It is windy outside. It is howling around the bedroom window of the 15th Century building that my friends are allowing me to stay in with them while my life starts to slowly settle itself into a new single, bankrupt and as yet, unemployed life. The wind is making its way through the gaps in the old oak beams that run horizontally along the roof; I can feel the draft on the back of my neck and it’s cold as it passes through the gaps in the walls from the front main bedroom to where I am sitting on my bed. It feels good to be indoors today. The rain is intermittent and it would be described as ‘drizzle’ if I were unlucky enough to be out in it. I’m staying in today and even though it is only just a few minutes past 9 in the morning, I already know I am not getting out of this bed for a while yet, I also know deep down that I won’t be leaving the house today either.
I have just spent the last 40 minutes looking through my e-mail and logging on to the plethora of recruitment company online web portals to see how my multitude of job applications are going. I must have 20 or 30 different ‘accounts’ with middle men that are supposed to find the right people for the right jobs. The fact that I have had to physically enter the same repetitive information 20 times at least, into each individual recruitment companies application process, which on average has taken 3 to 4 hours per application, has really annoyed me over the past few weeks and logging into all these different recruitment agencies this morning is making my blood boil right now. Just about every single one of these cheap nasty computer software programs that these middle men employ, have had bugs, problems and are clearly not designed by anyone that is in my particular industry.
To break the monotony of the job search at 9am, I turn to my e-mail again. I flick down the page and notice that I have a few unread e-mails from August of this year. I quickly realise they are not of any importance and keep scrolling down the page. August turns to July which quickly turns to April and February. Within just a few minutes I am pushing through 2016, 2015, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 09, 08, 07, 06, 05, 04, 03, 02 and into the bottom of the list at 2001. I have had this particular e-mail address of mine since the first ‘dial up’ internet connections became widespread, along with a huge plastic expanse of a box computer that was usually stored under the desk due to the huge amount of space it occupied; that would have been sometime around 1997. I obviously had an e-mail clear out sometime around 2001 as my inbox only went back this far.
At the very bottom of a list that I hadn’t set eyes upon for some 17 years or so, I found memories of my first civilian job application, messages to and from a good friend who has now sadly passed away in a tragic accident, a trip to the United States to visit family, enquiries about acquiring a Visa to enable me to live and work in the USA, and most surprisingly a few e-mails from a long ago Ex girlfriend, now resigned to a pleasant memory or two stored way back in the depths of my memory banks. I moved slowly back up the list with the years getting closer and closer to the present day and re read amazing little memories and bizarre snapshots long since forgotten in those last 17 years or so. Most of these memories brought a smile, an “ahhhh”, an expression of nostalgia, a few of them even brought the odd “really?” moment and even a few laughs. As I flicked through 01 to 13, I literally was seeing my life flash before me in the form of pixilated black spots on a screen that evoked broken and forgotten memories in my head. It was like flicking through a filling cabinet of daily interactions in my life, only I was missing a lot of files. It was broken, interspersed and random, but it was things I had indeed done, said and worked on. How I now wish I would have kept a diary to be able to fill in the gaps of those missing memory files in my hypothetical filing cabinet.
As I pushed into 2014 my mood began to change from a generally upbeat and nostalgic one to one of heartache as I saw the problems I started to have with my ‘examining authority’ in mid 2014. I saw the very first e-mail to my Ex partner and the way we interacted as a then ‘courting’ couple. I saw the stresses and strains start to build as I fought the bureaucracy and inflexibility of my licensing authority’s ‘rules are rules’ stance on the change between paperwork exams (of which I had completed 100% of) and their new electronic system which came into force a few days before my final exam, and that they now said I had to sit again as it couldn’t be recorded.
I saw my first inquisitive e-mails to other employers and my plans to move careers due to the ridiculous cost cutting system that was being enforced upon us by my own employer. I saw the down fall of other departments around the country, awaiting the axe to fall on my own particular office. The pension changes, salary changes, employment Terms and Condition changes, operational changes, restrictions, cuts and safety issues starting to arise. I then started to see the e-mails that I had to write to the Newspaper for the obituary of my Mother, the e-mails to the undertaker and print merchants for the order of service, the legal e-mails about her death and the corresponding junk mail stopping certain companies from sending her anymore surface mail; she can’t read it now.
