I was working for another Canberra-based account, and once again travel was required – which at first was exciting.
To my mild disappointment, however, it turned out that I would only going down there for one day – fly down early in the morning, spend the day working there and fly back to Sydney that night.
But that day would be one of the longest and most unsettling of my life.
Thursday, 16 March 2006.
I got up at 4:30am.
I showered and shaved, but I can’t remember if I had breakfast.
A couple of hours later, I was at Sydney Airport.
A couple of hours after that, I arrived in Canberra.
A long taxi ride followed from one side of the city to the other.
Finally I arrived at the office, and outside I called the project manager to let him know I’d arrived.
He informed me with a laugh that he’d chosen that day to work from home – but no matter, he would call one of the subject-matter experts (SMEs) I’d be working with to let me in.
Although I was a little taken aback by the project manager not being there, I told myself that that wouldn’t be a problem.
Shortly after, one of the SMEs arrived, signed me in and took me up to the office.
It was while we were enroute to the office that the trouble began.
The SME spoke to me, and although he wasn’t rude the tone in his voice – or what I perceived to be the tone in his voice – made me feel very uncomfortable.
I can’t remember his exact words, but I got the impression (or thought I did) that he didn’t want me to bother him at all that day.
I can’t remember my exact response, but I think I said something along the lines to sound reassuring that although I may ask questions from time to time, I could simply sit at a desk and work through any documentation that he and his team could give me…
…but inside, with growing alarm, I started to feel very unwelcome.
We got to the office. Because it was a government site, it was a secure location where even if I needed to just to go the toilet I’d have to somehow get someone to let me back in.
That made me feel even worse. This guy didn’t want to be bothered by me for work – so the idea of perhaps asking him or another stranger to let me back in from going to the toilet made me feel like a kid at school.
I was shown to a free desk and introduced to another SME. He was polite and helpful – but although not off-putting like his colleague, he was busy with his own work and after giving me some documents to look at I was left alone to my own devices.
Barely an hour had passed.
Although I can’t remember if I’d had breakfast that morning, I’m pretty sure that I’d brought a bottle of water with me to the office.
If I did that was very fortunate, because it wouldn’t until mid-afternoon that I finally screwed up the courage to step out of the office to go to the toilet, get some vending-machine snack items from the kitchenette just outside and get someone else to let me back in.
Up until then I’d sat quietly at my desk, gone through the documents I’d been given and begun some updated drafts. As well, I’d made a list of questions to ask about what I’d done.
But especially after how I’d been received that morning – or I thought how I’d been received – I was reluctant to approach the SMEs face-to-face, even though they were only a few metres away. So eventually, I emailed my work to them.
Soon, I overheard them looking at what I’d done and the first SME loudly saying that, no, what I’d rewritten wasn’t right.
I can’t remember if I used that opportunity to go over and ask them about correct information, or if they came over to me or called me over, but finally I was speaking to them.
Fortunately, I spent the last hour or so of my afternoon there talking with the second and kind SME, and making some useful notes that I perhaps could have and should have been making hours before.
Finally, my day in that fucking office came to an end. I politely thanked the SMEs for their time and left.
Down in the lobby there was a worrying long wait for a taxi, but eventually one came to take me back across Canberra to the airport in time.
A few hours later, I was back in Sydney.
On the way home from the airport, I got some KFC to eat when I got home. It was either the first proper meal I’d had since breakfast more than 12 hours before, or the first proper meal I’d had at all that day.
Shortly after, I got home at around 10pm.
I was exhausted and starving.
But most of all, I was angry and dumbfounded and scared.
What the fuck had that long and utterly frustrating day accomplished?
But even more what-the-fuck, had most or all of the day been my fault?
True, the project manager should have been there, and from the start the first SME had been off-putting – but could have I done a lot better? (And had I simply misread the first SME?)
Could I have been much more assertive, pro-active and most of all adult – instead of being such an utter coward and a fool?
I strongly suspected that I had been most, if not all, of the day’s problem.
The next day, I went to work still feeling terrible.
As well, though, I had an idea.
Like the morning of my first niece’s birth almost four years before when I hit rock-bottom and first thought about doing The Turning Point, I knew I had to do something again.
Fortunately, as part of my employment package I had access to a range of medical and health services including six free visits to a psychologist.
When I got to work, I looked up the details on my employer’s intranet.
I could have called that morning to set up an appointment, but I decided to give myself the weekend to think some more about it.
The following Monday, I returned to work with my mind made up.
I was uncomfortable with making the call from my desk and having someone walk past, so I booked a meeting room.
Even so, I sat in that room for about forty-five minutes staring at the ‘phone before I finally picked it up and dialed.
The receptionist who answered had a very pleasant voice.
Not only that, the psychologist’s office was only a fifteen-minute walk away.
And not only that, it was even on the way home.
I made an appointment for an afternoon later that week, and hung up.
Already, I was starting to feel better.
And full of hope.
TO BE CONTINUED