It's lunchtime in work and I've dashed across to the eccentric café at the end of the street to grab something to eat. Although it's been a long day already, the reason for my haste does not stem (entirely) from hunger but another impulse- to read my book. It is one of my favourite things to do during the week, giving me a brief respite from my working day to free-fall into a world other than my own. I view it as a treat, something I look forward to on days where such luxuries are permitted. So I sink back into my office chair and eagerly delve into Emily St. John Mandel's latest offering, Station Eleven, eating my chicken salad sandwich with gusto as I do so. It's a good hour. I'm content. That is, until I find myself reading a passage that unceremoniously jolts me out of my momentary serenity.
"You probably encounter people like him all the time," the author writes, "high-functioning sleepwalkers."
I rarely get moved or struck by things that I read. I don't know if it's as a result of ripping books to shreds and examining their internal organs as part of my time in university, or if I'm just a cold-hearted bitch, but this sentence, and the passage which followed, really stopped me in my tracks.
Am I a high-functioning sleepwalker? I read through the extract again, robotically agreeing with this author's all-too-real description of "corporate ghosts" clinging to arbitrary things, or "distractions" that pass for happiness in their day-to-day lives. She speaks of the fleeting afterglow of a sporadic laugh with colleagues or the enduring longing for the weekend to offer some ephemeral solace. I'm forced to look at myself, to stare down at my book, my distraction that, to my shame, was helping me get through my day.
Is monotony something you have to accept? Will my working life be forever, as Mandel's character states: "drudgery punctuated by very occasional moments of happiness." Is that what's in store for every employee of a company? While I would never go as far as saying my job is a total grind, I do certainly catch myself yearning for other things while I'm there. I really like what I do, but due to circumstances outside of my control, each day has gotten increasingly tougher, and trying to stay positive and not become numb to my surroundings is a constant battle.
One of my favourite mantras of late is 'water off a duck's back,' as employed to great effect by RuPaul's Drag Race alumnus Jinkx Monsoon. It helps me in moments of stress or anxiety to just breathe, put my situation in context and move on. However, I fear this may not be enough anymore. I don't want to become this sleeping person, a somnambulist meekly functioning my way through each day, clinging to fickle moments of perceived happiness. As difficult as my work can get, I need to make conscious decisions not to allow myself to drown. I need to accept situations for what they are and make the best of them.
A cliché though it may be, it is so easy to lose yourself in your work. I count myself very lucky to have a job, and having one that I like is a bonus. However, I do not want to let myself become so consumed with routine or pressure that I place so much weight on false happiness to simply get me through. It could be very easy to blame work for these feelings but I think it's important to take control of my own emotions.
Reading this small passage has stirred me from my slumber. Now what's left is a daily effort on my part to focus on bringing the best out of every moment, and chastise myself for using crutches, as gag-inducingly 'Instagram motivational quote' as that sounds. So I'm still going to look-forward to reading my book at lunchtime, but with the onus placed solely on the enjoyment it brings me and not the distraction it offers.
On a side note also, if you get nothing else from this article, Station Eleven is an amazing book and well-worth a read!