Friday, December 02, 2011

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

I associate work with anxiety and depression. I have just done four days' work and I feel pretty anxious and depressed. I haven't got depression, though. I passed the NHS online questionnaire with flying colours so I know I'm not depressed.

Before I was made redundant in June I'd had two years of worry at work. The company was insolvent and it was my job to decide which Peter to rob to pay which Paul. The creditors all took their turn to be Peter or Paul. I had sleepless nights and panic attacks, finally culminating in a redundancy ending 25 years at the same firm, the first 22 years being reasonably happy ones. There were plenty of other redundancies too and our working family had been destroyed. It was a hell of a wrench leaving but a hell of a relief, too. My emotions were all over the place.

And so to jobseeking. I was calmer on the dole, though sleeping too much. I went through the jobseekers' hoops, applying for jobs I didn't want just to get their measly £67.50 a week. But I wasn't getting shortlisted for these shit jobs, anyway. After 100 applications and three failed interviews I was giving up hope of getting one. I didn't need them, anyway. I had money in the bank to keep us going for some time.

Then I struck lucky. I got two interviews in a week. Shit money, highly pressurised. I couldn't believe my luck. I had a bath, dressed up in my suit, had a shave, combed my hair, just like they advised me to on the Getting a Job course. I got on well with both the interviewers. They both said how extremely busy the jobs were and I said I don't like sitting around doing nothing. They reiterated just how busy and stressful the jobs were. One of them said she'd been to see the Foo Fighters at the O2 with her daughter. I said I would have liked to have seen Nirvana at their peak. She said she really liked Seasick Steve. I said I had a friend who used to like Seasick Steve! We were getting on like a house on fire.

She didn't get back to me but the other woman offered me the job. I accepted and told everyone I knew that I wasn't a loser any more, after five months' unemployment I'd got a job and I was back in the land of the normal.

I received congratulatory texts and cards. I geed myself up for the job. I'd have to start sleeping less. I did. I had hardly any sleep for the next six nights.

My manager worked from six in the morning till eight at night. There were two other staff in the office. Nobody spoke to anybody else about anything other than work, and that was a rare occurrence. The three of us had our desks facing in the same direction, one in front of the other. My desk was in front of the window, looking out on miserable buildings, cranes and piles of skips. Most of my job involved matching up copies of purchase invoices with purchase orders, scanning them and sending them to other members of staff to authorise, then when I'd received the go-ahead to pay, initialising the original invoices and filing away the copies and purchase orders under the relevant job numbers. All very simple except looking for the purchase orders on the server was complicated by the fact that every purchase order initiator had his own way of saving them or didn't save them at all. Oh, and we were two months behind with entering invoices on Sage because my predecessor had left without warning at the beginning of October.

I had half an hour for lunch and nowhere to go for a sandwich. I made my own sandwiches to bring in - cheese and piccalilli, cheese and Branston pickle, cheese and Vegemite. I ate at my desk, reading Twitter on my phone. Nobody spoke in their lunch hour. Nobody had anything to say about anything. The world outside did not exist.

On Monday I had another batch of invoices placed on my desk. I looked in vain for the purchase orders. I stared at the computer screen for five minutes, stared at the miserable buildings and the cranes and the skips for five minutes, holding back tears of frustration. I decided to leave that evening and never come back.

So since then I've got all emotional. My anxiety is back. I can't imagine a job I'd be able to get without the result being this reaction. I've booked an appointment with my doctor for next Tuesday. I've never met him before. I don't know what to expect from him.


  1. I didn't think you were a loser before and I still don't now. People who can thrive in that sort of deathly landscape aren't worth knowing. Hope the doc has some good ideas.

  2. Oh Geoff. Sympathy (and empathy).

    I've never had an easy time in the world of work and I so know what you're talking about.

    I think my worst point (when I'd lost a job and was temping whilst looking for another one) was sitting in an office, totally isolated in one of those cubicles, and nobody talked to me all day because I was just 'the temp'. Occasionally my 'boss' would ask if I could run up five flights of stairs to get him chocolate from out of the vending machine and would pull out a handful of coppers from his pocket and thrust them at me to pay for it. He clearly didn't need a secretary, he was just too high up in the company not to have one. Sometimes they might ask me to set out glasses & pour water for a meeting. Nobody spoke to me the whole time I was there, I lasted about four days too then I rang my temp agency up and told them to get me out of there because they were all cunts. (not really.)

