I don’t want to know the future


The notebook I’m currently using for writing has some notes in the back of it written in mid-2008 when I was trying to find a way forward from being in a state of burnout. Looking back on the almost ten years since then I’ve come a long way, yet am now glad I could not see much of the path ahead at the time.

In June 2008 I applied for a job as a technical writer for a software company but was unsure if I would get the job so tried to plan how to cope with the next six months in the job I already had. As it turned out I did get the new job, which was a real blessing and gave a reprieve from the stress I had previously been carrying. What I didn’t see but is now obvious to me reading what I wrote back then, is the warning signs of depression.

The change in work enabled me to recover somewhat but two years later the black dog returned and this time there was no denying it. At least his forced me to seek help, beginning a long journey of trying to find a medication combination that worked for me. By this time I’d moved on to what in many ways was a dream job for me, but it came with the downside of a 24/7 roster. In time the shift work messed with my body clock enough to make the next cycle of depression much worse than any before, necessitating a week’s stay in a psychiatric hospital. Recovery that time was long and painful, at least a year before I could consider myself ‘normal’ and not a joyful normal at that.

This is why I’m glad I could not see the future for me in 2008. If I could have seen what was ahead I probably would have given up or run away and hidden from the world. But if I had known what was to come, could I have taken steps to avoid it?

On this I’m not sure. Certainly I’ve learned signs to watch for  so now seek help sooner than I did in the past. I also know some of the circumstances and situations that can precipitate depression so take steps to avoid or reduce the effects of those situations. However, life always carries a certain amount of stress and my depression has a definite cyclic pattern so I doubt that I could have completely avoided it.

The approach I now take is to have fences to keep the black dog out, a stick handy to push if back if it gets too close, and I try to live as fully as I can when it is not around. Yet I still hear it barking in the distance.

Shift work is biblical

My ‘day job’ entails shift work on a 24 hour, 7-day a week roster. This can be a drag and there have been plenty of times when I’ve resented having to work until midnight or endure the graveyard shift. Working weekends when everyone else seems to have time off, or trying to sleep on a brilliant sunny day is no fun. I can easily slip into feeling sorry for myself, thinking that not working 9 to 5 is abnormal and unnatural.

The reality is that a huge number of people work weekends and ‘non-standard’ hours. Statistics vary, but up to 30% of the workforce in NZ, Australia, Britain, Canada and the USA work at least some hours outside of the ‘usual’ 8 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday work week, with about 15% of workers doing the ‘graveyard shift’ as part of their schedule. In the USA about 28 million people work some non-standard hours, and almost 15 million Americans work the night shift. I’m not alone!

This is not a purely modern phenomenon. During the industrial revolution children laboured in cruel conditions during the night, night work was also common in the early 20th century in mills and factories.

In Biblical times sentries or watchmen were posted to guard cities and warn of impending danger. To ensure these sentries remained alert the night was divided into ‘watches’ and watchmen changed at set times so that fresh sentries replaced those who were becoming tired. Shepherds also remained up through the night watching over their flocks (Luke 2:8). It also seems that occasionally servants were expected to remain on duty during the night ready to serve their masters if they arrived home late (see Mark 13:34–35).

The ancient Jews divided the night into three watches: Sunset (about 6 pm) to 10 pm; a ‘middle watch’ from 10 pm to 2 am; and a ‘morning’ watch from 2 am to sunrise (about 6am). Later, under Roman rule there were four watches: sunset to 9 pm; 9 pm to midnight; midnight to 3am; and 3 am to sunrise (see Smith’s Bible Dictionary).

Even Jesus kept some weird hours at times, going for a stroll across a lake at about 4am, heading off into the hills before daylight, working seven days a week (Matthew 14:25, Mark 1:35, Luke 13:14).

My point is that while we may like to consider ourselves modern (or postmodern, or metamodern, or whatever) with our igadgets and always connected techno lifestyles, the human condition has not changed. Jesus rode a donkey, not a motorbike and the prophets were not receiving texts from God on their iPhones but they still endured boring lunches, feeling tired, squabbling kids and in-laws just as we do. Remember that even Jesus’ parents experienced miscommunication between them as to who was looking after the kids (Luke 2:41-48). If you think a negative Tweet or Facebook update about you is bad, that’s nothing compared to the embarrassment of having the incident recorded in the most widely read book of the next two thousand years!


Scripture references

Lamentations 2:19 Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! (ESV)

Judges 7:19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. (ESV)

Exodus 14:24 And in the morning watch the LORD in the pillar of fire and of cloud looked down on the Egyptian forces and threw the Egyptian forces into a panic, (ESV)

1 Samuel 11:11 And the next day Saul put the people in three companies. And they came into the midst of the camp in the morning watch and struck down the Ammonites until the heat of the day. (ESV)

Song of Solomon 3:3 The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” (3:3 ESV)

Luke 2:8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (ESV)

Mark 13:34-35 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— (ESV)

Matthew 14:25 And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. (ESV)

Mark 1:35 And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. (ESV)

Luke 13:14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.”

Your money or your life

holdup

I have a dilemma – my job is negatively affecting my health, but we really need the income to stay afloat as a family.

My current work is at the NZ National Poisons Centre giving phone advice to both the general public and medical professionals for acute poisoning exposures. As with all jobs, there are good and bad days, interesting parts and boring parts. Unlike many jobs, we work rostered shifts covering 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is the aspect of the work that is messing with my health.

I suffer from depression which can be severe for months at a time when I am not well. A key element in trying to stay well for any mental health illness is to maintain stable, adequate sleep habits – not easy with this job.

My training and most of my work experience is in science, a field known for crappy pay rates. The job I currently have pays better than any I have previously had and more than any position I am qualified for that I’ve seen advertised in the last year.


(an incomplete draft that I’m choosing to post as is, 14 February 2018)

Missing them

My Friday effusion of words in 5 minutes. The theme today is together, something I have both been greatly blessed with and am also missing all in a single week.

Go:

Alone at work in the middle of the night.

I don’t enjoy this. I want to be at home with my wife and three children, together in the same house, sharing our lives.

This separation is the way it has to be during this particular season. There are some benefits but the cost of separation is high. For some, perhaps, not having the family routine we had become so accustomed to would be a trivial thing. I have a good job, an adequate income, this is a great blessing.

Yet the evening routine with it’s ‘jungle hour’ when the kids become hyped-up and unruly, the wrestling of baths and pyjamas and nappies while trying to catch snippets of today’s news and tomorrow’s weather from the telly. Wanting to collapse with a cup of tea, just my lovely wife and I, but needing to do the bedtime routine first. The dishes to wash, toys to pick up yet again, stories to read for the hundredth time (does he ever tire of Thomas the Tank Engine?).

I miss these things, the mess of being a family together.

Stop