I am now in week two of my new reality. I am still figuring out what this new reality looks like. One thing I have noticed is that my thought process when it comes to productivity is flawed in a few ways. One of those ways is how my brain sees time.
Most of my life I have lived and worked with a time clock, both literally and figuratively. I had an exact time I was supposed to be at work. I had an exact time I was done with work. I had specific times I would wake up every day. My kids had times they were supposed to be at the bus stop, or in later years, leave in their car to get to school on time. Even when I was working completely from home last spring, I had times I was supposed to clock in and out each day and I had specific times when that I considered work time.
Now that I am on sabbatical, semi-retired, unemployed, whatever you want to call it, I have discovered that my brain is still telling me if I have done enough based on the old clock. If I am done with everything I had planned for the day to early, I look at the clock and think “It’s still early. I haven’t done enough today” What my brain forgets is that my da didn’t start at my normal 9am time.
Take last Monday as an example. My dog woke me up at 5:30am. I decided not to try to go back to sleep. I made coffee and read the paper and then got started with my day, I wrote a blog post. I took a shower. I put in a load of laundry. I watched the ALA Youth Media Awards and then wrote another blog post about that. I then wrote 1000 words or so on my attempt at a jail memoir and then folded the laundry. I was done with all of that by noon. And then my brain was telling me I was lazy because it was noon and I was reading my book instead of “doing something productive: There are two problems with that 1. reading is productive and 2. I had already been busy for about 6 hours. 6 hours is a full day. It isn’t less productive because I started and ended early. If I start my day at 6 and end at 12 it is like starting at 9 and ending at 3. If I did that, I wouldn’t tell myself I was lazy because I stopped working at 3.
Today I will write some. I will read some. I will shovel snow. I will clean the oven after a sweet potato mishap last night. That is productive even if I’m done by early afternoon.
I need to change the clock in my head. I am fortunate to no longer be tied down to a 9-5 schedule. I need to stop judging myself on 9-5 terms.
I am now over a month past my last day at my job. I didn’t have to spend a lot of time adjusting to things at first. Two days after my last day both of my kids came home for the holidays. We then had Christmas and New Year’s to distract me. My son went back to his house, but my daughter was still home. My afternoons were reserved for watching TV with her. I just had a few hours in the morning to fill and then I was good. She moved back to her apartment Thursday night. Friday I picked books up at the library and drove around dropping late gifts on friends’ porches. Saturday we finally took the tree down and vacuumed. Sunday I cleaned bathrooms and watched the football games. Then came Monday and the first real test of our adjustment to the new reality. Here are some of what I’m struggling with this week.
My plan for the interim between leaving my job and the eventuality of going back to work was to work on writing. Improve the blog, look for other writing opportunities, and try to see if there is a book in my jail experience. The blogging part is relatively easy. I’ve been doing that. I have a decent amount of readers. I never really expected to make money with it. The other two make me feel inadequate. I have written about 5000 words about working for the state prison system. Most of those over the past two days. I am going back over it today for editing and such and I know I will find that the writing is bad and simplistic and not good enough for more than a series of blog posts. I don’t feel like I’m good enough to even try to do any freelance work or write anything to submit to any sort of real publication or website. It makes me lean toward just trying to get another library job even if I would hate it. At least I know I can do it.
I know I can’t fill up the entire day with writing. I start around 8AM or so, sometimes later if I sleep past 7. Even on a good day, I am pretty much done with any productive writing before noon. I eat lunch. I walk the dog. Today I will sweep and mop the kitchen. I still feel guilty that I’m not doing enough. I’m not making money, though technically I have a few more weeks before we reach the end of my vacation pay out so I’m not officially not making money yet. If I take a few minutes to read my book I feel like I’m wasting time and the guilt creeps in. When I get to the point in the afternoon when I feel like I can quit and watch TV until my wife is finished with work I feel like a slacker. If I’m not doing something that I think others will view as productive I get really stressed out and think I should have just stayed at my terrible job. I was miserable, but at least my time was somewhat productive.
Fear that when I do decide I need to get a job that I will be unable to find one. Fear that my family will see me as a disappointment. Fear that my wife will decide that a “retired” husband is not making her happy. Feat that I will eventually be doing this alone. Fear that I have hurt us more financially than I expected. Fear that I’ve made a terrible mistake and that everyone is judging me harshly for it. Fear that I will never figure things out and I will feel like this forever.
I spend a lot of time alone now. I wake up early and go downstairs. My wife works upstairs with the door closed. I only interrupt her if it is very important. I don’t talk to another human for 12 hours. Add this alone time to the feelings of guilt, inadequacy and fear and it does not make for happy times.
It is a big adjustment. I judge myself harshly for not being what I think others would consider productive and then assume everyone is is judging me harshly. I need to find some sort of regular volunteer work to do so I get out of the house to do something at least once a week. I spend way too much time alone with my thoughts and it leads to bad places.
