Another thing bereavement has done for me (and this is no bad thing) is make me really aware of some of the ways in which I’ve constructed my sense of self. One way I’ve done this over the last 15 years or so is to see myself as very professional, efficient and hard-working person. Other people appreciating these qualities in me makes me feel valuable and important.
Bereavement is helping me let go of this self (at least a bit) because I simply can’t do it at the moment. I’m completely worn out, physically shaky and feeling unwell, mentally vague, preoccupied and forgetful, struggling to concentrate for more than half-an-hour at a time. My levels of work productivity have inevitably dropped and the illusion that I had of myself as this energetic, well-organised person who never asked for help has taken a battering. I’ve had to take a day off work today because I just don’t feel well enough to go into the office. And I’ve realised that I’m going to have to adjust my working practices and ask my colleagues for a bit more support over the next few weeks. Well, I said I wanted to get rid on my workaholic tendencies and it seems I don’t have much choice about that now. It’s really made me think about how I value myself and whether I want to carry on valuing myself in that way.
This professional persona is really a reaction to an old script from adolescence in which I was constructed as a lazy, useless sort of person, and an underachiever at school. As I grew older, I reacted against it by creating this super-efficient persona. Stories build on stories and it takes work to unravel them all. The “lazy” persona was nothing more than a reaction to a lot of other stories that got told about me for various reasons – mainly these were stories that enabled people to avoid dealing with the fact that I had depression as a teenager. I’m really beginning to understand why my counselling course tutor asked us to make a list of all the stories that people tell about us.
But then I caught myself thinking that I’m fortunate to work for an organisation that cuts me a little slack during bereavement. I was shocked to realise that I’m feeling “lucky” to work for an organisation that doesn’t sack me immediately over a slight drop in productively! Talk about being conditioned by capitalism. That’s an appalling situation, but it counts as a privileged position in the UK. Lots of people have to go to work and try and be productive no matter how terrible they feel because if they don’t go in, they can be sacked and instantly replaced by one of a hundred others waiting for work in the class war that our conservative government is currently attempting to inflame to even greater levels.