The end of my time at the bank is fast approaching, but on Monday it didn’t feel like it was approaching fast enough. I wasn’t happy about going in that morning, and it looked as if no one else was either. Solemn faces fill tube carriages during the morning rush hour at the best of times. But on Monday there was an extra layer of resentment thickening the air on my train, probably most of it coming from me. V was off work that day, so it would be another day of not talking to anybody at the office. The days when she’s not there always feel longer than other days. Her neighbour D arrived seemingly in an even worse mood than me, so I couldn’t talk to her. It’s unusual for D to talk to me when V’s not there anyway. V is the bridge between us. I doubt I’m the kind of person D would ever talk to without a mutual friend’s tacit encouragement.
As the day wore on I could see that D was upset about something, and I couldn’t do anything to help her. She was on her phone a lot, complaining about some life situation that was distracting her from her work. I felt guilty for not being able to offer the slightest bit of support or kindness. But the unspoken rules of our working relationship were at the forefront of my mind, and I couldn’t get past them. The rule that we don’t talk to each other without V there was so powerful in my thoughts on Monday, I couldn’t even say hello to her.
Heading home in the evening I knew I had no right to complain any more about people treating me like an invisible person at work. I mean, how can I expect anyone to be kind and supportive to me during my heavy times when I can’t do it for them? I’ve heard people talk about this hypocrisy in AA so often, and I’ve judged people for it for years, yet so easily I find myself doing it without the least bit of awareness. “God, I went and did it again,” I thought that evening, when it was far too late to make any kind of amends for my behaviour with D.
I knew we’d both be in a better mood on Tuesday once V was back in and Monday could become a dark memory, and I knew we’d be on normal speaking terms again without anything having to be said. D doesn’t seem like the type to be over-sensitive about things, or give anyone the cold shoulder treatment. With the work becoming increasingly tedious, it was nice to have her cracking jokes and lightening the mood again.
I’ve applied for a few jobs this week, more so I can feel that I’ve fulfilled a duty than because I want to. With no exciting opportunities on the horizon it could become depressing quite quickly, but so far I’m refusing to let it dampen my spirits. I’ve spent so much of this year worrying about work I can’t be bothered any more. I can say to myself that I know it will be ok and I can take my time in finding the right job for me. I’m allowed to stick to applying for jobs that only interest me, even if it reduces my chances of getting interviews. There really isn’t any need for panic!
Early in the week I applied for a customer service role in one of the many foreign money exchanges in central London, and I was momentarily surprised when they called me back the next day to invite me for an interview. Initially on seeing the job advertised it had seemed easy, and the offer of part time hours seemed appealing, but on speaking to them about the interview I realised instinctually that I didn’t want to work for them. I’d have to take any shifts that were offered to me, which wouldn’t work for me because I will be at college on Friday mornings come September. And it came across as yet another big organisation with cult-like rules about how we treat customers and how we worship the brand etc. I decided to turn the interview down, and I instantly felt better for it. A year ago I’d have thought such an action insane.
Yesterday in the office I overheard J talking to some of our neighbours about her exciting plans for the weekend, which will involve going to Brighton Pride with some friends. J isn’t gay, she had just planned this weekend in Brighton long before she knew about Pride; when she found out it was going on during her visit she decided to make the event part of it. Never having been to Pride before, she was curious and a little anxious about what to expect. Would she have to wear any particular style of clothes? Should she plan a budget? How many people were likely to be there and how crazy was it likely to get? None of the colleagues that she was talking to were gay or connoisseurs of Pride parades in any way, so when they began to flounder on what advice to give her, I couldn’t resist butting in. A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of involving myself in a conversation that I hadn’t been invited into at work, but I must have been in a good mood yesterday as my speech began flowing with advice and anecdotes about Brighton Prides past. I got to indulge in a little nostalgia for fifteen minutes; the women I was speaking to seemed appreciative of my input and a little surprised by it too. It’s possible some of them had never heard me utter a word before.
