We closed Inkhouse on April 23 for a mental health day.
The 26-year-old version of me would have been grateful. I spent 9/11 working.
That morning I redialed through jammed lines to reach my brother in Lower Manhattan. He said: “I saw the first plane hit when I was coming out of the subway, so I started walking the other way.”
Then we lost contact. I sat at my desk all day, numb. Back then, mental health was a liability, even in the midst of trauma, not something we looked after.
For me, the year 2020 rolled in waves of trauma.
The first was financial. There was a week in April when I lined my notebook with revenue losses. Clients were reducing their retainers. Some were laying off employees. Others were being cautious, spurred by venture capital warnings to cut costs: hunker down.
The second wave came in June as the financial trauma began to ebb. On a Zoom call, I brushed against a painful lump in my right breast. A few days later I was the only patient at the mammography center, which opened just for me. Scrunching the lump, my doctor had said, “You know cancer doesn’t hurt, right?” But the radiologist found something else. “I can see four calcifications on your scan. They might be fine, but they could also indicate cancer.”
I spent the summer working to retain our clients while undergoing tests — stereotactic biopsies, a lumpectomy, MRI, and dozens of mammograms. By the time I had a diagnosis, it felt like a relief.
It helped that my doctor was calm when she said: “Well, it’s cancer, but the best kind. Stage one is very treatable.” I scheduled a mastectomy for October. She told me to take eight weeks off: “Recovery is about how well you rest.”
How could I leave Inkhouse in the middle of a pandemic?
It was a question I didn’t have to worry about for long. Our management team dove in, dividing up responsibilities, sending me video updates and delivering meals. They gave me space to heal, which needed my focus. For the first three weeks, I couldn’t lift my arms. My surgeon cautioned: “If a sloth wouldn't do it, you shouldn’t.”
A friend gave me a bracelet with a silver sloth charm that I pressed between my thumb and finger during slow trips one block down my street.
By week six, I was physically able to return to work, but my doctor had anticipated something important: healing is also emotional and spiritual.
I needed time to feel normal playing Uno with my kids in between naps, and to curl up with them on my bed watching Life of Pi. I needed to grieve the parts of me I’d lost.
Plus, Inkhouse was recovering just fine without me.
One evening during week seven, my daughter put on her headlamp and built me a fire. We slipped my old bras into the flames in a ritual for moving on.
In December, I returned to work cancer free and steady, but changed.
The conversation about mental health in the workplace is so important.
Sometimes we want the distraction of work to get through difficulty, as I did during my tests.
But other times we need permission to check out. Because sometimes you have to shut everything down so you can hear yourself. Or just rest.
Agency-wide mental health days help create a culture of permission to take care of ourselves, and each other.