Tag Archives: work

My Aunt Louise

Aunt Louise is the oldest of four sisters.  In her day, she was very beautiful with a beaming smile.  She was also quite awkward in many ways.  As an example, when she graduated high school, her fiance still had a year to go, so she kept going to school and audited classes so she’d have something to do while she waited for him to graduate.  She didn’t feel free and excited and have all these girlfriends to do things with.  She waited for her fiance to graduate high school.

The following year, they did indeed get married.

In the wedding photo she looks quite happy.  He looks kind of bashful.  The article in the paper is typical for 1949 with descriptions of what everyone wore and the several bridal showers she was given, including one given by the office girls of the place she worked.

Her life afterwards turned out to be very, very difficult and sad:  dysfunctional marriage, death of a three-year-old daughter, poverty, divorce, more poverty, then a good husband who died years ago, abusive relationship in her later years, and finally death of another daughter from brain cancer.

I would read the wedding article sometimes and wonder where it all went wrong….

Aunt Louise is due to turn 90 this coming January and my mother recently remarked that she has been quite talkative the last few times they were together.  Louise has said surprising things such as:  the reason she never worked after getting married was because not one person had liked her at the job she had.  She knew it the very first day she walked in the door.  They hated her at first sight.

How strange.  I wouldn’t have guessed that she was hated at her job.  According to her wedding announcement she had worked there for two years and “the office girls” had even given her a wedding shower.

I had always thought she had two lives.  The one before marriage and the one afterwards.  Instead, those “two lives” were part of a familiar pattern.

Her life turned out like all the other women’s lives in this family.  A beginning seemingly full of promise and light, beauty and hope.  Smart, sensitive, active girls who end up as victims on some level wondering where it all went wrong.

I suspect the clues to the future were right there all along.  We just missed them in the quest to do the right thing, please the people around us, be good girls, and basically give away our power until there was no more to give.

There are more women’s stories in my family and I hope I can do them justice.

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Filed under anxiety, decisions, depression, dysfunction, emotional health, enemies, family, first impressions, getting along, grief, history, human nature, journey, love, opinion, social phobia, Uncategorized, wellness, work

Out to Lunch

Today I took myself out to lunch at our local Wendy’s.  It has been three and a half years since the last time I ate there.

Wendy’s was the nearest place for lunch when I was still working at the Terrible Job.  Back then, I went there most days for lunch.  The last few weeks before I quit, I’d sit at my table furiously eating my spicy chicken sandwich and fries and looking at Facebook on my phone.  I mean that I was actually furious.  By the time my lunch break happened, I would have already had a lousy day and it would have been about six hours since last eating anything.  As hungry as I was, I never finished my meal either.  It was during the time period that I was restricting my food intake–sort of an act of aggression but directed at myself.  I’d eat about half my food and then angrily throw away the rest of it and drag myself back to work.

Yes, I was quite a mental mess by then.

Since today is Sunday, I knew I would not run into any former customers or former co-workers.  It would be safe for me to eat there.

Growing up I was of the mindset that I had to go where I likely would be treated badly.  I didn’t really have a policy of avoiding troublesome people.  Well, often enough there was no other option.  I was a kid, I had to go to school.  Going to school involved walking on public streets.  I was just a kid.  What else was I going to do?

Some unhappy kids skipped school, did drugs, got into fights.  Those did not seem like good options for me.

As an adult, I kept up that habit of staying in bad situations.  Often I volunteered for such.  Then came the day when I was at the end of my rope and I decided to go home from the Terrible Job.  I promised myself I would no longer do things that were sure to end in trouble or unhappiness for me.  No longer do I tolerate toxic people or situations.  Sure, it limits where I can go at certain times of the day in this small, crappy town.  But this is my little gift to myself.  I no longer participate in my own victimization.

Today it is Sunday.  I can go to Wendy’s if I want.

I ordered my spicy chicken and fries.  I ate until I was full.  I people-watched.  It felt so normal and safe.  It felt like taking back a little bit of my life, but on my terms.  No self-judgment or self-criticism.  Nobody prying into my personal life.  No having to explain anything to anyone.

It’s really hard to basically start life all over again but not moving away to do it.  Old habits and old distractions and old dangers are everywhere.  I am new, or at least I want to be, and I am surrounded by old.  It has been a very good exercise in letting go and learning how to be detached in a healthy way.

I can do this thing.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under anxiety, boundaries, bullies, decisions, depression, emotional health, enemies, getting along, growth, healing, human nature, peer pressure, progress, PTSD, self-care, self-respect, social phobia, Uncategorized, work

Blast From the Past

I was Halloween shopping at Wal-Mart last week when I heard a familiar voice call to me.  I turned around to find an elderly man sitting in one of those motorized scooters and, though the voice was familiar, his appearance threw me for a loop.

