The following was submitted to us by a reader of our blog, and a first time writer. Though it is somewhat different to the usual Rebel City posts it is nonetheless a relevant and poignant piece addressing a widespread and often overlooked problem – the negative effects on your mental health due to personal unfulfillment. Thank you to the writer, and keep up the good work.
What makes you happy when you finish a long hard day at work? Is it finally putting your feet up on the couch, to have a glass of wine maybe watch a few shows before going to bed? Is it spending some time with your loved ones? Is it ordering a take-away and watching a movie? Is it going out with your friends/family for a few drinks or to see a movie? Whatever it is I am certain it’s not the idea of getting back up in 8 hours time to re-live the previous 10 hours spent in work.
I always thought that I loved to work and loved the idea that I was succedding in my position and that I was a valuable member of the team. I would wake at 7.10am, get dressed, kiss my children goodbye as they slept in their beds, get the 7.45am bus, arrive in work for 8.10am.
At work my home life was never mentioned, it did not co-exist with the reality I felt while working with individuals who were equally as career driven as me but without the husband and two kids. However the opposite was of my home life. After arriving home for approx 7pm, my whole day had involved work and I could not get it out of my mind. So after 45minutes I put my children to bed at 7.45pm. I might sit on the couch, my feet pulsing with tiredness, watch a show with my husband, and stay up until possible 10pm. Go to bed with a mind racing of fresh ideas I had for work in the morning, and find it difficult to sleep. Only to arise and repeat the process.
On an average day I was left with three hours of leisure time that I was too tired to enjoy. I had split days off so I was rarely gaurenteed two days together. I also done one 12 hour shift a week which increased my working hours to 52 hours a week. Add the 5 hours travel time that’s 57 hours, plus the time it takes you to prepare yourself, your kids and your homelife. In busy periods I had worked up to 100 hours before a day off.
My relationship with my husband/kids/friends/family was strained as we never had time for each other. But more worryingly I lost myself. I could not be a good mother, a good wife/lover, a good friend, a good daughter etc. Some of my best friends had become the career-driven work colleuges who did not have the responsibility of the homelife that I had. I had quit all the activities I loved to do because even on the rare occastion that I had free time, and the energy to do it, I would feel guilty that that was quality time I could be spending with my children.
I went back part-time work due to financial circumstances when my husband went to college to further himself in his career. We lost the flexibility of his job meaning we would have to rely fully on childcare where we were previously only dependant on it twice a week. The first few months of working part time were extremely difficult. In work I no longer had the level of responsibility I once had. I was watching people being promoted to positions I knew I would have had, had I remained full time. I began to see my opinions and ideas not being taken into account and felt less valued in the team. I realised that being out of the loop meant that my work friends and I did not have as much in common as I initially thought.
My home life was worse. I had never had so much time to myself in my life and I honestly did not know what to do. I would drive out to a shopping center and be in and out of all the shops in 20 minutes. I didn’t have the leisure of money to spend and assumed it was my lack of spending money that made going to shopping centers boring. I began to watch alot of day time tv. I was not use to cleaning a house, doing washing, making daily dinners or taking pride in my home and the thought of becoming someone who done this every day honestly depressed me and made me want to return to full time employment.
On top of all of this I also found myself in unfimiliar territory. I was poor. We knew we were going to spend a few years scrapping by to ensure we would have a better quality of life in the future but it was not something I had experienced. I am extremely grateful that I did not owe any money in loans so all of my bills were basic living esssentials. I felt alot of shame in being poor. For the first time in my life I struggled to provide for my family. The temptation for my husband to quit his collage education and for us both to return to our previous lifestyle was over-whelming.
Then one day, after years of me saying I would love to return to acting, my husband had booked me into a class and dropped me outside the door. I was finally doing something that was just for me. I became alive again. Having this one little thing that was for me made such a difference in my life. That alien feeling of taking my kids to school, helping them with their homework and hearing how their day went, became enjoyable. While I still didn’t enjoy cleaning, I cared when I saw the end result. I stopped watching telly during the day and began visiting family, taking the dogs for a walk and arranging to meet friends. I began to take pride in ensuring my children had a good diet from food that I made them.
What I realised was that I was not happy when I worked full time. That I had craved for work because I thought I was valued, I was eager for praise, I longed to feel needed and I wanted to succeed in something. I wanted people to think I had done well for myself, I liked the idea of people seeing me with lots of shopping bags, in posed pictures on my rare nights out, looking trendy while all the while losing a piece of myself each and every day. I was a mental slave institutionalised from work, who had finally began to understand the joys of my freedom.
Then something else amazing happened, a friend of mine offerd me an oppertunity to teach fitness classes. I had missed my dancing days and while frightened, and knowing I would have to put a bit of work in my own physic first, I seized the opportunity. Another forgotten piece of me resurfaced. I remembered that I loved to dance more than anything and that teaching came naturally to me. Ironically she thanks me for helping her out, when really she gave me a new opportunity in discovering myself.
This amazing friend then offered me an opportunity to assist teaching drama classes and work my way to a qualification in it. While her modisity will have her say that she was expanding her buisness or that she needed help, I know differently. She did not need me for this, and others who were more qualified would have gladly taken this position. A new piece of me surfaced. I began to see my creativity, the positive effects I have on people, the leadership qualites that I envoke, my ability to control a room, my ability to have a positive impact on peoples lives. I was re-awakened with a new confidence in myself. With this I realised I have a lot more to offer this world than what I am giving. I have begun to see a road ahead. I began looking into the different possibilities that this could lead me to. Career aspects in which I would be doing something that I love and it would afford me to actually live a life.
We all have talents, abilities, strenghts and weaknesses that make up the complicated pieces of our existence. The ability to find and utalise them into a possitive aspect of your life feels more like the reason we are on the earth rather than to work, sleep, live and die. Many of us forgo our passions and our dreams in persuit of what we believe to be happiness, and too many people die with unfufilled lives and regrets. For me being able to do one thing for me slowly made me realsie that I had been transforming myself into something that is expected of me from a society that is losing its morals. I began to see there is no shame in poverty but that from it you can receive a type of freedom that having money can never give you. That is the understanding of what makes you happy.
When you have money and you feel low you tend to buy yourself a useless item to feel better. When you have no money and you’re feeling low, you tend to do something to feel better. There is a beauty in povery that allows you to feel empathy, to feel compassion, to see injustice, to see the worthlessness of money, to resist the status quo, to stand up for your rights, to want a better society, to take pride in your convictions and to want to be a better human being. I realised the only way to have good relationships, no matter who it may be with, is by looking after myself and ensuring I am happy…
…I am happy.
Niamh Uí Thuama