When work takes over

It’s Saturday morning. I smash a Nespresso. No time for brekky as I’m rushing off to brunch. My girlfriend is hosting her family at a nice little café in Wentworth Point. It’s her birthday today.

The family chat on Facebook messenger is going off with birthday wishes for Lisa. Everyone’s coming up with witty comments and apropos memes. I attempt to join in but my dad-joke falls flat.

In fact I’ve been having a bad run on the joke front of late. My timing is off. I’m missing the beat. I’m underperforming on the receiving end as well. I feel like jokes are being directed at me – not shared with me. What’s wrong?

I think I know what it is. For the last 4 business weeks I’ve been doing 12 hours days and 1/2 days on Saturday. I’ve barely seen or talked to anyone outside of my work milieu. I’ve become a stranger to the people who matter to me most.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my colleagues. They know this. They’re fun, generous and highly capable. These collegial traits are essential though. If it was any other way, spending as much time as I do at work would be an unmitigated misery.

Lately though, I’ve lived to work – not worked to live. The pressure has been consistent. Day in day out I’ve had to juggle so called ‘competing priorities’ while maintaining a professionally dispassionate demeanor.

Lunches have been reduced to feed sessions. The leisurely rhythm of the coffee break has become syncopated, off beat. And, sorry to say this but I’ve been consuming soft drink and donuts by day and book-ending this thoroughly unhealthy regime in the evenings, with pizza.

I’ve been snippy and irritable and noticed same in colleagues I work closely with. We’re all struggling to do nice, and seem to be constantly apologising to each other after the umpteenth sharp rebuke or barbed comment. We’re all on tenterhooks, quietly managing low level anxiety as we steer the ship through bad weather.

It’s true. We’ve been here before. Our busy periods are cyclical. We know the storm is coming. But there’s no sailing around it. We’ve got to go through it.

When cabin fever breaks, when it all calms down and none of the hullabaloo and drama matters anymore, we reassure each other that the next time will be different. We’ll work smarter not harder. We’ll put steps in place to streamline things. We’ll keep civilised hours and honour body and soul – yoga, gym, cycling, coffee, fresh food, and so on.

But no matter what we put in place to improve our personal and professional lives, it seems there’s no avoiding the madness of the busy period and the upending of everyday routine.

In my line of work the peak period only lasts for 4 weeks at a stretch, twice a year. But the impact of each campaign lingers long afterwards. Not just in terms of the undue physical and mental toll caused by stress, poor diet and sleep deprivation. It’s also the personal and social cost.

My social skills have slackened. This only becomes apparent when I’m around friends and family. I feel numb. Dislocated. Shut out. It’s like looking through a keyhole into a room full of mirthful revellers.

I’m abrupt. Lately, the patience required to do emotional work with my girlfriend has been in low reserve. The impulse for displays of personal affection, weak. The hurt this causes significant others can’t be taken back. Who doesn’t keep a tally, a balance sheet of pros and cons, good and bad deeds?

I haven’t penned this in the vain hope that it will elicit an outpouring of ‘poor you’ and ‘have you considered this?’ or ‘why don’t you do that?’ No need to proffer advice or express sympathy, dear reader, unless you feel compelled to.

I’m sharing this because it helps me work through and understand what is happening to me at this moment in time. If however you feel I’m holding up a mirror, if this self portrait is all too familiar to you, and recognition brings you a measure of succour, then that’s a bonus.

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