I received a very unexpected and brief phone call from my online day job employer ten days ago. Due to government funding cuts they would regrettably be terminating my contract from the end of March after four years of working for them. I would be unemployed and I was home alone and couldn't reach Bookhound to tell him...and couldn't talk to anyone until he knew. Well I can't deny that as I walked the dogs around Rocky's field afterwards, on a wet, grey dank afternoon, I was in a state of complete shock. I hadn't seen it coming feeling sure that a service that is so relatively cheap to run, and can achieve so much whilst offering essential support to existing, over-stretched NHS services, would continue to attract the required funding.
I have always understood, and indeed often explained to others, that shock, and the impact of receiving a shock, can be about doubting your resources. It was an explanation offered during a training course on Unrecognised Loss many years ago and it seemed to make sense. The initial reaction when that risk of being overwhelmed seems high, and with it comes an element of fear and numbness, perhaps a bit of panic, perhaps a bit of free-floating anxiety mixed with denial.
That might sound dramatic, but the job has been a demanding one, working alone at my desk from home as an online HV for the biggest UK parenting website with a million plus members, dealing with all their loss and bereavement, death of a child, miscarriage and stillbirth and cancer and serious illness forums. No face to face contact and working under a different name, words have been all I have had to work with, and the job inevitably became part of me, though the different name was a conscious and ultimately successful effort to allow for some detachment. Even so I have poured heart and soul into trying to do it professionally, safely and well, but that melts no ice where government funding cuts are concerned, and, as I am self-employed, rights within an organisation are few when employed staff on contracts also have to reapply for fewer posts, and where the expectation is that one of them will pick up my role on fewer hours, so I won't be needed. Though I have only met them a handful of times I will miss my colleagues too, and our skype chats together through long shifts.
Who wouldn't, under such circumstances, like to think that of course they are the only person who can do their job and that no one would ever do it better, but that is never the case, no one is indispensable, everything changes, someone else will do it their way and differently and I begrudge it to no one, it happens. So it was decision time for us... stick it out for the money until the end of March... fight for the job if no one wanted it and I assume it goes to advert under equal opportunities employment law... or serve out notice and leave at the end of this month, if not immediately.
In the end the decision was made for me as I logged on to do my next shift and read the member's posts that were waiting for me. I have replied to over 4000 in my time, and each response readable by any member of the public, so I have to assess thoroughly and think very carefully indeed about what I say, and how I say it, and who else might be reading and be affected by those words... and at that precise moment for the first time in four years I couldn't think of a word to write.
Not a single word left.
It had gone, my heart wasn't in it....and I will admit I shed a tear or three and handed in my notice for the end of January. Time to let it go.
I quickly realised that this was a loss in its own right, but what had also really gone were all my layers of self-preservation, very carefully established over the many years I have been doing this type of work. A semi-permeable one that allows me to try and understand someone's grief and sorrow or their life difficulties, and beneath that a cast-iron one that stops me feeling it as if those problems were my own. It is a delicate finely tuned thing to which I have paid great and constant attention, and received regular supervision to maintain, and suddenly those layers had dissolved and I knew it was time to stop.
In fact might it really be time to RETIRE from my entire nursing career...
Those of you have been reading here for a while will know that I 'retired' from the NHS just over four years ago now, but I was offered this job hot on the heels of that, and I took it on as a new challenge, which it has most certainly been. Perhaps my steepest learning curve to date, but I have learnt so much from doing it and a great deal about myself too, and it has been a privilege to have been given the opportunity to be alongside people (mostly young mums) with words, and through some of the toughest, most horrific and frightening times of their lives. At times when people are doubting their resources it is amazing what the written word can achieve, this much I do know.
However the decision to stop immediately was finally made for me following an encounter with a plate of prawns last Thursday. It was a lovely celebratory lunch with the Tinker and I thought it was a little unusual that my scalp seemed to come up in large itchy lumps while I was eating.
Health Visitors only assume one thing with itchy heads and I was trying to think how I may have caught head lice.
Things took an all-over-the-body turn for the worse overnight, even with anti-histamines, and when it suddenly and rapidly spread to my face, lips and mouth through a sleepless Friday night I knew I might be in trouble. By the time Bookhound took charge and shipped me into casualty early on Saturday morning, I resembled a hybrid of Miss Piggy and that Spitting Image puppet of the Queen, my face felt fit to explode and I truly wished the rest of me belonged to someone else. The receptionist couldn't help but stare and was probably thinking crikey this is collagen and botox gone badly wrong, so I couldn't help but slur, through rapidly closing lips...
'People pay a fortune for a trout pout like this.'
It's a case of not realising just how awful you feel until you start to feel better, and I am thanks to the ten days of high dose steroids and anti-histamines I have started, and that is certainly me and prawns done for, and emergency strategies in place for future rogue encounters. But I of all people also know how easy it is for these things to slip through auto-immune defences lowered by stressful times, and the doctor (and I agree) felt sure that recent events had encouraged the prawns to rampage unchecked.
I am atopic as it is with hay fever and interestingly have always loathed fish and other shellfish, the smell of it as I get older even more so, and prawns have only sneaked in under cover of sauce as a token gesture, so clearly our bodies do have unwitting mechanisms for protecting us.
Apparently I now look like Bagpuss, which may or may not be an improvement on the Queen, but in any case I have stopped work with immediate effect. Doing this step-by-step because it feels like 'big', I will make the very final decision about my forty-one year nursing career when my NMC registration is up for renewal in July. It's about being in control of the things you can be.
So what next...
Well, whilst I always feel it is most beneficial in the long run to stand still and reflect, and take time to be with and to become accustomed to any sort of loss or change, we are a family who don't hesitate to start finding silver linings, and the most obvious one was staring us all in the face....even my double-the-normal-sized face.
You may remember my mini-series How to Build an Extension to Your Home. Well Bookhound has been working away at it... a kitchen and cloakroom added onto an existing sitting room, bathroom and two bedroomed self-contained end of our lovely home and with its own staircase, and it is almost completed; now ready for fitting out and decorating.
The plan had always been to have a holiday cottage here with the option that it would always be available for the Tinker to live in should he want to.
Well he does want to..
So we are all systems go to have it ready for him to move into by his 88th birthday in April and I cannot tell you how excited the whole family is at the prospect. As you know we love the Tinker's company and he loves ours, so to have him here with us will be very special. He will live as independently as he wants to in the newly named Tinker's Cott, but we will be nearby should he need us, and as a welcome bonus the flowers in our garden are likely to take a dramatic turn for the better.
It's the perfect solution for us all, and I feel sure you will be hearing the occasional Tale from Tinker's Cott eventually.
Meanwhile having spent my working days telling others to care for themselves I am going to do likewise and hopefully have a calm, quiet, reflective, dog-walking, leaf-scuffling, stand-and-stare, knitting and reading kind of week and just 'be', whilst shaking off the Bagpuss look. My apologies too for absence from Team Middlemarch discussions this weekend, I will catch up soon, and though I have lots of posts written and ready to share on here I am going to hold them off for now.
So I hope you will forgive me if dovegreyreader scribbles takes a little sleep along with dovegreyreader until next Monday, in which time I will have created a natural divide between that 'working' life and this next one, and I will see you on the other side, retired, relieved, recovered, renewed, refreshed and ready to share more books and walks and knitting disasters, and to make twelve lovely new sets of curtains.