Since my brother died and everything that unfolded regarding his death, how the police dealt with it, how I had to learn about it, how he was already cremated and so many other complications, how my friends were either helpless or careless and most abandoning me early on, how relatives dealt with it, how Pret bullied me etc. etc. etc. I have become a complicated “being”. A heavy, abnormal load.
Since my brother died and everything else that happened, I have become like this bulky, unstable, loud load that really needed a vehicle to drive ahead, next to me and behind me to navigate through life and keep other vehicles on the road safe.
I didn’t have a vehicle like this to protect me and others from this load. I bumped into other vehicles, crushing them and kept crushing myself with the load. And when a vehicle came along, at best it was more like a bicycle trying to pull a truck out of the ditch. And at worst there was none to help me navigate the load, and worse, there were tanks from several sides crushing me under the load (Pret A Manger etc.).
Where I used to be the most loyal friend, reliable, trustworthy, discreet, patient, giving the benefit of the doubt, I became the opposite of these. Partly through the trauma, through alcohol, in anxiety, anger, hopelessness, not knowing who to trust. But nevertheless, it’s my load, it’s my responsibility, it’s my fault, it’s my sh!t.
(While searching for a picture of the escort vehicles for abnormal loads, I found this and love their name “P.A.L.S.” Priest Abnormal Load Services. Very fitting for my metaphor.)
I don’t mix the 3 “Fs” well. I have always kept them separate.
If I have family, I have family who are there no matter what. But that wasn’t always the case. If I have friends, they are not my family and abandon you quickly. And a firm, an employer should stop calling themselves a “family” to brainwash employees to work for free and work most of their waking hours spending time at the firm. And if someone offers me friendship, I don’t trust it thinking what do they really want.
I walked through Oxford yesterday with some people who are neither family, nor friends, nor a firm I work with.
The “leader” of the group was like a General who zigzagged us through the town to check off all the events they planned to see. One of the group was an elderly, but still young enough lady who had walking difficulties. She couldn’t keep up with the pace and had another lady walk with her most of the time. I spent most of the day trying to slow the General down and decided halfway through the day to give up and to also walk with the lady at the end of the flow.
I went home yesterday KNOWING that in society people who “slow down” a group / an agenda / an idea … are left behind. I refused to leave the lady struggling at the end of the line. My wish would be that all the group slow down their walk and walk side-by-side with the lady, instead of pushing ahead in passive-aggressiveness to cover everything they wanted to cover on the journey.
That’s my story. I used to have friends until my brother died. Then my friends and the firm I worked with (Pret A Manger to name them) deemed it inconvenient to walk with me at the back of the group.
My family was broken, and are now dead. My relatives didn’t help, rather the opposite.
And whatever else people want from me is just for their needs/wants/conveniences.
And whoever is left, or resurfaces or is new in my journey, I push away when drunk.
I have become high maintenance, where I used to be easy, where I used to be light (in load and radiance / neither heavy nor dark).
I still have so much anger and so many wrongs I wish to right, but don’t know where to start and if I can survive the load.
I sabotage myself, partly I think with the thought that why should I have a good life with good things and good people when my brother can’t have that anymore because he’s fucking dead and I couldn’t change that?
A favourite artist’s music used to carry me through difficult times when I thought those times were horrible, which now seem a far away walk in the park.
Julie Miller’s »At the End of the Road« which, like many of her songs she sings with her husband Buddy, describes the burdens of life in simple words:
In today’s climate, a cheesy song. And this song is from a Christian perspective where God is waiting at the end of life to carry you into bliss. I don’t believe in that stuff anymore, but the song is still a comfort, to at least hope, that I can be some “burden-lifter” to someone without being taken advantage of by false friends, or a firm that exploits without shame, and a family that is none as in some relatives, or a family that is no more, as in dead.
But as beautiful as the song is, and ringing “truth” to Christians who put their faith in the beyond, that at the end of a heavy life they might bump into a god who THEN helps them, I don’t need anyone at the END of my road. I needed someone DURING the journey ON my road, like the lady yesterday who couldn’t keep up with the pace of the group. Then two of us walked side-by-side with her, chatting and giving her the dignity that she is not a burden, but that we love to walk alongside her and explore the town, in the hope she forgets her painful back and legs. I think she was in a lot of pain, but put on brave face and refused to sit down inbetween. She was more thinking of the group than herself. And that’s the shame of our soiciety today.
