Living to Work

My husband and I always said we wouldn’t be like those people who work their fingers to the bone in a job they can’t stand for money. We thought a big car and expensive holidays wouldn’t be worth it (for us) if we were just living for the weekend. We were content to have less and live more, but things don’t always work out the way you plan them.

I guess you could blame us for moving to Greece in the middle of a financial crisis. My husband had found a full-time job before we moved here, and I planned to work part-time and spend most of my days with our daughter, who was by then almost two years old. It worked for a while (I had a babysitting job for four hours a day which I could bring my daughter along to), but after four months my husband lost his job.

I panicked and applied for anything that said ‘native English speaker’ in the job advert, and I found a full-time position at a publishing company. We put our daughter in day care – which improved her Greek tremendously and suited her just fine as she’s always been incredibly social – but made me feel guilty, guilty, guilty.

My husband kept looking for a job, but unemployment was high and jobs were hard to find. Some places said he was too old (he was 29 at the time) and some were of the opinion that he should work in computing, as that was what he had studied, despite the fact all his actual work experience was in kitchens or supported living. He started several different jobs, only to find the wages weren’t paid or the work was something other than advertised. He became more and more miserable, but I refused to see his pain.

I didn’t support him. I even sort of blamed him – for losing his job, for not trying hard enough to find another one, for being utterly useless around the house even though he was at home all day. Cleaning? Shopping? Washing? All done by me. He just slept and played computer games like a lazy arse. … Now I realise he was probably depressed. After all, he had returned to his homeland and effectively been rejected by it. He was  ‘the man of the house’ and his foreign wife was bringing home the money. Maybe it was fear of trying and failing again that made him come to a standstill. Maybe it was easier for him to just stop trying.

Meanwhile, I was quickly suckered into working six days a week, so I saw even less of my daughter, and I was also getting calls and texts late at night and early in the morning. I wasn’t given proper training at work, and I was often threatened with being fired. It wasn’t what I had signed up for and, looking back, it was certainly more than I could cope with. It’s not that I mind hard work – I’d worked harder than that in the past – but it was emotionally draining, both the horrible atmosphere in the office and the terrible guilt I felt missing my daughter. I was returning six nights a week only a couple of hours before her bedtime, plus I had to commute for over an hour each way on the bus and the metro, which I only saw as more time that I was away from her. I hated what my life had become, but I was trapped by necessity. We had no savings and I needed to work, but being a foreigner with a pretty rudimentary grasp of the local language, I didn’t have a lot of employment options. So I stayed where I was – unfulfilled, stressed and miserable.

I used to work to earn money for nights out, meals and drinks, holidays and fun. And I used to enjoy my job – work hard, play hard and all that. Now I wasn’t enjoying my work, and I wasn’t even earning enough to comfortably cover bills and food and childcare. I felt like I was spending a huge chunk of my life working, or getting to and from work, and there was nothing to show for it. Worse, there was nothing left of me for my family, or even myself.