It was Doug!  He had been a contractor at my old place of employment and back then, he had been a very large and very intimidating man.  From the very first day I had to deal with him I was very uncomfortable.  He came into our office every single morning and every single evening to do his job.  He was foul-mouthed, bossy, angry and left a mess for us to clean up every single time.  Nobody liked working with him.

However some employees knew him outside of work.  They didn’t have to work with him like I did.  He was a gentleman around them and they clearly liked him and would stop to chat him up when they saw him.  They knew him from church.

That was so odd to me as I found not one thing to like or appreciate about the man.  My only experience of him was as a sexist bully.

Eventually he was fired when he pissed-off someone who mattered more than those of us who had been complaining about him for a couple years.

So in that moment at Wal-Mart, I had to make a decision.  Should I be short with him and try to get away like I would have had to back in the day?  Nope.  He has no power over me any more.  So my decision was to talk with him as if the way he is now was the way he had always been.  It was still an odd conversation.

When he talked about how surprised “we” had been when I quit my job, I wondered how he could possibly know about that since he had been fired and no longer worked there before I left.  When he said I was missed, again I wondered how he could possibly have known that.  He was speaking about my quitting the same way people who really had liked me have spoken to me about it.  The truest and most tactful thing I could say in that moment was that I missed a couple people there but not too many of them.

It was an odd encounter but it made me realize some things.  For one thing, I guess that he has both of those people inside of him–the miserable, selfish, and aggressive person I was stuck working with and the polite, friendly, interested church-goer who is capable of making a positive impression on someone when it suits his purposes.  I wouldn’t have thought something like that was possible!

For another thing, I don’t have to be affected by either of those versions of Doug.  I don’t have to waste valuable energy trying to figure this person out.  I don’t have to like him.  I don’t have to approve or disapprove him.  He’s got his place in this world and I have mine.  I don’t have to be affected because I have boundaries now that I didn’t have back then.  Boundaries are so very important!!!

The last thing I realized is that I have been very powerless throughout most of my life.  Many people have taken advantage of me in order to benefit their own situation or at least make their lives easier.  Those people tend to become my enemies.  Casting people in the role of enemy has often been my only recourse–a boundary of sorts.

As I heal and gain power within myself, I am also gaining skills and that may help me to repel the people and behaviors that would take advantage of me.  Only time will tell but right now it’s looking pretty good.

 

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My Sub-conscious, She So Smart

The Terrible Job came up in conversation yesterday.  I handled it.  Pulse good, breathing steady, visualizations under control, rest of day like an average day in the life of someone recovering from clinical depression.

Then  this morning I woke up from a dream in which I tried like crazy to get a job back there at the Terrible Place.

It was going to be different this time.  A retiree who had been a friend and a former co-worker who had become an enemy both came up to me and said the new boss would re-hire me and give me anything I wanted.  I guess they were desperate for my magical skills or something.

The retiree said he would be there because he would also come back to work, and he was already wearing his uniform.

I was right in the middle of crashing a graduate-level photography class.  I was in over my head anyway knowledge- and skills-wise.  I thought, might as well get my old job back, making a living in the arts isn’t working out.

So I started racing around looking for “Bob”, the guy who wanted to re-hire me.

I kept trying to tell people, I don’t know if this will work.  I might have to pay back all the retirement money they refunded me.  I was mentally calculating what my paychecks would look like with all the deductions.  For example, I’d need new uniforms since I threw out all my old ones.

Bob kept being unavailable.  I could see him but he kept having to leave for meetings and such.  But I knew it would be okay because he wanted to hire me back.  He was a different boss from the old one.  He understood what I offered.  He must have since he was willing to give me anything I wanted.

What I wanted was to work in an easier office that wouldn’t leave me bone-tired by the end of each day.  That wouldn’t overwhelm me with responsibility.  That wouldn’t constantly change the Standard Operating Procedures simply for the sake of change or for the sake of someone else’s big, fat, stupid ego.  I knew exactly which office I wanted and since nobody else really wanted it, it would be perfect.

I never did connect with Bob.  The whole plan slipped through my fingers even though I had a couple allies and every reason to think the scheme would work out.

Ha!  How funny is that?  In real life none of this is possible.  No one wants to hire me back.  Certainly not on my own terms!  That one is extra funny.

And no matter how many times I turn it over in my mind, there was no saving the situation when I still worked there.  The wrong people were in charge then.  There were no allies at that time.  And I was completely drained of anything that a person needs in order to be successfully employed, let alone have a career on my own terms.

It is really over with and it hurts quite a lot.

It has been over three years now since I left the Terrible Job.  I’m still on the mend.  I am still not capable of employment.  The financial repercussions are huge and unlikely to go away.  The emotional repercussions are the hardest part of all of it.

