Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Why I'm exhausted

There's a thing I've noticed. People who got into jobs just before the going got REALLY shit, think you're making it up when you say it's hard out there.

And I'm tired. I'm tired of wondering where my next job will be and how long it will be and whether I'll have to move and whether I'll have to move again. And will I be paid enough. And can I do this thing in six months because I don't know where I'll be working then. And should I buy this thing because how long before I'm between pay again because if there's a gap between contracts....and what if and what if and what if...

Let's put aside the 100s (and I'm not exaggerating this) of jobs I've applied for in the past 2 years alone. It's also the endless short term contracts. And the resulting insecurity. Because it's alwasy about hunting the next thing. Worrying when the current thing will end.

I'm exhausted and it's making me ill. But I know I can't be alone in this. So here is my litiny of regret, my list of employment (not counting even shorter gigs and freelancing moments that have filled the last 5-6 years as well) These are the places where I waited for contracts or jobs that never came, while still hunting the elusive White Whale that is a "Proper Job".

1998-2002 (Ages 15-18) Stable Hand. Working for riding lessons we couldn't otherwise afford.
2001-2003- Checkout Assistant ASDA (First real job, as soon as I was old enough)
2002-2007- The University years. I won't bore you with the details. It involved a lot of customer service and a lot of coffee spilled on me.

So far so normal.

2007 Civil Service: Three month temporary contract. Extended month by month for another 6 months. I could have stayed longer (month by month) but a particularly sexist pig motivated me to take my chances elsewhere.

2008 University Admin Department:  Two week temp job. Extended to a month. Then two months. For an entire year I lived with month to month extensions, promised a Full Time job would be advertised soon, that I was welcome to apply for. It never came.

2008 (as well): Dresser. Theatre. Zero hours contract.

2009-2010- Trained to be a teacher. Random supply days for a few months after.

2010-2014- The PhD Years. Jobs here included:

Teaching at the University: Zero hours, term time only. Number of hours and therefore income decided only 2 weeks before term started most years.
Front of House (Theatres): Zero hours, minimum wage. Show dependant. Since leaving one of these has changed it into a volunteer job, another shortly follows suit.
Support Worker (University) : Zero hours contract. A little above minimum wage. Pay cut in 4th year of employment due to Government cuts. Term time only.

2014 Theatre: Two week job, because former friend told a lie that got me fired.

2014/15 University: Support Worker. As above.

2015/16 University Administrative Support 12 month fixed term contract. Told there was possibility for renewal at the end. After contract ended it was advertised at 0.5 of the contract (so half the pay)

Current Role: 5. 5 month contract. Extended by 4 months. Extended by another 2.

I don't say any of this to attack the employers, many of whom have been as sympathetic and supportive as any could be.

And this is not through lack of trying. Of course I try to get permanent jobs, but statistically they just aren't there. And employers are either forced to offer these contracts, or simply can get away with it.

And why stay? because often you are promised if you stick around long enough, get the experience, do good work, "when" a job comes up your name will be on it. But the job never comes up. And you can only stay so long, mainly because the contracts end. So you move on, to another, 'one day my job will come' situation. And again, and again.

And I'm not including here all the odd days of work here and there, and hours upon hours of volunteer work designed to get me 'a foot in the door' ready for that elusive full time job that lasts more than a year.

And what does all this add up to? exhaustion. Myself and others fighting this fight never get a let up from job hunting, we also never get a let up from worrying. It affects my health, physical and mental and what's more I can never plan for anything. I can't book a holiday in advance, I don't know where I'll be working. It's all the stress of being a freelancer without any of the benefits.

The culture of short term jobs isn't resulting in a good workforce- when everything is just 'for now' it's hard to really commit- for employers to train and for employees to give their all. Because for us as employees our eye has to always be on the next thing.

People who got a job after Graduating, and peacefully went from one to another. They don't get this. They also don't get why I go up and down in terms of seniority and type of job, or why I never seem to have a 'proper' jobs. I'm trying to do all the things you're supposed to do to get a 'proper' job. It just never seems to quite pan out.

