I am glad we have a social safety net for those that are not able to work.
My first job when I was 15, serving at a fast food place! Then at 16 I worked in the evening feeding old people at a nursing home. To me even though work was often a grind, work was a way to freedom. I grew up with nothing, and had no financial support from my family from 16 onward. My first pay was so exciting, I still remember that I bought a dictionary and a pair of brogues!
As I didn't really have any emotional or financial support from actual family, work became like my family. When I resigned from work, I had some clients I had been seeing for 10 years, so you get to know them quite well too. My favourite workplace was a small accounting firm that had mostly italian small business clients, and I was the only non-italian who worked there. They were so welcoming and supportive and lovely, and great food at functions too! Unfortunately the business owner died, so it was taken over by another firm.
Work can also be incredibly destructive when it is not the right place or people for you. I had one absolutely disgusting manager for a time, and I dreaded going to work each day, but I found a way to move on. So many people suffered from her (and she is still there), she would be sweet as pie in front of the partners, and then threatening and rude to her team.
I think it is important to have purpose in your life for your MH. Employment can give some people that purpose, but that is not the only thing. Volunteering, personal projects, raising children, studying or whatever. Mark, you seem to find that sense of purpose through caring for your kids, gardening and making jam, which are all positive things to be investing your time in to.
Sleepy, do you like your present work? Have you thought about what you actually need from a job, to make it a positive thing for you. You mentioned maybe social work would be a good fit, have you thought further on this?
I am scared about having to look for work after having a break, as I am over 40 now and they say it is harder for older people to find work.