Me vs them

The annual heatwave is on us; it’s that time of year when we get a few days of temperatures above 30 degrees and England starts to melt. I thought I’d left this kind of heat behind in Spain, but no. I know it’s typically British to complain about the weather, whether it’s too hot or cold. I’m not complaining; I know it will be raining and cold again soon enough. But there comes a point after you’ve been sweating all day and you really don’t want to get on another bus full of smelly bodies, but you have to, and you wish for a moment when taking one’s clothes off in public wasn’t a social taboo.

It was back to work on Monday, hooray! There was the usual thread of fear running through my thoughts when I headed in, but it wasn’t as intense as it perhaps might have been after two weeks off. I thought maybe I’m getting better at managing or avoiding the negative side of my thoughts now, who knows. When I got in I wasn’t wholly surprised to discover that the team had been very busy in my absence and there was an awful lot to get on with. They made it plain how pleased they were to have me back, which was nice. I fell back into the role swiftly and easily. In the past I’d have enjoyed the feeling of being necessary and of having so much to keep me busy, but enjoyment isn’t the word I’d use to describe my feelings this week. I was more resigned to it than I was happy about it. I could still tell that I didn’t really want to be there, and by yesterday big doubts were creeping into my thoughts again.

Even though it’s decided that I’ll be leaving in a couple of months I fear their opprobrium when I tell them, and I fear what will happen when I have to look for another job. When I think about those things I forget that people leave jobs all the time and manage to get other ones. The dream I have of finding a nicer, smaller company where people can be themselves and where it doesn’t matter how quickly I gave in on my last job, starts to seem less and less realistic. I feel constricted by this incessant worry about the future and how I’m going make a living and be happy at the same time. I don’t feel like I can ever live the life I want to live, because every decision I could take to change the way things are comes with risk. In the past I’ve been able to take risks and know that they pay off, but the thought of taking a risk right now, just a year after I last went through all this, feels too difficult.

Apart from V, I still wouldn’t say I have any friends in the office. Although I’ve already had the debate about whether it matters or not, I’m having it again. The other night, I watched a documentary online about a British TV presenter who decided to go and spend a week in a high security Texan prison. This presenter has recently started to make some interesting and challenging documentaries about life in other countries. While it was fascinating in itself to learn about life inside prison for some of America’s most deprived citizens, I found it even more intriguing to watch this presenter go in on the first day and unthinkingly make friends with everyone on his floor. I watched with wide eyes as he walked up to these scary looking men in orange jumpsuits, smiled and shook their hands, introduced himself with a natural, almost unconscious charm that I could never exude in a million years. My situation at work being so much on my mind at the moment, I couldn’t help but compare this TV personality’s effortless sociability with my own non-existent attempts at the office.

To someone as confident as that perhaps it isn’t very nerve-racking to go up to a group of criminals in the midst of conversation and make yourself known. I can’t fathom how it’s done. For nearly four months I have found it impossible to interrupt the teams around me and make myself known, and these aren’t criminals, these are just ordinary young people from the same city as me. I guess what really set me off yesterday was when we had a visitor to the office and I was the unfortunate one who answered the door to them. They were there to spend the day shadowing people in another team that I didn’t know. When they gave the name of the person that they were there to meet I was lost for five minutes trying to think what to do. At that particular moment none of my team were around to ask; I floundered around in a state of panic until I found the manager of our neighbouring team, who pointed the girl in the right direction. In those minutes of panic I could have asked anyone around me for help, the office was as full of people as it ever is, but I needed someone familiar. Someone with whom I had established the slightest bit of trust. I don’t know, when I need to ask for help I can never just ask anyone, it has to be someone I know. I feel like a stranger will either laugh at me or not want to help me. I freeze up and become an out of place statue again.