    Afterwards I gave up looking for something that was anything like what I had been doing before,and went and worked in a bookshop. It was a much lower salary but they were lovely people and you could talk to them about music & books and stuff. I started to feel like a normal human being again and gained my confidence & sense of myself back slowly.

    Some people have an amazing knack of being able to dissociate themselves from work. They can somehow rise above. I've never been able to do that. I wish you luck my dear, don't be forced into anything that isn't good for your mental health. As Tim says, you are not a loser, work has nothing to do with who we are. It's just a necessary evil (and if you're lucky, you might enjoy it.)

    I'll shut up now.

  3. Thanks, Tim. I'm hoping he's a better careers adviser than the one I saw last month.

    Annie - Thank you. I wouldn't mind working in a bookshop but there's only one left round here and they only stock a few discounted books which nobody buys. I don't mind boring work as long as it's well-organised and I get on with my co-workers. The problem is I don't thrive under pressure and everywhere seems to be understaffed nowadays. Computerisation was an excuse to make more redundancies than was good for the wellbeing of the remaining staff. The two women who interviewed me work long hours and both said they were workaholics, as if it was a virtue they brought to the job rather than an illness forced on them by uncaring management.

  4. Arabella9:57 AM

    I hear you about the book trade.

    I've thrived in some working environments (few) and died quickly or slowly in others (most). Tim and Annie express eloquently what I would like to say.
    Good luck at the docs - I hope you get a true listener.

  5. Geoff, I can't imagine anyone who writes as eloquently as you, feeling anything other than lost in the work environment you describe. That makes you the very opposite of a loser, in my book. I hope things work out.

  6. Arabella - Thank you. Hopefully I'll thrive again. I won't stand for anything less.

    Space Hopper - Thank you. Accounts work is so unfulfilling you need a friendly atmosphere to get you through the day.

  7. As Tim said, it's not a failure to find that sort of work intolerable. That's an abnormal situation which very few real human beings could cope with for a long time.

    There are jobs (or, more usually, my own projects, which may or may not get paid) where I thrive on the pressure. But then it's because I am enjoying what I'm doing, the very process of it. Putting on my shows for e.g, I'll happily work any number of hours.

    OTOH, there are those jobs (very few, I must say) where nothing much happens, but which give you time to think, or read, or look out of the window.

    I hope you can find something that's a bit more you. But remember, it's not you that's wrong, it's the fit of you and the job.

  8. Some jobs make you wonder where the camera is hidden.

    The rot became irreversible when the term "compensation" became widely used instead of "remuneration" or, better yet, "pay".

    My employers have always hated me because I won't kiss their gluteus maximii but I notice that they always wanted to keep me, at least they used to until I burned the last Data Centre to the ground and nailed the manager's fluffy white world-domination cat to his wife's forehead.

    The "high" point of my three and a half decades leading to a meteoric redundancy, bankruptcy and penury was feeling the hairs on the back of my neck rising as I worked feverishly at my terminal at 3am in a room lit only by terminal screens and the fires of Hell. I turned around and counted twenty-three "managers" all watching me fix the problem. They were in a semi-circle and had coffee cups. I suggested that it might be nice if they went away and had sex with themselves.

    To be fair, they did (go away that is).

  9. The best thing you could have done was to leave this soul-crushing job.

    Keep slogging through the annoying interview process until you find something more suitable and you'll never look back.

  10. Looby - I'm not suited to accounts work but it's all I know.

    The Owl Wood - Until three years ago my previous workplace was actually a pleasant place to work. Then the bullshitters took over.

    MJ - I'm having a month off to learn more about Office. Then I'll be back on the treadmill.

  11. The sad fact is that very few jobs are going to be a barrel of laughs in the first 3 months. I used to find a conspiracy of antipathy until they've sussed you out - went on for 18 months in my last 2 jobs.

  12. They were welcoming but had nothing else to say either to me or to each other. It didn't help that none of us faced each other. 8 hours without conversation going on is miserable.