When I got my first pay-check I took a snapshot of it, so I could show it to my husband Dave. I pointed at it and his mouth fell open. I went straight and paid the electricity bill all by myself. It was so exciting to pay that bill.
It had been 14 years since I had a job.
I had had scraps of work. Recently I had a sporadic four to eight hours a week - casual work I really enjoyed. But the hours meant the pay barely covered groceries and petrol, which had been stressful and embarrassing because I haven’t been able to support myself like an adult.
I don’t even know how many jobs I have applied for - hundreds? I did sometimes get to the third interview and then they wouldn’t call me back. Ageism, lack of qualifications, or a suspicious amount of time out of the workforce? I don’t know. I tried not to dwell on it too much but I got into a zone of ‘nobody wants to hire me and it doesn’t seem to matter what I do, how I dress, what I say.
Why was it so difficult for me? I’ve had struggles, more than most. In that time I’ve raised, and loved and buried a beautiful 11 year old daughter with multiple disabilities, mostly as a single mum on carer benefits. I’ve grieved and continue to grieve that loss. I’ve had breast cancer and its treatment, pneumonia and a series of transient ischaemic attacks.
I’m surprised by the culture of this workplace. It feels kind.
Good things have happened too though - in 2011 I met and later married my one true love.
All I wanted, passionately, was for somebody to take a chance on me and hire me, despite not having worked for so long. To be a normal average person. Like everybody else. To return to my ‘before’.
This is how it happened.
In the end I got royally fed up. So last February I walked around my local shopping centre looking in all the windows for ‘hiring’ signs. Then I made up individual cover letters and resumes targeted towards the particular shops and printed them out at the library because I couldn’t afford toner at the time. I hand-delivered each resume but didn’t hear from anyone.
The big supermarket chain up the road was one of those. Every time I went in I smiled hopefully. Grinned really, like a lunatic. Then a couple of weeks ago the manager crooked her finger at me, and told me to bring in my resume again.
And now they’ve taken me on - not just casual but permanent part-time.
When they sent me the email, I was so excited. I went in and when I caught the eye of the manager, I literally jumped up and down as I went through the sliding doors. I had my first shift two weeks ago at a branch I can walk to in five minutes. No travel costs involved.
Yesterday I made more money in one day than I made in a week with my previous casual job. You have no idea what that feels like - I can’t express how grateful I am.
After that first pay I bought my first piece of clothing for six years. I have every intention of getting new underwear for my next pay. I don’t want to say how long it’s been, except the cancer bras were the newest in years and that was five years ago.
Physically, I’ve noticed the benefits of having a job. Straight away my body feels like it’s working much better
Learning the ropes was a new experience. People are so quick now because everyone’s on a time limit. But I love it. Everyone wants to help me get up to speed, the whole team. I really appreciate it. I love the pace, love talking to customers, the physicality of stacking the shelves. And I love the aspect of the job where you get to help shoppers. They come and ask you where’s this or that, and you can take them to it. The policy of the company is to be very helpful, and that’s cool.
I’m surprised by the culture of this workplace. It feels kind, like workplaces used to feel, before the ‘recession we had to have’ and it became an employer’s market. Some people have worked there for 20 years - they genuinely like it there.
Physically, I’ve noticed the benefits of having a job. Straight away my body feels like it’s working much better. I lost half a stone in the first week. I have energy when I wake up.
I’m buoyed by excitement as well - but the physical act of bending, walking, lifting, constantly being on the move, has made my body perk up.
Before my baby girl, I worked on sufferance so I could support being a singer. But she changed me: I like to be reliable, and it’s really important to me to do a good job - and that my employers think I’m doing a good job. It makes such a huge difference to my being.
In my relationship now I’m pulling my weight. It’s been a lot of stress for one person to carry. My husband doesn’t have to work seven days a week in the warehouse anymore, which he’s been doing just to make ends meet. He’s nearly 60 and he can’t sustain that. We’re seeing what the roster’s like, but it just feels like... like there’s hope.
Walking through those sliding doors several times a week at last I feel like a card carrying member of society.