From The Frying Pan … Into the Fire! 
I hit 30 in 1993, and that year saw me accept a post in Peterborough in Cambridgeshire as a General Branch manager of a huge Scottish based discount retailer. Two years previously l had been in Chertsey hospital as a self-admitted patient for my mental health. I never disclosed those problems, because back then, not too dissimilar to these days, mental health was surrounded in stigma and was classed as bad news in retail, or for that matter any industry. Also back then, it was easy enough to disguise and hide the period in my CV.
Stress in any industry was totally acceptable as ‘normal’, but anxiety and depression were taboo. In truth society hasn’t moved that much farther forward because even now still captains of industry do not wish to see or hear or even read of depressions, major anxiety issues, breakdown or any of the other hidden disorders and disabilities that are present. Recently l too have experienced disdain and disapproval for the likes of my Aspergers and only last week l was advised by a Job Centre Plus employee to not actually disclose on my CV my admittance to having either Aspergers’ Syndrome and as such autism, nor my bipolar.
When l queried this, l was informed that once l had secured a position, only then was l to openly discuss my disorders. I feel strange about this personally as l think it is a little dishonest, l prefer to work in the black and white and not piddle about with the grey. There is already way too much grey in our society and my hiding my abilities or what they class as disabilities could be seen as derogatory to my application and position within any new business.
Back in 1993, the worst l was hiding was depression, l knew not of anything else, just that for some reason as much as l ‘thrived’ in certain situations that involved huge amounts of stress, equally it was capable of flooring me, so back then, l became or started to become more aware of my limits and boundaries. Hell, ‘when push comes to shove’, l could simply mask up as l had done and had become highly skilled in the craft of doing.
The new role brought with it enormous challenge, but also tidal waves and tsunamis of overwhelming stress; physically, mentally and emotionally – l learned during that period that in fact my prowess for handling these huge issues was not as great as it had been as little as a few years back. I think that is the problem with any kind of stress that leads to anxiety and leads to a breakdown. That once you are broken, the internal integrity of who you are, always has a hair line fracture present, and that should undue pressures lean heavily on it, something gives.
Long hours, sometimes during the time of this store which l joined in October and it’s opening which was initially due to launch in November, and was now four weeks behind that date, l would work three to four days on the trot with no sleep, just to try and quicken things up. I smoked hard core, 120 cigarettes a day, l ate very little, l didn’t sleep, l only saw my apartment for a quick shower and a change of clothing. I would attend meetings and dinners and then simply go back to the store to work long into the nights and early into the next day.
I was popping Proplus like they were going out of fashion and guzzling Coke like it was water, when l wasn’t as high as a kite, l was constantly busy, training staff, trying to find quality administrations staff and managers from a pool in a city which was very poor. Looking back l can easily see that l was heading for another breakdown, l just figured that if l could ignore it and open the store then the positive stress would take over and l could fly high again.
That happened in the first week of December 1993, Christmas was three weeks away, but when our doors opened, Christmas buyers were flooding in. Our store opened up at 8am every morning for seven days a week and closed at 8pm. Twelve hours of solid trading! It was hard going, and at that point, l never slept, l was awake for most of the month, and my first real and only sleep arrived Christmas Eve of that year and l slept through all of Christmas and awoke on the 28th and had to go back to work.
In our first trading month, that store took a gross profit of just under 1.8 million pounds, our target had only been a million so all bosses were exceptionally happy, as you can imagine! The staff was dead, knackered beyond all measures, they were worn out. We were a large four floored building, with an additional two floors up and down with warehouses. The owners of the business believed in not ever having a full complement of staff on board for greater profits, and despite all the training awarded, it was never enough to cope with the sheer volume of business, so those four weeks were an unintelligible nightmare, little wonder l slept through Christmas of 1993.
Strangely enough despite all that, l had met someone, a girl, she was twelve years my junior, just going on nineteen, and we got together and became a couple, stupid really, stress l think takes away your logic at times, easy for me to say that now, but looking back, it was quite possibly one of the few biggest mistakes l had made in my life, and it was a mistake it was huge, l just didn’t know it then … but l would find out!
