It’s a stressful time – it’s been a stressful time for awhile now. It’s bordering on becoming a stressful life. The primary source of stress is work – is it always work? It’s always work for me.
It’s rarely the work itself that stresses me out – it’s usually the people involved in the work process, clients, contractors, colleagues, bosses, decision makers, enquiries, customers.
It’s not a surprise to me that it’s the people aspect of work that stresses me out the most. I am a hardcore introvert – if you told me I couldn’t leave my house for a year I would hug you with gratitude and dance around like a Disney princess in mid-song. With the exception of a very small handful of people, I feel drained by every human interaction I am involved in. Every.single.one.
I feel like a tree and they are coming to me with a little spile, the kind wilderness-survival people stick into trees to collect water, only they stick it in me and sap my energy drip by drip.
The universe really does have a sick sense of humour though because I am also genuinely a huge people person – I am fascinated by people and their stories, I care so deeply about the people I meet and know – I’m a true addict – I am drawn to human interaction but human interaction drains me, but I keep stepping into it anyway…
On top of that dynamic I also have a stream of anxiety running through the landscape of my entire being. Which has a way of mixing itself into every unwelcome situation it can flow into.
Somewhere along the line a scenario forms for me.
I see it as a rushing river that has lots of tiny streams, tiny factors, feeding into it.
Many I’ve traced back to the source, some I’ve named but still can’t navigate and some are still hidden from me.
In essence. I believe everyone is angry at me. EVERY ONE.
Everyone is disappointed in me.
Everyone feels a sense of rage towards me.
Everyone is going about their day writing bad reviews and angry emails in their mind to me.
When a client tells me they love the work we did for them I imagine them saying it through gritted teeth because they are so frustrated by the whole experience.
When someone says ‘Oh no – it’s no problem – take your time’ I don’t even question it – I am 100% convinced they are lying. It is a problem and there are consequences coming.
Do you know what’s more exhausting for an introvert than working with lots of people? It’s working with lots of angry people.
I have absolutely no evidence to support this extreme hostility – I have no emails or phone calls, no heated voicemails or angry legal letters threatening to sue. I have the opposite – an inbox overflowing with lovely feedback and kind words.
And still, I bunker down at my desk everyday, working furiously because I have to get the work finished before the anger bites me, I have to make up for all the disappointment heading my way – I am fighting a war of one.
I know it’s all in my head – all in my perception.
I tell myself no one is angry – no one is coming for me.
But if anxiety could be talked down with logic I would have sorted her out a long time ago.
So I’m learning to find a new way – I’m working with a frightened child here. She’s not asking for logic or reason or facts – she just wants to be safe.
I’m learning to sit next to her – to stop yelling at her for being so irrational and erratic.
I assume everyone is angry – everyone is thirsty for our blood and heading to our door now with pitchforks and flames in hand.
We will deal with it.
We will apologise.
We will acknowledge the role we played in the disappointment.
We won’t make excuses.
We will bravely look anger in the eye and do what we can to resolve the issue.
I prepare her for peace talks.
We peal the battle armour off and I train her in negotiation and conflict resolution.
I try to teach her to stop focusing on what’s coming and just look at what’s arrived.
Let’s respond to the angry emails we’ve received.
Let’s call back the people who are sending us threats.
….and there are no emails to respond to or calls to make.
For a moment there is calm.
Then the cycle starts again.
And I crawl under the desk once more and sit with the scared girl who is still fighting to believe that the work she produces is enough.
…and that’s what I mean when people ask me how work is going and I say ‘stressful but we’re getting there’….because we are getting there. We are slowly getting there.
[Art by Nan Lawson]