After that happened the rest of the day was pretty much a write off. I started doing that thing where I listen critically to the conversations around me, where everything I hear just sounds like inane crap. Yesterday and today I kept picking up on a sarcastic edge in people’s  conversations; the kind of low level juvenile teasing you get in the playground where ‘friends’ will make fun of each other with sarky comments. For example, a girl was talking about her dress that she really liked and one of her teammates said “you call that fashion?!” Innocuously intended, perhaps, but I felt personally offended by it, like it had anything to do with me, even though the girl on the receiving end of the bitchiness feigned shock for a minute before coolly laughing it off.

I started to hear more and more of this kind of teasing around me and for most of today I would have given anything to be able to put headphones in and block it out with music. If I could completely write these people off as brainless twits it might be easier to get on with my life, but before I’ve spent too long judging them I always seem to remember the inconvenient truth that one should judge not lest one be judged. Once I’ve remembered that I slip into self criticism harsher than anything I’ve doled out to others in my head. This year on the whole I have tended to end these internal debates in this way, by concluding that it is essentially all my fault. Until the next time something external pisses me off and the debate starts again. It’s just a never ending bloody conundrum.

Apart from the risk involved in leaving for another potentially more fulfilling job, there’s the chance that leaving is just another term for running away. What do they say in AA? “Don’t leave before the miracle happens”? I know they’re talking about AA meetings when they say that, but I can’t help thinking about it here. I mean, what if I end up having the same problems at the next place? I can come up with no satisfactory answer to that as of yet.

On one level it’s very easy to think that it is the bank’s fault what’s happening to me and once I leave I will never have to suffer inanity in the workplace again. Especially when I consider once again how well things worked out in a previous life in Bulgaria, where a group of people that seemed terrifying at first became a ready made group of friends overnight. I weep at how easy it was to make friends with someone like E, a straight Bulgarian guy in his twenties with whom I had absolutely nothing in common on the surface. I also weep at how relatively easy it was to have a conversation with the girl who I’d let into the office in the morning, who came over to do some shadowing in our team late in the afternoon. Something about her being a fresh face in the office made all those reservations and fears fade away for a while, because I had knowledge to share with her. I felt I had something to offer her, in other words.

Today we were subjected to another loud chorus of “happy birthday” in the office. They do it because they think it makes things nicer for everyone; I wish I could tell them that it doesn’t. It just stops you from working for fifteen minutes while everyone forms a disorderly queue for some cake around you. I hate being the negative spoil sport that doesn’t want to take part in things. I hate that the bank’s enforced culture of happiness makes me this way.

Underlying every awkward interaction at work is the assumption, already explored, that they don’t like me because I’m too quiet, too cold, too this, too that and there’s nothing I can do about it. Sometimes, momentarily I wonder if I’m just reading the signals all wrong with these people. A light shines through the gloom and I actually start to believe they are normal people who don’t dislike me, they just don’t talk to me. The clouds lift and it starts to feel bearable, the whole problem starts to not matter so much. But the idea of all the hard work I have to do to connect with them comes back stronger, and then it looks like an unsolvable dilemma again.

Every time I think it’s their fault, I remember all the evidence that shows it’s not. Every time I think it’s my fault, I remember all the evidence that shows it’s not. I don’t honestly know what to believe any more. I’m so confused. Perhaps the simplest way to look at it is: who do I want to be in this situation? The quiet person who gets on with their job and doesn’t care what anyone thinks, or the outgoing warm person who makes friends with everyone? It goes without saying that the fact I’m leaving in a few months doesn’t matter any more, this question will remain important to me until the day I leave. I can’t just put it down.

I feel bad putting all this goddamn negativity out into the world, especially on the week when I turn nine years sober. But I’ve been feeling pretty desolate today and I can’t hide it. It’s probably because I am nine years sober that this issue is becoming more salient. I’m questioning more and more of my own behaviours, as well as those of other people, as I approach some kind of authenticity in my life.

It’s not right that this is still an issue, that those moments of positive feeling at work don’t last for long, especially when V isn’t around. After four months I still feel like the new person there. Can that be right?

I keep waiting for some breakthrough to come, like the one I had in AA, like the one I had at my last job, but it never does. I honestly don’t know what I did in those other situations to make that breakthrough. Could it really just be sheer luck?

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