The ones who really need some burdens lifted are the ones who lift wrong burdens in society.
And as beautiful a metaphor Julie’s song of faith is, it would have been hyporcisy to have said to the lady with her deformed legs and painful back yesterday, “Hey babe, keep walking, at the end of this road over there by the trainstation the journey will be lighter, I will be there. Until then, see ya la’er”.
And how cynical would it have been if I told the lady yesterday that her painful back will be lighter, and that she should just look down on the pavement where there are the invisible footprints of Jesus who carries her. Bye! I’ll meet you later at the train station where I will be there for you. The lady didn’t need to be met by the General and the rest of the group at the end of the road, the train station, but at the BACK of the road where she was left behind.
Or when I had Covid mildly in 2021 and I helped in a nearby cafe as a volunteer “opportunity” (free labour for a business!) and we still had to self-isolate by law, I informed the facilitator that I can’t come in for at least a week. She replied back that if I needed anything “next week” to just let them know. I told her a week later when I tested negative again, that I don’t need anything once I’m negative, but that I might have needed something THAT DAY when I started the week-long self-isolation and wasn’t allowed to go outside for shopping! In other words “call me once you’re better and I can pretend to be there for you at the end of the road.”
I hope the lady with the walking difficulty didn’t feel like a burden or that we showed pity. It wasn’t pity, although I was angry with the General and some of the group. I said to one of the group who was kind to the lady that I didn’t realize I joined the military when driving up to Oxford.
I want to re-write Julie’s text a little for the walking lady:
If you should feel tired and cold
And if you need someone to hold you, my friend
Then you should feel perfectly safe
In the middle of your road
There are we to carry your load with you to bear, we-ee are there
So when you’ve been long on your feet
With no idea when you might meet the rest of the fleet
Then onto these arms you can lean
In the middle of your road
There’s hopefully NOW a much lighter load for you to bear, we are here …
The end of the road I am moving towards, where the load becomes light, is the end we all will come to. I simply cannot see an end of a road being that my life becomes “light” again, or that I won’t have anger anymore, or that I will succeed to completely stop drinking, or that I’d be able again to trust people, or that I won’t lash out in this PTSD mode, or that I can trust that there will be someone somewhere, or that I won’t be the one in my family who dies alone in a room or a hospital or a nursing home …
And maybe I can take an offer of friendship at face value without the suspicion of anyone being an opportunist. That’s my fault to be suspicious. And it’s my fault to push people away. I’m not a risk-taker. I rather crush under my load than take the risk to hope. I have no courage anymore to lose people, to lose things.
My abnormal load has become other people’s load they can’t carry. And it is not their load to carry. It is mine. But I don’t know how to shed the load in a constructive and healthy way. And if people come along to help carry some of the load or better, to move alongside the abnormal load to help navigate through the narrow roads, I don’t allow them for fear they crush or leave me in the ditch again. I prefer to crush on my own. Self-sabotage is the load to divert the “punishment” from others to myself.
All I know to do is try to lift other people’s load a little bit. A lady who can’t walk fast and is left behind by a group who has an agenda. Let’s walk side-by-side, no matter how slow.
One of my favourite Emily Dickinson poems may be a favourite because I try to give “legitimacy” to my existence by trying to not be a burden to others, but maybe be able to lift a burden instead of being one. But that’s wishful thinking.
»If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.«
But even a bird’s feather is sometimes too heavy for me now. I have become selfish, more than I need to maybe.
I can’t apologise anymore. I can only say that I am not the friend anyone thinks I am. I am not what you need and not what you want. I am incapable in friendships and in employment. I am useless in any relationship. That’s my end of the road, and I am there myself to stop walking with my load and just leave it be.
This blog entry will be an evolving one, because there is no answer or moral to this story.
I worked at Pret A Manger and survived systemic workplace bullying during bereavement that involved HR, the top leadership, HQ and even the now “retired” former CEO Clive Schlee. I declined 4 settlement offers if I am silent about my ordeal. But I rather speak out to help others. For an overview of important blog entries of my experience with Pret, please visit “My Ordeal with Pret A Manger”. The little arrow to the right next to each heading will lead directly to the post.
An incomplete list on what other Pret staff say about Pret’s bullying environment: Caught in the Act Bullying at Pret.
I tell my story for the first time verbally in below audio player interview on a podcast by The Adam Paradox, and wrote two articles in the Scottish Left Review.
Please also see the MEDIA page for more.
Thank you for reading/listening.
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