I don’t think I’ve cried as much as I have this year as I have…well, ever…really. I spoke about the first world professional grief I experienced over Fellowship earlier in the year. What I didn’t expect was the gut-punching, air-gasping, all-consuming grief I would experience over leaving my old job. I refer to it as first world grief because nobody has died, I’m still in gainful employment and everyone is healthy.
I wrote about feeling calm about the decision I’d made but I don’t think it really hit me until the very end of my last day. EVERYONE expected me to cry at some point during my last week. I’m fairly certain that some people tried to make me feel sad ON PURPOSE to make me cry. I remained dry-eyed throughout the leaving speeches, presents, cards (the lovely messages!), leaving do, laughing, dancing, hugging and then…It was all over and I was broken.
I started crying at approximately 10:30pm on my last day and essentially didn’t stop crying for a week, which was awkward as I started my new job during that time. My new colleagues (who have been lovely) must have wondered what they’d taken on. I had a panic attack one night (the first in a year) where I screamed and sobbed as the walls closed in. I felt disoriented, frightened and overwhelmed.
The grief I’m experiencing is complicated. I went through a difficult time during the last few months in my old job and while I ultimately won the battle I was fighting, it directly led to my decision to leave. The crux of it is, there’s some unresolved ‘stuff’ that I can’t deal with or change. I’m having coaching to help me work through it to find solutions and offer some level of peace. This stuff can eat you alive if you let it and I’m determined to feel my feelings and move on.
I’d taken the library as far as I could without additional support, development and funding and it was made crystal clear to me that I wouldn’t be developed further and that the service would need to remain as it was for the time being. I was bored, frustrated and stifled. I was tired of fighting the same battles on a never-ending loop. I hadn’t learned anything new for a long time (years, probably) and everything was easy and utterly routine. I could have stayed there for the rest of my career quite comfortably but that wouldn’t have been healthy for anyone.
In May I was so mad at myself about Fellowship that I ran a marathon. In October I ran a trail lap event and covered 18.5 miles through woodland, brambles, clay-like mud and leg-busting hills. I planned to do 4 laps (I like events where you can do as many or few laps as you like) and realised I wasn’t done yet so I went back out for a fifth because obviously an additional 3.7 miles would cure everything and I have a unique ability to hurt myself through running. It didn’t cure anything (obviously) but I was quite “SCREW YOU AND ALL WHO SAIL IN YOU” (inwardly) at the end so maybe that was a positive outcome.
The library was my third baby. I planned it, birthed it, parented it, got mad at it, it broke me, I cried over it, and I was proud of it. When I’m passionate about something I really love it and I don’t have that thing any more. I’m angry with myself for the time I missed with my girls when they were tiny because I was setting the library up and working ridiculous hours with no support. They don’t seem to be particularly scarred by the bath and bedtimes I missed but I’m mad at myself for letting that happen. I sacrificed an awful lot and for what, exactly? Perhaps it will be clear one day.
One of the many reasons I left my old job was that I felt my contribution to the organisation and my professional achievements weren’t appreciated in some quarters. When the interviews for my replacement were carried out, three of the four candidates apparently mentioned that they had seen me speak at conferences, knew me through professional networks, listened to Librarians with Lives, or highlighted my achievements. It shouldn’t have taken my leaving for this to become real. I’d hardly hidden any of it.
During the third week in my new job I realised something valuable. I’d spent the previous couple of weeks thinking I was a complete idiot and that I didn’t recognise a good thing when I had one. I *had* to stay put for a long time to ensure stability for my family when my girls were smaller. Moreover, after 2015 when my world fell apart, I craved safety and routine. My job was a safe, fixed, reliable place in an uncertain and frightening world. The loss of control that I’ve experienced over the last few weeks is quite scary. I was the queen of my domain, the person that knew everyone and everything. Now I’m the most stupid person in the room.
A month on the grief is less intense. I don’t feel like my brain is full of thick fog that isn’t going to clear. I still have moments where I feel very sad and angry. I’ve got good coping mechanisms in place and am developing new routines. I’m hoping that one day I’ll look back at this time and be proud of myself for doing something brave and for challenging everything I thought I knew about libraries. I think that leaving my old job, whatever happens next, is actually a bit of a baller move.