Back in Paris

I returned to Paris this weekend. When I was last here nearly six months ago, the city was in the midst of a terror attack. I left that weekend in November not knowing if I would come again, but hoping I would feel safe to, one day. A lot’s happened in six months, I needed to come back, and the fear that I left Paris in is behind me. It has been a wonderful short break. I needed a break, period. Paris has once again shown me its beauty and its charm, and I’ve been able to fall in love with it again.

When I made my way here on Saturday morning, I wasn’t expecting much of the holiday. I was down, almost inconsolable. I’d had another restless night worrying about work. Despite it being the start of a long bank holiday weekend and there being a trip to Paris ahead of me, I’d panicked as if I had to go back to work that very day. Like the panic attack I had in the middle of the night a couple of weeks ago, this time I couldn’t stop going over the problem in my head again and again. None of my colleagues liked me; I didn’t know what I was doing; another day there would be torture. I took these thoughts to the train station with me. It seemed that the weekend was going to be spoiled before it had begun. I couldn’t pull myself out of the anxiety as it drove me into melancholy, even as I was about to get on the train and set off for France. It would have done no good telling me to perk up and appreciate the brief time I had to enjoy my holiday. It’s well known that nothing can make my mood change course once it’s set.

Friday had not been one of my better days at work so far. There was no particular reason for it to be bad. The company was having a monthly dress down day, so everyone had come to the office in casual gear, meaning that there was a more relaxed atmosphere in the office than usual. With that and the long weekend to look forward to, and a French holiday for me in particular, it should have been pleasant. But I was bothered for most of the day by the fact I still wasn’t talking to the four people apart from B and V who I sit closest to. It played on my mind incessantly as the afternoon dragged on. V had asked to leave early that day, which meant that after 4pm I was alone and invisible, while B chatted to her neighbours on the other side.

I attempted to meditate. It was a quiet day work-wise, so I had nothing else to do. In a loud open plan office, silent meditation is not an easy feat. I think I barely managed five minutes.

To stop myself from looking at the clock I decided to fill the rest of the afternoon with customer calls. A new task that B has recently trained me in involves calling customers to check up on tax details. It’s part of some new government legislation recently introduced – we have to do it. Having done a couple such calls on Wednesday I knew it wasn’t exactly a fun task, and I hardly relished doing it on a Friday afternoon. But there was literally nothing else to do, and there was a whole queue of these calls to get through.

I’d forgotten one of the laws of working with customers: when you decide to approach one at the end of the day or week, you’re asking to stay late. I couldn’t get through to most of the people that I called that afternoon; when I finally got through to someone, they were, shall we say, a bit miffed with being called out of the blue for what they saw as a suspicious reason. It didn’t go well. My explanation for the call made them bristle and they wanted to complain. I must have been on the phone for twenty minutes apologising. After practically ignoring me all afternoon, B was by my side when she heard the call as it started to go awry. She wrote tips on what to do on pieces of paper. She was comforting and helpful afterwards, telling me I’d done everything right and I’d just caught a customer on a bad day.

Earlier in the week she had announced that she was leaving the team soon, something I’d already guessed. She’ll be going to head office in May or June to work in a role which sounds mysterious and impressive. I’m sure she’ll be great there. I may never see her again, she may never think about me again.

All of which means I will have to get used to the complicated and dreary tasks that I’m currently still practising. I’ll have to start getting things right. Frankly, I no more feel as if I want to stay at the bank in the long term than I did when I started nearly a month ago. But I feel that I have to stay now. The longer I stay there, even though it makes me unhappy and resentful, the harder it is to contemplate leaving and going back to unemployment, uncertainty, purposelessness.

Oh sure, I’ve made progress in the job this past month. It’s just not the progress I would have liked. When I left on Friday my mood was sinking, but I knew I’d feel better as soon as I got to the meeting. The chair was given by S, a shining example of how the program works. He was once painfully shy, barely able to look at anyone when he came into the rooms six years ago; today he’s a member of the service committee at several meetings, he helps countless newcomers, he’s friends with everyone (even me!), and he has a healthy, sane partner in the rooms. Recently he started a new office job that’s been driving him a bit mad. He shared about it with honesty and wit, so I felt able to share about my own work challenges again. It was what the doctor ordered.

After the meeting I’d arranged to go for dinner with my sponsor. I wanted to tell him everything about the difficult day I’d had and what it all meant, but we were both pretty tired, and there wasn’t much frank conversation to be had for once. Still, it was a more honest conversation than I’d had with anyone all day.

When I arrived in Paris yesterday I felt much better, and the holiday could begin. I’d dozed a bit on the train, which probably helped. I felt comfortable navigating my way to the hotel, having done it quite a few times in the last five years. Later on I enjoyed walking down to Place de la Republique and through the narrow elegant alleyways to the centre of town, along the same streets that I last saw in November hours before the terror attacks. Paris seems to have recovered well from the event, which I’m glad about. Republique seems to have been taken over by a mass political occupation, with stalls and marquees crowded full of people listening to speeches that I didn’t have enough time to stay and follow.

I crossed the river and ended up in the Odéon quarter where I relaxed with a nice hot chocolate in a branch of Paul. It was about as authentically French as I’d get that day. With the chattering crowds outside the cafes, accordion music playing in the background on every street, a little summer sunshine breaking through the clouds, it was a good evening. Last week when I was thinking I’d give anything to go back in time to the autumn when I was able to do this every day, well, here I was. I’ll be back at work on Tuesday, but so far it hasn’t felt like it. It’s hard to believe I was there suffering just two days ago.

Today’s been a beautiful day. I’ve taken myself on a romantic date around the city, walking for hours on end and finding yet more new areas that I didn’t know before. From Place des Vosges to the Grenelle quarter, I’ve explored and taken pictures and enjoyed myself in gorgeous spring sunshine. I haven’t spent a moment stressing out about being alone. I guess I’m quite familiar with Paris now and I know my way around. For most of the day I’ve had my headphones in and I’ve listened to music that means something to me. Sat on a bench this evening on the Ile des Cygnes, listening to Debussy’s Clair De Lune with a blue sky above me and the gently lapping waves of the Seine below me, I felt at home. The weather’s definitely helped with the mood this weekend – I couldn’t have asked for better.