Above all I'm exhausted. So next time someone asks why you're just on a temporary contract, or why you still live at home, maybe don't feel like you're alone. Because I'm there and I'm exhausted too.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

It's not your fault (and other things to tell ourselves when nobody believes us)

Firstly, hey, hello, yes this blog has been resurrected from whatever depths it's been languishing in.

This could have been a rant. I'm upset, I am, for reasons apparent in the rest of this. But I'm choosing to turn it around. So to that end I say to anyone out there in PhD land, alt-ac land, with-a-PhD land or just the general 'where did it all go wrong land':

It's not your fault.

Even if you think it is. Even if you could have done things differently (and we all could) even if you just think the whole damn thing is a huge mistake: it's not your fault.

Things I'm declaring not my fault today: 

1. That the economy went to shite in 2008. Around the time I was looking for my first 'proper' jobs. I finished my Masters in late 2007. By the time I was ready to move on from 'just give me a job for my CV and some damn income' to 'Hey career move' things were already going to hell. That was beyond my control.

2. That by 2010 Education was nose-diving along with the economy and that was the profession I'd ended up in. I made a deliberate choice in 2009 to undertake my PGCE. School budgets are being slashed, arts and humanities are always the first to go. So what was an investment into a secure career became a risky gamble.

3. The Conservatives got elected. Which made 1 and 2 so much  worse. Then Trump got elected and well...

4. Higher Education is a system at breaking point. I decided on a leap of faith to do my PhD and use my teaching skills there and follow a dream when 2 took effect.  And I joined it as the cracks began to show. By the time I'd done three years on zero hours teaching contracts there was no more money for adjunct teachers. And every other local University (because you can't commute or move for adjunct teaching) was in the same boat. Full time jobs were cut, fixed term ones fewer and fewer. Funding less and less. Restructures happen left and right so even the alt-ac jobs are at risk.

Genuinely the above are things that happened to happen as I was doing my damn best to shape my career. Now here's some more particular to me that aren't my fault:

1. I was born in 1984. Not say 1974, 1964, etc etc when the above might not have aligned with key moments in my life and career. Thems the breaks. I also happen to be not quite 'Generation X' and not quite a 'Millennial' which apparently makes it hard for the media to put my failings and political views in a box. So there's that too.

2. I was born into a poor family. My parents never had spare money. Often we didn't have enough money. Oh and my Dad died when I was 19, when I was in the middle of University, my Mum was working part time for minimum wage. There was nothing spare to go around. There still isn't. I was never going to get my tuition paid or a house deposit.

More importantly there's nobody to bail me out. Ever. If I get into debt, if I can't pay my rent, there's no bank of Mum and Dad to bail me out. The only safety net I have is a literal roof over my head at my Mum's . Which while I use it, I help pay for.

Those of us from backgrounds like this earn our keep (I've been working since I was 15) and we pay our way (I pay rent, I pay for everything else I have). Most importantly we work damn hard, because the fear keeps you going, as does the ethic passed down.

3. I'm willing to do anything to keep going. Because of the above I don't have the luxury of sticking to a 'career plan' I just have to work. And if that means taking a minimum wage job on top of teaching, or taking a job that pays 1/3 less and is about 4 steps down the ladder, you do it. And it's not your fault to need ot keep going.

These are just my examples. All of you out there have them, whether it's taking a career break to have children, taking a job because it fits being a carer for someone else, you moved because your partner did, you can't move because you don't have the means, you were ill, you are ill. Or even damnit if luck just isn't on your side.

It's not your fault.

If you're sick of hearing any of the following (And I know I am)

People complaining about their jobs that they've had for 10 years
People being surprised that you can't get a job doing whatever it is you're trying to do
People being surprised you're doing the job you're doing
That you're simultaneously over-qualified and under-qualified for a job
That you just missed being hired or shortlisted

If you're sick of people not understanding that:
Having/doing a PhD doesn't mean you've never worked
That it's an easy ride
That you should be able to easily get a job in academia
That you're not qualified for anything outside of academia
That you've not paid in cash, time or other sacrifices to do it.

