For the past couple of weeks I’ve pretty much been continuously “on call” for my job. Basically, certain clients pay for 24/7 tech support in the event of problems so we provide it for them. The modern miracles of VOIP phone and automatic routing and so on allow us to do this so long as the employee who’s on call keeps their cellphone handy. Conscientious bastard that I am, I’ve even got my iPhone programmed to give the emergency line a unique ringtone which is very loud and impossible to ignore. Both my fiancée and I have learned to hate it, but the important thing is that it wakes me out of a sound sleep when someone has a computer crisis at 3am on a Sunday morning.
In a lot of ways this is actually less onerous than it sounds. For one thing, the list of our clients who’ve gone to the expense of 24/7 tech support is rather small — but the ones that have need their shit fixed right fucking now in any given situation and are understandably pissed if that doesn’t happen. Over and above the money issue, most of the clients on that list are health service providers so there’s a lot of pressure on us to make sure their systems work properly from a humanitarian standpoint. We do try and be proactive about potential issues so in any given week where I’m on call I get maybe one or two emergency calls. Some weeks have gone by where I’ve been on call and gotten no emergency calls. But whether or not I’m answering a call, my phone lives with me. Period. No ifs, ands or buts.
But being on call is a real source of stress for me — far out of proportion to the actual stress, really — because I have to be ready to cope with any emergency at any time. There are people who can deal with that (including at least one of my co-workers) but I have difficulty with it. My friends tease me about being tethered to my iPhone, but it’s less fun when you have to be tethered whether you want to be or not.
Anyway, this past weekend was the first time in more than a month where I got to be both at home and not on call because of various co-worker’s vacations and/or medical issues. Also, the Mother-In-Law™ was gone for a couple of days, so one might assume my weekend was a tale of debauchery and vice. Not so much: I managed to basically poison myself on Friday night (Gods damn all artificial “maple” flavouring) and spent the rest of the weekend doing housework while the fiancée and the dog worked on the garden out back. I didn’t even get a chance to start on my breastplate and kidney belt despite having most of the parts handy, although at least I was able to get my pell installed in the back yard.
That’s not to say we didn’t have a good weekend: there were many snuggles, lots of time playing with the dog, and quite a lot of important work done around the house. I also slept like the dead on Saturday and Sunday nights (Friday I spent throwing up, so less fun); generally speaking, it was the kind of relaxing weekend I’ve desperately needed for a while. I directly attribute my relaxation to putting my foot down and disconnecting my phone from the company system for the weekend. I basically drew a line and said “work is on that side, home is on this one.” Despite the best (and to be fair, well-meaning) efforts of one co-worker, I was emphatically Not Working over the weekend.
I’ll be on call again next weekend, though… and the weekend after that, it looks like. It’s nice to have a steady job which I enjoy (and, to be fair, I even enjoy the challenge of the emergency calls) but I think what I find most stressful about being on call is the way I can’t find any mental space for myself. I’m always, at least a little bit, at the office. When it’s just one week a month (which is what the on call system is supposed to be) it’s not so bad. When it’s five weeks out of seven, I find that I have trouble coping with it.
I may have to do some thinking about that and figure out a way open up some “me time” in my daily or weekly schedule, just for the sake of my mental health.