visits to the hospital and often twice on the same day for months together. I was reluctant but doctors know how to convince!
Eyebrows were raised every time I wanted to leave the office early or reached late, though no one grilled. My husband too had to face a similar situation in the office. So, we decided I should give up working full-time. I resigned. No one questioned me in the office. By then, the reason was obvious to all. I was given a farewell too, which was uncommon for the office. Later, I felt it could be because they were tired of having an irritated and frustrated colleague around.
I took up freelance work, which was taxing and not what I should have been doing, but I thought it would give me enough to go through at least one IUI and one IVF cycle. The IVF failed and we decided we will not try again. I started looking for full-time work again. By then my husband had also quit the organisation he worked with and was in a job where there were no midnight calls and midday tantrums in the office. But as they say, good things come to you when you least expect it, I conceived, did not miscarry, and had an unexpectedly smooth ride till my delivery.
Ray of hope
The infertility expert who had thought I would be visiting her after three months for a second IVF cycle was pleasantly surprised to see me after six months and find out that I had conceived naturally. After the first sonography, she said I should hence start visiting my previous obstetrician and gynaecologist.
“All is well. You don’t need me,” she said. It was such a professional display of medical ethics but was not enough to convince me and my husband that all was well. My concerns weaned away only when during the anomaly scan, the 72-year-old sonographer said, “Trust me, you can deliver even on the roadside without any hassle.”
I did not worry. I did not panic. I only accepted freelance work, which could be easily managed, did all the household chores myself, read many books, and also watched TV, which I had never done before. I was 39 and my doctor feared I may become a victim of gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. But to her surprise, my blood pressure and blood sugar levels never went haywire and I had a safe delivery.
Today, six years later when we look back, we realise the money and time we wasted then could have been put to good use when all that we needed was to be ‘stress-free’.
Nevertheless, stress at the workplace is common when you are a thorough professional and have strict deadlines to meet. It’s not that you are always terrorised by colleagues and bosses. Often, they are in the same boat and you are unaware. The pressure of delivering on time and with perfection makes us less empathetic towards the feelings, needs, and troubles of our co-workers. We are constantly in a race either to excel or survive and that often makes us less human if not inhuman.
Discussing personal problems is considered unprofessional in an office space, and although not taboo, childlessness is still not a common health issue that is openly discussed among male and female co-workers. This often creates misunderstandings among co-workers. The person going through the emotional turmoil expects empathy from all while others are either ignorant or have half knowledge about the bedlam he/she is going through. We become a victim of our own workplace expectations, stress over things unimportant, and our anxiety disorders cause hormonal imbalance and slow down blood circulation.
Surrounding myself with positive people who advised me to relax and take it easy, worked wonders in my case. Today, I advise the same to others: “Relax and let others relax.”