If you're just plain sick and tired of:
Not being able to plan for 6 months time. Because you don't know what you're job situation will be.
Not being able to afford well...anything because of the above.
Feeling like you suck at what you're doing for a living
Feeling like you wasted your time, effort and money.
Using every spare waking hour trying to change the situation.

It's not your fault. None of it. As much as we tell ourselves we could work harder, as much as we compare ourselves to everyone else. It's not our fault. The world, our industry and plain old luck went to hell in a handbasket while we were all trying to contribute to society and do the thing we felt we were good at.

That's easy enough to think, when not confronted by someone who got in before it all went to hell. Who can't understand why you haven't paid off your student loans and bought a house. Or why if you're so clever you're doing this crappy job (which you clearly aren't good at). But it's not your fault. We're all working bloody hard out there.

And if I say it to my fellow PhD-ers enough, I might just believe it myself next time. Instead of crying in the toilets. Again.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Time to Talk- Talking about mental health

Not strictly a PhD blog, but certainly one that impacts. Today (Time To Change are holding Time to Talk day, a day to promote talking about mental health. I talked about mental health for the first time on this blog, and anywhere really here ( here)

So firstly PhD/academic life and anxiety/depression/mental health. I probably didn't realise how much I was suffering through my PhD and how much damage was done by it- that's something I'm still realising. Luckily on the flip side I've found younger academics I've met to be some of the most open about mental health and it's them who have led me to be able to write this for Time to Talk day.

So how did a PhD impact my mental health? well it didn't create issues, but it certainly brought to the surface and made worse ones that were already there-mostly because I felt I had to keep them hidden.

The constant criticism that's inherently part of a PhD/Academia will wear anyone down. Throw in someone prone to anxiety and depression and you can end up locked in a spiral of crippling self doubt. The constant competition in academia is also no good for mental health of those with anxiety issues, the constant comparison to other people, and the fear-nay the knowledge- you will never be good enough leaves you in a constant state of anxiety. And gives you a feeling of worthlessness. And the fact that you come out the other end not with a feeling of accomplishment so much as a set of things you haven't done as well as you could have and a knowledge of all the people out there better at it than you.

Academia didn't give me mental health issues, but the culture has exacerbated it. And if we were able to be more hoenst about the damage we were doing to ourselves, we'd be better equipped ot deal with it, adn life after the PhD.

Son as it's Time To Talk day, I thought I'd be honest about how anxiety and depression affect my life.

Depression is the easy one, I'm prone to fits of dark despair, of feeling worthless, lacking motivation and that nothing will ever be right again. I mean that's about it. I'm lucky I don't suffer that badly, I can usually pull myself on through after a few days. That's how it is for me. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth talking about.

Anxiety for me is the big one. Here's a few everyday things that send me through the roof:

1. Phones.
Hate them. Been known to drop it when it rings out of sheer 'get it away from me'
2. Driving.
I'm going to crash. I'm going to get lost. Multiply by 10 if I'm driving someone I don't know well. Or my Mother.
3. Being Late.
I'm always early. But I live in constant fear I will be late and the world will end.
4. Plans.
This can be plans I've made. A lack of plan. Plan being cancelled. All of these make me anxious.

Add these to an overriding sense that I'm always *this* close to being fired from my job, that I'm therefore going to run out of money, never be employed again etc etc. It's pretty exhausting.

The big one for me is relationships. I will remember the most flippant innocuous comment from years previous, and be convinced that a) I am an idiot b) that person that heard it still hates me for it.

That's the most superficial level of it though, I can kind of turn the volume down on that a bit. The biggy is this: I'm only ever one message or conversation away from thinking my friends hate me.

I'm lucky that some of my closest friends share the same issues I do. I can go to them and say 'Do you hate me? because you didn't answer my text last night' and they will get it. Other friends, who don't share it, will understand if I do a more 'normal' version of that, saying 'Hey we haven't talked in a while is everything ok?'

And then there are those who don't. I've been called annoying, even manipulative for asking the question or raising the concern that I may have done something wrong. Because that's what my brain tells me, that I must have screwed up. And logical me wants to fix the thing that illogical me is essentially making up.

