I'm a workaholic and it is a strange disease - only my family and friends suffer the consequences
By Lynsey Thomas*
Like many people I struggle to get the work-life balance right. I am probably what you would call a workaholic; I take extreme pride in my work, often to the detriment of relationships, friendships and family.
When you are in love with your job it is (I imagine) much like having a mistress. You sidle out the room quietly to check your laptop on a Saturday afternoon. Occasions such as Christmas, new year, weddings, anniversaries and birthdays call for BlackBerry communication from the peaceful escape of the toilet. Admit it: most of us have done it at some point.
Earlier this year I had an operation and soon after being discharged from hospital, while still under the fug of general anaesthetic, I was caught by my mother on the phone to a colleague beneath my quilt. Needless to say, words were exchanged and I returned to my teenage self, handing over the offending item to my angry mum.
Believe me, I am certainly not advocating this way of life. One is well aware that one has a problem, but for me work is like a drug; it keeps my blood pumping and leaves me wanting more. And although I fully understand - and am constantly reminded by others - that my company doesn't care about me personally and business would still continue were I to drop dead tomorrow, I still find it hard to calm it down.
The right balance of good colleagues, a pleasant environment and a reasonable salary, combined with a job that hits the spot, can be career magic for anyone. But for workaholics, it is something that surpasses this: a love of work so pure that it can carry people through terrible jobs with crappy pay and appalling managers. So instinctive is their drive that it can only be accounted for by genetics. I recall being the most over-zealous GCSE student there ever was. I had timetables, notes, condensed notes, tapes, diagrams above my bed, oh la la I was crazed. No teenage heart-throbs or Five Star singles for me - just a pure, unadulterated love for studying.
One of the downfalls of having this kind of work ethic - aside from having no personal life, premature wrinkles and high blood pressure - is a rather annoying habit of "peaking" too soon. Given any new challenge, we workaholics will be off like a rocket. Where do we start? What can we do? How shall we do it? Such levels of enthusiasm and commitment are rarely sustainable, and I know there is a need for a back-up plan for the inevitable day when I have a nervous breakdown.
Being a homeworker makes it worse. There is no distancing yourself from work; you wear the same clothes, you stay in the same venue and there is no "finishing the day" ceremony that triggers the mind to relax. For me, it always used to be taking off my socks and I sometimes wonder whether this would still work. Because we cannot differentiate between work and home, we often make the mistake of thinking our partners actually want to discuss work with us; I talk incessantly at my poor husband about things he has no interest in. He repeatedly tells me has no interest, but somehow I always forget.
I remember showing my mum a report I had prepared for the office and wondering why she did not want to discuss it with me - until, that is, she pointed out that she hadn't understood a word I had said to her since I was in primary school.
It is commonly known among my friends and family that the only way to get me to calm down is to ply me with alcohol. Unfortunately I do not take too well to alcohol, so usually only manage to sustain this relaxed state for two to three hours before falling asleep. In short, I work, I drink, I sleep; it's a wonder anyone loves me.
*This article appeared in the Guardian on Saturday May 24 2008 on p2 of the Work section. It was last updated at 00:03 on May 24 2008.