I learned from the best.
My first job out of college was working for a local bank. I know that’s nothing exceptional, and to the outsider, I must have seemed like a regular person, someone just trying to get some real world experience for potential jobs down the road. In so many ways, I was a regular person, aside from the fact that when I started, I knew I was going to lose someone important to me. The process had already started. I didn’t know how long I’d be working there, if the situation would call me home, or if I’d get to stay for a while.
My situation may have been uncertain, but there was one thing working in my favor. The job allowed me some flexibility with my schedule. A few months into working there, I started getting Thursdays off, and I made the most of this break. I was able to see my therapist in the middle of the day. My therapist was someone I’d seen before, someone I trusted, and now I had some real things to talk about. Now that I’m employed full-time, I know how much of a challenge it can be to find time to see someone, especially when you truly need it.
I continued to work at this bank, knowing full well that sometime soon, the loss was going to occur. There was nothing I could do about it, and yet, I kept it to myself. My boss was a good friend of mine, and he knew what was going on, but he left it up to me whether or not I wanted to tell the people I worked with. At first, there wasn’t much of a concern. I think I was told I’d only be there for two months. The way I saw it, I’d already be long gone before I got close to anyone.
January and February came and went, and the longer I worked there, the more I got to know the people around me. I learned about their lives, their kids, their stories. The more I learned, the more I realized that I was keeping a big secret from them. I’m not sure I was all that torn up about it at the time, and coworker dynamics can be tricky, but I now realize that it was a conscientious decision not to tell anyone what was going on in my personal life. I’m not sure they even knew I was dating someone. I was always willing to discuss other people’s lives, willing to listen, but I kept it tight-lipped with regards to my own.
I elected not to discuss my situation. Part of me didn’t want to saddle people with unnecessary baggage. It’s that guilt I’ve written about before, of not wanting to devastate people, of not wanting to witness the emotions that make me so uneasy. I don’t want to believe I have the power to bring anyone to tears, so when it does happen, I admit that I can’t handle it. I didn’t want to upset anyone, and I didn’t want people asking about my home life. Selfishly, I chose not to disclose, and I saved those conversations for my family and my therapist.
Accounting wasn’t what I wanted to do the rest of my life, but the bank provided an escape, and a much needed one at that. For eight hours a day plus a 30-minute drive to and from the office, I was able to focus my thoughts elsewhere. I was able to walk into a place and check my baggage at the door, be someone else, and function as part of a work family. I made friends, learned a lot about people and their community, and I was able to take a break from the things happening at home. I was grateful for the reprieve. I was grateful that I could just be a person working at a bank.
After about nine months, that’s when the situation turned. I had to leave, and I had to do it faster than I intended. I remember walking around to each person and saying a separate goodbye. Some offered advice, some were absolutely stoic, but two of the people I told were not ready. No one is ever ready. The tears began to flow. I was finally letting my secret out, and if felt like I was revealing the end of a terrible magic trick. It was uncomfortable, the feelings, but it was real. I had forged some truly wonderful relationships in the time I was there, and they never held it against me that I was keeping something so huge, so significant, from them. I love them for that.
I am the product of my upbringing. My Dad was an extremely private person. I don’t think he ever got the point of social media, and he never understood why it was so popular. He didn’t like broadcasting his life, and even on the bigger issues, he preferred not to tell anyone anything until he absolutely had to, until it was almost an act of coercion. He was Midwestern, and he was also unflappable. I took my cues from him in my younger years. I tried to pretend for much of my high school career that I didn’t have feelings, and I even tried to do it for part of my college career. I tried to stay numb, but the situation at home had forced me to confront what I’d ignored for so long.
I’ve heard that we should keep work professional, that our personal lives should stay out of it. It’s one thing to say it, and another thing to do it. Sometimes, situations and circumstances are just too much to keep inside, and you can’t stop them from spilling over into other areas of your life. Sometimes, you just need to talk because you’re afraid that the build-up and the resulting explosion will be more than you can handle. The pressure will build until it can no longer be contained, so it behooves you to let some out when you can.
People have different approaches to how they handle personal matters. Some are able to hold it in, and others simply can’t. There’s no right or wrong approach, it just depends on who you are. I learned from the best to compartmentalize, to switch gears depending on the situation, but it doesn’t always work that way. I looked to the bank to be my escape during that difficult time, and it served that purpose well. It’s nice to have a distraction, something that can pull our focus away, if only for a shift. It helps us to keep our grasp on reality, and when the situation presents itself, we’re able to open up, but only when we’re ready. We can’t hold it in forever. Thanks for reading.
One thought on “Compartmentalize”
It sounds like you have feelings and are leaning more into them. Said smilingly, enjoy the associated growth.