The Dark of the Year

We’re at that point of the year where the light feels particularly precious, and I’m not just talking about the shortening days as winter rolls in. For me, it’s a time where the long nights match a deep ebb in my reserves. It’s never a good time of year, with awful memories attached, and so distraction becomes more important than ever.

Cultures all round the world celebrate at this time of year. From the lights of Eid and the candles of All Hallows, to the bonfires of the solstice and the bright bursts of fireworks, there’s a defiance against the night’s dark that draws us all together in our communities.

In addition to these external lights are the bright lights of the people, events and kindnesses around me. A smile and a reassuring hug, or the sound of laughter in a pub, or a grudging compliment from a member of staff can equally let light bloom across darkened moods and frazzled nerves. 

This is why I don’t shut myself away, even when I desperately want to. It doesn’t matter if it’s a helping hand or a kick up the arse, the support network I’m blessed with keeps the lights shining far better than explosions in the distance.

It’s been a long year that has chipped away at the attempts to live an awesome life. Getting back to that ideal is easier with the light you all (sometimes unknowingly) provide.

A Reputation For..?

A friend recently commented that Lady M and I are both warm, friendly and laid back individuals, but he could also imagine that when needed we wouldn’t be. Its not the most backhanded compliment I’ve ever received, but it has struck a chord this week.

In short succession I’ve heard how mere mention of me has ended arguments and raised disclosures of honest fear from people who have barely met me. I have obviously left the menacing stillness switch on without realising it.

On the one hand, there’s a certain ego-fuelling satisfaction in hearing that mere mention of my name has silenced dissent, but it isn’t something that easily meshes with my own self image, or the working brand that I had hoped I project with people outside a personal context.

I think – from conversations with colleagues recently – that my quiet calm, dry humour, and reserve are being interpreted as harsh judgement of everything that I see. Given how I am not shy about calling out unhelpful behaviours or speech, I can see how this might have a chilling effect on some, but I’m not convinced that this is necessarily a bad thing.

When I was working on the shopfloor, so to speak, I had a lot more freedom to speak my mind on things, but this is not always a luxury that I can appropriately exercise now that I am managing people. 

Confidentiality plays a much larger part in the sort of information that now comes my way about people and situations in the workplace, and I temper my conversations accordingly without resorting to cryptic allusions. Perhaps this is adding to the impression that I am somehow silently judging people (well, more than usual anyway).

I may have mixed emotions about the reported reputation, but I won’t deny it is also a useful tool in the box as I work on different sites. I can allow myself the luxury of being friendly, but I am still their manager; so when I have to deal with the more unpleasant side of the job having that degree of emotional separation is invaluable.

We’ll see how this evolves. I hope the consensus migrates to one of respect rather than fear. Most people seem to be there already thankfully. I’m trying to stop fights, not look for new ones.

Things Lady M Says: Pain Management Edition

I am constantly both in awe of and moderately frustrated by Lady M’s pain threshold and how she talks about it. Being a strong soul, she endures life threatening injuries with aplomb, migraines with mild annoyance, and the ongoing nerve storm of her fibromyalgia with hot water bottles, swearing, and threats of physical violence against anyone touching her.

I may be slightly exaggerating about the latter. 

What this does result in is a situation where she is in so much ongoing pain that she tends to downplay how she reports it. You can imagine the complications this causes when she’s dealing with medical professionals.

A recent case of this came when her back muscles spasmed in one of our body balance classes. A paramedic was called as the class finished around us, and I had to remind Lady M to not use “The Jo Scale”. Instead she was to pretend to be a regular person. The number she was quoting on the 1-10 pain scale immediately jumped from a 3 to an 8.

Fortunately it turned out ‘merely’ to be a muscle spasm hitting her sciatic nerve rather than the prolapsed discs in her spine that she had a few years ago (did we mention those before?). 

In conversation this morning, Lady M said that the pain hadn’t been so bad, it was just that she couldn’t move one of her legs and that had been the worst of it. I asked why she couldn’t move her leg, and she promptly responded: “because of the pain.”

Being half asleep, I asked if that didn’t mean that it had actually been the pain that was so bad, but again she reiterated that no, it was her being unable to move her leg. “Because of the pain” I added in helpfully.

By the time we’d gone round the circular conversation the third or fourth time, we were giggling with the silliness of it, but Lady M insisted I just wasn’t getting it. I was countering this with the argument that this was precisely why she had such difficulty getting doctors to take her seriously.

Many of Lady M’s worst disruptions come from her invisible illnesses. Between mental health, migraines and her newly diagnosed neurological condition, it can feel a wonder that she can get up in the morning. 

Being unable to move her leg or sustaining physical injury, is far easier to explain and demonstrate to a third party, so perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised that this what Lady M has fixed on as a memory of the event. It becomes easier to relate the difficulties of the moment to other people with a symptom they can relate to rather than just a blanket “it hurts”. 

While most people are empathic enough to understand the concept, it somehow becomes more real if there’s something to point to. It’s something we both find ourselves frustrated by, even between ourselves – so don’t feel bad if you have difficulty understanding someone’s situation. It’s, dare I say, normal…

First Week Done

I got thrown in at the deep end with the new job this week. I took over the biggest library in our neck of the woods with no handover, no sets of instructions, and the person I should technically have been shadowing away on holiday.

So of course I rose to the challenge and swept all before me. What other option was there?

The boilers may have broken, and some members of staff suddenly had horrendous personal situations to deal with. We may have had alcoholics hiding their stashes of Stella Artois in the shelving, and children letting off fireworks just outside the front door. We may even have had tired and cynical staff made to smile and volunteer to go the extra mile to keep the library running smoothly.

I only felt bored once. Must be the intellectual challenges of resource management and problem solving; operating in a very different way to how I have been the last four years.

It still feels a little odd to have people just do what they’re told without having to convince them or argue the toss. I’m not sure I like that, but that’s probably me being contrary and wary of people who don’t ask questions.

Let’s see what next week brings

Little Bright Moments

Among all the oddities and turmoils, something that will always brighten my day is sight or sound of friends having moments of success. There’s something about hearing unalloyed joy in someone’s voice when they talk about a new job despite its demands, or seeing the sparkle in someone’s eye when they talk about a new discovery that just can’t be equalled.

Best of all is hearing someone who is recovering from injury or illness. It doesn’t matter if it’s an improvement in the process of healing from physical injury, or just someone having a good day in their fight against a chronic condition.

All these moments of brightness are worth cherishing, especially when in contrast to whatever else is or has been happening in their or my lives. Recognising and celebrating these bright moments is important, both for them and for me. It reminds us all that there actually is brightness.