Sunday, November 22, 2009

Knowledge November - Day 23 - Five Years' Time

During our lowest, most stressed, anxious, grief-stricken or most humiliating moments, we've often thought, read or even said, "Think about it: in five years' time, will this matter?"

I've learned that five years - in the past or ahead in time - is an eternity.

Five years ago, I was a manager of fourteen busy staff for an unpopular-but-very-necessary government agency. Eighty million dollars of expenditure per year was under my watchful eye and having to drop everything and respond to an urgent query from the Minister's office by midday was a constant part of working life.

My salary was very good for someone of my skills and age at the time in fairly small Adelaide. My boneheaded-but-blessed boss, Mal Function, was on the magical six-figure salary that was almost within my grasp. He was of the earlier generation that moved up the ladder of pay rises and job titles by birthright; by the time I arrived it was either wait for someone to die and/or have to re-apply for your own position (with seventeen pages of selection criteria that had to be addressed and supported) every six months. I wanted that salary: no, I deserved it. How else was I show to everyone that I was successful?

It was four years of waiting with Sapphire in the car for the Childcare Centre to open its doors at 7:00am so that I could be at my desk by 7:30am reading emails, writing reports and eating chocolate from the vending machine for breakfast. After ten hours of this each day, I'd head home and switch the laptop on at 8.30pm for more work after Sapphire went to bed. Sometimes on the weekends, I'd say to Sapph, "Would you like to go on a bus ride with Mummy into town and draw on her whiteboard" so that I could do even more work.

Strangely enough, I started to find that my physical body was starting to protest about my never-ending lunge for the big bucks and promotion.

The dentist made me a mouthguard to stop my teeth from wearing away due to nocturnal grinding, but I bit through it. He doubled the thickness and I cracked it - not from grinding this time, but clenching. Six of my teeth then had to be capped and crowned to protect the spongy and painful layer of dentine that my grinding had exposed, with a new protective cover lacquered over the top that could withstand a fiery car accident. Bedtimes had me smiling at Love Chunks like Hannibal Lecter with a lisp.

Soon, however, night time grinding wasn't an issue because sleep just wasn't happening. My first prescribed sleeping pill - temazepam - was a gift from God. To be knocked out for five straight hours was so blissful. No tossing and turning, or crazy thoughts or worries about work I'd forgotten to do..... I rationed them carefully; worried about addiction and lack of effectiveness, but lived for Wednesday and Sunday nights when I got to pop a tiny pink pellet onto my tongue.

Irritable Bowel became Pretty Pharkin' ANGRY Bowel and nights were spent shivering on the toilet at 3am, huddled in pain, producing nothing. Day times it was diarrhoea, carefully hidden in between meetings and from other visitors in the staff toilets. My face started to smell permanently of the fizzy splatter of lime-flavoured heartburn tablets.

My strategy to cope with the 'bit of stress' was to increase the exercise I was doing. Six and twelve kilometre runs weren't enough to tire me out and improve my energy levels; it was time to get into half-marathon training. And hey, if it was vital to be at the Childcare Centre by 7am, then I'd have to be up at 4.30am in order to get a decent run and shower in before drop off.....

And thus my physical, mental, social, emotional and aspirational breakdown was pretty well covered from all angles and I remember being half-walked, half-carried by LC into an ambulance before waking up in a hospital bed the following day.

Five years later, I can look back at the (thankfully) distant past and quite clearly see that the money, job title, staff, corporate credit card, cab-charge vouchers and home laptop docking station wasn't worth the split fingernails, blurred vision, churning stomach and night-time sobbings. Nor did it signify to anyone that I was a success story in any way.

Five years later I manage no-one, catch public transport, live in jeans and my job title certainly emphasises the 'free' in freelance. Sleep sometimes eludes me, but it mostly provides me with the rest I need. Irritable Bowel rarely progresses beyond 'vaguely miffed' and the migraines that visit me now are not due to clenched jaws, scrunched shoulders or fear.

Five years later Sapphire is my daughter, friend, angel, nanna and nagger. She's no longer on my 'Quality Time - Must do' list, but is a genuine part of my day, my life. Her spirit reverberates throughout our house and my heart. We laugh, talk and wear clean clothes. I am a success now.

Five years later LC and I are stronger, better, lighter. As the rain poured down yesterday and we huddled in the shelter waiting for our tram to arrive, he touched my cheek and said, "I know I'm not a demonstrative guy, but do I show you often enough how much I love you? How much I need you?"

This, the question from the man who carried me into the psychiatric ward on two occasions, sat by my bedside through it all, took me home and hugged me into accepting and realising that I did deserve safety, comfort, security and forgiveness.

