I just experienced the longest vacation of my life–20 days in South America and two more at my sister’s in California on the way home. I swam with sea lions and penguins, saw an enormous number of birds and colorful fish, spent a week on a boat, visited a program designed to support children living in poverty, took a night hike in the Amazonian rainforest (and saw, among other creatures, an enormous spider), canoed down a tributary of the Amazon, met people from an indigenous Amazon community, drank chicha  with them, and witnessed the devastation that the oil industry wreaks on the rainforest. Every day there was something new to see and learn. It was not relaxing but it was wonderful.

Now I am home again. It’s disorienting to have to wear a coat and hat and gloves when less than a week ago I was lathering on the sunscreen, dripping sweat and swatting mosquitoes. Christmas music! Why is that playing everywhere?

More challenging, though, is to come back home to myself, my life and plans for my future. I have three weeks remaining from my three-month leave from work. Soon I will have to return to the office and take on some new, as yet undefined role. I thought I had come to believe that a different role at work would make me happier, but given that I had multiple sad dreams about it on vacation, I realize that this will be a struggle for a while. And I’m dreading the meeting later this week with the CPO to talk about my new role and how to communicate it to colleagues.

I don’t even know if I want any job at the same place anymore. There’s an intensity about that workplace that doesn’t seem healthy to me.

Also, I have to reach out to the urogynecologist and figure out how we will move forward to take care of my health. Ditto the podiatrist, physical therapist and ophthalmologist. I need to meet with an attorney to complete the special needs trust for my son. It’s not all tropical jugos and blue-footed boobies and spiky crickets anymore. I have responsibilities again, after pretending for three weeks that I didn’t.

Part of this time off was about re-structuring my life. The plan was to include regular exercise and activities that I love, to fix my medical issues, to establish a well-defined schedule, a weekly routine. But I haven’t done this, which is giving me a sense of “yikes, have I failed to use my precious time off in the right way?”

Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ve never liked my birthday very much. I think as a child, I got the message that a birthday just 11 days before Christmas was a bother and nuisance for other people.

These thoughts and worries are provoking the “I am bad” voice to speak up again (it was thankfully quiet during my entire trip). Perhaps “I am bad” really means “I don’t think I can/I don’t want to fulfill the expectations the world has of me.” I don’t want to go back to the stressful, work-dominated life I had before, but I don’t feel prepared yet to make sure things are truly different.

Deep breath. Amidst this anxiety and readjustment, I can call on the voice of the wise woman who resides inside of me. She tells me that there is no rush. I don’t have to fix everything in the next three weeks. Creating the life I want will take time. Our adventurous trip was indeed worthwhile, not only for giving me a break from responsibilities, but because it planted the seeds of ideas for an alternative career. My task for the next year is to let those seeds germinate, to assess my new role at my current workplace, and to foster my ability to set and protect boundaries that can keep me physically and mentally healthy. I won’t figure it out all at once, but over time, if I’m brave enough to accept change, I can make the life I want.