Saturday, 7 July 2007

Hi ho, Hi ho...

I always told myself that when my last contract finished, I'd finally take some time off. That working in a pressurised (but wonderful) industry for too hard for too long without a break - 4 years, there or thereabouts, one year straight in this particular contract - was what was doing strange things to my head again after a period of feeling relatively OK with the world. That, towards the end of the job, which I adored, my growing and incredibly frustrating inability to perform to the best of my talents, to be a reliable part of a team, and to stay away from the safe zone, was simply a product of my tiredness, of everything catching up with me, of burnout. That I'd emerge, refreshed, after a couple of weeks off, ready to face the world again.

Hmm. As with the all the other best laid plans of mice and men, it didn't quite work out that way. After five weeks unemployment - the longest I've ever been out of work - it doesn't take a brain surgeon to work out the correlation between that, and the current state of shrinking safe-zones, or to work out just what the strategies I use to live with the hand that's been dealt to me are.

Working, apparently, is what keeps my head above water, and so for the past few years, I've been living by what I like to call the 'flying by the seat of your pants' theory. It doesn't seem to be a popular one; others look at me, aghast, trotting out such well-worn cliches as "How can you work in such an insecure industry?" and "How can you not know what you'll be doing from month to month? I couldn't live like that", and, to this day, my father is convinced I'll end up roaming the streets of London, pushing my clothes and my cats around in a shopping trolley.

But, maybe bizarrely for one with such an apparent inbuilt need for safety and security in other areas - it seems to suit. It keeps me going, keeps me ploughing on, the thought of the rent not being paid motivating me like a rocket up the arse when the prospect of getting to the street, only 20 feet away, and - gasp - to the office - seems as daunting as running a marathon must have seemed to Jade Goody after her two week pie and takeaway training regime.

You see, when I do things right, working allows me to pigeon-hole this, all this stuff, away as just one part of my life. Yes, it's a challenge; yes, you come up against all sorts of odd things during the course of the day and you also develop ways of dealing with them because you've -perhaps deliberately - given yourself no alternative. Moving closer to work and hanging the expense, because the commute is killing you. Cabs there and back, because if you thought of the journey you'd never get there. The iPod filled with relaxation and meditation tracks, constantly plugged in at your desk. The Rescue Remedy hidden in your bag, discreetly droppered into the warm milk and camomile tea constantly on tap from the canteen. It's not perfect, or foolproof, and it costs a fortune, but sometimes, it does enough of a trick to allow you to carry on with your day, and they're all things you can hide.

Ah, hiding. Hiding, hiding, hiding. It's a sticky one, isn't it - in the professional sense, do you disclose, or don't you? I've hidden it for as long as I can remember, looking to the Littlest Hobo for inspiration when it catches up with me. During my last contract, I just wasn't prepared to do that - to cut and run, but still, it didn't stop the hiding. Why? Silly, perhaps, considering I was working in a place where it really, really shouldn't have been a problem and reasonable adjustments could have been - would have been - made.

Maybe had I said something, things would have been easier in the last couple of months of the job, and I wouldn't be left, now, feeling as if I blew the biggest career chance I'd ever had in my life. But you see, once you do that, you're faced with the thorny issue of shooting yourself in the foot - once those adjustments are made, you lose the very coping strategies you've built up for yourself, the techniques that allow you to actually get there and be productive... and then you're back to square one, wondering where on earth to go from here.

Or maybe this is just me, and maybe next time, I'll work harder to find a happy medium.


This wasn't supposed to be such pointless exercise in navel-gazing; I logged on tonight fully intending to write about my day. And although it was a particularly bad one for some reason, it was a damn good story - about how my routine trip to the Job Centre to sign on turned into a convincing impression of an entrant in the 100 Yards For People With No Sense Of Direction as I wandered around Shepherds Bush in the throes of a panic attack, wondering how the hell I was going to get home without actually dying.

And yes, with my phone and my keys in my hand, I did pick the bus that took me past the hospital. Just in case.

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