At the start of my final year of university, people often asked me about my plans for life after graduation. At that point, my answer was that I intended to work part-time and live at home, saving money if I could, with a somewhat nebulous idea of what was going to follow after that.
My intention to work part time was mostly born of the realisation that my pain and fatigue making working full time difficult if not impossible. During the months I took out of uni in 2016, I worked about twenty hours a week, and found that completely exhausting. On the other hand, I was at a fairly low point health-wise in 2016, which is why I’d had to take time out of uni.
Sometime around January I started applying for graduate library traineeships, which would be a one-year full-time position working in an academic library and receiving training and experience needed to potentially study librarianship further or go on to other library positions. When I sent in the first application, it was on the basis that if I didn’t get it, that was okay, because I hadn’t really planned to work full-time anyway. But gradually I got more invested, and ended up applying for more than a dozen similar positions — none of which worked out.
During those months of applications, I became invested in the idea of working full-time. I wanted to move out. I’d got used to my independence. I knew I ate better and exercised more when not living at home. I realised I was allergic to my parents’ house and that spending time there tended to put strain on my immune system, so I’d be better off not doing that long term. Maybe I hadn’t managed to work full-time in 2016, but I was so much stronger now, and working so many more hours at uni — I could manage it, couldn’t I? But as job after job turned me down, it began to look impossible.
Then I had my chance. A friend of my parent’s works for a digitisation company, which was actively recruiting lots of new staff to deal with increased workload. He passed on my CV, I had a brief informal interview, and was invited to come for a trial day to see if I liked it.
So I went, and I discovered that while I’m a lot stronger and healthier than I was in 2016, I am still disabled.
It’s funny how I forget that, even though I’ve had a bunch of severe pain flare-ups in the last few months, especially during exams. I forget that I still get fatigued at a rate other people don’t experience. I forget that what for other people might be tiring will leave me physically unable to move from the sofa because I’m so exhausted that standing up makes me think I’m going to pass out.
I forget that I can’t actually sit at a computer for hours and perform mouse-heavy tasks, because in my own life I avoid those as much as possible and have various ways to work around them (an ergonomic mouse, a touch screen) when needed. But after trying to do that during the morning of my trial day, I was faced with a painful reminder.
I spent Tuesday on the sofa, falling asleep every twenty minutes and waking up long enough to read a bit of fanfic before zonking out again — even after ten solid hours of sleep. And partly that was because I’d gone to dance on Monday evening and strained my ankles, so climbing the stairs was a challenge, but mostly I was just so bone-tired I couldn’t move.
I realised, as I contemplated the prospect of working full-time, that even leaving aside the fatigue there were various practical problems. What about doctors appointments? I want to try and get a referral to a specialist for my hands, but if I have to go to Central London for an appointment, that’ll mean taking a lot of time out of work. What about my osteopath, who lives far enough away from this job that I’d struggle to get to appointments without taking an afternoon off?
But mostly I realised that if I had a full-time job, even if I managed to cope with the job itself, that would be my entire life. I’d be too tired to dance. In too much pain to write. I’d spend every weekend recovering. Maybe not forever, but for a few months, before I adjusted, it would take everything out of me.
So when they emailed and asked if, after the trial day, I wanted the job, I told them I didn’t think I could work full-time. I could manage three days a week of the role I was trying in the afternoon (much less intense on the hands), but no more than that. I understood if they didn’t want a part-time employee and chose not to hire me, but I couldn’t cope with working every day.
They said we’d give it a go. A trial period, for them to see if having a part-time employee worked (since they don’t have any others) and for me to see if I could cope with those hours on a more extended basis. I started yesterday, and I’ll also be working Wednesday and Thursday this week.
Yesterday was better, because I didn’t have to use my hands so much, but I was still too exhausted to go to dance in the evening, and if that continues it’ll be a problem, as it’s a high priority for me that I can keep going with dance. Today, I’m less tired than last week (probably because I didn’t dance), but it’s still midday and I’ve yet to do anything, having struggled to pull myself out of bed. I don’t know how well I’ll manage doing two days in a row, though hopefully this awful hot weather is going to recede, which will help.
I wanted to work full-time. I wanted a job that would let me move out. I wanted to be an adult, to be independent, to forge my own path. Instead I’m compromising, again. My life for the last five years has been full of compromises, and it’s difficult not to feel frustrated with my body for holding me back. I won’t be able to afford to move out for a while now, especially as staying in SE London means prohibitive rent prices, and unless my health drastically improves it’s hard to see when that might change.
But part-time adulting is better than nothing. It’s experience, so that if I pursue those same library jobs next year I don’t get told my lack of experience is why I wasn’t hired. It’s a chance to transition more gradually into working, so that I don’t put too much strain on my body, and to work out what my limits are and how much I can push them.
And it gives me a better chance of finishing Butterfly of Night edits before Pitch Wars at the end of this month. That, at least, is a positive. Even if I have to wear wrist splints to do it.
So, as of now I work in digitisation. Specifically in capturing (which sounds like a euphemism for being a bounty hunter, but actually means taking a lot of pictures of documents). For now we just have to see how it goes, and how well I cope, but it’s something. At least I won’t have to do any more job applications for a while…
The other thing I’ve done towards my bookish career goals is get my book blog up and running again. My latest review is of HERETICS ANONYMOUS, which comes out today and which you should totally buy.
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