Wednesday, 18 February 2009


A friend of mine, during a very unsettled period of employment (probably truer to say that than to say a very settled period of unemployment) said words which stayed with me: it's not going to work that's the problem...and being on the dole is ok in itself: it's the transition from one to the other that's the worst part.

Those words have held much which resonates for me in the years since I first heard them, in the sense of a transition from one state to another.

Such has been on my mind this week as I returned to work after a break lengthy enough to afford a decent rest, various changes of scenery, time spent doing interesting things, and time pleasantly wasted (and a little time spent preoccupied with worry, which for me at least is obligatory). A break lengthy enough to be able to look back on the first few days of it and think, now that seems like a long time ago.

A break lengthy enough to be able to let go of the need to steel myself against certain things.

So it was a bit of a shock to the system to return to work and remember that I had to actually do stuff. At various points my train of thought has been as follows:



-and, as the situation in question presents itself, all those words fade away, or at least slow down (try juggling with three batons, and then with three pieces of tissue paper - that's the difference in the speed and intensity of thought process), and I'm then in the midst of what I was just worrying about. Being in the midst is calming because there's stuff to do, other people's stuff to deal with rather than to anticipate or worry about, and all those ...let's say, skills which I was worried had deserted me appear to have presented themselves exactly at the right moment, a bit like an airbag.

It's taken three days for that change from one state to another to feel a little more intuitive.

There's also a huge difference between being calm, and appearing calm.

I recall some years ago, following a - let's put it in the most charitable way possible - following a unique couple of years working within a unique set of circumstances, I'd taken some serious time out. I'd needed to, it was almost as though there was no choice in the matter. Fucking hell, I'd needed that time out.

Sometime later, following my signing up with a particular employment agency, I was being shown around a large building - my new place of temporary employment - a building which housed many vulnerable and/or challenging people at any given time. People with a whole range of needs, sets of problems, behaviours, circumstances, paraphernalia; things they had fled from, whether families, countries or other situations; conditions, diagnoses, prognoses and outlooks (I'll refrain from following that with - and that was just the staff).

I remember, on my initial tour of the's the canteen, here's admin, here's the maintenance department, the housing and support divisions, their respective offices, here's one of the empty rooms (someone should be moving in tomorrow) - oh, and here's the manager's office.

The manager's office looked very nice, if a little spartan. A couple of moments passed. I nodded, as if to say, yes, I can see that this is the manager's office. Where to now?

My tour guides looked at me, and looked over to the empty chair.

I nodded again, intending to give the same signals as just mentioned.

My tour guides looked at me again.

The second time they looked over to the empty chair, it hit me. The agency had sent me to manage this place. Oh bugger. Despite the fact that the previous couple of rather unique years had set me against the idea of managing anything ever again (at least in an employment setting), I went and sat down, to diffuse the awkwardness as much as anything.

If I don't like the way it's going I thought, I can always go back to the agency.

Before many days had passed - it was only a matter of time, given the nature of the place - I was stood right in the eye of a rather intense storm. A storm which involved physical injuries, broken implements, angry and shouting residents, the police, staff politics and so much more besides - and I was the one expected to take control and deal with it.

I remember standing there watching chaos and its aftermath unfold and unravel, and realising with great dread and fear that this was precisely the kind of situation I was meant to take control of, to manage. I remember sheer terror and helplessness, and my knees trembling (seemingly) uncontrollably.

Just as clearly, I remember thinking that if I couldn't manage to stop my knees shaking, if I couldn't control my own responses, then there was no way I was going to be able to deal with anything else.

The moments I stood there, amidst the vestigial remains of the violence and disorder of this particular incident, probably lasted 20, maybe 30 seconds, but felt like hours. The first few seconds were amongst the bleakest, the most challenging, I can ever remember experiencing.

The next few seconds weren't so bad. During this time I managed to calm myself (or at least, to reduce my outward symptoms), to take a few deep breaths, stop the knees shaking, stop the constant whatifs.

I strode out into the storm and began to tackle the situation, all its chaos and complexities.

Hours later - it took several hours of non-stop organisation, discussion, outright confrontation - I had thoroughly tackled the situation in ways I had never thought possible, energised by the necessity of the transition from one state to another, and the staff team felt they had a manager. The change in me was such that the staff damn well knew they had a manager, since I made sure of it.

I don't know how this post reads, I'm not going to edit it - but the memory described is a source of strength at the present time.


Fire Byrd said...

Makes a lot of sense to me.
When faced with a dilemma are first natural instinct is fear, or more likely in the world we live in, anxiety. But once we manage to access a situation we can let go of the fear/anxiety and be in the moment of what is around us.
And having the ability to feel fear is what keeps us alive. It's the world we live in that has taken that response and made it into anxiety and self doubt. Cave men didn't do anxiety they just beat a hasty retreat from the woolly mammouth and set out to orgainise a plan of action to deal with it.
We seem in our different worlds to be paralleling our stress stuff here!Cause that's what I've written about to.

trousers said...

Wise words, fire byrd, thank you. I did notice after I'd written this, that you'd posted about stress. Eyes were too tired though, and there's much to deal with today, so I'll give it a proper look later on. x

Anna MR said...

It reads fine, housut. Very fine.

Lovely evidence, too - and with snow. Well done.

Reading the Signs said...

Trousers, I sometimes get the feeling of a kind of karmic inevitability about life situations that present and then re-present themselves. It's almost as though they come with one's name written on the tag, just so that someone in the great karmic administrative department can tick the box and say it's done. There was a time when I walked away from a certain thing only to find it again later, manifesting in different form perhaps, but essentially the same. I enjoyed this post.

trousers said...

Thank you ms mr, this was written as quite a necessary catharsis. Or distraction...or a bit of both, most probably. One of those situations in which it felt better to post something rather than sitting and letting things keep turning over in my mind. But if I thought about it too closely then I probably wouldn't have posted it.

That kind of thing, wrapping oneself up in knots.

I'm glad, too, that you appreciate the evidence: it was absolutely stunning, particularly with the snow. A fantastic few hours well spent.

There was a time when I walked away from a certain thing only to find it again later, manifesting in different form perhaps, but essentially the same.

This really does chime, signs, very much so right now. There's been a collision of a number of different things which are exercising me at present, and your sentence is more than relevant.