It’s been three years this month since I reluctantly and unhappily left my beloved job. I wrote about how I felt a year after it happened, so I thought I’d do an update. (Those who have heard more than enough from me on the subject, feel free to look away now.)
Of course, we’ve all had much more sinister and frightening things to cope with, this year, and it’s not over yet. While being well aware lockdown has not been a picnic for many, I’ve found that it has suited me in some ways (chiefly the company of the OH as he’s been working from home throughout) but not so much in others (constant neighbour noise). My FOMO (always a problem for me) has receded to almost nothing, as we’ve all been in the same boat. And, being mildly agoraphobic, having fewer people and cars around has been a huge bonus, though the all-day-and-all-night noisy van deliveries have got on my nerves somewhat.
Never in my wildest nightmares did I think I would be retiring from work at barely two weeks into turning 58. I always thought they would be taking me out feet first. I used to say to people: “If I won the lottery tomorrow, I’d still want to come into work.” They clearly thought I was mad. But I meant it. Even the wealthy must find something useful and productive to fill their days with, or what else is there? Hang around waiting for death? I’ve had to start drawing on my very small company pension, to have something coming in every month, and not just everything going out. Of course, at this stage of my life, I wish I’d started both savings and pension a heck of a lot sooner, but I had my reasons why not, so there you go. I’m starting to feel resigned to never working again, though, which fills me with sadness, depression, anger, frustration, despair and panic in equal measure. None of this is helped by people (including my mother, every time we speak) asking me: “Have you retired now?” I don’t know! Have I?
In my old job in magazine fiction, I always said being so specialised worked for us and also against us. As long as we were there, it worked for us, of course, but now we have left, it is working against us. Friends can’t understand how I haven’t been snapped up by some publication somewhere and, I have to admit, the same hopeful thought had crossed my mind. I have written off to several magazines I would like to have worked for but have only had the courtesy of two replies – of the “thanks but no thanks” variety, but so much better than just nothing at all. I mean, did the others even receive my letter and CV in the first place? Guess I’ll never know! I realise I’m not nearly pushy enough; I never have been and also, of course, I haven’t had to be for nearly 40 years of working in total. So, it’s been really hard for me to put myself out there. I feel very “exposed.”
Our writers used to thank me profusely for responding so promptly to their emails, which always puzzled me. Why wouldn’t I? It was in both our interests, after all. However, now I’m on the receiving end of long silences and unanswered emails myself, I can understand their reaction a lot better.
To add insult to injury, every single magazine and book I open these days is riven with errors. I feel sorry for the novelists, especially, as their work is out there, mistakes and all, for far longer. We all know the reason why: not enough staff to check everything. I could scream!
I’ve not been idle. Far from it. I am thankful to be involved in an ongoing online magazine project since lockdown, which has kept my skills up, kept me sane, provided a focus to my days and given me back some much-needed self-esteem. I’ve written pieces for them and guest-edited an issue, too. I have also been involved in competition judging, preliminary reading and assessing manuscripts for a high-prestige writing award, written pieces for websites and published magazines, blogged (a lot), spoken on a panel at a literary festival on how to get published, joined a freelance group and run a workshop, ditto (and will be contributing to another, later on this year), helped writer friends with stories they’ve been struggling with and continued with my regular online editing sessions, as already mentioned.
I have had countless good advice from people. Everybody says to me: “Now it’s your time to be doing what you’ve always wanted to do.” My response to which has to be: “I was doing that already.” Jobs like my old one are few and far between and there are massive cutbacks in my industry, same as everywhere else. Every day, I am sent jobs information from various recruitment agencies and am always horrified when I look at the requirements. Basically, it’s four people’s full-time work for the (often very low) price of one! It’s a damn cheek.
More advice: Start a blog, join Twitter and Instagram (I was already on FaceBook and Linkedin) and see what happens. I’ll tell you: a big fat zero. I’m still waiting to be discovered! Meanwhile, I enjoy writing my blog and look on it as an outlet for my thoughts and I love Instagram – it’s my favourite social media platform. (Join me at clareatclarelou if you like pictures of flowers, puddle reflections, old signs and quirky architectural details, alongside random other stuff.)
I have made some lovely new friends and seen more of the ones I already had. I value them all and enjoy their company. I have a plan B for those days when no one is available to come out to play and I have run out of ideas of what to do with myself. I must stress here that I am not a wimp (I know people see me as a strong person) and am perfectly capable of entertaining myself – up to a point. I have learned that too much time on my own is emphatically NOT a good thing! But there are still days when I lack a purpose, or goal, and that’s when I wobble. Badly, in some instances. At the beginning of this year, before lockdown, I had the biggest wobble I have had for a great many years. I couldn’t leave the house. And I really do need to leave the house, every single day, if only for a short while.
It was triggered by two comments from total strangers. First, at a magazine planning meeting I attended, for a freelance job. A woman there said I had a sad energy and she wanted to give me a hug. Slightly bemused, I obliged. Then, two days later, a man on the checkout at my local supermarket said I seemed very sad that day. (He had never spoken to me before.) I laughed it off and promised to come in more cheerful next time but, inwardly, I was horrified. I hadn’t been feeling particularly sad that day and had, in fact, planned on catching a bus into my local shopping centre afterwards. Instead, I scuttled straight home, convinced I was transparent to the world. I felt embarrassed and ashamed at my obvious inability to put on a good front.
The following day, I found I couldn’t even leave the bottom of our drive. I tried! I craved company but also knew the first friendly/kind comment from someone would completely floor me and that wouldn’t be ideal for anybody. Safest to stay indoors and wait for it to pass. My poor OH had to bear the brunt of it when he came home, much later, instead.
The day after that, after a stiff talking-to in the mirror, I forced myself to go out – only to trip on a lumpy bit of pavement up the road and go flying through the air. I felt such a twit. A lovely lady helped me to the bus stop. I was determined not to have to cancel my plans again. It was no fun, limping around the shops, though. I had cuts and bruises and swellings everywhere and had to go home early. Maybe someone was trying to tell me something?!
A friend I spoke to on the phone after a gap of a few months said: “You must be tearing your hair out, Clare.” She seemed genuinely shocked I’m still not working. And someone else said, without any prompting from me, that it was clearly still very raw and that three years isn’t long enough to grieve for a job which took up almost half my life.
I’ve cried more in the last three years than at any other time in my entire life – even when people died and relationships ended. I cried every day for the first year. Sometimes, even now, my face is fixed in a tight grimace at the effort of not crying in public, though I have cried on (off-peak) trains in relative privacy. I can at least talk about things more dispassionately than before. Time and distance, I suppose. I dream a lot about going back into the office, though they are not at all happy dreams, interestingly and, of course, in reality it’s not what it was and never will be again.
I’ve tried anti-depressants from the doctor, which just made me feel sick and even more unable to leave the house, so that was the end of those. And, having tried various therapies in the past (I’m not going to go into the reasons why on here!), none of which worked well enough for me, I am reluctant to go down that route again. So, for now, I am back on the CBD oil. A close friend reckons she can tell when I’m on or off it, but I don’t feel hugely different in myself. I’m taking it for my nerves and to help me sleep. (Yes, I do still have those three am “What the hell am I going to do now and for the rest of my life?” moments.)
Watch this space and, in the meantime, I will carry on doing what I can safely do without the help of any CV: lunch! Care to join me?