I tried to change my mind about Tuesday. I did not succeed. In fact, I’ve given up trying for now. Tuesdays at work will not resemble a Thursday or a Friday until I no longer work on Wednesdays, which doesn’t look likely anytime soon. I like where I live and work and I like my routine, except for that lumpy bit at the beginning of the week.
It doesn’t seem to matter that I enjoy my work. Tuesdays remain a drag, psychically and physically.
On Wednesday the cloud lifts a little. The workload is just as solid, but I am able to recall that I am one of those very fortunate people who have an actual weekend off. By Thursday and Friday I am my usual mellow and appreciative self. My weekends are a kind of bliss, filled with things that I actually want to do. Each weekend is a holiday.
I am old enough to remember when the Boomtown Rats original version of I Don’t Like Mondays came out. The way we heard new music was different then. At that time, you were forced to engage with whatever the radio station you listened to was promoting. Our family had a record player —Dad bought it when I was about 8 — but LPs were expensive. Each record bought was a big commitment. The radio broadened your tastes, exposing you to new music (or old, but new to you). Whatever your radio station played was what you came to know. It’s one of the reasons people my age sing all the words, even to songs they never, ever liked.
I can remember being momentarily disappointed that the song I Don’t Like Mondays was about a high school massacre. I wondered what a Telex machine was and tried to figure out why Bob Geldoff was sarcastic about the new technology. As you can tell, I listened carefully and thought deeply about song lyrics. The reason I was disappointed was that I was hoping for a song about just not liking Mondays. When you’re a junior high school student — with a double maths period first thing on Monday morning — Mondays are not easy to love.
The other thing my Monday to Friday routine evokes, just like high school, is the Sunday night heebee jeebees. Early Sunday evenings can be so mellow, with colourful nature documentaries on the telly and a good feeling in your body of caught up rest and a little fun and exercise. I guess it’s about 9pm on Sunday evening that the shadow of Monday begins to loom. As I said, I like my job. I liked school too, mostly. I really feel for those that don’t.
I’ve been working at my current job for a year and a half. When I started, it was the first job I’d had for a few years that was 8.30-5.30, five days a week. Having weekends and evenings off was a compelling reason to take the job. It’s a delicious luxury for a country doctor. I almost don’t wanna talk about it in case I get busted for it, somehow. The fact that I like the people I work and live with and love the country around here was also compelling.
I am fascinated to watch this weekly rhythm in attitude in myself. It must have become ingrained in school, I think. For decades I worked different hours: shift work, after-hours on call, several different part time jobs. And still, put me in a five-day work week and here I am, exhausted every Monday night and grumpy every Tuesday morning. I know it’s all Maya — I’ve been reading Hermann Hesse — but there I am, falling for it every Tuesday.
Most of my patients are on a very different kind of roster. Among the residents in our town, as I understand it, some work 11 days on, then two or three days off. Quite a few see me when they have worked, say, 13 days straight and will tell me they have a single day off coming up in, say, 5 days. I’ve looked after one or two people recently who worked thirty days (or more) straight. And then wonder why they get sick.
It’s not the bosses doing it to these people either, usually. Not directly, at least. Most of the people I see who work too many hours choose to do so. They have the attitude that they are living remotely to make money. It was their only reason for coming, they tell me, their only reason to be here. And then they are surprised to be having a mental or physical breakdown.
I saw quite a lot of this when I worked in mining towns. Clients who worked everyday for thirty or forty days and then came to the hospital because they’d chopped off a digit or torn a muscle in their back that leaves them lying on their back like a beetle, Kafka-style. Or fallen off a truck and done both. Or they couldn’t talk because they couldn’t stop crying and didn’t know why. Perhaps the vibration of the machinery they operate or the truck they drive has inflamed the tendons in their arms so that they can’t button up their clothing or cut up their food.
Working all day and half the night every day is a road to turning yourself into a blathering, bleeding mess. I see it every day. Except, thanks to all those doctors who crashed and burned before me, on the weekends.
If you are too young to remember radio, you may not have experienced weekends either, at least since your were a kid. It’s a quaint old-fashioned concept, two days off for maintenance, repair and recreation. It was the eight-hour day campaign of the late 1800’s and early last century that campaigned with the slogan “Eight hours work, eight hours rest, eight hours play” inscribed on their banners. People marched in the streets for that, fought on picket lines and lost their houses during strikes for that dream.
I ask my patients not to give that dream away. Push for a wage that supports you and your dreams without having to work three jobs. You can do that by asserting your entitlement to a living wage (along with your colleagues) and also by becoming more entitled, by educating yourself.
I don’t do anything “just for the money”. Let there be another another reason, every time. You might be researching for the novel or doco you want to write. You might be wanting to stay somewhere that there’s a chance to spend time with that special person you’ve got your eye on. It might be that you’re exploring the beauty of the landscape and the cultures of the local Indigenous people. Maybe you are accumulating wisdom, gaining insight into the ways of the world, including the ways most people live. These are all good reasons to be in a place. If it’s an awful experience, perhaps you have been there to bear witness to environmental destruction or the degradation of your fellow workers — in which case you need to stay healthy enough in body and soul and move on to be that witness.
Budgeting Decisions over Time and Money. Thumbnail pic by Alejandro Escamilla