So that's my anxious brain. Now maybe, just maybe if we really did make Time to Talk then instead I could just turn to friends and say 'Hey, my anxiety is really bad, and I'm thinking like this can you just reassure me it's all in my head'

Maybe if we could make Time to Talk, make it normal, I wouldn't have lost a friend of 8 years reccently because my anxiety made me insecure enough to ask one to many times. If we made Time to Talk maybe they'd have understood it was my anxiety talking not me.

Maybe if we made Time to Talk we'd all understand each other a little better.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Rejection hurts (especially five months later)

Today I received a job rejection.

Nothing new about that. I actually couldn't tell you how many I've received over the last say two years. What was unusual about that rejection it was for a job that I'd interviewed for five months ago.

Five. Months.

Now if I'd applied, not heard a thing and eventually got an automated HR email months later that's one thing. Often for application stage you don't hear a thing. That's annoying, but fine. If however I've interviewed, I've prepared, presented, taken time out of my existing work and often travelled. Then I deserve the courtesy of a personal response in a timely fashion.

What I got was a formatted HR email, with the option of "feedback" from someone in HR. Not even someone in the room. I'm going to come out and say it: it's disrespectful, to me, to the work I put into the application, the interview and everything that led to that point. At the very least I should have been offered feedback from someone on the panel, at the very least I'd usually expect a phone call. At the very least I'd expect all of this before five months.

Now this is unusual. It's extreme. But it's indicative of the way a sector is going. Academics, particularly early careers ones are now so many, we've become disposable.

And this is where the dichotomy becomes weird. Because to the wider system we're nothing. Nobody. Ten-a-penny and worthless. I get that, most of us get that who are out there now trying. But at the same time nobody can see us as anything BUT academics. So we're nothing to the wider world, and failures to the academic world.

This is also important when offering condolences to friends who have had rejection. I took this, which was my last ditch attempt at an academic job, as cementing proof of my failure. People on twitter were quick to reach out and assure me it wasn't failure, just re-framing my life.

Here's the thing. When that comes from someone who is a PhD doing something else (and happy)it means the world. More often it comes from a PhD who is an academic, who 'made it' and actually can't imagine doing something else.  Many of them also often lament how horrible academia is, how they 'wish' they were doing something else. And yet, they don't leave. And yet, I know they'd have framed any other path as a failure.

And so what now? I got an interview in my last ditch attempt before taking a temporary job out of academia. That I got that interview made me re-think applying again when something came up- I was a great on paper match for that job, but really what is the point? What is the next move?

Well it's resigning myself once again to failure. I always knew I wasn't good enough. But not being considered even a person enough for a polite timely rejection, that's the stuff that hurts.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

"The World only spins foreward" - On not going backwards

"The World only spins foreward"

A wise man once said that. It takes him seven and a half hours of a play to get there, but the main thing is he gets there.

That quote, from Tony Kushner's Angels in America is followed by perhaps the most important line of the whole play 'More Life'. In nearly a decade of living with, studying in various guises, and just having this play as a weird part of me, I think I've finally learn that lesson.

Like Tony, like Prior Walter (who speaks those words) I take a while to get there.

So life update, as it's been a while, I started a new job back in September. It's only temporary (until the end of February). It's fair to say it's not long-term what I want to do, and it's not kind of challenge in work I'm used to or want  etc etc BUT it's arts-related, it's not uninteresting and above all it's a job.

It's been both strange and nice to be out of the academic environment. On one hand I feel like I'm undercover, nobody really knows of my 'other' identity, and I kind of like it that way. On the other it's frustrating that nobody knows about something that has been a big part of my identity until now. In academia your work and you become a part of each other, and it feels strange being separated from that part of me in the eyes of my colleagues. But on the other hand, I feel judged as a person not as a set of academic achievements or lack thereof for once.

