Day 40

It’s recovery, I guess, that has slowly taught me that I can get people to notice me, even like me, by making an effort with them. I honestly don’t think I knew this until a few years ago, and then it’s only the last six months or so that I’ve begun to believe it. It sounds so simple, so obvious, to say that most people will reciprocate my friendly efforts with them. But the concept was so alien to me it took thousands of AA meetings for it to sink in. And even now I don’t want to fully give myself to it. I still don’t like it all that much. I would love it if I could make an effort with someone once and never have to worry about it again.

Old negative ways of being are, I think, slowly being shed like dead skin. I nearly got a resentment after the meeting on Tuesday when hardly anyone said goodbye to me on my way out (I’ve been there every week since the beginning of the year, people should be falling over to bid me farewell by now!) But then I remembered that I had made a choice to rush out without stopping for anyone, and I could make a choice in how I felt about that.

The main person I’d wanted to talk to was B, having got to know him and feel safe with him the week before at my sponsor’s house, but he’d just been elected the new secretary at the meeting and had a queue of people waiting to congratulate him as I left. He is a naturally popular person: I’d seen it on Friday at lunch and I could see it again on Tuesday. He just has an easy way with people, so that people want to be around him. There are people like that in all areas of life, of course. I’m probably thinking about B in particular at the moment because he’s recently thrown some attention my way, and the nervous wallflower in me has been taken aback by it. Why would someone as cool as that ever be interested in talking to me, ey?

As well as not saying goodbye to people at the end of the meeting I still worry about the little interactions I have with them before and during the meeting. Things like looking them in the eye, saying hello to them as soon as I see them (rather than waiting for them to do it), persevering with a smile if they don’t acknowledge me straight away. Little gestures that happen in a second, that nearly everyone does without thinking all the time, have come to seem so significant in my life, because I’m basically having to learn how to do them as we speak. Saying hello to someone without waiting for an obvious acknowledgement from them first still completely baffles me! I know that to do it I just have to do it, I don’t need to think about it, but this ancient aversion to vulnerability keeps getting in the way. Not doing it once may not be a problem, but when you keep not doing it people get the impression that you’re aloof or unfriendly, and I don’t want that. I’ve seen enough subtle evidence of how other people manage to make friends and be happy to realise that it’s this kind of thing I should be making more of an effort with.

*****

Day 40 at work yesterday. To have reached my fortieth day doesn’t fill me with as much glee as I thought it might at the beginning. This obsession I’ve had about not clicking with the people around me continues to fill my thoughts most of the time. I caught a really good article the other day about work loneliness, written by someone that works in a big office and feels pretty much the way I do. The author was a manager, not exactly at the bottom rung of the ladder like me, which caught my attention. They talked about having no natural allies in their workplace, separated as they are by an age gap between them and the others, as well as the invisible barrier that tends to exist between managers and ordinary staff. What they yearned for was a ‘work spouse’, i.e. a partner in crime who they feel safe in burdening with their secret complaints and laughing at things with. The biggest difference between my current working situation and that in my previous place of work is that I don’t have a natural ally here, like I did before. For more than four years at the last place I was incredibly fortunate to work in a close knit team full of people who had my back most of the time. Here I’m nowhere close to having that, which rankles because I wouldn’t have had to leave my old job in the first place and lose that close knit work family if circumstances had been different. I talk to my neighbour V a lot, we get on perfectly well and I’d probably like her if I knew her outside of work, but I wouldn’t call her a trusted ally yet. I certainly wouldn’t be able to confide in her about any of this.

I’ve decided to make a light at the end of the tunnel, by agreeing with myself that I’ll leave in six to twelve months. By then I’ll have replenished my savings enough to be able to live comfortably if I don’t manage to walk straight into another job. It’s clear that I am not getting anything very positive out of my job at the moment, and it’s not clear if that will ever change, so to stop myself from getting ill with stress, I think I need to make leaving a firm option. Six months is definitely manageable, twelve is reasonable if things are going better after six. A bit of me fears that I could be sacked in the meantime for not showing the required enthusiasm for the company, something that would be inconvenient and hugely unfair in my opinion. Well, it might happen, it might not. It’s out of my control, so I can’t let it affect my plans.

Talking of plans, haven’t they changed a lot in the past six months?! Before I went travelling in the autumn I was convinced I’d be living and working in France by now. When I got back I thought I’d be moving to Manchester instead and getting a mortgage. Now a mortgage is virtually out of the question, since it doesn’t look as if I’ll be earning enough for quite some time, and I don’t know if I still want one in any case. Recently I’ve talked to some people who are embarking on careers in counselling, a conversation that has reignited in me an interest in the subject. It was what I wanted to do years ago when I left University. I thought I’d work in the rat race for a few years, get some life experience, save up for the tuition fees and then go for it. That all changed when I started at my last company and realised that working in an ordinary office job could have its own benefits. Seeing all the downsides of an office career this year has got me down so much, I’m beginning to wonder if I shouldn’t just go and do something I actually wanted to do all along, i.e. train as a therapist. It would mean at least a year out of work and I’d probably end up having to spend so much of my savings I’d kill any chance of getting a mortgage in the future. But I don’t know if that even matters any more. To get a mortgage I’d need to be doing jobs like this for another ten years. Yes, therapists get mortgages too, but if I’m going to spend all of what I had saved for a deposit on my training, I’m unlikely to be one of those therapists.