If this was my ‘coming out’ at work it will have passed by completely unremarkably. In 2016 it’s encouraging that a coming out in the workplace can be unremarkable, like someone announcing they’re allergic to milk or into country music. Whilst painting myself as the expert on gay pride I didn’t actually say I was gay, and no one asked if I was, so perhaps they went away uncertain, and perhaps it won’t count as a proper coming out. If so I don’t think it matters anyway. There’s no rule that says you have to come out to everyone all the time. Still, from past experience I have found that coming out can open doors for me, in the sense that once I’ve done it I tend to relax and become more ‘myself’. I was certainly being myself with these people yesterday for the very first time, and I don’t suppose it’s a coincidence that a certain openness about my sexuality played a part in it. The truth of the matter is that whenever I have to spend a lot of time with people who aren’t gay, I do begin to feel separate from them in my head, and coming out’s the only way I know of smashing that barrier. After all, once it’s done it’s done, isn’t it. I don’t really have any other secrets (well there is my alcoholism and membership of AA, but that’s hardly something I’m going to talk about with strangers at work). There’s a certain undeniable liberation that comes with coming out, and when the people one is coming out to seem to accept you unconditionally, you begin to feel safer with them, and then the relaxing can begin.
Now that I’m definitely leaving the bank I guess it will be easier to relax there anyway. If only I could have managed it when I wasn’t getting ready to leave. It would be nice to think that when I leave the job I don’t leave anyone with the impression that I was a sulky loner, but I still worry that this is going to happen with some of them and it doesn’t sit comfortably with me. Later on in the afternoon someone was talking about the joys of getting older – one of which is the gradual erosion in caring about what others think of you. I felt a long time ago that I should have stopped caring what anyone thought of me, because caring about it was clearly getting me nowhere. I think since I’m managing to have these conversations at work now it’s possible I’m letting my guard down and therefore not so bothered about people’s opinions as I was in the beginning. But I’m sure that I still care about them a bit too much.
There was the usual tense awkwardness in my head before the meeting tonight started and after it ended. There was also the usual reluctance to share, my head telling me I couldn’t do it, no one would want to hear what I had to say. Nine years of listening to people talk about how they have these same thoughts, and I can still see myself as unique, as someone whose voice isn’t as important as that of others. Of course this is because I have a disease – social anxiety disorder, alcoholism, call it what you will. It’s nothing more and nothing less. But I forget that every week at this meeting, I forget that it’s just my illness and I don’t have to listen to it.
I want to take heart more in the progress that I am making there. I never leave the meeting without speaking to anybody any more. And I’m normally willing to make the effort to look people in the eye and talk to them in those difficult moments at the end, when it’s exactly like a school break time in the playground. I was as willing to make the effort tonight as always, though it didn’t translate with everyone. In the past I’ve enjoyed good conversations with T and A on the doorstep of the meeting hall, but I couldn’t make myself approach them tonight as they stood nearby engrossed in conversation with others. I got involved in my own conversations with the people nearest to me, and I let T and A go without a word.
Until not long ago my default position was to blame others for these unfortunate eventualities. I’d have resented T and A for ignoring me, and I’d have been barely aware of the part I played in it. Today I don’t blame anyone, I simply know that it’s my responsibility to approach someone if I want to talk to them. I didn’t do it tonight, but there’ll be other opportunities in the future, and they’re definitely not going to go home hating me because I didn’t say hello this one time.
I didn’t get to spend long brooding on it as I walked up through the Friday evening party crowds to catch the train home. My word, I don’t think I will ever get over how exciting London can be on a Friday night. It’s like the air is different on Friday here. You have the smell of people letting their guard down and relaxing into the weekend. I’ve walked through the crowds after the Friday meeting countless times to catch the train nearby, and every time it can feel like the first time.
Closer to the train station I thought about what happened not far from there on Wednesday, when a woman got killed outside a hotel for no reason. With so many bad and scary things dominating the news headlines these days, it can seem as if this darkness in the world is closing in, getting ever closer to home. There’s no doubt that Wednesday’s tragedy has tainted the air in London, and will make me think twice about walking near the area where it happened at night in future. But I need to remember that this can happen at any time, anywhere. People were getting killed in the street long before the war on terror brought it all into so much more focus. Even if something is changing in the world, getting worse, I don’t want it to affect my life in any way. It can’t affect my life. Last year when I was in Paris and all those people got killed down the road just for going to a rock concert, it was harrowing for a long time, but life had to move on eventually, and I got to go back this summer and relive what I used to love so much about the city. If life can’t move on then what’s it for?