I think oftentimes people really didn't believe me when I said 'I'll take anything just to keep going' thinking somewhere I was being snobby about jobs. I wasn't, for the most part those jobs just wouldn't take me. Is it frustrating not being one of the people who does the more challenging work I know I'm more than capable of? sure. Is it frustrating not being able to get a job doing the things I really want to do? of course. Does that mean I'm not grateful for what I have? No.

I am in fact so grateful that someone took a chance on me. That someone looked at the wide range of experience I had and didn't dismiss it but thought they'd give me a chance to do something different. And probably that it's a very short term post helped. But it feels like moving forward, moving on.

I came back to this line yesterday. Where after days of putting myself through hell I came to the simple realization that we only move forward, and to embrace that. This was because my old job, that I had ended, was back. Sort of. Half of it. 2.5 days of it. And I had an interview for it.

It had been a rocky road to getting to the interview. I was assured when I left if they 'rescued' my job then I'd be told about it when it was advertised, but despite my chasing it up by email it seemed the job was never to be. Until I saw it...on Facebook. The person who shared it did so in all innocence, and it's not their fault. But I cried when I saw it. Both the fact that after months of unemployment, of the hard won battle that was that job, of kind of sort of wanting to go back because better the devil you know (or at least better the pay cheque). But nobody had told me about it. I told my Mum what had happened "They really don't like you do they?" she said. I think she was right.

I applied anyway. Out of principle, stubbornness, call it what you will. And I got an interview. I wanted the interview, I wanted to go back in there with all these ideas and show just how good I was for the job, I built that job from nothing and I was proud of it.

But life conspired against me. Long story short there was no way I could get the time off work for the interview without putting my current new job in jeopardy. And it was such a fight to get that job, and they are people who have been good to me. I chose loyalty to my new employer. And I guess I chose to move on.

I also chose, by default more than design, the path of not just accepting whatever can be thrown at you. That job was 2.5 days, and academia has conditioned me to grab any scarp of a job with both hands that is even slightly connected to it. Never mind the scarping around and worrying about money that inevitably comes with it, you HAVE to grab it and you're wrong if you don't. And if it were a dream job maybe, maybe then all the sacrifices are worth it. But not for dream adjacent. Not for kind of but not quite the right fit. I'm slowly learning to value myself more, and to ask others to as well. But it's a hard habit to break the one academia makes of you.

I am sad that I didn't get to that interview. But then I also think of how I'd feel if I didn't get the job. At least I stepped away on my own terms this time, even if it wasn't planned. I do feel, once again, spat out by the system, the one who wasn't quite good enough, quite valued enough for anyone to care. But also that sometimes you need a push. Maybe that was my push. Until being forced to make the decision to say no, I always had one eye behind, the 'What if' factor.

I'm not saying this is the end of me and academia fully, because as I said in another blog on the subject (here)  never say never. But I do feel as if  I have options once again. Last week I also got my first academic job interview in 3 years, and before taking this job I had 3 other non-academic related job interviews, showing that I CAN get in the room, and I do have a chance to do other things too.

So although I'm feeling once again hurt by my old job, and a little bit sad that maybe it wasn't meant to be again, I'm also feeling a sense of renewed energy in going forward.

So as Prior Walter says, at the close of Angels in America 'The world only spins forward' and with it 'More life'. The play also teaches against standing still, and I think I've been doing that for too long, and so onwards. Not backwards, however long it takes.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Start talking (World Mental Health Day)

A week ago as I type this, I was dressed up to, if not the 9s then a pretty solid 7, working as a journalist at the BAFTA Cymru. I'm good at my reporting jobs, I'm well informed, highly researched and confident both in my interview skills and my writing skills. I did a good job as ever last Sunday.

On Saturday I was performing with my choir. I'm also quite good at that. Again I'm not winning any TV talent competitions any time soon, but I'm a solid soprano, and a lifetime of musical theatre obsession gives me performance-face like you wouldn't believe.

