I realize this is an individualized thing, and what I am about to say won’t be right for everybody. But over and over again I have noticed this phenomenon in my life, and I use it as a tool for my well-being and mental health.
When I am under extreme stress in my personal life, work can act as a sort of refuge from the storm. And my work in particular is very effective for this. I remember when I was diagnosed with cancer, I actually needed to come to work. After I was treated and was recovering from surgery, I couldn’t wait to get back – I remember my oncologist saying “I don’t think you’re ready for this” (he knew I worked in an ER), but I knew it was what I needed. I remember when I went back I weighed about 20 lbs. less than I had before, I was in pain and was completely incontinent – just pissing myself constantly – but I was happy to be back. Mind you, this wasn’t because I felt like I had a responsibility to my job, it was because I needed to get out of my head. Sitting at home was the worst thing I could be doing, just perseverating on my misery and unknown outcome.
I noticed the same thing when I was taking care of a family member at the end of their life and they lived with me. It was just a constant succession of calamities ultimately ending with hospice. Work was the only place I had any peace – because at work I was forced out of my head, I had other people to take care of. You might think I would have resented that, but for me it had the opposite effect.
The chaos of the ER was my comfort zone – I didn’t have time to think about my own troubles. What would seem to be an unwanted distraction was anything but. The busier it got, the better I felt.