The lull after the storm

Which way now?

I’m having a lull. A flat spot. A pause. I don’t like it. I feel paralysed and directionless, dull and purposeless.

I’ve always worked. I got my first job when I was 14, working in a deli at the local supermarket. A string of waitressing, and babysitting followed. Chinese restaurants, cafes and a silver-service venue – I worked everywhere during high school.

My record was three jobs at once. It wasn’t about the money; it was the work ethic my father drummed into me – work and you were worthwhile. It was more important than that study nonsense which seemed nebulous to him. But work; a good, hard, honest day’s work was tangible and valuable.

When the pressure and intensity of Yr 12 peaked and I confessed my anxiety to him, Dad told me to leave, to get a job in a supermarket. I had tried to leave in Year Ten, tried to following his footsteps and become a cook, (God knows what I was thinking) but I couldn’t find an apprenticeship, so I went back to school. I wanted to please him, I wanted him to value me. I wanted him to see me.

When I finished high school and got accepted at university my parents were maybe proud, I can’t remember, but I know that when I dropped out just two weeks after starting, restless to be part of what I remember calling the ‘real world,’ they didn’t object.

I went to work in a bakery, ended up managing it and could finally communicate to my dad in the language of work. But I was dying inside. I knew I needed more, wanted desperately to write and had this outlandish, impossible dream that I could do it for a living.

One day I went to my local paper and asked them for a job. And they did. I started my journalism cadetship and my life was changed.

My dad warned me that my job would mean making coffee and being a dogs’ body for several years. He was wrong. I was writing, living my dream (mind you, with very poor sentence structure and no news sense) within a few months and I knew I had found the first part of my future.

I’m not sure how many times my Dad warned me, “Don’t get above yourself girl” but his words still tug at my conscience 30 years later.

This lull I’m stuck in feels like a deep valley that I can’t seem to find the path out of. I know I want to be up in the sunshine on the hill again, not here where it’s dank and dull. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved this far, but I still hope that there is more ahead than behind. I just don’t know which way to step next, where to head.

For the absolute first time in my life I don’t want to have those three or four or five jobs all at once. I don’t want to work simply to survive, to keep my family fed and the debtors from the door. I don’t want to be driven to work just to escape the pain that has threatened to seep from beneath my skin to pollute my life.

Finally the pain has been acknowledged and I no longer need to hide in manic busyness. Survival is no longer an issue; we will be safe financially and there is time to ponder and explore options. My kids are increasingly independent, the mothering intensity has reduced. Everywhere I turn I am relieved of duty. These are all incredible blessings. But in the truest meaning of “be careful what you wish for” I am on the knife-edge of this double-edged sword.

What is it I want to do? Who will I be now that I no longer have to be full-time mother, provider, income earner or pursued by pain?

My work decisions were about so many things, but rarely about what I wanted. Often they were about escaping the past, proving my worth – over and over and over – struggling to put food on the table and also, of course, my own ambition.

Now I am left with only ambition – and the question of what would I like to do? (within reason, clearly I’m not cut out to be a prima ballerina at this point)

And I don’t know.

I know I want to write something beautiful, something moving and maybe inspirational. I want to write the best novel that I can. It’s started. A third of the way started, so why don’t I continue? I don’t know.

It’s much harder than I thought. The distance between imagining doing it and actually sitting down and addressing it is much further and wider and harder to traverse than I had ever imagined. I’ve written several books, but nothing this hard, or this good.

There has always been a reason not to write this book, and now that I am faced with no barriers, I’m not. Not writing it. Not indulging in what I thought was a passion for writing. In fact the whole idea of it makes me feel awful. Wretched. I want to forget about being a writer, because clearly I’m not one. I can’t do it, am not doing it. Instead I sit in front of my computer, day after frustrating, awful day and fiddle about. Achieving nothing. No work ethic here.

At the height of my work mania, as a prolific freelance journalist I would add up daily and weekly how many words I’d written, how much money I’d made and would only be satisfied when it was a big enough amount – when I could feel worthwhile. Now, with almost no income I feel like I have no relevance in the world, no place and few rights.

In my mind the rights belong to the workers. The hardy folk who keep the wheels turning and industries productive. I make dinner for the family each day and take some very small solace in this and then feel pathetic for finding self worth in such a petty place.

I sleep a lot, to avoid the difficulty of being awake, of feeling worthless and hopeless and directionless and irrelevant. When I am awake I fight the intense desire to just sleep more, to go back to bed and hide again. It’s very strong and very determined this sleepiness. I give in a lot.

But in between naps I apply for the occasional job, I work on my online presence because maybe that’s important, I set up a new blog, I Tweet and talk to newspaper and magazine editors with little conviction or optimism because the media is being gutted in Australia – and I have little passion left for it anyway.

I feel bad most of the time. Like a failure most of the time. I wonder where it will end, this lull. I talk to family and friends hoping for a breakthrough, I talk to a career coach, to my therapist and to a handful of media colleagues.

I have many, many ideas of what I would like to do, but can’t seem to fix, to hold to one. Is it me? Is there something burnt out and non-functioning within me that is causing this flatness?

Is it the huge changes in my life in the past six months to which I’m still adjusting? (Moving in with a new partner and forming a stepfamily of nine).

Is it the shock of having choice for the first time ever, which makes me feel stultified and paralysed? I wish I knew. I wish I could just get up tomorrow with some answers because the search for them is exhausting and draining and depressing.

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