The man who empties my migraine sick buckets, pays all the scary bills, allows me to wander the streets with our little orange dog seeking inspiration and beauty and who teaches our daughter to think more deeply, care more selflessly and play more joyously.

The man who, in spite of all I've done, still wants to hold my hand, lay beside me at night and laugh with me over our first morning coffees.



River said...

Ahhh, the sweet taste of success. Too many people (me included) believe that $$$ means success. Often enough there's a harsh lesson involved in learning otherwise. For some,(me), learning to accept that living on less isn't so bad comes a little easier, I see it now as practising for survivng on an old age pension. Still doesn't stop me from hoping for that big lotto win.

Miles McClagan said...

I want to draw on a whiteboard...

I want to draw on a whiteboard!

Boy that takes me back, all Dad ever let me use was the blackboard...until I wrote a rude word on it...

That'll learn me...

Baino said...

Oh how I envy you. Not the crushing lifestyle and breakdown of five years ago but the joy with which you have learned to live life again. My 'five years' has turned into six so things must begin to look up soon. The past five haven't been bad but they've been uneventful in the joy area with the exception of my kids of course! Lovely post. I'll try to catch up on the others over the weekend. Sorry we couldn't connect this weekend but Melbourne's great, I'll be down again before too long and will synchronise with you a little earlier!

Rowe said...

Love this post, Kath. My head was shaking in disbelief how you could live like that for four years. O.M.G! So glad you are now healthier and happier and in a much better place. Your hubby and little Saph are divine gifts in your life.

ashleigh said...

My goodness, that sounds a lot like the last couple of years I had at Mega-Lith Defence Corporation. I never made it to the funny farm but it seemed a close-run thing at times. I wasn't even aiming at the big bucks, just keeping the various F-wits from ruining things.

Migraines, irritable bowel, early starts, late nights, working weekends... All sounds the same, and all for what... So some moron I worked for could report in the fortnightly report that the stupidly underbid schedule was looking Just Fine Thanks. Yeah - thanks to the heroic efforts of a few individuals.

Then I moved on and got a job in commercial stuff designing neat things for customers who actually want them - much more satisfying and less silliness.

And then... well, we won't go there will we...

Helen said...

Wow, I'm so glad you're ok now! I think the adrenaline from that kind of pace is quite addictive and it takes something quite serious to shake us up enough to change things.

I'm glad that you're happy and that you have such a wonderful family!

Kath Lockett said...

River, it took me a long time to realise that $$$$ don't equal success. Look at James Packer - fat and down three billion!

Miles I remember drawing on Dad's blackboard too. And helping him feed the mice in the labs and collect sheep hearts and lungs for dissecting on Monday. I was fascinated!

Baino, I hope that year 'seven' for you, is not like the first six, work-wise. You don't deserve that.

Thank you Rowe. It took me a breakdown and total life change to realise that LC and Sapphire mean 'success' to me, not the pay packet or job title.

Ashleigh I didn't realise that it was a close call for you, too. Fingers crossed that the current situation you're alluding to also improves.

Thanks Helen. Great family, lots of chocolate, heaps to write about and not destitute: what else could I want?

Lynda Daish said...

Well done Kath...brought tears to my eyes again... I am constantly amazed at how much people put themselves through physically and emotionally and do not realise that in the long run they will pay for it in some way. We have survived on one income since the kids came along and our household all benefits much more for it!!

redcap said...

Aww, you made me come over all teary. What a lovely post. I'm so glad you're a success now xx

Kath Lockett said...

Thanks Lynda - you're so right. One income is often a bit of a struggle but the rewards in terms of a better family life, more energy, greater time to appreciate things is much, much more important.

Thanks Redcap. Sometimes 'success' is just defined as 'leaving the house in clean clothes' !

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Kath,

Great post.

Boy do I wish I could escape the daily grind. My ambitions used to be similar to those you suffered ("Must WORK! MUST CLIMB THE CORPORATE LADDER!") but that nonsense ended years ago when I realised that it was a path to madness!

Now, I simply do my job, collect my salary and try not to allow stress to dominate my life. OK I have to travel occasionally (and I actually enjoy that) but I don't let my career get me down if I can help it.

I've mocked it before but there is something in that "power of positive thinking" malarchy you read about.

If only I could escape the drudge like you have.

At the moment that elusive lottery seems to be my only escape. Never mind - positive thoughts prevail.

I will escape! One day!




Kath Lockett said...

Plastic Man - when you DO escape the drudgery just make sure that you do it long before you lose your teeth, okay? :)

franzy said...

I'm actually stalking your blog now that I've just come back from a short break, but the good line about the "'free' in freelance" reminded me of this: