I’ve had two major jobs in my life and I quit both of those as a result of stress. The first time the job was my first after graduating from university (aside from bar jobs and the like). I stayed for nearly two years until I had a nervous breakdown.
I’m the kind of person that likes to do everything to the best of my ability and I ended up working twelve hours a day, six days a week, without getting anywhere near on top of my work load. The more I did, the more they gave me. I was also working as a Guide leader and doing their accounts as well as some other stuff and in the end I imploded.
The company nurse (almost as her last act before they sacked her) signed me off sick with stress and the doctor diagnosed me for the first time with depression. So I quit, worked out around four months’ notice and went travelling.
The second job I quit was the last proper paid job I had. I had worked there for just shy of five years and it was feast or famine. I either had no work to do, because I didn’t fit into any department and they didn’t know what to do with me, or I was doing the work of three. I was ineffective and unstructured and pretty rubbish at my job towards the end, but they still rehired me as a contractor after I quit, because no one else knew how to do my job and they thought I was the bee’s knees.
There’s a pattern to my life: I like to get praise. I like to feel like I’m good at what I do. I like to feel valued. If there’s work to do, I will do it to the best of my ability. I hate missing deadlines, I hate letting people down, I hate saying no. I hate conflict or being told off or not making the grade. I was so busy trying to be perfect that I didn’t realise I was working hard rather than smart, and making myself sick in the meantime.
Free from the work place I was a new person. I enjoyed life. I painted and wrote and mostly managed my own time. I had low periods of loneliness away from the work place, and feelings of low self worth because I wasn’t earning anything. But I wasn’t depressed.
Then I became a parent. Oh shit. If ever there was a job where the work was never done, the hours were lousy and the thanks rarely forthcoming it’s being a mum. And I mostly feel that I suck at it. On a good day I’m about average. I can just about praise the kids more than I yell at them, I can feed them more healthy food than rubbish, and I can put the laptop down long enough to read a story. That’s on a good day. On a bad day, like today, when I have PMT, I’ve had a cold for a fortnight, and the house looks like some scavenging bears used it for their party cave, I’m not a good parent.
I try. I try to keep my cool. But there’s a raging beast in me that escapes over trivial things. This morning it was the forty minutes it took to get the kids dressed, the fights with both of them that summer clothing is no longer appropriate, the lack of clean and ironed clothes because I haven’t stayed on top of it over the last two weeks, the twenty minutes of not-eating-breakfast-but-blowing-bubbles-in-our-milk-instead, and – the final straw – the taking everything out of my school bag instead of putting my shoes on, even though we’re all late for school.
I yelled. I screamed. I was angry. Then I calmed down and I hugged and I talked about the monster mummy that escapes. And my kids told me they loved me and it was mostly okay.
Only then we were really late, and I kept up a running commentary in the car about how late we were and how much trouble we’d get in if my daughter missed the school bell, and how we were now snarled up in the school-run traffic. Even when my kids tried to laugh me out of it, I told them it wasn’t funny. I was more mummy monster then than when I was yelling.
I left my son at nursery sobbing hysterically. He was still crying when I rang back fifteen minutes later to see how he was. I left my daughter clinging to the classroom assistant. I went home and sobbed. It took twenty minutes and some nice emails from hubby to get me out the car. Then I sobbed for at least an hour, when I was meant to be writing my post. My head aches. So I wrote some random Claire installment and I’ve spent the last two hours cleaning, trying to get some control back. But the dark monster still lurks.
I want to quit this job, where someone dirties my house as soon as my back is turned, and puts every item of clothing in the wash as soon as it’s ironed, and empties the fridge quicker than I can get to the supermarket, and takes away my smile and my love of life and leaves me yelling and crying. I want to quit. But I can’t. There’s no where to go. So, still crying, I will write my post, iron some more clothes, finish the vacuum cleaning, walk the dog in the rain, run to the supermarket and pick the kids up from school. I will give them a huge hug and tell them Mummy is sorry, even though they’ve heard it before. And, like I say to them sometimes, they’ll probably think, “Sorry isn’t good enough, Mummy. You have to not do the bad thing in the first place.”
Easier said than done.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
“Hello, Mrs Jenkins, it’s Claire.”