My mood plummeted as I saw the flight bookings that were made and subsequently cancelled for my partner and I to travel to her own mothers resting place in Ireland. Cancelled sadly due to the hospitalisation and death of My Father only days before we were due to travel. The e-mails now came thick and fast. Legal letters, responses, administration, bank, property, money, funeral plans, grave plot requests, Department of Work and Pension requiring money, Council Tax requiring money, Utility companies requiring money, my Fathers death inquest and its ongoing complications. I then caught a glimpse of the denied request for more leave for the death of my Mother and Father from my employer. After the death of both my parents within a few weeks of each other and being the executor to their ‘estate’, I was allowed 10 days to do everything. Everything that is except grieve. In the staff handbook 10 days compassionate leave is all I was allowed, I hadn’t even managed to arrange the funeral, never mind anything else. I read in horror as I argued with my line manager that I was not coming back to work (in a public safety critical role) in this state of mind and under this much pressure. I read how because he was short of staff (due to the cuts) he had no option but to put me on disciplinary action if I did not return. My doctors e-mail came next as I self certified sickness and at this point the e-mails returned to that of official Mum and Dad emails of a legal and household nature.
The next set of e-mails were horrifying to me now.
I had no idea at the time of exactly the extent of pressure I was under and was about to face. Under the enormous weight of my parents death and having to re study and sit again (not re-sit) my final exam, I entered into state of mind at work and in my personal and love life, that I can only now articulate as being ‘brain dead‘. I couldn’t concentrate on anything and I used my studies to hide behind by locking myself in my office for 8 to 10 hours a day to finally complete the exams. I neglected work, my health and my loving partner to the point where I lost all three. I put on at least a stone in weight, did no excersise at all, drank far to heavily and ignored any sensible diet. I just about managed to turn up for work for 5 months. I didn’t communicate with my colleagues and I held a grudge tightly against management for putting me on disciplinary action for taking to much leave over the death of Mum and Dad. I argued with people at work and barley carried out my duties any more than that which would normally be expected. I basically pushed my partner aside in everything and I failed to see her moving further and further away from me in response to my ever increasing, self imposed solitary confinement.
Then the e-mails changed again as the pressure built further. 2 counts of Gross Misconduct arrived, 2 criminal charges and an impending court case that could have seen up to 20 years in prison for my alleged actions. Finding a Barrister, the mountains of paperwork generated in the legal process, my resignation under huge amounts of stress from work, the loss of my home and hundreds of e-mails for the administration of that. I saw all the multiple notifications from eBay for the sale of my personal property to stay afloat and I looked in horror as I wrote to mental health experts for help. Debt charities came next as well as help from a psychiatrist followed closely by the hints that my love life and my partner had, at last, crumbled too. I saw a report from FitBit showing the rapid decline in my sleeping patterns and the rapid increase in excessive exercise as I started to replace the studying with excessive amounts of running. One particular week showed nearly 140 miles run with no more than 10 hours of broken sleep. A respite of pressure came by seeing my exams had all been passed amongst all this. Pushing quickly from one e-mail to the next, the legal battle came in, interviews under caution, The sale of mum and dads home, finally settling with the Department for Work and Pensions over a measly £200, Proving the red letter council tax demands for mum and dads property for £750 was indeed only £17, Doctors appointments, order forms for alternative, non pharmaceutical anti depressant medication, brief e-mails with my Ex and the booking forms and tickets to a life saving trip to the USA after my mental breakdown.
I gave up reading at December 2015. I know exactly where it went from there.
I hate writing/reading and generally using e-mail for business purposes. My last employer insisted upon it. It removes human interaction and makes everything ‘your problem’ – “Didn’t you get the e-mail?” It prevents meaningful collaboration. Inversely people will also hide behind their virtual desk by not replying, because if they don’t reply – they have not therefore, committed to anything.
Commitment – “The state or quality of being dedicated to a cause or activity”.
From December 2016 to April 2017 I wrote a total of 44 e-mails to my licensing authority. I received 9 replies. Only 2 of the 9 replies I received gave an actual answer or response to a question which satisfied my request. The other 7 forced me to write more e-mails for clarification and to repeat questions already asked, but not answered. Commitment on my part, hiding on theirs.
I’m made of hard stuff, I can deal face to face with anything, but hiding behind e-mail which have taken weeks to think about and compose and from the safety of your desk, many miles away, without ever looking someone in the eye, is a part of this world which I still struggle to get to grips with.
I closed my lap top and glanced at the time. Almost 5 hours had gone by since I looked at that first e-mail from 2001. I had just spanned almost 17 years in 5 hours and I was struggling to stay upright in my thoughts. The drizzle and wind still continued to draw horizontal water lines across the bedroom window. I went downstairs and took my daily concoction of 6 separate herbal anti depression tablets, made a cup of tea and unusually for me, went straight back to bed. The fact that I can do that now and didn’t immediately go out and run my arse into the ground means I’m getting better.
2 years today.