Episode 39: Hi-ho, hi-ho...
In which our protagonist gets a job and fears the consequences
Reader, I got a job. It happened quickly and suddenly but also not really that quickly at all. It took a year of being self(ish) and of contemplation and of ups and downs and of listening to what I need to be able to truly live, not just exist, before I could manifest what people are calling the perfect gig for me: a part-time role building a community for a mental health charity.
I’m a lucky girl.
But also, I’m a scared girl. I’m working again. Not only that, I’m only being paid for part-time hours at charity wages on a short-term contract but just one week in - after only a couple of days of actual work - I can already feel that old familiar pull. The one that calls me to my comfort zone. The one that calls me to that place I feel safe and sound, where I can bury myself in work and hide away from the world and all of its problems and all of my problems and just generally ignore life and wait for the end.
One of the reasons I burned out in the first place, and kept burning out, and kept pushing through the burnout thinking it was going to get better eventually, was work. In fact, the primary reason was work. I spent all my time working, even if I didn’t have to, just because it was comfortable and it stopped me from worrying about myself. It was the ultimate exercise in avoidance.
Work is a safe zone for my brain. While, yes, my imposter syndrome rules and I still struggle with social anxiety and overthink everything and assume I can do no right and everyone is just putting up with me, work is a good excuse for not doing anything else. For not paying attention to my own needs. For not doing the self-care thing. Few can argue with “I can’t right now - I’m working”, because we need to earn money to fund living.
With work, I know where I stand. Sometimes I stand in the gutter and my working relationships are poor and I need to get out quickly, but at least I know I can do the job. The job itself has rarely been the issue. It is a known quantity. There are parameters. There is expectation. There are rules - even if I rail against them and refuse to conform, there are still rules.
And one thing I’ve been lacking in this year of being self(ish) is rules. Sure, I set myself guidelines, a direction, vague goals - but I also let myself off the hook. One thing I’ve learned - coming in loud and clear - is that self-imposed goals and deadlines are not my thing. They’re no good for me. Like a self-destructive relationship you just keep going back to, telling yourself it will be different this time. It will be better. You know better.
I don’t know better.
Rules and goals are a failpoint for me right now.
Truth is, a friend told me about this job. She said I should apply because I need structure back in my life to help me progress further. I’d been going through the motions, letting the days pile up and telling myself I’d get to the essential work when I felt like it, that I still needed time, I was still in recovery. But - as you know - I’ve spiralled down again. Early in the sabbatical I filled my time with things I never had time for before, like courses and reading and watching TV and sleeping and told myself these things were essential for recovery. In reality, what was essential for my recovery was the one thing I was not doing: absolutely nothing. Resting. Looking after myself.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: surely getting a job is the antithesis to resting? And you’re right. You are indeed correct, dear reader. But that job is giving me one thing I have been missing for a long, long time, and that is purpose. A mission. A reason for being. A reason to stop asking myself “what’s the point?” and start saying “that’s the point”.
I’ve been on the receiving end of poor mental health support in the workplace, so I am fully bought-in to the mission of the Minds@Work movement. I never want someone to be told, as I was, to “take a pill and get over it”, or to be ostracised as “volatile”, as I was, or to go from Hero to Zero in the space of a single open and vulnerable conversation, as I was. This mission is more important now than ever, with an epidemic of loneliness and isolation in full swing. I could wax lyrical about mental health support for hours - as you well know, for this is episode 39 of my own missives about my own mental health.
I am excited about this opportunity. This role is important.
But I am also nervous. And I am scared. I am scared I’ll fail. I am scared I’ll overwork. I am scared I’m not ready. I’m scared I’ll just widen the cracks in my own psyche.
There is, however, only one way forward, and that is through the quagmire. I am getting the support I need, so that I can help others to foster mentally healthy workplaces for all.
Anyways, this has been a bit of a ramble, a bit all over the place, but that’s me at the moment. I promised you I’d be raw and real. The point is: I’ve been in need of a reason to continue. Maybe this is it.
TL;DR working is hard, man. How do you do it?
The week ahead 🗓
Heading back to work means I’m trying to get all of my cards in order. Ducks in a row. What’s the appropriate phrase here?
Writing: It’s going to be a bit quiet on the writing front this week by necessity, which probably means I’ll have all the ideas in the world and struggle to capture them all.
Work: Week 2 in a new gig! Plus, classes for module four of my coaching diploma.
Health: GP reviews looked good! I’m in a better way than I was this time last year, but still have a lot of work to do.
Routine: Trying to remember how to stick to schedules. Plus, join me and hundreds of others at the LWS Writers’ Hour every weekday: 8am London, New York, California and Melbourne.
On the stereo 🎧
CRAWLER, by IDLES
New IDLES albums are a cause for celebration in the Self(ish) household. I have been blasting this all weekend: driving beats, driving bass, lyrical calls-to-arms. But it’s also darker, more introspective than previous releases, which suits me to a dark post-punk tee, quite frankly. When the Lights Come On is divinely goth, and a stark contrast to the usual shouty, sloganeering brilliant noise that usually comes from these parts (though, rest assured, there is still plenty of that stuff too!).
Off the shelf 📚
Dark Nature: An anthology by the Macabre Ladies
I was lucky to receive an ARC of this anthology from the Macabre Ladies, but sickness stopped me finishing the stories before its Halloween release. The prompt given for these 13 tales by a variety of writers was simple: Mother Nature is pissed off, and she’s fighting back. Authors have taken that to show animals reclaiming their former grazing zones, foliage growing wild and crazy, sinkholes to places unknown ready to swallow up the offending human race - there’s even pandemics and space werewolves and appearances of fairy folk.
Some writers went down the easy redneck/Trumpian trope rabbit hole, but there are standout stories for sure. For me, Invasive Species by Mark Wheaton hit a nerve of climate anxiety, wildfires out of control and humanity very much not in charge: years of Californian fires have released something that is even more dangerous to us. Likewise, reading Things We Throw Away by Leanne Olson as the discussions of COP26 were gearing up was infuriating in the best way, while A Walk in the Woods by Marc Sorondo is vague about the cause, but heartbreaking in the execution. The collection is worth your time for those three alone.
More reviews/details over on GoodReads.
Get an eyeful 👀
Judas and the Black Messiah (Now TV)
Just, holy cow. That’s one powerful movie. One heartbreaking movie. Infuriating, too. Deserving of all the praise it got.
Visual confirmation 📷
Channeling the strength of the ocean to get me through the day, thanks to Wear & Resist. (And thanks to Jenny for introducing me to this fab maker!)