I’d love to have got to an AA meeting this weekend, but I arrived too late yesterday and it turned out that today was a public holiday in France, so they were all cancelled. Oh well. I’ve been happy anyway. Right now, even though tomorrow’s my last day here and my last day of freedom, work still feels far away.

P wasn’t upset when he found out that I was coming here without him. He’s liked all of my pictures and posts on facebook about the trip. He’s messaged me to ask if I’m enjoying myself and if I’m planning to visit any of the gay bars. I’ve tried to reply politely without engaging in long conversations. I can’t deny that it’s been a bit strange, firstly coming here without him (we’ve always come together in the last few years), secondly not messaging him constantly to tell him about what’s going on. The temptation to message him about how beautiful the Seine was today, or how nice it was to discover tranquility in Place des Vosges, was strong. He was always the person I’d confide my thoughts in; now he isn’t. My thoughts about things don’t really mean anything to him, so I’m keeping them to myself for the first time. I will share them with my sponsor later, or in a meeting when I get back to London.

It’s been more than a month since I last saw him. He doesn’t seem to realise that anything has changed yet. I’ve begun to compose an email that I may or may not send to him when the time comes to make the final break. In it I have explained everything. How I feel that we’ve grown apart in the past couple of years; how I don’t remember the last time we had fun together or had an interesting conversation with each other. How I hope that he’s noticed it too; how I’m sorry for the way things have turned out.

I can’t say anything until we’ve got Barcelona in July out of the way. I can’t ruin that holiday for him before it’s begun. Once it’s out of the way, I’ll have to tell him the truth, whether it’s by email or face to face. After finishing the draft email, I think face to face might just be easier (and fairer). It can’t wait after July – it will have to be then. Yes, I’m dreading it. It’s like telling a spouse that I want a divorce. Necessary, but painful. It’s going to hurt him, but given that my feelings on the matter haven’t changed in almost a year, it’s clear that there’s no way around it any more. Somehow I just have to get through the next few months without letting on how serious things are. Somehow I have to keep my distance from him for my own sanity, without telling him outright that our friendship is over. The only consolation is that it will be over in July, which isn’t that long away.

Out there vs in here

The week started busy on Monday. There seem to be more things going on in the role now, which is inevitably a good thing. More customers are returning their forms on a daily basis and this is creating more work. Manual data entry from forms was never a career ambition of mine per se, but I’m enjoying the opportunity just to do something important. My work’s still being checked, and I’m still not being trusted with any of the riskier tasks, something I’m just having to accept at the moment. At least the days have gone quickly, and that Monday feeling didn’t have to last long.

I was distant with R at the meeting that evening because I didn’t know how to be just normal. Saturday’s shenanigans were still on my mind, and part of wished I didn’t have to speak to him. When the meeting was over, I turned down all invitations to coffee with the gang, despite their enthusiasm to have me. Later on when I was getting into bed I got a message from R, saying he hoped he hadn’t upset me in some way. So he had noticed then. For a while I debated whether to tell him the truth or not. In an ideal world, I’d have met him for coffee and told him how I felt face to face. But there seemed to be no opportunities on the horizon for such a meeting. After a recent operation he’s been struggling to get around, and I don’t want to drag him into town for a heart to heart that will probably upset him. I decided to text him before going to sleep, honestly telling him that I wasn’t looking for a relationship with anyone at the moment and that I needed to establish a boundary with him. His reply was swift and gracious: he was happy to remain just friends. Let’s hope that’s the last of the funny business then.

Tuesday proceeded in a similar vein to Monday: busy, quick, no time to think. There was some embarrassment in the morning when B had a minor go at us for not filing customer forms away properly. I knew as she spoke that it wasn’t my fault – I’d followed instructions to the letter when filing the forms away – but I didn’t want to get into an argument so I said nothing. I didn’t know who had messed the forms up, I didn’t have all the facts so it wouldn’t have been fair to try and shift the blame. Restraint of pen and tongue can be a good thing, as they say in AA. It avoided a scene and B wasn’t given cause to get even more annoyed.

My home group meeting was lovely as ever. I shared again about the contrast between my chaotic, unmanageable drinking life and my responsible life today, and how grateful I am for it. At the end there was a group conscience; for the first time in some years I decided to stay for it as I knew there’d be some service commitments up for grabs. Having not had a commitment in any AA meeting since 2012, and with the encouragement of my sponsor, I put my hand up to take on the role of chips person, which means that I give out the sobriety chips to those celebrating sober anniversaries every week. It seems like a nice commitment, not too stressful. You just have to stand at the front and hug people, something anyone can do. I’ll have to smile a lot and be warm, things I can always do with more practise in. Mainly I volunteered myself because I sensed it was time to start giving back to the meeting. Without doubt it has given me a lot over the years. I probably wouldn’t have got sober in the first place without that meeting. I may always feel like I’m not as good at the commitment as the last person who did it, I may always fear that I’m not one of the meeting’s bright stars. But can I afford to just give up and sit at the back forever, without trying? No, probably not.

Yesterday started badly and went downhill from there. A mistake I didn’t know I’d made last week in sending out all the letters to our business customers had come back to haunt me. B had found that the letters I’d sent didn’t include some important information. I’d sent the wrong letter template, one that didn’t include the information. In hindsight, one could question why there was a template stored in the system that didn’t have the all important bits included, but I wasn’t thinking that way yesterday. All day I had to put up with an atmosphere of tension and embarrassment. I wasn’t overtly in trouble, no one really said anything to me. In fact, J the manager seemed fine about it all, putting it down to one of those things, we’ll live, etc. But I could feel B’s anger right next to me all day. Added to the issue of forms not being filed away properly, which she was still possibly blaming me for, this was just another straw for her. Soon it would surely be the final one.