That was Saturday and Sunday. What anyone who saw me at either of those events wouldn't know is not half an hour before getting there (actually about 5 minutes on Saturday) I was a mess. I spent the weekend alternating between sobbing, screaming, shouting or feeling like a lifeless lump. I was horrible, I felt horrible. I was horrible to my Mum. Really horrible. And anyone who knows me we’re close, and we get on really well. Seriously it’s like a re-enactment of Gilmore Girls episodes most days in our house. So that’s a sign something is really wrong. I’ve had some pretty rubbish times both recently and in my life as a whole, but I’m pretty sure this weekend ranked in the top worst ten.
Why am I writing this? Aside from a compulsion to share all manner of nonsense on my blog? Well in part exactly that. Because this is something I’ve kept very quiet for a long time.

I have mental health issues, and have done for some time. I have had eating disorders, depression and anxiety. And actually I’ve never really told anyone. Mostly I’m afraid to talk about them, seek help for them, or even admit they exist. And that really should change, for me and for anyone else in the same position.

I’m finally putting those words down for two main reasons. Firstly, the day I’m publishing this, 10th October, is world mental health day, and while we shouldn’t need a day to start a conversation, sometimes everyone needs a little nudge.

Secondly, as part of my BAFTA Cymru evening I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Rhys Evans, founder/musical conductor of Only Men Aloud. Someone I’d admired for many years for his musical work, but also more recently for the reason he was at the awards- a documentary entitled ‘Tim Rhys Evans-all in the mind’ about his struggles with mental health. During our interview, where we touched on the importance of sharing stories about mental health Tim said how the nomination gave an opportunity to talk about the film again and in particular giving him chance to talk to ‘people like you’ meaning journalists, to keep getting the message out there.

I couldn’t stop thinking about that, and other aspects of our conversation, and as a result two things occurred to me (this is a blog of twos). 1. Tim was right, there is a very basic need to keep talking about mental health. 2. If he could be brave enough to share his story in such a raw, honest way, then I could share a bit of mine too.  So here goes…

I’m not mentally healthy. I haven’t been for a long time. Possibly ever. But I don’t know for certain, because I’ve always been too scared to ask for help when I need it. I don’t feel “sick” enough to ask for help. I don’t feel I “should” ask for help. And because mostly I get by, but sometimes I have a day, or a weekend, or a week that looks like last weekend.

And I write this to say these things manifest in different ways for different people. For me one way, as with last weekend it becomes an issue of body confidence. No matter what I know rationally, nobody will convince me I am not hugely fat, and have in fact put on an enormous amount of weight and that as a result am a worthless human being. Or I will be convinced that everyone I have ever met hates me and in fact wants nothing to do with me. Ever. Or that whatever I am trying to do that day will go horribly wrong to the most extremes, and I will be utterly convinced of that-that by the end of the day I’ll be fired from my job with no hope of future employment. All of these are utter, undeniable facts to me when my head is in this state. Or in a more depressive state of mind, that nothing will ever change no matter what I do, that whatever is bad right now will always be so, and it is worthless even trying-I am worthless. I’ll remain jobless or in a dead end job, I’ll be single forever and probably all my friends will abandon me too.

All of this written down would seem ridiculous if I were writing a fictional character but in my head at any given time they are the utter gospel truth.  

And so last weekend I was both a worthless fat person, who was doomed never to fulfil professional potential, whose friends and acquaintances also no doubt hated her and wanted her gone forever. And then sometimes, as happened last weekend all of this is accompanied by endless sobbing (that’s the depression element talking) and anger (that’s the anxiety) and a general inability to think straight, and sometimes even to breathe.

Even as I write that I think of people reading this and saying to me either ‘stop being a drama queen’ (which on a ‘healthy’ day, granted I can be) or ‘don’t be ridiculous, we all have bad times, and you’ve had a rough few months, snap out of it’ And it’s true I have, a period of unemployment and questioning my personal and professional identity post PhD certainly have contributed to my current state of mind. And I say yes, this time life events have been a factor. And in a way it’s easier when there is some sort of event to link it to, because then there’s something to work towards, or away from. Those are the lucky times. It’s the irrational out of the blue for no damn good reason times that I struggle to explain even to myself. But then you look at the world, the often terrible world we live in and think ‘I’ve no right to feel this bad about my life’ and yet you do, and so you feel worse.

