Angry Bird

The summer my middle daughter was one year old, I again went to my family’s beautiful village on the Greek island of Corfu for a few weeks’ holiday. The worst of my depression was over, but it hadn’t left me. I was still plagued by anxiety, unexplained rage towards those closest to me, and a deep misery that I couldn’t express. My memories from that summer are hazy because of the depression, but I do remember one thing clearly, perhaps because it was the first positive thing I did for myself in a long, long time.

It was the day before we were due to leave the island. I was in a coffee shop in the village, which had a little play area for the kids. I was alone with my two girls and my cousin’s two children while she ran an errand. Then my phone rang. Work.

I answered it, of course, because I’m an idiot. It was my line manager yelling at me, telling me the boss of the company was “very, very angry” with me because of something I’d omitted in what was now a published book. I remembered the omission: my line manager and I had had a meeting to discuss it, and she had told me to leave it out to resolve the issues we were having with space on the page. Of course, she was having none of this. It was my fault and my fault alone. Once again, she threatened me with the security of my job and hung up.

Normally, I would have got upset, possibly to the point of tears after one of these exchanges. I would feel wronged, while at the same time still blaming myself, and I would spend the next week with a knot of worry in my stomach, replaying the conversation over and over in my head. This time my reaction was different. I was angry. Which is generally a negative emotion, but in this case it was just what I needed.

Who else at the company, I thought, worked up until their due date? No one. They all went on maternity leave two months before they were due to give birth. Who else had to work from home while on maternity leave? No one. And who else was forced to come back to work two months early? No one. One of my friends even got 13 months off. Who else worked six days a week? Took work home in the evenings and at weekends? Suffered these stupid phone calls late at night, early in the morning and, now, while on annual leave? Certainly no one on my pay band.

Enough was bloody well enough.

I sat down in that coffee shop, entered the Wi-Fi password and sent an email to a rival company asking about a job. Ultimately, I didn’t take it, but I needed to take that action at that moment. It felt proactive, and it felt good. But when I did get back to work, I told my line manager I was no longer going to work evenings and weekends. Later, I was transferred to another team with a much more understanding line manager and I stopped receiving phone calls and texts at all hours. I also stopped receiving threats about being fired every other week, which was a bonus.

Now, I know there are people out there who work far more than I was then, who are in far more stressful jobs. But I couldn’t carry on like that in my mental state. I used to work six days a week in a shop, and then in a bar in the evenings, and I never felt tired or under pressure or overworked. But that was before I had children, and working mum guilt, and depression. It might sound trivial to you, but those little changes at work changed my attitude – it really was like having a weight lifted from my shoulders.

I know we don’t all have the luxury of work-life balance – that’s why I agreed to the six-day week and work in the evenings in the first place. But try not to let your fear hold you in a place that makes you and your family suffer. I put up with that situation for so long because I was afraid of losing my job, and the financial implications that would have had for my family. In the end, when I took action, we were still as financially insecure as ever – my husband was still technically unemployed and studying at cookery school, although he did do a stint at a restaurant during the summer as part of his practical (six days a week, twelve hours a day, 350 euros a month … welcome to Greece!) But my anger outweighed my fear.

Sometimes it’s OK to get angry if it’s productive rather than destructive. Have you experienced productive anger? How did it help you make changes in your life? I’d love to hear from you!