This week at work I had to attend an in-service training that was interrupted by a possible gas leak. We had to vacate the building, a wooden 1950s structure that you can see there in my car’s rearview mirror. Our facility has its own fire truck and firefighters, so they came right away. We had to wait for about forty-five minutes in the parking lot (I sat in my car), hoping to be told that training was cancelled and to go home– but no such luck. We just had to relocate to another building.
In previous years, I didn’t mind attending these trainings because I could bring my knitting and finish a sock while the instructor talked about staff assaults and prison gangs and other really disturbing stuff that most people don’t deal with at work. This time, though, I had to leave my knitting at home. We’d been sent a memo reminding us that all cell phones, unauthorized reading material, and knitting items were not allowed in the classrooms.
I was really bummed out about this, particular since the training itself was so boring and the material could have been covered in less than two hours, not seven. I really had to practice my mindfulness skills to manage my restlessness. I missed having the ability to do something creative with my hands– to knit or crochet, or even color in a coloring book. It pained me to have to sit there and look at a PowerPoint presentation about interdisciplinary treatment planning and case summaries, theoretical orientations and case formulations– stuff I already know and implement regularly. It was a beautiful day outside and I wanted to be enjoying it, or at least be able to enjoy some knitting.
Which brings me to something that I have been struggling with, more and more each day that I go to work at the prison. On one hand, I know I do good work. I’m making a difference in people’s lives. I’m paid a hefty salary, I get holidays and vacation and sick leave, and I only go to work four days a week. On the other hand, my work environment is a prison. I’m there for ten hours a day. I interact with some decent people, but I also work with criminals. You know that toxic person who so clearly has problems and whom you’d much rather avoid? That’s my patient, and I have to sit in a room with him for an hour. There are others, with all kinds of baggage and issues and problems and complaints, and even though I’m (maybe) helping that person with my knowledge and experience and education and training, at the end of the day I’m wiped out. Multiply this by however many times that I go in to work, and the end result is not good for my own mental health.
My father and my oldest brother both died at the end of 2013, within three weeks of each other. My brother actually died on Christmas Eve. That was a really bad year for me. By the time the new year rolled around, I was ready to start over. Truthfully, what I really wanted to do was stop going to work, stay home, and grieve. But I had a mortgage and student loans, and I wasn’t in any kind of financial position to take a leave of absence. So that’s when I started looking at my options, and that’s how I got to thinking about financial independence, early retirement, and me.
So lately I have been thinking more and more about leaving my job, quitting the prison, or at least getting to early retirement. Really, I want time. I want the freedom to enjoy that time. I want to be able to wake up without an alarm clock and fill the day with exactly the things that I want to be doing. I want the time to read and write, to knit and crochet, to sew, quilt, and cross-stitch. I want the ability to go out and have experiences, or to stay home and do nothing but sit on my couch and read or even indulge in a Netflix streaming marathon. I want to make things and be creative. I want to hang out with my husband, my friends, my family. I want to keep going out to really good restaurants and eating the best meals, and I also want to stay fit and healthy and complete a couple of half marathons a year.
Sitting at that training with no knitting allowed, I was reminding myself of my 5-figure monthly salary and how nicely I was being compensated just for showing up to work that morning. Six more years to fifty, I thought, and then I can stop working altogether and collect a pension for the rest of my life.
The problem is that I don’t know if I’ll be able to wait that long.