At work they don’t pay you for taking a sick day in your first six months. I was willing to put up with this small sacrifice when I lied about having the flu on Monday. I wasn’t prepared for the panic that would ensue when I returned to work on Tuesday, when I discovered that a manager needed to sign me back in on the system (so that I would officially be recognised as ‘back at work’.) Unfortunately my manager was off sick this week as well, and initially it didn’t look like any other manager in the office could sign me back in. The HR system continued to show me as off sick until the middle of the week, during which time I was increasingly livid with their stupid system. I understand why they need to have a firm policy on sickness, why they want employees to explain themselves properly and have a manager ensuring it’s legitimate. What sickened me on Tuesday was the fact that no other manager apart from my own could sign me back in, so that potentially I could end up losing more than one day’s pay in this month’s pay packet. Pay day is this week – they would have been arranging our pay mid last week – at that point payroll would have seen that I was still off after three days. So I could lose three day’s pay or more, even though I was only off for one day, all because of some technicality.
I tried to breathe, to practise patience, to remember that it would be really silly and unlikely for me to lose more than a day’s pay, because it would all get sorted somehow, because these things always do. But it was exceedingly hard to keep focused on that mindset, because I was so desperate and impatient for the problem to get sorted, I just wanted to control everything. I wanted to keep emailing HR every five minutes until they found a way of overriding the system which required my manager to mark me as back in. I wanted to hand my notice in and walk out, show them that I wasn’t willing to put up with this crap. I didn’t want to just sit there and keep working for free, as if I was willing to accept their draconian rules.
Over the weekend I’d started applying for other jobs in other companies, to get the ball rolling with the job search again so that I’d have something to go to when I leave the bank in three months’ time. I was focusing purely on part time, easy roles in customer service that would top up my savings and see me through counselling training. I didn’t want anything demanding or time consuming. I wasn’t expecting to get any responses straight away, which made it a surprise when on Tuesday afternoon in the midst of all the palaver at work I got a call from a clothing retailer, asking me to an interview for a part time position at their contact centre. They’d been highly impressed with my CV. While I was flipping out over the pay situation at work I seriously considered accepting the invitation to this interview, even though the retailer in question was reputed to be one of Britain’s worst employers. But then on Wednesday, HR managed to sort the situation with my pay out, so I was only going to have one day’s pay deducted as agreed rather than three, and then I decided not to accept the invitation after all. I could take my time with this job search – I didn’t have to accept the first offer that came along. I’d made that mistake before, I didn’t need to do it again.
I’m definitely going to be leaving the bank later this year or early next year, that’s not in doubt. After all, I quit my job at the last place after six years because I wanted a change in career. At the moment, I’m just doing the same old job that I was always doing, so there was hardly any point in leaving the last one really, was there? Because I want to make a real change in my career and do something I’ve always wanted to do, there’s no point in leaving this job and going to something else similar. I can take a part time job that’s actually enjoyable, or interesting, or at least not completely hateful like this one. I can check places out and make a decision about the kind of employer I want. I don’t have to play the game any more where I make myself look as impressive as impossible to every employer I come across, so I can jump on the first job offer that comes along.
Once the crisis at work was over, the rest of the week was tolerable. Friday was reasonable. Every couple of months they have a “dress down” day where you give a donation to charity in return for being able to wear comfortable clothes to work. This Friday was that day, and even though I officially don’t care about impressing anyone, I took time in choosing my outfit that morning. I always feel so much more comfortable in chinos and linen shirts than smart work trousers, cotton shirts and ties, so it was nice to have a day where I could do my work and feel a bit like I was at home. It’s probably the thing I miss the most about my last job, being able to wear whatever I wanted to the office. I’m pretty sure all the youngsters at work enjoyed casual Friday as much as I did. Everyone was ridiculously excited about it being nearly the weekend. J was sitting next to me in B’s desk for a change, probably as she had no one else to chat to with B being off on holiday, and throughout the day we chatted in a pleasant, relaxed way whilst we worked. It felt weird talking so normally to her – I had to ignore and overcome urges to get up and run away from her every time she said something friendly.
