I've always seen myself as someone who works to live rather than living to work. Recently though I'm beginning to feel that my work life is starting to take over my normal life. I've seen it happen to many friends past and present and always sworn that it will never happen to me. But suddenly I'm missing gigs; finding myself unable to commit to weekend activities; waking in the night worrying and worse not been able to sleep for thoughts of work.
The worst thing is that my issue is such a trivial thing. Millions of people don't have work and many millions more work in really horrible conditions. Even within my work place I'm getting off relatively lightly there are people doing many more hours than me and working under much more pressure. Of course all this info combined with my Catholic guilt complex makes things even worse.
Its not as if my work is that important. Nobody is going to die as a result of my actions. Its not as if I'm doing anything much different to what I've been doing for years. Suddenly though everything seems on a bigger scale. All the management are anxious and it never stops. I find myself leaving my work mobile on even when I've got home and I'm not on call. I find myself receiving phone calls at odd times. I find myself working longer days and weekends. Meetings are called 'Diary busters!' or 'War rooms'. I find myself dialling into conference calls with a dozen strangers who are expecting me to be able to solve their problems and answer their questions.
Insomnia is one of the scariest things that has happened. Of course struggling to sleep or waking up and been unable to nod back off is nothing new. I've had it ever since I've been old enough to worry. In the past though this tended to be a one off occurrence. Recently though I had a seventy-two hour spell of not sleeping at all. Initial anxiety about work matters was replaced by anxiety about not sleeping. This of course was self-perpetuating - the longer I didn't sleep for the more anxious I became.
I found the fear rising from my stomach as I lay down to sleep. I couldn't even remember how to go about going to sleep. Just relax and empty your mind I kept telling myself - I started trying to breathe steadily and slowly. Then though I started fixating on my breathing and I remembered something one of my old English teachers told us - one way of making sure you couldn't sleep was to think about your breathing. Now I couldn't not think about breathing!
I tried getting up and doing various activities. Reading a book I had to knock on the head because the book's subject suddenly seemed too depressing; I watched a couple of episodes of 'Coupling' which made me laugh but didn't make me tired; finally I tried logging onto the pc and writing 'the Yorkshire Windbag' but I was too listless to create anything.
Eventually after three sleepless nights on the fourth night I managed to sleep for about two hours. This seemed to break the spell and over the following nights the spells of sleep got longer. Surprisingly even staying away from home alone (in an hotel in London) seemed manageable as my insomnia dissolved away just as suddenly as it had arrived.
I seem to find as I get older that I seem to have more prolonged bouts of anxiety. Its not to say that I didn't worry when I was younger but I seemed more resilient.
I've always suffered from a kind of 'stage fright' type condition. In the build up to big events particularly where I had to do something in public. The most obvious example was when I got married. The day before the wedding I woke as normal but then suddenly felt sick. Not ill sick but just completely paralysed with fear. Unable to think about anything but my impending nuptials. I scarcely ate and slept. Yet when the moment arrived my fear vanished and everything went really well. At the reception I was completely confident not even slightly concerned at the thought of making a speech in front of over 150 people.
This new anxiety is similar but it seems to hit me long before the impending event. The first time I really had a bad spell was when we moved back up North from down South about ten years ago. I guess moving house and changing jobs are both pretty big events and I'd done neither at this point (well I'd moved house many times but it mainly just involved putting my record collection and clothes into my car and moving to another rented place). I couldn't settle to anything at work (I was working out my notice anyway); I couldn't sleep and I found it hard to think about anything apart from the impending move. As you know music is one of my loves and even now if I listen to 'Pyramid Song' by Radiohead or 'The Modern Age' by the Strokes I can feel a ghost of that feeling and that time. Those songs were the soundtrack.
The most strange thing is that if you were to look at how my work is going as an outsider you would wonder what the hell I'm anxious about. Within the last year I've received much praise and credit. But somehow all this seems to add onto my anxiety.
At work I live on my nerves at the best of times driven on by an impending sense of doom and failure. Afraid that complacency will see me spiral into disaster and unemployability. About a year ago I had a setback. Our jobs were re-graded. I found myself with a lower grade than my peers. I was angry and I guess that this was the first sign that I was becoming more careerist. I didn't take it laying down and challenged the decision. It took a while but I got recognition.
Now though I feel like I've set something in motion and I'm now on a treadmill. Expectations have been raised and I feel I'm on the radar of more people. We are constantly told at work that we should be raising our profile. However I don't want to be noticed. I just want to be the guy who gets on with his work. Unfortunately our company is been merged and everything is been downsized. The guys and girls who just get on with their work are at risk of been made redundant.
As you may remember I had given up swearing. Unfortunately I've fallen off the wagon. I'm increasingly finding swearing is necessary to me to describe how I feel about the current situation at work. In a weird way it reminds me of my Mother's attempts to give up smoking. She had nine kids and she didn't manage to kick the cigs until all nine kids had grown up. Perhaps I'll need the prop of swearing until I give up work!