“Hello, Claire, how are you? Still travelling round the West Country? Kim reads your blog, although she says it’s been a while since you’ve updated it. I hope everything’s okay.”
As Claire listened to Mrs Jenkins’ enthusiastic greeting she wondered how many other people had noticed her absence of posts and thought briefly how nice it would have been if someone had bothered to check she was okay.
“Yes, I’m still here. I’m staying at the Tintagel hostel tonight; just spent the day at the castle, so hopefully I’ll be able to write about that. I’ve been busy with work is all.” She hesitated, wondering if the lie sounded as obvious to her friend’s mum as it did to her.
“And how’s Kim?”
Mrs Jenkins sighed and the sound twisted Claire’s stomach with fear and guilt.
“Much the same, I’m afraid, still sunk in her melancholy. I understand, I really do. I’m as devastated that there won’t be any grandkids for me to spoil – I can’t see her sister ever settling down. But it doesn’t do to dwell. I’d tell her to get back to work, but she doesn’t have what you’d call a regular job.”
Her voice trailed off, and Claire felt her disappointment. As a parent you wanted your children to be happy and hopefully settled nearby. Kim’s mother must wonder what went wrong.
“Can I talk to her?”
“Of course, Claire. Sorry, here I am wittering on and you didn’t call to talk to me. Maybe you can snap her out of her misery.”
I doubt it, Claire thought privately, but merely said, “I’ll try.”
She waited while Mrs Jenkins went to find her daughter, and tried to decide how much she would tell Kim about recent events.
“Hello?” Kim’s voice, when it came on the line, contained none of its usual vivacity. Claire stifled a groan and, with as much enthusiasm as she could muster, greeted her oldest friend.
“Kim, hi, how are you? Is your mum taking good care of you? I hope you’ve been out enjoying the sunshine.” She winced at her tone, and waited for Kim to complain she wasn’t a five-year-old. Instead her friend snorted with derision.
“Mum’s driving me mad, Jeff hasn’t been down once and the theatre company refuses to give me another role until I’m better, whatever that means.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. Maybe you could do something else for a while. Work in a coffee shop, you know, just to get you out the house.” She injected a laugh she didn’t feel and added, “Isn’t that what unemployed actresses do?”
“This isn’t Hollywood. No big tips here. I didn’t go through drama school to earn the minimum wage making lattes for yummy mummies.”
Claire swallowed a genuine laugh. “You should start a blog, you’ve definitely got a way with words.” She regretted it instantly – the last thing Kim needed was someone making fun of her. But all her friend said was, “What, so I can just stop writing it one day, like you have?”
Claire took a deep breath. “It’s only been a week or so. I have been rather busy.” Running round after you for a start, she added silently. Sheesh, no wonder Jeff hasn’t been round. Then she reminded herself of everything Kim had been through and admonished herself.
“Conor tried to snog me,” she blurted out, to fill the uncomfortable silence. She waited, wondering if that would be shocking enough to rouse Kim from her darkness.
“Your boss? Why?”
Claire reeled. Of all the responses, she hadn’t expected that. It was a good question, one she hadn’t really thought of before.
“He was drunk, I guess.” That sounded lame. “He said he’d been wanting to do it since we met.”
“Did you snog him back? You might get a promotion. Isn’t that how it works in your world?”
The bitter, cynical words cut Claire. Then she remembered gossiping with her friend about a promotion in the office that could only have made sense if those involved were sleeping together. Even so, it was a hard accusation to throw at her best friend.
“I can’t believe you’d think me capable of that.”
“Oh, keep your hair on. You said he was cute, so what’s the harm?”
“He’s my boss! Besides, I don’t think of him like that.”
“Liar. You described him down to the green eyes and sexy bum. You don’t notice details like that unless you want to bed someone.”
Trust Kim to remember that when she’s heard nothing else. Claire wanted to defend herself, but the new edge to her friend left her unsure and vulnerable.
“Whether I like him or not is irrelevant; shagging the boss can only lead to trouble.” She tried to think of a way to change the subject, but couldn’t think of a safe topic.
“Look, my battery’s about to go. I’ll call you again tomorrow, okay? I’m going to write a blog post. You should think seriously about starting one, you might find it helps.”
“Right,” was the only response Claire heard before she hung up the phone.