At 5pm the point came when noise levels went up and everyone pretty much gave up on behaving like they were at work. People were watching football on their computer screens; hysterical laughter and chattering fired off around the office like bombs. I got into the spirit a little myself, with J and V, because there was just half an hour left of the working week, and soon I’d be free. 5pm on a Friday is probably the best point in the week for that reason: the anticipation of the weekend that’s coming. Once the weekend has started it’s almost over. When you’re still at work with half an hour of Friday still to go, it’s almost better than the weekend itself.
After work I walked to the meeting as usual. It being Friday night, the beginning of the weekend, I suppose I’ve come to love that walk. Leaving work and going to the safety of the meeting, it’s like going to the safety of home. When I left school of an evening to go home, it was always the same. AA is my safety today, it’s where I go to recharge my spiritual batteries. I’d like to think that it powers me through the week. I’d also like to think that one day I will have work that feels as safe as an AA meeting.
Different AA groups don’t all produce the same effect, of course. The same people don’t go to the same meetings every week. They change; when one person that I’ve come to rely on happens not to be there, it has an effect. It was always the same at school. I’d learn to rely on one or two people for my social approval, only to suffer when they were absent. This week my sponsor went for a month’s holiday to Ireland, so I’ll be without his comforting presence next to me in all meetings until I get back from Spain next month.
With the happy spirit of Friday in the air it wasn’t going to dampen things too much at the meeting, but instead of automatically joining the group for fellowship afterwards like I have done the past few weeks, I felt tired all of a sudden and wanted to go home, to be by myself. I had a sense that I was starting to isolate, as people around me talked and smiled and moved as one in the direction of the nearby cafe without me. It’s always difficult to work out what the right thing to do in that situation is. If I really was tired, I would have every reason to go home and no one would think worse of me for it. However, how could I be sure it was really tiredness and not just the ‘ism’ playing a trick on me? I decided to make a compromise, by talking to people on the way to the cafe before going home. They weren’t going to the usual cafe that I’ve come to know, they’d chosen somewhere else this week that looked expensive and unappetising, so I realised that I didn’t have to go in just because they all were. They were taking their time moving inside, so I had the chance to chat to C and D, two people who are more acquaintances than friends, about my week and what was going on.
C very nicely put his arm around me and asked if I was all right – he seems to be one of those people who has a sixth sense and can tell when something is up, even before I’ve realised it. D also nicely encouraged me in my plans to go and train as a counsellor when I mentioned that I was considering it. In fact, he exclaimed “Please do it!” when I went on to express doubts about the costs. He became the third person in a week to tell me that I’d make a good counsellor. I went home grateful to have connected so authentically with not just one, but two people, when I was tired and I could easily have left the meeting without talking to a soul.
On the way home I wished I could have seemed more confident about my decision not to go into the restaurant with them. I still couldn’t be 100% sure that I was really tired and not just avoiding it because my sponsor hadn’t been at the meeting. Had someone just told me what to do it would have been easier. That’s the thing, I can’t wait around for people to make decisions for me because that would be codependency.
Yesterday’s meeting south of town began awkwardly. After getting home on Friday night I’d stayed up really late watching half of the new series of Orange Is The New Black, so I’d made myself even more tired, and it was hard to keep my eyes open once I’d sat down, let alone talk to people. When people reciprocated my standoffishness by appearing to move away from me, I began to panic that I had pissed them all off, and that the meeting would never be the same as it used to be. I spent most of the meeting dwelling on this never ending problem that I have with people, rather than listening to any of the sharing. By the time it was getting to the end, I remembered that the weekend was almost over, I’d be back at work soon enough, and I ought to make the most of the time I had to connect with like minded people. I opened my ears to the last couple of shares, and I must have heard something that resonated because all of a sudden I felt connected, part of the room again.