I spent most of the day convinced I was going to get the sack. Grey clouds of fear hovered over me. That it was virtually a repeat of a similar experience in my early days at the last company, when I made a similar embarrassing mistake and had to endure the silent opprobrium of colleagues, seemed cruelly ironic and not comforting in the slightest. Just because I survived that experience in the last job and went on to achieve great things there, didn’t mean it would happen here as well. This employer doesn’t see me as a reliable, valued colleague yet; it barely knows me. Had J been in a worse mood yesterday, I could have been out the door by lunchtime.

V, the only person in the whole company who you could say I’m on friendly terms with, could tell I was upset and tried to comfort me by saying it happens to all of us and it will be fine. It was extraordinarily nice of her to say so – she didn’t need to. But no matter how nice it was, I couldn’t lift my spirits yesterday. It was just too hard. Knowing that no one would particularly care if I got the sack, that it would in fact go unnoticed by most people there, stung horribly. I got to thinking about how little progress I’d made on the social connections front in nearly a month of working there, and I started to wonder what it is about me that seems to repel people. Unhealthy thoughts gathered, the mood dipped further and I was in full isolation mode. I didn’t want to be there.

It seems obvious now that it is such behaviour that repels people: when I’m isolating I look like I don’t want to be approached. I knew all this yesterday and I would have given anything to be able to break out of it and have a normal conversation with someone, but I couldn’t take the risk. Every time I thought about it I just couldn’t take any action. Sometimes it’s incredibly hard to believe that the solution to my problems could be so simple. Even though I have seen a simple solution work in AA and other places before, contemplating saying something to someone I don’t know here would feel like suicide.

With the madness on me I automatically went to the step 11 meeting in the evening, somewhere I don’t normally go. Instinct made me sit in a dark corner near the back of the room, far away from everyone else. A few minutes before the start of the meeting, a close friend visiting from overseas showed up, took the seat next to me, and I felt relief. We went for coffee after the meeting, for which I had to break my vow of sensibly going home straight away. I should have had an early night, but I didn’t want to. In a quiet coffee house we talked about all of these things. One of the things that was said stuck with me. I’d mentioned that I didn’t think I could ever have this kind of conversation with my mother, because she never seems to be interested or even think about life in that way. My friend pointed out that some of my colleagues at the bank might have the same opinion of me, i.e. that I probably don’t have any interesting things to say because I never show it. It was a hard pill to swallow, but true. While I continue not to make any effort with all these people I’m not going to get anywhere.

On the way home I called my sponsor and had a similar conversation with him; he was as supportive and loving as one could hope for on a cold, wet, unhappy Wednesday night. Honestly, without AA, I don’t think I could have lasted this long in the job.

Today was a better day from the beginning. I could tell there was going to be a different atmosphere when I got off the tube one stop early and walked for fifteen minutes to the office in glorious morning sunshine. Whenever I have a bad day I usually will feel better by the next, once I’ve slept; today very much continued the pattern. The feeling of being judged at work had lifted. That feeling was all in my mind, of course, but it felt very real yesterday. Because it was in my head, and my head defines how I see the world, it was real.

Our neighbouring teams in the office had some new starters this week whom I recognised as soon I saw them: they’d been at the same interview as me all the way back in March. I haven’t been able to say hello to any of them yet, even though we were all chatting and quite friendly with each other at the interview. It’s heartbreaking, it really is. Having started together, some weeks after I started, they’ve formed their little group now and I’m not part of it. I’ll never be part of it. I blame myself, even though they are as much to blame as me for not making any effort to say hello to me. My head tells me it’s all my fault, that there is this universal law which says people will be offended if I don’t make an immense effort with them the first time I see them. I feel that they are offended with me now and the longer I say nothing, the harder it’s going to be to break the ice.

Reality: they don’t mind that I’ve said nothing to them so far, it will never be too late to make some kind of approach. And it wouldn’t matter if I never say anything to them, either. We’re just work colleagues, I don’t have to be friends with every single person there.

Outside me in the world, these things don’t matter a jot. But inside me it matters immensely, all the time. I can’t stop myself from caring to the point where it hurts.

Later in the afternoon I managed to make some small efforts with our nearest neighbours in the wider team, laughing at group jokes and contributing a few silly comments to the conversation. I saw no evidence to suggest whether my contributions had gone down well or not. Some of them looked my way and smiled, that was it. I guess I’ll have to trust that if I keep making such tiny efforts where I can, it will all begin to add up to something in the end.

There was another birthday in the office today. When they brought the cake out and started singing we all had to join in, though none of us on my side knew the person who was celebrating another year on Earth. V asked me when my birthday was and I replied that it was in December, which immediately began to seem like a very, very long way off. Right now it seems inconceivable that I’ll still be in this job by the time I turn 34. Firstly, I’ll have to pass my probation; secondly, I’d have to find some way of connecting with more colleagues there because eight months of near silence every day would probably kill me. I really can’t see it happening.

Because I appear to have had similar doubts when I started at the last company, I’ve continued to obsessively search my memory for what it was like at this stage when I’d been there nearly a month. My word, I’ve been in this job for nearly a month! Truthfully, I’ll never remember exactly what it was like during my fourth week at the last place, whether I was having these exact same fears and doubts on a daily basis or whether it was already all wonderful and plain sailing. Truthfully, it doesn’t bloody matter what it was like back then. That’s the past, and now is now. Trying to translate one experience to the next doesn’t work, I was a different person seven years ago.