It’s now been a week since I turned in my letter of resignation. If it was a normal, two weeks notice scenario my work life would be winding down. Unfortunately, I gave 30 day notice so I have too much time left to really start to feel any relief.
The timing was terrible. We started two new initiatives at work this week. This means that even though I am on my way out I need to learn the basics of these initiatives to do my job over the next few weeks. Instead of a feeling of relief and winding down, I am feeling stress about the new duties and how we will navigate the work expected with no increase in staffing.
I will still be scheduled to work the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Not a huge deal since I will be home anyway, but it would be much better to have a four day weekend. After Thanksgiving I will still have two weeks of work left. I think that is when I will finally start to feel a little relief and my stress level might start to go down.
Of course, there is still a little sadness about leaving a place I have worked at for so long. A sadness about not seeing friends. A sadness about a loss of easy access to books.
I know it was the right decision. I know it will be good for me, I’m just not close enough to the end to really feel it right now.
I knew that turning in my letter of resignation was not going to magically make everything easy. Still, a part of my hoped that I would feel so good about that decision that I would get a bit of a reprieve. The problem with anxiety -there’s always something.
I resigned, but I gave 30 days notice to make sure I get paid for my accrued leave. That means instead of being almost a week into a two weeks notice i still have four weeks of work left. Instead of winding down and passing things on to other people I’m stressed about how to spend my work at home time when I’m not going to be taking on new projects. Instead of being free from meetings about upcoming things, the four weeks means I still have to participate. It won’t be until Thanksgiving that I feel more free from the work anxiety
Outside work life s also full of things to worry about. Covid is surging across the country. Restrictions are being put back into place. It won’t change things for us for Thanksgiving. We don’t travel, so we will have our normal four person festivities. Christmas is looming, though, and I can’t imagine things will be better by the time we normally travel. I had really hopes that we would avoid the surge until after the holidays. Once we hit January I will be happy to be in my house and only seeing my wife and kids until things are better.
There’s always the little things as well. Is the basement really fixed and won’t flood with the current rain? Will our second attempt at window installation be successful? Etc, etc, etc.
Yesterday was a big day. I announced on my blog and Facebook the news that I resigned from my job. I still have a month before I am actually free, but the end is nigh. The blog post gave me my second highest views ever on the blog. The highest is still the day a Twitter celebrity retweeted my post about Michael Vick. So now I face the question What Now?
Obviously, the question applies to real life, but it also applies to this space. What do I write about when my life is spent at home writing? How do I use the extra writing time to make my blog posts better? How do I find the discipline to sit in a room and work on writing projects when it will be so easy to let things distract me? How do I decide when it’s time for me to merge from the distraction of writing to look forward another real job? How to I keep myself from getting depressed about my lack of success? How do I stop myself from second guessing my decision to leave my job when things get hard? How do I coexist with my wife who is working from home full time when she needs quiet for work and I can’t work in silence?
I’ve always used the excuse that my blog isn’t great because I don’t spend time on it. I vomit words into a post in the morning before I go to work. I don’t edit anything. I hit publish and I’m done. Now that I have the time to actually work on it, plan posts, edit, etc. how do I cope with the fact that it probably won’t change anything about the number of readers I get?
As I deal with the what now in life I’m also dealing with the what now for the Common Tater.
Regular readers of the blog know that I have been in an unhappy situation. I felt stuck. I was depressed. I knew I needed a change but I wasn’t sure if I was able to make a change. Today, I have news.
I started talking to Mrs. Tater way back in June about the possibility of me leaving my job. I was unhappy before the pandemic. I was even more stressed and unhappy during the time I was working completely from home. I knew then that things would not be great for me when I did return to in-person work. I was correct. Most of what I liked about work was gone. All of what depressed me about work was still there and magnified. I started to feel physically ill at the thought of a new work week. I was depressed. I started going to therapy to deal with it. I knew deep down I would never get right while in this situation.
I had talked to my wife several times about it. I had pretty much given up hope of her being on board with me leaving my job with no landing spot. It is a giant leap of faith for someone to be OK with losing part of the household income for an undetermined amount of time. I wrote up a plan for how i would spend my days and how I would try to spend my “sabbatical” trying to write something that could be profitable. I did admit that I am 99% sure that I will not find a way to make money writing, but at least I would have the opportunity to know for sure. Then there were weeks of nothing. I would occasionally ask about the email and she would say she had not had a chance to consider it. I was losing all hope.
Sunday evening we went for our daily walk. I decided to bring it up one last time as I was already getting more and more stressed out about the end of the weekend. As we walked and talked she surprised me by saying that she agreed that leaving my job was the best thing for me to do. I made sure several times that she was really saying what I thought she was saying. She was telling me to leave my job. I called my kids when we got back to the house and they were both happy and in support of my decision. I texted my brother and sister to tell them. They were also happy and supportive. I told a small circle of my friends. Same story. I guess they all understood how unhappy I was.