At the end the usual group went for coffee in the usual place. The difference with this meeting is that there’s nearly always a core group of people that goes for coffee in the same place, unlike Friday and most other meetings, where it all depends on who’s up for staying out and where they want to go. It’s one of the reasons I keep going back to the Saturday meeting, because it’s nice to know there is that group there, even on the times when I’m not feeling myself.
With that group of people around me I always know I’ll be safe, and it can change the chemistry of the situation for me, by bringing me back into the meeting if I’ve been drifting from it. The struggle I have at work at the moment is there’s no one there who can bring me into the ‘group’, so to speak. At my last job for instance, in the very beginning there was my first boss, who for all her faults encouraged me to get involved and talk to other people, so by the time she left I was confident enough to throw myself in and stay for another five years. She changed the chemistry of the situation, paved the way for me. At the bank, V could develop into a good friend but I don’t think she has the confidence to carry me that far with the others.
There doesn’t seem to be a single person in the UK who’s not thinking about the EU referendum at the moment. It’s only a few days away now, so our conversation over coffee last night naturally came round to it, and to be honest, it made the conversation pretty depressing. All of us bar R are for staying in the EU, because we see that its benefits far outweigh any costs. R meanwhile has bought into the Daily Mail narrative about immigrant Muslims wanting to come here and bomb everybody. He actually said that’s what’s made him decide to vote out on Thursday. His views are, to put it mildly, contradictory on the matter. On the one hand, he understands that millions of EU citizens want to come here for a better life than anything they can hope for at home. On the other, he’s convinced they’re coming here to take all our jobs and brainwash our children. We quickly saw there was no point arguing with him last night, so we changed the subject. He’s still a beloved part of the group and there’s no point in spoiling a nice Saturday night with politics, is there?
Today we made up for things by taking off to the park for a picnic. They’d been planning it prior to yesterday; I became part of the plans by default as I was sitting there last night when they talked about it. I met them in the afternoon and we spent a nice few hours sitting on a bench near the lake, watching life go by. While I was feeling awkward in the meeting last night I was worried that things had changed between us, and that I could never be invited into things again because I’d hurt R’s feelings when I told him I didn’t want a relationship. Today I realised that doesn’t have to be true. Even if I did hurt R’s feelings, he’s clearly willing to be friendly and civil with me, even to invite me to things sometimes. I was as natural with him today as I was with everyone else. So maybe things aren’t ruined after all.
It being a Sunday, I needed a good Sunday playlist to listen to on the way home. I chose a playlist of 70’s rock classics that I really enjoy because they remind me of the stuff my mum used to play on her old record player in the 80’s. She was into those big male rock bands big time when I was a kid. For that reason in the last few years this irresistible taste for bands like Dire Straits and Supertramp has emerged in me, and now I find there’s nothing more blissful than walking through the streets on a Sunday afternoon with prog rock blasting in my ears. It’s always better on a Sunday, probably because Sundays were the day when she listened to music the most; the days when she wanted to relax with her favourite music before the return to the working week, to normality. OK, it may not be the coolest music anyone can listen to, but it’s one of few things that can transport me directly back to a happier part of my childhood. I get far more peace from that particular hobby than I do from my news reading hobby, which has annoyingly kept me up late a good few nights this week. I’ve got to get myself off the news websites. I think they must be a leading cause of depression, in my case anyway. So much shit has gone down in the world this week, there’s been such a nasty atmosphere in the wider media, I’ve really seen how this addiction has been holding me. It’s been midnight on Thursday and I’ve wanted to switch the laptop off so I can get to sleep for work the next day, and I’ve not been able to because there’s just one more article I need to read, one more comments section I need to get angry at. Christ! If they had a News Addicts Anonymous, I’d be the first to benefit from it.