For me also, that I do function pretty well 90% of the time, is in fact a barrier to acknowledging something is wrong. Most of the time. I shouldn’t have to. Nobody should have to feel ashamed.
But I, like many others keep all of this as hidden as I can. Until I can’t anymore. But because I don’t talk about it, because we don’t talk about it, people don’t see the real reasons. They just see me being a bitch, or being irrational, or over emotional. And sometimes I am being those things, because I’m human as well. But sometimes I’m not, and sometimes I can’t control it, and sometimes the really bad times, it controls me.

And I like so many others keep quiet for many reasons. The usual reasons, that people will make judgements, that they will think I’m weak, or broken or even worse that there’s nothing really wrong with me. Or that I’m making it up. Because nobody cares, and everyone worries about things right? The same way everyone gets a bit sad? And how do you explain to someone who has never felt that way? It’s like trying to explain to someone a migraine isn’t just a nasty headache, or that a broken bone isn’t like a really terrible sprain.

And it's seemingly a little thing that takes over your life. These last few months, when things have been particularly rough, nothing quite works right. I can't write-I actually envy those supposed great writers who channelled their depression and other things into something great. When I'm not feeling myself I can't write, I can't do the thing I love, and it frustrates me no end. I also lose the joy I find in music a lot, I struggle to sing, or even listen to music. Everything is just a bit grey. And it's so often so very difficult to explain to people why. Or more importantly feel it's ok to explain to people why.

I don't come from a family or background where we talk about these things. I've been in a career where any sign of weakness is seized upon by vultures looking for a way to bring you down. And I've had enough, I'm exhausted. It's like fighting a battle twice over every time.

If we could all talk about it, in the same way we come into work in the morning and say ‘Sorry I’ve got a terrible cold’ then it would make things so much easier. We could all be a little more understanding, a little more honest. If we could explain that my head makes me feel like everyone hates me, in the same way that I can explain when I get a cold my eyes stream so much I look like I’m crying, then it would be so much easier.

It’s been a long, long road getting to type these words. And I think it’s going to be a difficult moment to hit that ‘publish’ button. But I have cultivated a bit of a voice in this blog, and I want it to be an honest one.

This was a BIG conversation. On 10th October, for World Mental Health day, if I could ask everyone reading this one thing, it’s to have a small conversation. Ask someone how they are, and really listen. Or tell someone how you’re really feeling. And keep asking, and keep talking. Sometimes one small conversation is all it takes to get someone on the road to helping themselves.

I found mine in a really unlikely place through my job interviewing someone who had been far braver than me in sharing the things we keep far too hidden. So please, start talking, keep talking everyone.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A bit broken

This week while scrolling through LinkedIn in the vague hope of a job lead, I saw a post which said (to paraphrase) "I'm unemployed for the first time in my life...until next week when I start my new amazing job"

Hahaha you're bloody hilarious.

Actually no, you're an utter cockwomble. I'm pleased you have a new job random stranger (it was one of those you see a connection's comment moments) and by all means shout it from the rooftops-I'm serious, yes be pleased you've probably earned it (or just got lucky, I don't know you). But don't be a cockwomble. In any climate making fun of those less fortunate isn't nice, in employment terms many good, hardworking talented people are struggling to get a job, and to them 'I'm unemployed hahaha' just isn't a joke.

People think 'unemployed' and they think either of useless bums watching Jeremy Kyle (or indeed on Jeremy Kyle) who don't want to work. Or they think perhaps of a down on luck person who is actually having a quite nice break from work until a job reappears. The number of times 'Oh what I'd give for a nice break' has been uttered in my direction.

Two things, firstly, yes a break of about a month between jobs is very nice thank you, long enough to feel like a proper pause, not long enough that you either run out of money or indeed things to do. Longer and things aren't as great. I also get a lot of 'well you should write your PhD book' or 'Use the time productivly'. I do use the time productively, in looking for a job.

