Opting Out

 

When I was a teenager, among my fantasies of what a future husband might be like was a desire to be a vicar’s wife. This was partly religious sentiment, partly a crush on an older chap at youth group who wanted to become a vicar, but most of all the attraction of achieving an identity, a career and a home all in one package with little effort on my part. This imaginary young vicar would worship me almost as devoutly as God, preach in a wonderful baritone voice, look divine in a cassock …and in the bedroom, though details about the bedroom part were very hazy.

Other candidates for the perfect husbands were vets, explorers and policemen. I didn’t marry a vicar, but I was right about the desirability of securing a secure position in life; as it turned out I was not very good at doing careers. Armed with some brains and motherly encouragement; ‘you don’t want to end up working in a shop’ or ‘you don’t want to be one of those girls who just takes any job till she gets married’ I ventured to seek the interesting and the worthwhile.

I have never thought of myself as someone who suffers from depression, anxiety or has mental health issues. I always assumed any career failures were entirely my fault and even if I had heard of such a thing I would never have dreamed of suing my employers for letting me down when it was me that let them down. Armed with other words of wisdom from my mother ‘I don’t need a doctor to tell me when I’m depressed’ I developed a simple strategy, escape. Not literally, as in disappearing without a trace, though I could see the attraction and I did cross to the other side of the world. The nearest I got to a medical issue was my periods stopping for three months, a sure sign your body is telling you something and they returned after my escape. But how close do we all come to mental health problems?

In my newly enthusiastic reading of The Big Issue, an article about a homeless man who lived in his car touched a chord. He had been a teacher, had a nervous breakdown, couldn’t work, lost his home. If he had escaped sooner, taken a safe hum drum job perhaps he would not have dropped out.

My avoidance tactics have applied in other areas. I don’t drive. I did get a licence when I was seventeen, but even driving in a small city presented challenges such as going round roundabouts, turning right and parking in awkward spots. I don’t regret letting the driving lapse. My friend at work suffered immense stress adding to traffic problems by driving her children to the nearest grammar school miles away. I was not stressed as our children had no choice but to walk to the nearest school. The potential terrors of multi storey car parks, edging out onto busy roads, being obliged to offer lifts to unknown places negate the convenience and independence of driving.

So what did happen? I married a policeman, we got a police flat to start with and my grandfather was delighted I was marrying someone with a secure job. Then we had children, further delaying career pressures and resulting in me doing all sorts of ordinary jobs which turned out to be very enjoyable. Perhaps I should have been a writer from the start – writers can write about life without the stress of actually participating in it.

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