I think the time since the last update might be the longest I’ve gone between posts. There both are and are not reasons for this.
One big factor has been work. Work has been both rewarding and exhausting. I’ve had no time to post, and no mental energy left – which is sometimes good, it can be nice to feel spent and have no time or inclination for unproductive introspection.
In terms of work, most recently, my union called 14 days of strike action spread over 4 weeks. Due to my participation in the strike, work has transformed from a good balance of exhausting and rewarding, to a source of anxiety, frustrated productivity, and stress.
This post isn’t about the reasons for the strike action, it’s about the personal, emotional experience of taking part in prolonged and ongoing strike action. And, I think, it might be about being in my mid-30s and not feeling I have much direction.
I’ve written before about my slightly complicated relationship to work, it’s where my sense of self worth and fulfilment comes from. It’s the only place I get that from. Not being able to work -deliberately withdrawing my labour – means denying myself a regulating, rewarding element from my life. And it takes it’s toll on my mental wellbeing.
When I’m working sometimes I can’t get out of bed in the morning, I can’t sleep, I feel frustrated and I feel overloaded and I need to be able to work flexibly because sometimes I have very poor concentration and anxiety. It’s important to note that all those things are present whether I’m in work or not. However, what I lose during the strike (and during holidays where I don’t have an actual trip-away of some sort planned) is the focus, the impetus to keep moving, and the sense of connection to some sort of purpose.
If I don’t have the next deadline to drive me forward, if I don’t have a place to go to structure my day and move me from one headspace (home – neurosis) to another (work – purpose) I don’t get that sense of worth.
And right now, as more friends settle down, as more friends move forward with home purchases or children or deepening and developing relationships, it’s harder to find reasons to celebrate or be happy with who I am by reference to who I am as in individual – who I am on a personal level. Nobody wants me on an inter-personal level, so I need to prove my value professionally.
And now I can’t do that. Worse; I have to stop working in order to try and protect my retirement income. So not only am I refusing to work, I’m doing it as an investment in a future life I literally cannot imagine. And not just in a millenial, I’m-never-going-to-retire, way. I mean in terms of not being able to imagine my life in retirement as anything other than cripplingly lonely, with no value as a person, with no purpose. And still mad.
Being mad, as you get older, is harder. I have less tolerance for it in myself and others. I see the frequency of mental health problems and neuroses in my peers. I hear people talking about it. And I don’t – can’t – won’t?- accept it.
This is not what I imagined or expected or hoped my life would be like ‘in the future’ [forever deferred, non-specified future that is]. I don’t want us to have to spend all this energy on looking after each other. I’m fed up of seeing people drop off the edge without warning. I hate realising we won’t just ‘grow out’ of the pain and trauma which shaped us at different points in our past. I am exhausted by all of our struggles.
I feel hopeless, drained, to come to the realisation that this is life. This isn’t the stuff we sort out before we get on with life. This is it. It’s woven into the fabric of our everyday. There are so many memes about adulthood being defined by feeling constantly exhausted. I think it’s possible to read that simply as physical exhaustion – but it’s also a psychic exhaustion.
And I want to bury my head in work and avoid all of this. ‘This’ being pain and messy emotions and crap coping strategies and uncertain future. But, of course, I can’t.