An average day involves getting up, probably going to the gym then a day of searching for jobs and applying for them. Some days searching can take much of the day. Others its writing an application, maybe two if they're quick. The searching takes so long because you have to go through all the sites you know are useful. Bookmark the potential ones. Go back, read over them. Eliminate a few with things you realise aren't suitable. Go back again, read in detail, establish which ones might be suitable, make a list of deadlines. And repeat. Often of all that searching you'll get one viable job. This I do for between 5-7 hours a day. Sometimes yes I break it up with an afternoon gym trip or a break to meet a friend, but usually I return to it a bit in the evening too. I would LOVE to have dedicated this summer to writing but the reality is the need for a job outweighs that, and the pressure to find a job means I can concentrate on little else.

And yes, I haven't been a recluse this summer. I'm lucky in that I review theatre for various publications, so I get to go for free in exchange for my reviews. And that due to planning ahead I have several (paid for) events in my diary. And that I have many friends who are equally broke and happy to meet for a coffee or a cheap drink. But without work, and being careful about social engagements, days are long and it feels like the world very much carries on without you. And it can be incredibly lonely. It can feel like you've dropped off the face of the earth and nobody would notice if you ever reappeared. And it starts to feel like nobody cares anymore.

And it's a drain. It wears you down. And I confess this week I reached rock bottom. The above was an average day. Do you want to know what I did on Tuesday? I cried. I cried from around 7.30am to around 1pm. I went for a run, I cried some more. I cam back and stared at my computer screen. I did nothing. I got up the next day feeling horrendous for wasting a day.

It's not just the three months of job hunting that has worn me down-though it's enough to make anyone miserable. It's four years of a PhD and a year of the worst job I ever had. And it's broken me. I have no confidence left, and I am genuinely scared to take risks, take a leap on the next thing, whatever you want to call it. Because I have had just 7 or so years of it all going badly.

My PhD was an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. Looking back, seeing how I was manipulated into it, and had that held over me by an older male academic for the next 5 years (there's a blog on that some day). To having revolving door supervisors (one through no fault of their own who I respect greatly), to supervisors falling out with each other, to being rejected by supervisors who refused to carry on supervising. Then there was the internship I worked on remotely for six months, with the promise of a summer placement in New York. I saved up, booked accommodation and flights and it got cancelled the week before. Leaving me with no summer work and massive debt. Then there was the time my then best friend got me fired from a job, for reasons I still don't know. And finally the job where I was bullied by colleagues, and nobody cared.  A job where people threw out my food and unscrewed lights above my desk, and stalked my Twitter (hello there if you still have nothing better to do). A job where the entire office felt my role was useless and indeed my whole discipline was a joke. Back in academia, there was finding a group of academics I finally fit in with, only to have their 'Queen Bee' take a dislike and drive me out. The constant rejection and realisation I was never going to be good enough finally wearing me down to give up. All of this, the last 7 years, and I am broken. And I am done.

All of that to say, it's not just three months out of work and an incredibly frustrating job search at that, which has made me the frankly miserable bastard I currently am. It's cumulative. It's not just being fussy about a job, or being an idiot, or immature or whatever label you want to slap on it. Anyone who has done a PhD knows it takes a psycholgical toll, even if you have a really good expereince. It takes time to move on from that. And I was spectucularly unlucky in that and what followed.

Being both unemployed, and the afore mentioned miserable bastard, does teach you a lesson in who your friends are. I'm lucky to have some wonderful friends, who will listen whether in person or from afar. Who will reason with me, or reassure me, or just send me a video of a seal playing a saxophone (true story). And there are wonderful people on twitter who share this experience and reach out time adn time again in solidarity and for that I'm so grateful. But it's hard. It's hard when you feel very much alone, and there's no end in sight.

And then you add to that the idea that you are sitting there in your PJ's watching Jeremy Kyle. That somehow you're not working hard enough even though you're going cross-eyed from formating applicaiton forms. Or when it feels like everyone else is getting ahead but you.

I have tried this summer to keep my metaphorical chin up. To keep going. To be cheery. To know it will get better. To just keep at it.

Well this week Autumn arrived (ish) and I'm a bit broken now. I know it will pick up again, I know one day it will be all right. But that doesn't mean it isn't utter, utter relentless crap now.