Julie Milton has left the building

It’s been three months since I was made redundant from my head of department job on a leading women’s magazine. After 16 and a half years, I left the building dazed and confused, and headed out into the cold, uncertain world of unemployment.

In one fell swoop, my financial lifeline was cut. It felt as if I was floating away, out of control, and abandoned. Before, P45 and P60 were page references in the magazine I worked on, now they were things to be dealt with, along with Jobseeker’s Allowance, National Insurance contributions and going self-employed.

Losing one’s job isn’t just about losing one’s job. It’s a bereavement. A break-up. There has been shock, grief, despair and, perhaps now, acceptance and moving on. There have been times when I couldn’t decide what to wear or what to have for breakfast, let alone what to do next with my life.

I have walked unnoticed through the streets of Brighton, past tourists with their ice creams and candyfloss, pushchairs and pedal bikes, oblivious to me and my plight. Lost in thought and wondering how an empty heart could feel so heavy, I suddenly realised I was like the Bruce Willis character in The Sixth Sense who didn’t know he was dead. The world was going on around me and I was but a ghost in its midst.

And then there were the tears. I was on the verge of crying for days. One morning, I looked in the mirror and thought my eyes looked sad. It made me cry, which didn’t help. Later, as I sat in a new hairdresser’s for a walk-in-no-appointment-necessary £9.90 cut after years of being with the same hairdresser elsewhere, I prayed the stylist wouldn’t ask me any questions, lest I started sobbing. The tears didn’t come then but, days later, in the kitchen washing up, the sobs arrived from nowhere. Leaning against the worktop, scourer in hand, I had a kitchen sink drama all of my own, witnessed only by a tea towel, two saucepans and a Nigella Lawson cookbook. All washed up and all washed up.

Three months later, I’m self-employed. I have worked part-time on a freelance basis, found some structure. But there are still days of no direction. Of lethargy. Of confusion and not knowing. It helps that the sun shines, but I’m sure there will be dark days ahead. I’ve written three poems – the Redundancy Trilogy – which encapsulate how I’ve felt and how I feel. The shock, the grief, the acceptance. Yes, coming to terms with redundancy is a job in itself.

The Redundancy Trilogy

Redundancy 1

My everyday routine snatched from around me

My financial rug pulled from beneath my feet

And where do I go

And what do I do

From here?

I stumble from day to day

Lost in myself and lost to others

Trying to keep structure

While inside I’ve just fallen apart.

On the verge of a new start?

On the verge of an adventure?

More like on the verge of tears.

Some say it’s a time to reassess

To try something different

Discover new worlds

Explore new avenues

But we’re not all resourceful

We’re not all brave

And we’re not all Christopher Columbus

 

Redundancy 2

Here I am

Coming to terms with redundancy

An animal of a woman

Licking my wounds with a razor-blade tongue

And wondering why I won’t heal.

Here I am

Crouched in a corner of my car-crash world

Knocked for six and crushed by the impact

Waiting for calm

Waiting for clarity

And for my ripped-out heart to come home

 

Redundancy 3 (Little Bird)

You have held this little bird

Gently in your cupped hands

Felt my stricken wings flutter against your palms

Listened to my tears

When I didn’t have the heart to sing

And now, months later

You open your fingers just a touch

To let in the sky

And after all the darkness

At last I can see the light

I’m not sure how high or how far I’ll get

But this little bird may be ready to fly