Thursday, June 16, 2011
Dead In The Water
Four years ago, I stood at the edge of Beachy Head.
Beachy Head is the tallest cliff in the UK at over 600 feet. Equivalent to standing on a skyscraper made of angry, white rock. At the time, I wrote, in response to what I felt what a grossly unfair work performance review I have strived, but failed, to remain a impartial observer to the sabotage of my career. Sadly, that is still how I feel I was treated.
At the time, a particular event, on 16th August 2006, was the unveiling of a new team structure at my then employer. When the slide was unveiled, it showed a team reduced from 22 to 20. I knew then that my career there was, in all probability, dead in the water. At the time, I couldn't quite imagine what was going to happen next. Even now, it's fairly difficult for me to comprehend exactly the events in any justifiable way. Human beings strength – and weakness – is to try and create a sense in a chaos, and add a narrative to our lives. Stuff happened. It went from bad, to worse, to almost unbearable, to finally - years later - beautiful.
We all try to find a way of making our lives make some kind of sense : and since I spend a lot of my waking life at work, I try to make my life at work have a sense of order and meaning. At that time – and five years is a long time, but it feels like yesterday – I felt I was being pushed towards a cliff by an immature, and unstoppable force. My rights and responsibilities were chipped away though, and this is important, the business never actually got rid of those responsibilities. It tried get rid of me.
10 months after that, I stood at the edge. It was – to then – the lowest point of my life. My son and then-wife were a little way up the path. Beachy Head stood below me. Wind tousled the tiny fragments of hair I had. Grass there lay, an inch or two high. Wind lapped at waves. The rocks below groaned throw your skinny body down, son. One of the premier suicide spots in the world
I still had a job – barely. Every day I dreaded the email that would inform me of the meeting where I would be, undoubtedly, shitcanned for breaking a rule that didn't exist through a heroically deluded interpretation of a rule that did exist. To do that would require the same kind of insane logical leap that comes from blaming knife crime on manufacturers of kitchen utensils.
3rd April 2007. An awful day. I was subject to what was a dark and difficult (and unnecessarily protracted, stressful) disciplinary investigation that, in the end, turned to nothing. Though I spent six months with a guillotine hanging over my head, which could have dropped at any second. My only answer was for a door to open.
Here was a door. A strange one, and a 600 foot drop. There's no romance in this. It was a terror. I knew that when I stepped back, and slowly edged away from the small wooden sign reading “Cliff Edge”, and the flowers pinned to the small steel wire mesh at the edge, that the next flowers might have been for me.
But could I do this? Had I not children, or some small hope for the future, I could've easily done so. It wouldn't have been easy. But sometimes, to kill yourself takes a type of bravery – to admit defeat and step away from a rigged game, or to surrender. But its not the same. I couldn't do that to some people in my life. My son was barely two at the time. And he was a few hundred yards away, with his mother, happily toddling around with a small hat and a bright bag over his shoulders, with a cardigan and his hair tousled by the wind. At the time, I didn't say much
My relationship with his mother was deeply troubled and, not that I could've confirmed so at the time, it was three months and a week later that our relationship of four years came to a silent, and unmourned funeral. But him? My son? That boy would grow up without a father. He would come to forget the man that shaped him. All the times in the future he would have joy and pride and giggles – beating a level on a computer game, drawing a picture, running in a park, giggling at a cartoon, graduating from university, winning a cup, getting married, seeing his first child born, turning from this tiny, silly boy into a man and changing the world – all that he would do without me, and all that would happen with him knowing that Dad couldn't see enough hope to survive whatever temporary thing was happening. All moments pass. Midnight is where the day begins.
The Cliffs Of Despair would not claim me.
Were it not for that, and were it not for my knowledge that I'd beaten tougher stuff, and godammit, they weren't going to win this time, I'm not sure, when I'd taken those ten steps back, that I hadn't made a portly, middle aged run for the cliff edge and my blog would've come, unnoticed, to a quiet end four years ago this week.
I wasn't going to take a father away from his son. I know how uncomprehendingly brutal, and painful, life without a parent could be. I saw how my mother, who died in tiny steps over a decade, fought for her life with a fury unmatched. How if she could've done anything for an extra year, and extra decade, she would have. I owed it to her. To make sure I was not guilty of the good undone.
I turned around.
Three months after that, I had to sign a form. I put quotations around the words “voluntary” but not the word 'redundancy' in the letter. The day I signed the form – in fact, about 15 minutes after I posted the letter, I got a phone call as I was walking back from the Post Office on my lunch hour with a friend.
The woman I now live with was overjoyed. The woman who became my ex-wife had her response. “Is that all? Can't they offer you more money?”
What more did I need to know about my future than that?
I'd narrowly escaped a brutal, and unjustified disciplinary, taken a huge leap of terrifying faith with redundancy, and managed to be offered another chance. It wasn't an easy chance, and was, in fact, the single hardest job I've ever had with peoples lives in my hands on a day to day basis. I'd sacrificed a job where I didn't have to go into an office every day for a role that saw me commuting to shitty Denmark Hill.
Apologies to Denmark Hill, but a 100 minute journey starting at 6.36 in the morning was a form of exquisitely dull torture that stole 80 hours of my life a month.
Four years later, to the week, after a period of being seriously ill, and unsure if I would return to work, and if so, if I would ever return to the level I had worked fifteen years to achieve – I walked through the front door of an organisation as a Head Of Function. That means a lot to me. I came back from the edge of a hell, not sure if I would work again, and if so, how I could work again, and a terror that I had lost parts of my personality, or my abilities. What happens when you have a gift, or think your job is one of the greatest in the world, and find that maybe you are broken? When the writer runs out of words? When the singer runs out of songs? That's where I was. A role I'd spent fifteen years working to, and I feared I'd lost it all. I wasn't sure if I could be me anymore.
Where I am now is where I have wanted to be since I started working in the profession on April 22nd 1996. I'm (relatively) young for my role. I've always seen life as an experience : and whilst employers will take as much from me as they can, my commitment would be to let my talents, whatever they are, take me as far as they can go.
Four years ago, I stood at Beachy Head. And I didn't jump. Four years later, I can't believe how far I have come since then. I was waiting for a door to open. Eventually it did.
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Thank-you for sharing something so personal, powerful, and inspiring.Post a Comment
I hadn't known you then, but would miss you now.
I hadn't known you then, but would miss you now.
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