It was always about getting a mortgage, but now finally I may have to let go. I simply can’t keep pretending that the kind of job I’m doing now is ok, that it will be all right in the end and the stress is worth it. It’s all meaningless, I’m not producing anything worthwhile or benefiting society in any way. And I suppose this is what separates me from my colleagues, this poisonous knowledge that I’m not like them, I’ll never be like them because I want more from my life. One day some of them may start to feel the same way, but they’re all still so young, and therefore lucky in that they can continue fooling themselves for years to come. I don’t blame them for that, I don’t claim to be better than them in some way, I’m simply aware that there has been a kind of awakening in my life recently, one I never knew I wanted, and I instinctively want to hold true to it now. I need to keep letting go of old ideas, anything that isn’t authentic.

Despite knowing how inauthentic my working environment is I can’t help but want to be more part of a group when I’m there. When I’ve gone, I’ll never see any of these people again so it really doesn’t matter what they think about me, but that doesn’t mean it’s not nice to have someone I can rely on there for human conversation. All this knowledge about authenticity and the bright future I have ahead of me doesn’t stop it from getting so lonely at times, especially when there isn’t much to do, or when V’s not there. Next week she’s going off on a two week company training that we all should have had when we started. So that’ll be two weeks when I have literally no one to talk to. B and J can’t be relied upon, even though they sit right next to me and we’re supposed to be in the same team.

Knowing that in five years’ time I probably won’t even remember what these people look like, doesn’t mean it’s not heartbreaking to sit there and spend hours wondering why I haven’t been able to repeat the success I had in my last job. The great contradiction to it all is the fact of how unhappy I was in my final months there. The close knit group I’d enjoyed working with for years were long gone, and I was on my own again, like I am now, which is why I chose to leave. I wish I knew whether feeling lonely was a good reason to keep leaving jobs or not. One of those answers that would be good to have in a rulebook for adult life, for sure.

No, this isn’t the right career for me. Apart from the big age difference between me and most of my colleagues (it really can resemble a school playground sometimes) there’s the fact I have to work in an airless basement with beige walls every day with little natural daylight; and there’s the whole happy clappy “love the company” culture thing that I’ve gone on about before. When I started my last job I was the same age as a lot of my current colleagues, and I could put up with those aspects when I was there because I didn’t think I could do any better. I’m too old for it now.

I’m doing it again, talking about myself too much. To anyone who’s still interested in the inner workings of my mind, thanks! I’ve been using this more and more as a form of free therapy. All of it’s what I would say laying on a couch, talking to a silent therapist who says and does nothing apart from let me listen to and make sense of myself.

Today wasn’t particularly busy to start with so I had an hour or two to psychoanalyse myself at my desk. For weeks I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of why I’m so obsessed with making friends with these people, even though they mean nothing to me and I mean nothing to them. I’ve tried to unravel my thoughts and go back in time to find the origins. Now I think I can summarise what’s going on as follows:

  1. I’m older than them / don’t have the same interests as them, therefore I can’t make an effort to talk to them, because I wouldn’t get anywhere
  2. They start to think I’m aloof and uninterested in them because I haven’t made an effort
  3. This makes me a bad, worthless person in their eyes

I hadn’t realised the significance of that final idea until today, how much of a part it plays in my whole life. It’s not just that I can’t talk to people because we have nothing in common – there’s an element of them perceiving me as bad and wrong in consequence, and this makes the whole situation so much harder to crack. Ask me where I got the idea that they would see me as bad and wrong from, and I wouldn’t exactly be able to say. It’s taken me so long to figure it out and name it, that it could be pre-language. It’s certainly deep rooted in my past. It probably comes from school, and my mother, who nagged me throughout childhood to make more friends in case other children thought I was weird.

I don’t doubt for a second that other people have these difficulties; there could be others at the bank going through the same thing for all I know. When I watch the confident people who walk around the office talking to people all day, I notice it’s usually the team leaders and those who’ve been working there a long time. Newer / quieter members of staff don’t tend to get up from their desks and branch out from their immediate circle of friends all that much. Which can lead one to suspect that I’m not completely unique in being shy there. Clearly we’re all different and I do a disservice to some in assuming that they all have an easier time of it than me. Still, it doesn’t make much difference to where I stand with this job. I’m still going to leave sooner or later.

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