Sunday 24th April

Friday was an ok day for work. I talked to a couple of new people that I hadn’t talked to before, very briefly, because I needed some help with things. It was quite a busy day again, which was encouraging. In the afternoon I had some more training with B, in which I found out that the role could really expand in the coming year (the thought at the back of my mind being “if I last that long”.) New government guidelines in certain areas will cause a lot more work during the year, and it seems to be B’s intention that me and V learn how to take over all of that work. B doesn’t know that I know she’s planning to leave the team; by this time next year, V and I could be overseeing a massive and complicated task that involves reporting to the government. The secretly ambitious side of me will relish the challenge and the growth involved, I’m sure. If I could feel secure in the knowledge that I’ll be allowed to get on with it, without having to put up with all the other crap that’s involved in working for the company, it would be fine.

But we already know I won’t just be able to get on with the job and the learning quietly this year. At the bank you have to do things the their way, which means partaking in regular activities and events that strengthen the brand. On Friday they gathered the department together for a meeting in the kitchen which was mainly designed to reinforce the company’s values for us. We learnt what the company’s doing to boost its growth and how we can all play a part in it. They regularly hosted similar things at my old company, so nothing new. When it was over, before we could go back to our desks we all had to split into groups for team games. These weren’t just any games: they all had the goal of engraining company values and behaviours in us. In our teams we were pitted against each other, scoring points by guessing which behaviour went with which overarching value. The team with the most points won, obviously. All they won was prestige, nothing more, but the enthusiasm from some people would make you think they expected a promotion there and then.

I found it all completely patronising. It doesn’t exactly show trust in its employees if they have to ram the values down our throats all the time. Since I can’t quit easily now, I have to make myself look at the positives in the situation and forget the negatives. It will be good for my CV if I stay; it’s a regular and reliable salary; and it will teach me patience, for sure. Maybe it will even show me how not to take myself too seriously.

Friday evening I was invited to R’s place for dinner. A and J from the Saturday meeting would be going as well. It would be a good chance to consolidate the bonds with my new little AA family. I was looking forward to it. The feeling of being free when I came out of work that evening was as wonderful as ever; I travelled to R’s flat feeling very good, having changed into a comfortable weekend outfit in the toilets at work before I left. It was of course lovely to spend the evening with AA friends chatting around a kitchen table, eating good food that one of them had lovingly cooked for us. I could count myself lucky for being invited to eat in someone’s home for the second time in a month, the last time being when I ate at my sponsor’s house. It would have been as spiritually nourishing as lunch there had been, except that R kept flirting and teasing me in a silly, over-affectionate way that rather lowered the tone of the evening. I’d been expecting it, and earlier in the week had considered not going for that reason, but I went because I’d said I would, and I thought I could be doing worse things on a Friday evening. I’d wanted to see if I could feel even more part of an AA family by going, and in some ways I did. R didn’t go too far with the flirting, he just skated close to the line.

Yesterday I celebrated the weekend by indulging in some retail therapy. Let’s face it, there’s not much in life that’s better. I bought a load of DVDs which I’d be able to take home and relax with in bed until the early hours – pure bliss. Later on it was time for the meeting in town, and I felt much better this week than I did last week. I took my usual place comfortably near the back, amongst the group I’d already spent Friday night with at R’s place. Like last week, I didn’t identify with the chair very much, and I didn’t feel a pressing need to share either. I was aware that I couldn’t let myself begin to drift away from the meeting again, and that I should try and share again as soon as reasonably possible. But it’s true I have shared an awful lot this year, perhaps more than in all the years before put together, so maybe I’m allowed to let myself off the hook sometimes.

At coffee after R was back to his old ways, flirting heavily. I hated the embarrassment it made me feel – I thought I should be enjoying the flattery, but I just didn’t want to be there. I couldn’t focus properly on any of the conversations going on around me, I just kept feeling R’s eyes on me, waiting for me to respond so he could say something lascivious. I was painfully of aware of my inability to set a boundary with him like other people would. With anyone else, I could just imagine them letting the over familiar remarks wash over them. For me, all I could think about was how it must be making me look in front of them, and all I could do was retreat and go quiet. I still felt so bad for encouraging R’s advances in the beginning as well. I knew I would have no choice but to establish some firm boundaries with him soon, I just had no idea how. Should I say something to him? Or should I say nothing, wait instead for him to get bored and move on to someone else? What if he never moves on?

I can’t afford to let this affect my place in the Saturday group, that’s for sure. I really need that meeting and the coffee outing after. Maybe I’m looking at this wrong, maybe none of it’s actually my fault. This could just be something that happens to people sometimes; maybe others would find themselves just as unprepared for the lesson as I do. My HP obviously must think that I am ready to face this now. Before I went to bed last night I got a text from R telling me I had looked lovely at the meeting. So sweet, it made me cringe. A few weeks ago I was excited by the thoughts he was having about me. Now in my head the excitement has turned sour. I don’t want the attention any more, not now that R has proven to be available and interested.

This evening I met my sponsor for the fortnightly LGBT-themed mass in West London. I was dying to go again. Before we went in, I talked to him about the situation with R over some pizza, and he gave me some good advice. Namely to back away, not respond to any of the flirting, and to tell R to back off if it gets too much. I don’t have to worry about hurting R’s feelings because I can do it nicely, and he’s an adult capable of handling some rejection (which I’d not really considered).

As we went into the church it was immediately calming, just like last time. It was lovely to be part of something so spiritual again. I felt more relaxed about all the words and rituals this time; some more of it had come back to me, and I wasn’t so unsure about what to do. I realised that I can indeed find my own way into the religion, and I can take as long as I like about it. No one is checking what I’m doing or how much I know about it all. I didn’t feel odd or out of place at all tonight, so as a path it can’t be all that bad for me.

Unlike last time, there was a gospel choir performing all the hymns for us this week, and they were amazing. It just shows that life can be full of surprises. I’ve never seen a gospel choir in church before; I never knew the average Catholic church in England would have one. This time last year, who’d have thought I’d be enjoying mass in a church on a Sunday night?

There was the LGBT social gathering in the parish hall afterwards which I was half looking forward to, half apprehensive about. I didn’t get introduced to half as many people this time, because there were other newcomers for them to focus on and me and my sponsor were sort of just left to our own devices. He was shyer than before, and only managed to broach conversation with one or two people. Which is a great sight better than my total, zero. Still, the one or two that we did talk to were perfectly nice, and I had a reasonable time.

