Working, Anxiety and Mental Health

If I’d written that title a decade ago, I would have had only one thought: that working and anxiety are non-compatible. My life as a marketing manager was full of terrible moments of anxiety, inadequacy and much sobbing. It’s taken ten years for me to even contemplate having a ‘proper’ job, rather than freelancing, parenting and farting about writing books. And even though the job I finally got was casual shift work, I still nearly didn’t turn up on day one.

So glad I did.

Working as an Exam Invigilator has done wonders for my mental state. The body might be exhausted but (or maybe as a result) my mind is more settled than it has been in years.

Invigilating is a bit like mindfulness. You can only focus on the moment. Of course the mind wanders a bit, but then a student will need something or it will be time to collect papers, and I’m back in the present.

There is no trying to focus while a dozen other things are happening (for example I’m writing this while listening to son singing along to Harry Potter in 99 seconds and daughter’s Maths Whizz homework, and the dog wants breakfast, the guinea pigs are squeaking, and the washing machine just played it’s happy ‘I’m done!’ jingle). No wonder my head is clearer. Even when the children were at school I would have all the different things I should be doing clamouring at me. And I didn’t do any of them.

It is true what they say, if you want something doing ask a busy person. I’ve got more done in the last few weeks than in the last six months, mostly by having no time to procrastinate. Although I’m even more in awe of parents who never drop the ball. I’m only averaging 20 hours a week and still I’ve forgotten to pay for a club, left my daughter’s coat at home twice, and lord knows if they’re doing their homework.

I remember reading the Stephen Hawking quote above after he died, and seeing the absolute truth of it. “Work gives you meaning and purpose.” It sure does.

It isn’t just getting paid, although that is fabulous. I feel useful. I go into work and people are nice to me (not the students: teenagers are terrifying). I feel like I can make a tiny difference. If I can smile at an anxious student, be speedy with something they need, or notice their desk is wobbly, I can make their exam experience less horrible.

Not that work has been anxiety-free. I have had one panic attack, when a Lead was being particularly horrible to me, and it’s tough trying not to break down in a hall of 140 students who probably feel worse than you do. And I nearly quit. But I didn’t, and what doesn’t break you and all that.

Most of all I no longer feel disconnected from the world. I no longer feel invisible. I get moments of appreciation (which are rare from my own kids – in fact they’re much worse now I’m not always available). The random shifts are hard, my feet hurt, and the dog hates me. But I feel more content with life that I have in a long time.

Work! Who knew?

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