2013 – What did I learn?

I didn’t expect much from 2013, just another year grinding away in the same old job 11 hours a day, a bit of commuting and then all my ‘real life’ squeezed in to the periphery.  I knew I was fed up,  I even hoped that I would be made redundant to spur me into changing my life, but each round of redundancies left me untouched, sitting, staring at my wall of computer screens.

My back ached all day, every day, from being slumped in front of a screen for more than 20 years.  For 18 months I had physio for my knees, knees that simply didn’t work anymore as my legs had forgotten how to work properly.  My physio pointed out that I wasn’t alone, I am part of the first generation who have sat still for decades, we are the guinea pigs that prove that technology might save time and headcount, but when you reach the point of conducting your whole life from a screen then you are no longer living your life…or using your body parts.

My physical wellbeing hardly mattered – as long as I was earning good money I told myself I was doing the right thing.  After all, no-one is lucky enough to do work they actually enjoy, are they?  But, over the summer, my mental health deteriorated.  I couldn’t get physio for this.  I spiralled into a state of permanent anxiety about my work and how unhappy it made me feel.  I would try very hard not to watch the clock, but sometimes, even with my best efforts, it was often just two minutes since the last time I had looked.  Every day stretched out before me like a long walk in a thick fog.  I would frequently leave my desk and cry just to relieve the pressure.  I felt permanently nauseous and what started as a racing heartbeat soon became chest pains.  One day I came home crying and I just didn’t stop.

Things no longer added up.  I could pay the bills, and we could afford to go on holiday, but I realised I was always ill, always tired, always miserable and always stressed.  I was given valium and anti-depressants, but I felt I knew how to ‘fix’ myself.  The sky was blue and clear and I took long walks just gasping the air and feeling the breeze on my face.  I realised how little breeze there was in my life and I knew there was no going back.

So, here I am a few months later and almost ‘fixed’.  I am a little more relaxed (though my disposition leans towards grumpy at the best of times!), and I have just had a great few months, doing new things and working out who my friends are (nothing like a few mental health issues to sort them out!).  My older kids have passed through their initial fascination with Mum’s mid-life crisis (‘but what do you do all day Mum?’), their angry phase (‘aren’t you being selfish?’) and are now firmly embedded in their ‘What’s for dinner?’ phase.

My 5 year old has not flinched. I used to leave the house before he woke and come home when he was going to bed.  All of a sudden I am here all the time, he wakes me in the morning and we ‘snuggle’ in bed, I take him to school and pick him up. Whatever is going on for him I am always there, but he has never asked me why I don’t go to work anymore.  It’s like he doesn’t want to mention it, just in case I suddenly remember that I need to go to work and run out of the house.

I will need to find paid work soon, and I want to work, but I need to be able to feel the breeze.  Just for a little bit longer I want my son to be my alarm clock and to have the time to ‘snuggle’.  I can’t put a price on those things.  Above all I wish I hadn’t sold my health and happiness for so long.

When all this happened to me, I kept thinking of a line from a poem. I wasn’t much of an English student at school, and it might well be the only line of poetry that I can remember at all, but when I was struggling in recent months it kept coming back in to my head:

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare”
I was curious to look up the rest of the poem. It is called “Leisure” and was written in 1911 by WH Davies who was born in my home town and lived much of his life as a tramp:
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad day light,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Got to hand it to him – he was definitely on to something!

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