It’s that old trouble I always have with strangers: not being able to overcome that barrier which stops me from taking the risk and saying a mere “hello”. I can’t believe that anyone who doesn’t know me will want to talk to me, so I don’t feel safe approaching them, even though experience has shown most people respond perfectly well to being approached in situations like that. I just find myself thinking that everyone is far too attractive and far too threatening for me. There were certainly some attractive specimens on display tonight in that room.

In spite of a distinct lack of success this time, I’ll be going back with my sponsor in two weeks to try again. We’ll have to persevere slowly and see how it goes. I’m determined not to listen to the rubbish that my mind makes up any more.

Right now I’m not particularly nervous about going to work in the morning. I have next weekend’s trip to Paris to look forward to, after all. A trip that wouldn’t be possible without work and a regular wage.

Not being nervous about work tomorrow feels spiritual. I know I can be happy even though I may have to struggle and work in a difficult job for a long time. At least I have the ten minute meditation to break the morning fear up. If I let it, Monday could become the best day of the week!

Binary plus

Of course another aspect of my binary thinking is that everything has to have a cause, including my feelings. It has to be able to say that “this happened to me because I felt that way, or I felt this way because that happened,” etc. An example: I went to an AA meeting tonight (I’ve continued to go to them almost daily since I started work) and I didn’t feel connected to it throughout. I couldn’t identify with most of the sharing and so I turned off about halfway through. In a paradigm of causality one would want to say that it happened because I wasn’t working my program properly today, or because things are bad at work. Outside of that paradigm, maybe one could just say that it was one of “those” days, i.e. there is no reason. I’m sure I’ll go to another meeting the weekend and enjoy that one instead.

When work began today I was fully prepared for some form of confrontation with S. Although I don’t really know her at all, something in how the other girl in the team said she’d react to finding out her computer had been swapped rang true (based on what I’d seen of her previous behaviour around the office). When she arrived and found out what had happened she uttered a cold “are you serious?!” at me, before not speaking to me for the rest of the day. It was like I had stolen her personal property.

Apart from not speaking to me she was pretty normal around everyone else during the day, once the initial shock had worn off, which would suggest that it wasn’t ultimately that big a deal. She was getting on with her life. I’d avoided the humiliation that I’d been dreading in my worst fears – the rest of the team hadn’t seized on an opportunity to laugh and gang up on me; some of them had in fact been quite helpful, suggesting to S that her new computer still did the job, she just wouldn’t have some useful software for a while. I’d like to have taken heart from that but the experience stayed on my mind for the rest of the morning.

There’s the uncomfortable feeling that I’ve made an enemy, and then there’s the truth that I did nothing wrong. I didn’t make S react that way, and it’s none of my business what she thinks of me now.

After lunch I didn’t have much time to dwell on it as there was lots of work to do all of a sudden. Proper queries started coming into our inbox and I had some investigation work to do for the first time all week. The busy peak followed by long lull nature of the work was proven to me. I was encouraged when B said that at some point in the near future we’ll be trained to take over some more tasks from our neighbouring team, so hopefully there’ll be a more regular pattern of work by that point.

As I was doing so much today I naturally started to make mistakes. They weren’t huge mistakes and I shouldn’t have felt too bad about them, but it was embarrassing nonetheless to have B shaking her head as she pointed them out to me. I can resent her for that, but one can’t ignore how frustrating it must be for her, having to check these things all the time. J appears to have asked B to check everything in her absence. While the checking’s going on it doesn’t look like I’m going to be entrusted with anything more complicated or responsible than the work I’m currently doing. It will take time for me to prove my trustworthiness. I’m just going to have to go through this period of learning and making mistakes first. Nothing else I can do.

Coincidence: I know I went through the same mistakes phase when I started at my last job and it went on for months. Boring having to go through it again in a new job that’s supposed to be exciting, but at least B’s been nice about the mistakes so far, unlike the people who trained me at the old company!

I’m writing daily at the moment to try and capture what’s really going on in my new job, in the hope that I’ll have an honest document I can refer back to at times of need in the distant future. Although I documented most of my early experiences at the old job in the same way, I’ll never know if I did it completely honestly or not, because a policy of being 100% honest at all times wasn’t as big a thing with me in those days. I can’t really remember how I felt on a daily basis at the end of 2009, because it was more than six years ago and my later experiences there have naturally coloured those memories, like the dye in clothes seeping out in the wash. The only thing I have to go on now is the blog; I don’t know if the way I remember those days now is based more on what happened or on what I wrote about it. It probably doesn’t matter now. What I want to do is document everything going on at the new job now as closely as I can, without holding back or glossing over anything, so that when I have another career change I’ll actually be able to look back and say “I went through this before” or “I didn’t go through this before.” I will need to know.

As part of the rigorously honest approach I’d like to give today a score out of ten: three. Sounds terrible but it’s actually better than most days I’ve had at the bank so far! The positives of the day include the fact that I briefly talked to a couple of people for the first time, and learnt some new stuff about our products. The negative comes from having no fun in my job whatsoever; it’s not even that interesting yet. It’s true that most people in the world don’t enjoy their jobs all the time, but still, there’s got to be some enjoyment at some point. So I’m giving today a three for the fact that the negative still sits heavily on top of any positives there may be.

Oh, it was payday today – maybe that should bring it up to a four. I’m glad I’ve lasted until my first payday at the bank. It’s enabled me to finally put a plug in the constant draining of my bank account. I can start saving again – let’s hope I don’t end up having a frivolous month and blowing it all.

I can’t go any higher than four because I still don’t think I’ve made any friends, haven’t had any nice chats yet, haven’t been myself yet. I’m obsessing with what they think of me all the time, and it’s a real drag. True, I’ve lasted three more weeks than I thought I would and it’s likely I’m going to be there for a while, but there’s still so much drudgery in having to force myself there every day. And I know it wouldn’t be like that in all jobs.

Reality: I’ll probably get used to it in time and start to enjoy things about it, like I did once I’d gotten over the hump in the beginning at the last place. I can be willing to admit that today, something I couldn’t be last week. Oh, how I wish, wish, wish I knew what people thought of me though! Just for a minute.

Thank heavens it’s Friday tomorrow. I was right at the beginning of the week when I said that it’s always just around the corner. Monday feels like it was just a few minutes ago. This is how the time ahead of me will pass. In a year or two I’ll be older and more settled and it will feel as if April 2016 was just yesterday. My mind tries to trick me into believing that time is going too slowly, but it really isn’t. In the great scheme of things, nothing that happens today will matter, so I might as well just let time do its thing and let it pass.

Binary

There is this binary thinking which wants me to say all the time that I feel this way or that way; that I either believed this or I believed that at a given point. It causes me to say that I can’t have conflicting feelings about my job. My usual narrative is that I’m anxious in the beginning of a new situation before the nerves slowly subside, so I must be going through that now. It doesn’t leave room for me to feel both anxious and hopeful at the same time. It wants to paint a solid picture of what I’m going through, but I think the truth is there are two things going on at the same time. I am anxious every day and I am also hopeful every day, both at the very same time. To try and reduce my experience to one or the other leads to confusion and more anxiety. Truthfully, I think I’m up against the worst aspects of my disease on a daily basis at the moment and it’s scary, but there’s as much hope on the other side ready to meet it. There must be, otherwise I’d have given up on the first day. But I can’t just say that means all is fine now because the negative side of things is equal to the positive. Things are both good and bad at the moment. I can’t choose which one is more real; I’m at an impasse with it until time reveals the answer.

I tried to start the working day with a different attitude to yesterday, giving myself back up plans in case I had nothing to do again. I’d go on the lemonde website and spend time translating articles: it would take plenty of time, and it would look vaguely like work in case anyone spotted me. In the end, I didn’t have to use my back up plan, as there was some actual work to do. I was thanking my lucky stars for that; the whole experience of not having anything to do for hours on end has proven that my mind needs constant occupation, otherwise it can begin to wither. So today I was learning from B how to send out letters to customers in bulk. As a task it took a lot of learning and I was with B for most of the day.

It won’t give me enough to do on a daily basis forever because the mail out only needs to be done once a fortnight. Still, at least it gives me a bit more responsibility, and there’s a chance it could grow into something bigger. They could decide to do the mail outs more frequently in future, or if I show an aptitude for such a complex task I might be given other even more complex and responsible tasks by the head of department. The other good thing is that B didn’t move a desk away from me today like I thought she would. Our conversation through the day wasn’t exactly chummy, but it was polite and relatively warm. We got on.

Over all the office was quieter than usual today with some of the nearby team away doing work in other teams. I gather that most of them will be back tomorrow, so the quiet wasn’t destined to last. Thank god I got a day of it, better than nothing. I didn’t come any closer to believing in the company vision today – I still strongly feel that there’s something forced about it all – but maybe in time I’ll just learn to accept it. That’s if I don’t get sacked in the meantime for not believing in it! One thing I’ll never grow to love is the basement. If I was sat just a couple of seats to my right or left, I’d be close enough to a skylight to see the sky. As it is I’m in the very middle with no direct view to any of the skylights. Such a bummer. Today saw glorious sunshine in London and I spent some of the time watching the shimmering reflection of it on the walls, like Plato’s cave people. The question of when I will be freed from that cave (mentally or physically) is anyone’s guess.

A potential problem with one of my neighbours arose this afternoon. B wanted to start training me on how to use the phone system, so that I can start calling up customers. Unfortunately my computer wasn’t configured to work with the phone system, and apparently never could be, which disappointed us no end because these phone calls desperately need to be done. After some thinking, B came up with the solution of swapping my hard drive with that of one of the girls in our neighbouring team who’d been away for the day. The hard drives are all slotted away in little shelves attached to the undersides of the desks, easily removed and replaced. So I took mine and swapped it with the other girl’s, after much fiddling about with cables and wires under the desk, thinking that would be that. We can all log in as ourselves on any computer in the company, so that part of it wouldn’t be a problem. Nor would configuring a phone to the new hard drive be a problem – as soon as I had it plugged in I saw that it was configurable. Why the other hard drive that I’d been using wasn’t configurable was to remain a mystery. When I had the new computer all set up, one of the other girls in the neighbouring team made a comment that S (whose hard drive I’d swapped out) wouldn’t be happy with the change because her computer had apparently been set up with some special software that she needed for doing one of her daily tasks. The comment was made in a “haha, you’ll be in so much trouble” kind of way, like the kind of teasing jibe kids make at school to each other. I don’t know if the girl who made the comment meant it as a joke, to be funny, but it certainly didn’t seem funny. I went into panic pretty much straight away.

I don’t know this girl S, I don’t know how she’s going to react tomorrow when she comes in and finds that her computer hard drive has been swapped. It could be awkward, and so with that possibility I am preparing myself for a difficult morning. Great, just what I need right now. This will be a test of my nerves, for sure; perhaps my biggest test yet at the bank. The worst case scenario only involves possible humiliation and isolation. So there’s a lot riding on it!

Logic tells me that I will handle whatever happens tomorrow and it probably won’t be that bad at all. I know and believe that to be true at the same time as believing viscerally that it will be terrible. Both things are equally true in my head; I’m not veering more towards either belief yet. Everything will be fine, but the worst aspects of my disease are being brought out because they always are in these situations. I’ve spent the whole evening thinking about this, and will probably spend the rest thinking about it until I go to bed. I’m expecting S to come in tomorrow and be upset with me in front of everyone, making me look the bad guy. I’ve made a character judgement of her as a way of protecting myself and it’s stuck. While she isn’t thinking about any of this tonight, I’m obsessing about her future behaviour as if it’s the only important thing in the world. She has no idea that anything out of the ordinary will happen tomorrow; when it comes, she might be perfectly fine about it. But my disease has predetermined what it thinks she’s going to do, all while I carry on knowing the truth about how the future behaviour of someone called S can’t be predicted by any equation.

What I do is I put people into these boxes and write equations for their future behaviour based on templates that I got at school. When I was there, everyone seemed predictable and fixed in their behaviour. You could always rely on the troublemakers to be troublemakers, the smart arses to be smart arses, the bullies to be bullies. The strangest aspect of my disease has me stuck in that warped view, where what some boys did in the 1990’s directly translates to what I believe people will do in 2016.

Until tomorrow has passed I won’t be able to get on with my life or see anything good in the future. The situation with S will be over in ten minutes, but boy has that ten minutes become all important tonight. The pressure it’s exerting on me is making me miss my old job harder than ever. There’s that binary thinking again: everything was better in the past, the bad times back then don’t matter any more because they don’t match up to what I’m going through today. I miss this time last year, when I was going into the office in trainers and going for walks in the nearby park at lunch time; the disease has blinded me to the daily misery I was experiencing at that time. It’s been pushed into a closet where it can’t affect this selective viewpoint that wants today’s fear to seem like the worst ever.

I’ve spotted the tricks that my mind keeps playing on me, like finding out the mundane truth behind a magician’s spells. I’ve delved into the inner workings and exposed the flaws. I’m ready for tomorrow now, and I am not looking forward to it.

Tuesday 20th April

I woke at 5am having a panic attack. After a good Monday evening meeting I thought I’d gone to bed feeling more positive about things, but my disease had tricked me. It was my worst panic attack in years. I lay wide awake in bed for about an hour, trying to remember what I had to do in my job. I kept having to go through all my tasks and responsibilities. If I tried to veer off into thinking of something else to quell the panic, it wouldn’t work: my disease would force me back to considering all my job responsibilities. For an hour nothing else in the world mattered except what I did, not even my name, which I would have had trouble recalling in the worst of it. I couldn’t remember anything good in my life, not AA, not my friends. I was stuck in the job, thinking I’d have to remind myself of all the processes forever otherwise I’d be doomed. It’s like I had to prove to myself that I actually had the job, and that I wasn’t an invisible or meaningless person who didn’t have one. All my thoughts were circular, bringing me back to the same abject terror of not feeling safe or secure in the role.

After an hour as the sky outside started to get light, some perspective began to creep in. Drastically I attempted to hijack the panic by calling out for God, which didn’t work. I knew I needed my higher power’s help to get me out of the mental trap I was in, but to begin with my faith in it wasn’t strong enough. In the end I just started counting loudly in my head, to drown out the noise of the fear. At some point I drifted back to sleep, to be woken again not much later by my alarm going off. Returning to sleep in that time was practically pointless in that sense, but I imagine my exhausted body needed all the sleep it could get.

Reminding myself of all my tasks and thus the reasons why I’m important at work had served no purpose. I had next to nothing to do all day. The stuff I had to do would have taken about an hour altogether; I somehow had to spread it out over eight hours. For the first time I didn’t bother asking J for more to do. She doesn’t give very much away, but I get the impression whenever I ask her for another task that I’m bothering her. I’m fed up of having to ask, anyway. It’s bad management that led to the team being over-staffed when I could have been placed in any other team that actually needed me.

The day dragged by, as you can imagine. I mentioned last week that there might be other more interesting tasks on the horizon – I had a short training session with B in the afternoon on how to do some stats, and there are more sessions booked for the rest of the week. Well, it’s not been confirmed yet that I will be taking over any or all of those tasks at some point, which doesn’t reassure me much. Logically you’d wonder why she was spending her time showing me these things if it wasn’t planned for me to start doing them soon, but I’ve not been given any timetable for a handover, I’ve just been given loose assurances that there’ll be more training to come at some point if there’s the time.

When B was training me this afternoon I felt like she didn’t want to be there. Most of the time she’s very pleasant but some of the time, like today, she’s distant with me and I don’t trust her. Plus I overheard her saying to J this afternoon that she’s going to move one along to J’s desk while J is away on holiday from tomorrow. Which will leave a gap between us, a gap I’ll find near impossible to breach since I already find it difficult enough approaching her sometimes. I heard her say that she’ll be so bored when J is gone, moving across to J’s desk so she can be nearer to the manager of the other team that sits on that side will be the only thing that keeps her going. Wow, thanks B! You really know how to inspire warmth in your teammates. I’m sure if I was to bring it up with her she’d say that she didn’t mean it, or that she really just wants to sit next to C (the other team manager) for two weeks in J’s absence because they’re good friends or something. As much as I try not to be paranoid and see the worst in people, I think in this case I can assume that B just doesn’t want me to be her only neighbour for two weeks.

One can’t exactly forget that I had similar problems with people during my first few months at the last company. But I think we’ve established that reminding myself how I eventually got over that isn’t helping in this situation. If it was helping, I wouldn’t be having panic attacks at 5 o’clock in the morning, would I. Yes, my problems at the last place were not exactly the same as the problems I have now. It was a different situation in many ways, and I was probably willing to put up with more shit at the time because I just wanted to avoid a job in Burger King.

I desperately want to believe that this job will surprise me like the last one did. Waiting for that surprise to come is absolute torture, so I think I’m going to have to stop thinking about my last employer altogether now. I really ought to just put it behind me. This company may not turn out to be full of surprises like my last company; this may not be the right place for me in the long run. Thinking that every situation is going to be successful and bear fruit like before could land me in more trouble than it’s worth.

When I had difficulties with people at the last place there’s this thing I used to do to deal with them mentally: I’d imagine sitting them in a room and talking about me. For some reason, it used to work as a miracle cure for resentments. Just picturing what someone might say about can make me see them in a different way, I guess. Because it always worked before I think I need to do it here with some of the team that sits around us. I’ve got it into my head that one or two of them hate me, even though they’ve never spoken to me. Some kind of reframing has to be done with them.

