Lives Of Quiet Desperation


My name is Tinman, and I am an accountant.

Since there is no such organisation as Accountants Anonymous it’s unlikely I’ll ever have to sit in front of a sympathetic, gently nodding group of people and say those words, but if such a body is ever formed then I will probably be its first President, since I’ve been Anonymous about it my whole life.

I never wanted to be one, I don’t believe that I think like one and, although it’s not drug-dealing or gun-running, I am oddly ashamed to be one.

When I was seventeen, in the summer when I finished school and was awaiting the start of university, I got a summer job in an Accountancy Firm. The people were great, I’d have loved it anyway because it was my first job, and when my Leaving Cert results came out (I got a B in Accounts, though I’d never really bothered studying for it) I found myself doing Commerce instead of English and starting down the road to a life most ordinary.

The odd thing is that, after a couple of jobs, I ended up running my own accountancy business, and ran it very successfully for nineteen years, though when people asked me what I did I’d tell them I ran a book-keeping firm.

I can’t deny that I got a great buzz out of it sometimes, though mostly the buzz was from running the business itself, working out schedules that would enable me to get to each of my thirty-odd clients during the twenty-one or so working days of an average month. And as thirty clients became forty the schedule increasingly involved working Saturday, then expanded to working Sundays as well.

And in February 2001 it all fell apart.

It had begun a couple of months earlier, with a continuous ball of vague dread in the pit of my stomach, but on the day after Valentine’s Day I woke up shaking, and wasn’t able to face going in to work. I took some time off (though I had weekly wages to do for two factories, who would fax (sorry, younger readers, you’ll have to look that word up) their hours to me each week and I would fax back the payslips for each employee, and I did these during my break period by going into my office at night, so I wouldn’t have to face the phone ringing while I was there).

I should have given it up then, I was still young enough to train for something else, but I’d a very young family, the business and therefore the income was there, and so I shed some of my workload and kept going.

Then a client that I took on in 2002, originally just to do their payroll, gradually grew and grew, along with my involvement with them. They eventually asked would I join them full-time, so I closed my business and in January 2006 I came to work where I am now (just nine months later I had the first of the 17 blackouts that would eventually lead to me getting my pacemaker, so I was unable to drive during all of this time and my business would have fallen apart, so just because I’m doing something I don’t like doesn’t mean I haven’t been lucky sometimes while doing it).

I’ve been the accountant here ever since. When people ask what I do I tell them I work in the Accounts Department of a Software Company, trying to give the impression that I’m the person who sticks the stamps on the bills we send out.

On balance it’s been good. The work I did was important to the company, as our gradually increasing monthly profit meant that we could plan more expansion, seek new clients and create more jobs.

But now we’re very big, making a healthy profit every month, and whether that profit is up or down by a couple of thousand doesn’t really matter very much. Certainly not to me.

I don’t save the world. I don’t save a patient’s leg. I don’t even save penalties as a professional goalkeeper, though that may be because I’m only five foot five. A counsellor told me that our fifties is when many of look back at our working life, and wonder have we spent it doing anything meaningful. I look back at mine (and here I do mean just the working part, and not any of the rest of it, which has been pretty great), and am depressed at the sheer waste of time that it has been.

So the ball of dread is back. On the last few Sunday evenings I’ve felt physically ill at the thought that another five days of unimportant, meaningless work is in front of me.

Then yesterday I didn’t go in. Today either. 2001 is back.

My manager, my Division Head and I have been working at work (wait, this sentence isn’t over, otherwise it’s the ultimate in tautology) to create a new job for me, one that will let me do the parts of my job that do I think matter, such as the payroll, while someone new does, well, the accountancy. I am grateful to them for this, it shows that they value me, otherwise they would simply have let me leave, but this is obviously going to take a while, not least because they’ll have to persuade others that my invented-out-of-nowhere job will actually be of value to the company.

It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, but in the meantime I’ll just have to struggle along. I will go in tomorrow, because staying out any longer will ultimately make me feel worse, and I will win the battle, because I’ve won it before.

A friend I’ve told about it suggests that it might be a mid-life crisis. If it is I’ll certainly feel happier about the whole thing.

It would mean I’ll live to be a hundred-and-twelve.