So, Monday morning, while feeling like I was going to vomit, I wrote and sent my letter of resignation to my boss and HR. After 25 years with the same organization and years of doing the safe thing I took a leap to the unknown. As of December 12 I will officially have no job. I am taking a chance on myself that I will find the right place for me moving forward and that I have not doomed myself to never finding another job.
Readers of this space will know that I have struggled recently with coping with life in general. I’ve always had periods where I struggled with anxiety and worry. I’ve had down moods, but I always just coped with it, powered through and moved on. The last few years, I’ve found it harder and harder to do this. A series of life events, I think, lead to this.
I lost my mom to cancer.
I changed jobs soon after that.
My youngest went away to college and I had to learn to deal with an empty nest.
I learned soon enough that the job change was a mistake.
The toxic environment became more and more toxic.
Then came the pandemic and I lost pretty much everything I still liked about work.
The toxicity increased.
I reached a breaking point. My first hope was that I would convince my wife that I should quit my job and that would help. It became clear that would not happen, but something needed to change. I still think things would improve exponentially if I removed myself from that environment, but at the very least I need help coping with it. So, I decided I would finally take the step of seeking therapy.
It was hard to make the call. It was even harder when I kept being told that they had no openings. but I could be on a waiting list. I gave up and told my wife I was giving up on it and I would just cope on my own. She did not give up and texted me a practice to call. They did have an opening and I have my first appointment Wednesday.
Don’t be like me. You might be able to power through and cope, but it isn’t healthy. If I had talked to someone when my anxiety and depression started to get bad I would be in a much better place right now. It shouldn’t take a pandemic to admit you need help. If you need to talk to someone, make the call. I did.
I woke up this morning already stressed and anxious before my day really even started. My dog woke me up around 6AM as usual. I tried to go back to bed and get more sleep since I am working the 4-8 shift at work tonight. I think I dozed a little, but I can’t turn my mind off enough to go back to sleep once I’m awake. It starts to drift to things that will make it hard for me to relax. I’ve been officially out of bed since around 7:30.
It probably doesn’t help that besides making coffee my first two things I do are turn on the news and read the newspaper. Maybe it is time to break my news addiction and do something different with my morning coffee. I did read a little bit and I did my morning word puzzles. It did not help settle my mind. All of the coronavirus news mixed with the stress and anxiety that work brings has me on edge all the time.
Since my day ends at 8 today it shouldn’t start until 12. One of the stresses of my life is people who don’t respect personal time. I already got a call this morning before 10. It was one of those “I sent you an email so now I’m calling to tell you to read your email” calls. Those are always fun. There was at least recognition that I am not on the clock once I mentioned I was in the branch 4-8 tonight, but I still felt obligated to read and respond to the email. It’s really hard to beat the stress and anxiety when there is no guarantee of personal time free from calls. It’s time for another mention to my wife that I need to quit and find a new direction in life. Maybe if I keep it up she will eventually agree. This is not a sustainable life.
I will be on vacation for a week after Monday. I may deactivate my social media. I will likely disappear from the blog during that time. Since I will be with the only people who I care to be in contact with I might leave my phone on do not disturb the entire time. I need a break from the world.
I guess number one is not ending a sentence with at. See? I did it again. Terrible.
I had an interview for a promotion at work today. I’m really bad at job interviews. I could go to a job interview every day for the rest of my life and I still wouldn’t be good at it. I can and have stood in front of hundreds of people at our professional development day as emcee and did an adequate enough job at it that they asked me to do it again. Then we got a new CEO and they decided not to give the spotlight to anyone else again so I was replaced, but that’s another story. I can do that, but if you put me in a room with an interview panel I suck. I get nervous. I ramble. I talk fast. I forget to say things I wanted to say. It’s terrible. I will never be promoted. It’s just not something I’m good at(did it again).
I’m a good driver, but I would fail a driving test if I had to take one again. It’s the whole anxiety thing again. Put someone in the car with a clipboard and suddenly I forget how to drive. It took me three tries to pass my test when I got my license. When I got a job working for the newspaper in Cincinnati delivering papers to street racks and stores I had to tell the guy training me that I would never be good at remembering the route until he was gone. Just having him in the car with me made me question where I was supposed to go next. He thought I was going to be bad at the job. When I left he told me how I was one of the better drivers they’ve had. The problem was the anxiety of being judged I’m happier driving alone.
I’m terrible at arts and crafts. I would get frustrated and be near tears in elementary school when I had to do arts and crafts. I was so bad at it and couldn’t do the assignments. When I was in middle school the art teacher let me write a research paper for extra credit so he wouldn’t be the only teacher not to give me an A. I was really bad. I was doing paper mache and trying to make a human head. It was terrible. It eventually fell over and I thought it kind of looked like a pig, so I painted it brown and called it a wild boar. I wasn’t better at any other arts and crafts. I don’t like it and I’m never going to be good at it. I’m glad others can do the arts and crafts classes at work.
I could go on and on with things I’m bad at(again!): writing, singing, making friends, mingling, networking, anything that involves talking to people, cooking, and so many other things. Maybe I should just never leave the house.