Maybe everyone feels that work gets in the way of living. Certainly, there have been enough books, seminars and websites devoted to getting a better work / life balance, to suggest they do. It’s difficult to say whether it’s harder for me than most, or if other people just keep quieter. For me, the draining exertion of having a full time teaching job means that I have never really had time for much else, save the grabbing of a brief walk in the country or a night out getting too drunk to enjoy the rest of the weekend. Evenings are spent too comatose to do anything other than watch awful TV. I eat badly, because I don’t have the energy to cook. Even the long summer holidays don’t help much. I tend to sleep all day and drink all night, not sure what else I really want to do with my life. When I thought about it, if I ever had time to think about it, I figured I’d make that change tomorrow. Tomorrow I’d learn how to have a full and useful life. Tomorrow never comes, of course.
Part of my rehabilitation, after what I now think of as that old-fashioned thing a‘nervous breakdown’, has been about learning to do even the basic things again. Learning how to set an alarm to get yourself up, even if you don’t have to be anywhere anytime soon. Learning how to cook meals that are healthy as well as tasty, learning how to shop for those. Learning the importance of reading, resting, smiling. Once I could manage the simpler things, including leaving the house once in a while, I set about finding things I could do and actually enjoy. It’s a difficult thing when you are in the midst of darkness and depression to ever believe you will enjoy something again. Sometimes, these things came in sporadic impulses. Decorating a basket for my new bike, making bracelets, listening to music. Now, I try to make them deliberate and thoughtful. I have started Tap dancing lessons, something (I noted with horror as I said it) I haven’t done for twenty years (when did I get that old?!). They run ballet lessons too, which I was nervous about going to until I met a fifty-something-year-old who went, and I figured if she could do it, I might be able to – so I’m hoping to go this week. I cleared out the boxes that have been under our bed since we moved, and have spent the afternoon uploading old favourites from CD to iTunes. I took my bike out on the road, and felt the wind in my hair, I had a bath, I thought about joining the library. It feels so freeing to have the time and energy to begin to feel alive again. To feel thoughtful, spiritual and creative. Surely that is really the point of life? – even as I say that I realise what a spoilt-Westerner thing that is to say. We have all our basic needs covered, so we imagine we are also owed meaning and happiness.
But what next? I don’t want to go back to that way of ‘living’. Surely no one wants to work full time. (What a terrible world we have created where average couples don’t have the choice anymore to have one spouse stay home, and still afford a mortgage). When will I know that I am ready to go back to work? Surely, the light-headed nausea I feel at the thought of going anywhere near my place of work, won’t get any better with time. Will it?