The week got off to the worst possible start in a moment of heat, at 9am on Monday when I snapped at a colleague for asking me a question. I was wallowing in the Monday blues more than usual. With no work to do again and a monotonous, interminable week ahead of me, my usual defences slipped. It seemed like a silly question, asked at the wrong time, and I let rip. Like a good sober person I immediately felt bad afterwards, and I was able to apologise. But the tone for the day was set.
Before going out in the morning I had noticed a letter on the side that mum was evidently planning to post. It was addressed to the housing choices team at the council. I knew that people only write to the housing choices team when they are looking to move. It gave me a shock, as I hadn’t realised she was thinking of moving. The letter was sealed in an envelope, so I couldn’t see what it said – my febrile imagination could only make assumptions. I went to work like a true alcoholic, thinking the worst: I’m about to be made homeless, I won’t be able to do anything that I planned to do this year, it will all be a disaster.
It was going to be a long day. As well as having eight hours of work to get through, I was booked to do a chair in the evening. After the incident with my colleague, I just wanted to go to a room and cry. The toilet would be the normal place to go, but there was a blockage there causing an unbearable stink, so I had to make do with attempted invisibility at my desk.
By lunchtime I was in a familiar state of silent panic. All I could think about was how I’m going to manage when mum kicks me out and I have to start paying London rent on a meagre salary. I think there is a misconception that panic attacks have to be loud and obvious: with me they are invisible to the outside world. Which doesn’t help because no one knows what’s going on and people continue to ask things of me when I’m not in the best state. I’ve wondered if what I have is some kind of high functioning anxiety disorder, one I can pretend not to have because it doesn’t show to anyone. Of course, there are occasions like today where the emotions come surging out and I snap at someone, but that’s rare. Most of the time you probably wouldn’t think there was anything wrong, even though inside I feel like I want to scream.
When the working day ended I could feel a little better, knowing I was going to an AA meeting where there would be people who understood. I wasn’t thrilled about having to do a chair – sitting in the back row would have suited me much better today – but I kept to my promise and did it anyway. The theme was step six and I categorised the morning’s incident at work as a symptom of my character defects. Fitting it into the chair at least allowed some of the poison to be released.
As I talked about trading in character defects for character assets, about becoming “entirely ready” to let God have all of the bad stuff, I knew I had to go home and ask mum what she was planning. My years of sobriety have been worth something: they have taught me to recognise the right action. So, when the meeting was over I passed up an opportunity to socialise with fellows and went straight home, hoping I would catch mum in the right mood at the right time for a conversation. Sometimes it just isn’t the right time with her, in fact quite often it isn’t. After living with her for most of my life I know all her moods and nuances well. I couldn’t just walk up to her and say “are you planning to move out, then?” – there would be something indecent about that. I needed to catch her in the kitchen, away from the distraction of her TV, and I needed to phrase my interrogation in precisely the right way not to ruffle her feathers. You can see that communication is complicated for us.
When I got home there was a tortuous forty-five minute wait before I heard her in the kitchen making a cup of tea. At that point I went for it, telling myself I had a right to ask the truth, if nothing else. I started by talking about the counselling course, a safe subject, reminding her that it was going to be a long haul; I asked if she was still ok with me staying here for the duration. I didn’t mention the letter that I’d seen on the side in the morning, in case it would look as if I’d been prying. She seemed surprised by me bringing this up on a Monday evening, and told me that of course I could stay here, as long as I liked. “Are you sure? So you’re happy staying here as well for the next however many years?” Yes, she’s still happy living here and doesn’t plan to go anywhere.
Well, that ought to settle that. The letter wasn’t mentioned at all – it could have been something I imagined, except that I knew it wasn’t. There was definitely a letter sitting there addressed to the housing choices department – a department that only has one function, to move people from larger to smaller rented properties in the borough. I may never know what was in that letter, or why she sent it. I have to believe her when she says that she isn’t going anywhere. Why would she lie to me? She isn’t a liar.
Earlier in the day when the panic had been at its peak, I attempted to consider my options. I could move in with P, who’s well on the way to buying a bigger flat at the moment. He wants a lot of money for the spare room in the flat he eventually ends up in, but it would be much less than the market rate for the area, and it would be a fair deal. I could afford to pay his rent on my current salary – but not much else. I couldn’t have any more exotic holidays for a long time. And I couldn’t afford to progress to the next level of counselling training.
If I were to leave the charity and work somewhere that pays me a decent salary, then I’d have space to reconsider those options. But, as much as I loathe some of the aspects of my current job, I don’t want to change jobs again. Changing jobs is one of the most demoralising processes out there, I don’t think I have the energy to face it again this year. A bigger salary might enable me to keep travelling to exotic places and it might allow me to do this course that I desperately want to do…but I think the stress of interviewing, getting references and trying to settle into yet another working environment could actually do me in. All my thoughts kept coming back to this impasse. I had no option but to panic all afternoon.
Now that I’ve had it from mum’s lips she isn’t planning to move, I can probably begin to relax again (if I can just trust her). All I need is to be able to stay here for another three years and get this qualification, and that’s it. Until Monday I didn’t think it was a lot to ask. I thought I could just train and begin a career that’s meaningful to me; it seems my HP has a number of tests in store for me on the way. The tests may be designed to determine how important this career path is to me; if I can get to the end of the three years and achieve the qualification, it will have all been worth it. I only wish there could be a break from the stress, the constant insecurity over whether it will happen or not.