I spent my Christmas with her family and l never saw them, because l was asleep. I bought presents and did the ‘normal thing’ in terms of behaviour, but l was just falling asleep everywhere! At the table eating Christmas dinner, on the couch playing family board games, watching television and a couple of times on the toilet, even when she and l went out for a dinner on Christmas Eve at a fancy Greek restaurant – yep you guessed it, l fell asleep at the table there as well.
It wasn’t an ideal courting period for any couple. But we remained a couple for that year and 1994 when l foolishly got married to her! It was foolish, no two ways about it, but l was at that time also getting pressure from my parents to settle down, start a family, raise kids, buy a house, work 9-5, start doing normal shit – l know, even l at that time was struggling to define ‘normal shit’. But l thought that perhaps that is what was expected of me in my thirties, that’s what people did. She wanted that, but the truth is, she wanted a 2.2 life, she wanted to be a ‘stay at home Mother’, with a steady husband who was bringing in the bacon. She wanted, wanted, wanted all the time, she always wanted.
In the early part of January 1994, l took an injury to my knee whilst unloading a huge arctic lorry outside the store which gradually progressed into a serious long term injury to an already previously injured knee. I found myself signed off work for six weeks. When l returned, l came back to a serious problem for a manager – internal theft of a large scale. I used to work in auditory investigations so l sprang into action to try and dig deep and see what had happened.
It turned out that two of the under managers in my absence had been helping themselves to funds and after a series of gross misconduct interviews l found l had to fire 75% of my management team for theft!? In some ways l wasn’t surprised, l had never chosen my direct Assistant mangers they had been recruited for me, but still it came as a blow as it reflected badly upon me. Sadly this is life, usually there are but only a handful of people during your journey that you can trust implicitly.
Even though as a store we were running at an extremely high profit for a branch, the CEO’s wanted to reduce staffing so in the same period l was told to squash my team from a judicial 45 people down to 19? For a four floored building with two very busy storeroom warehouses that should have survived on a rota team of a minimum 31 on a Monday to Friday this was an enormous stressful blow. The previous year l had been officially notified that the store had its structured team in situ and that all staff would have permanent roles in the business in 94, so this wasn’t a good New Year promise to deliver to happy staff.
By March of that year my stresses were unusually high, l was not a happy bunny it’s that simple, however, l knew enough about retail to know the ways of higher managements and CEO’s and how greed motivated most of them, so decided to knuckle down and just look for a change in jobs. I didn’t have to wait long more bad luck to jump on board my wagon train! It arrived in the form of being dismissed for ‘Pillow talk’. I was dating, one of my office administrators, and despite everyone knowing this from the time it commenced and being awarded a blessing from my ‘then’ area manager’ [he had been fired two days previously] l was told, she had to go, or l did, it was that simple!
I told them, that they would be crazy to get rid of a quality financial administrator as she was, so they fired me! However, they fired her also, along with every single member of my remaining team in the store a month later and replaced with an old team from Corby – apparently it had all been predetermined from 1992!
I know bad luck or what? Oh yeah and l agree, the expletives from my lips were mighty colourful also! A classic set up! And so, l found myself looking for work again, which l did secure as an NVQ Retail Trainer at 30 hours a week. The ‘other half’ started working and being appreciated properly as a financial administrator in a big industry. I was glad of the change, the stress package with retail was really starting to take its toll on my mental state, and that couldn’t happen – not again, not ever!
We got married in December 1994, l tried backing out, l really did, l didn’t want to be married, l would have continued quite happily to ‘live in sin’ as friends of her family described it jokingly. I didn’t want to make an honest woman of her; l liked my women dirty l joked back! But her family were quite serious about me NOT backing out, and threatened my kneecaps with enthusiastic vigour l have to say, and as l was rather attached to them, l put it down to nerves and took the plunge.
So, l started on the path of ‘supposed normality’, quite possibly one of the biggest stresses of my new life, with my new charming lovely adorable bride!
Who knew how wrong that all was going to turn out?
What l would learn is that l should have gone with my gut and there was no such thing as defined normality! Ironically, l would learn this lesson a good many years before Aspergers was diagnosed!