15 thoughts on “Lives Of Quiet Desperation

  1. Karen Dalton

    Oh Alan, being one of your clients years and years ago and being oblivious to your suffering at the time, I can only wish you well.k

  2. speccy

    Tinman, you do know there’s going to be a stampede of lovely ladies and gents from all over the place knocking each other aside to do hugs with you. If only virtual hugs were made of magic…
    But you know how much you are loved and valued. We’re here for you always. Even when you’re 112.

  3. Jo

    I’ve no I’ve no career advice, god knows, even though I’ve lots of experience feeling helpless and useless. It’s great they want to work around it with you, a lovely sign and good people. Just remember, if you’d done English in college, there’s every chance you’d have been working a part time job for most of your life and not be able to support your family…. that’s not so meaningful either.

  4. sherihaskins

    112 Wow! I can only hope that is my issue as well. I will be right there behind you : ) Sorry to hear that you are dealing with this. Seems as though you are greatly appreciated, though. Hope that you are in much better spirits very soon.

  5. prenin

    I worry about you my friend and it sounds like the pressure is getting to you, but please try not to over-do things – You are more important than you know! 🙂

    God Bless my friend and take good care of yourself! 🙂



    I think an awful lot of us get (or in my case got) depressed about being one of the Marthas of this world – ie the essential but unspectacular cogs in the machine. You are also exceptional in the interest and entertainment you provide for your followers: don’t knock it, that’s REALLY important work. And so is the way you love and look after your family.

  7. westseventhfreelance

    Hello from Minnesota… I am sending you a huge hug. Becoming depressed is such a tough nut. I feel like my life is made up of pieces of it- more of the low than high, alas. There is little that can be said to ease it, when one is in the depths of it. But, despite our chosen work, or that work into which we’ve fallen, we still contribute in different ways- writing, taking photos, sharing parts of ourselves- as you have here- I think seeking and curiosity is a good thing and I appreciate your post very much…

  8. Tinman Post author

    Sincere, honest, grateful thanks to all of you, you’ve always been here supporting me when I go through phases like this, and I hope all of you realise just how much it helps me.
    Tin x

    1. Tinman Post author

      It does seem mad, Maria, it’s a perfectly respectable job, but people do, unfortunately, form an opinion of you based on what you work at, and if you feel that what you work at is really not you then you become reluctant to own up to it, and in the end you actually try to hide it.

  9. A Frend

    When I graduated with a degree in English, I had no idea what I wanted to do. The only inspiration that came to me was to be an accountant, because it seemed to me that it was a way to make people’s lives better. Not in an ambitious, world changing way, just to be the person they relied on to sort their lives out. Sadly while I was hanging around, reading about double-entry bookkeeping (honestly), I stumbled into another career, where I have been stuck ever since. But part of me still thinks it would have been good to be an accountant.

  10. Janie Jones

    Depression is a cruel mistress, one who often is capricious and unfathomable. Many people suffer quietly as you do, I know I do too, for my own reasons, and sometimes it feels like for no reason at all. That is why I blog. And, for what it is worth I have realized that what one “does for a living” is only important in that it allows to you to have the financial resources to to what really matters. Sure, some of us are lucky enough to be passionate about our work, and to have jobs that seem indisputably impressive and important. But does it follow that these people are more satisfied with what really matters? Do they have scores of blog followers that are cheered daily by their wit, comedy and quiet genius? Do they have children to be button-bursting proud of? Do they have a truly comfortable marriage? Who will really morn them when they pass? Are their lives any better for their professional significance?

    It doesn’t help when you’re depressed to have people remind you of your blessings, I know, because when you get right down to it, I have many myself and at times it feels like they do precious little to buoy my flagging spirit. But, eventually I remember who counts on me and somehow, knowing that there are the small things waiting for me and the simple folk who share this world with me cheering me on, well, eventually I realize that the frustration of feeling like my life has been wasted seems a little less poignant.

    I am sorry accountancy has let you down. But it has given you the means to raise a beautiful family, and your pain and struggles have made you the man all your blog followers and other friends and family love, respect and cherish. Who would you be if life had taken you down some other road? We may never know, but I say the world is a better place because of the Tinman you are.

    And, I am sorry I’ve been so wrapped up in myself it’s taken me almost a month to find this post and send you my support and best wishes. Hugs and best wishes.


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