A, the guy who chatted to me out of the blue about travelling yesterday, is leaving the neighbouring team tomorrow to go and do something else in the bank. I couldn’t talk to him at all today, couldn’t even look at him. One five minute conversation and I feel betrayed when he decides to up and leave us. It was pretty much back to hopeless silence with all of my neighbours today.

I’m half aware that my side of the street isn’t completely clean in this situation. I’ve probably been as cold and aloof with them as they have with me. They probably don’t realise how hard it is for me to sit near them and not be able to talk to any of them, and why should they? My office social life isn’t their responsibility.

The moment this problem breaks and I’m talking to people in the office with some degree of comfort will be a wonderful moment. All I want is to have a conversation and begin one new friendship. It’s the simplest thing in the world, making a friend. We humans are hardwired to do it. So why is it still not happening?

If I really am unhappy, my options are leave or stay. I have to know that I have options and that I’m not really trapped, because that will keep making it so much harder. That said, I really don’t want to have to leave, I’d feel such a failure and I don’t know when the hell I’d be able to get another job. It’s pretty obvious, but I plan to take this one day at a time. It’s all I can do now. In six short months, perhaps I’ll be in a better position to move on and find something else. I’m definitely not going to be in my current position forever, that’s for sure. I don’t need to be.

Monday

It being Monday, I wasn’t looking forward to work this morning per se, with five whole days to go until another weekend and another luxurious lie in. But there wasn’t the same intense level of dread as this time last week. I managed to remember what I was talking about last night, that every day can feel like a Friday if I choose; that Friday is always just around the corner. Plus I knew there would probably be stuff to keep me busy today. When I got in there was plenty to do, and I got on with it without having much of a conversation with anyone. With others around me chatting away like lifelong friends, I easily felt like the office loner. It’s so easy to think that it will be silence and drudgery forever when I slip into that Monday mindset, when I forget that Monday is just a day like any other and Friday is always around the corner. I keep asking myself “When it’s going to change? When’s it going to change?” The disease can’t believe change is possible without proof, and there is no proof.

It looked like it was threatening rain at lunchtime so I decided to try eating at my desk, to see what it would be like. During the past fortnight when there’s been rain I’ve paid to eat in cafes and restaurants, so I could avoid being stuck in the office for my free hour. Today I didn’t enjoy the experience: it meant I would be in the basement for nearly eight solid hours. So I know now that I have to go out at lunchtime every day, even if it means spending a lot of money. I have to make that sacrifice, like I make the sacrifice in the evenings with AA meetings.

After lunch I’d finished all the main tasks for the day and got a bit fed up when J had nothing else for me or V to do. This was the third or fourth time this had happened. It’s rather ironic that I left a job last year where there was often nothing to do, came to this one thinking it couldn’t possibly suffer the same problem. Not wanting to stare into space for the rest of the afternoon, I went onto the Guardian website and read some opinion columns on Brexit while we waited for something to come up. Eventually the team leader of our neighbouring team came over and gave us a huge pile of documents that needed to be scanned into the system. It wasn’t a task that my team would normally get involved in, but since we were at a loose end J thought we might as well help. I was happy to help: it was bound to keep me occupied for the rest of the day. It would also be the opportunity I’d been waiting for to have a proper conversation with some of our neighbours, since I’d need them to show me what to do.

One of them, A, a quiet-ish guy who sits at the desk opposite me, came over and showed me and V how to upload the documents to people’s accounts once they’d been scanned. Somehow, in the course of teaching us he turned the conversation into one about travel, and I was talking about my recent adventures in Europe. I almost got carried away and became myself for a minute, until I realised and quickly put the barriers up, started saying generic non-risky things about the places I’d been. I quoted guide books that I’d read for safety, rather than expressing any of my actual opinions, not that A would have known. I wasn’t ready for him or anyone to see the real me yet.

That urge to be cautious in a situation with strangers, especially heterosexual strangers, is engrained as deeply as any other urge. I couldn’t possibly say why I had chosen the places I’d chosen to visit, or why I’d gone on my own; I could only say that they were all beautiful and I’d gone to have a good time. My meaningful, spiritual reasons for doing the trip aren’t something I’ll be ready to share with these people for a long time. I’m sure we can all be cautious at first in these situations, and it would take a true extrovert to share their heart and soul with someone they’d just met in a work environment. But it still makes me sad that I don’t feel able to say anything real to someone who is showing an interest in me, just because I don’t know them. I could only think about how he was probably judging me and how he’ll probably never talk to me again.

Now that I’ve achieved something I thought impossible last week, it should be great from now on, right? Wrong. Clearly there is still a very long way to go; engaging in very superficial small talk with a neighbour for five minutes is only the start of it. Although I’ve made that start now and it’s quite encouraging, I still fail to think of anything I like about my job. I spend most days waiting for a sign that things are improving, for someone to surprise me and remind me of my friendships at my last job. My conversation with A today doesn’t count yet because it’s just one conversation; I need to see that he’s still talking to me tomorrow for that.

I want to feel comfortable in my job NOW, I don’t want to wait any more. I feel like I’m getting too old to wait. Maybe I am old. I read an article on the Guardian today which described Prince William as middle aged. Christ, he’s only six months older than me! I’m middle aged, surrounded by dozens of youngsters with whom I don’t seem to have all that much in common (that I can tell from the conversations I hear all day). Faced with years of days like today, it’s hard to summon the strength I’ll need. AA tells me to just take this one day at a time, and I suppose I will, but damn, I can’t stop my head from drifting into the future and wondering where the hell it will take me.

I’m lucky I’ve always kept this blog and I have all the entries from late 2009 when I started at my last company available at my fingertips, to remind me that it was once like this. Going through the same thing again, I’m writing all this down in the hope that it might help me at some point in the future. Who knows, maybe it will.