It’s really very hard to accept this.  But I have to in order to be healthy and move on.

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Filed under depression, dreams, friends, grief, healing, honesty, human nature, injustice, Uncategorized, work

The Slow Climb

One of my friends posted a job listing on Facebook so I clicked on it out of curiosity.  I had been led to believe that this particular job (with the state) was political and that in this part of the state you need to be a Republican in order to be hired.

I am not a Republican so I always figured that particular job was “out of the question” for me.  I clicked on the link just so I could see if there was a way to tell from the application that you have to be a Republican.  There isn’t anything obviously political about it.  I’m sure they have their ways, though, if they want it to be political.

The application was fairly short.  They mainly want the last five years of job history plus whatever other jobs you have had that would qualify you to work there.  And… have you EVER been fired OR quit a job before you could be fired.

I was fired once when I was 20.  It was quite traumatic at the time.  It was also traumatic having to explain it on subsequent job applications.  I still got the jobs, though.  I even received unemployment benefits after the firing because their investigation showed that my firing was unjust.

That was thirty-four years ago!!  I don’t think about it very much any more.  Maybe if I was “normal”, I wouldn’t have thought about it in years and years and might have even forgotten the whole episode.

Some people would probably chide me for being unhappy about not being normal.  But that has been what I have consistently wanted my whole life!

It’s hard not fitting in.  It’s hard having to invent yourself and your routine… every single hour of every single day.  It’s very hard to attract odd kinds of attention from strangers.  I just don’t think “normal” is all that bad.

I’m not going to fill out the application at this time.  I’m obviously still “triggerable” which means I’m still not out of the depression/anxiety/PTSD woods yet.  I can still picture myself at that job I was fired from.  Still know the names of the people involved.  Still can see the events of the day like it is happening right now.

There is something different, though.  Now I can see how I got into that situation.  I can recognize that a healthy me would not have even worked there to begin with.  A healthy me would not have worked at my last job to begin with either!

The difference now is that I can recognize what a healthy me would be.  That’s a big deal!  It is hard-won knowledge.  It is measurable progress.  I don’t know what it will get me at this stage of the game.  But I’ll take this seemingly small gain.  It actually gives me something to work with.  It might be the difference between “forward” and “stuck”.

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Anorexia Lite!

A couple weeks ago, we went to see Oscar Shorts at the theater. This particular showing included two serious documentaries. One was about the VA’s only suicide hotline in the entire country and the other one was a Polish film with English sub-titles about a family and the mother who was dying of cancer.

They were both well-done but the Polish one was very artistic and made more of an impression on me.

It was very intimate. The dying mother was trying to cram a lifetime of mothering into about three months. Her son was only about 7 or 8. She treated him as an equal. They had some very adult conversations that actually made me uncomfortable. But these conversations were very, very honest and I imagine the little boy will treasure them always.

The other thing about this film that still intrigues me was my reaction to how thin the dying mother was. She might have always been a slim woman, but her illness took away any extra weight she might have once carried around. She always wore a large, light-weight scarf around her shoulders and layers of clothes that kind of hung on her frame. I saw that and kept thinking, I want to be that thin.

I was that thin a couple years ago when I quit the terrible job.

It started in the usual way for me. Stress often gives me an upset stomach. When I have prolonged periods of stress, my stomach always feels bad and my first thought is always, must be I’m eating too much dairy or too much fat or too much sugar.

I never think, oh, there is too much stress in my life and I should make changes in the stressful areas.

Instead, I will cut out most dairy first. If that doesn’t soothe my belly, I will cut food portions in half. The last thing I would cut out is sweets because I love them so much. But I have done that, too.

Something along those lines happened to me when we were first starting out as very young adults with an infant. Part of the eating problem then was lack of funds to buy food with. I weighed 85 pounds during the worst of that. It felt like I was disappearing but it didn’t scare me. I liked that feeling.

It happened again several years later when I took a prescription that messed up my stomach for real. I probably got down to 95 pounds that time.

The next time it happened was when I had a job I loved but my boss turned out to be a narcissist. That time I can now recognize as anorexia lite. At the time I still thought it was a stomach thing rather than a stress thing. In hindsight, it was the stress. I probably got down to between 100 and 105.

The final time began in December 2012. I was still at the terrible job and everything wrong in that place pretty much came to a head that December. There was not one moment at work that month which felt right or satisfying or even hopeful. There was not one thing to look forward to and zero Christmas spirit on top of it all.

My hours had slowly turned into overtime every single day and no breaks. My hour and half for lunch turned into half an hour. And I didn’t get to leave for lunch until I had been at work, and working non-stop, for almost six hours. By that time I was beyond pissed. I wouldn’t have had much of a breakfast because I had started using that extra time to sleep a bit more. By 2:30 each afternoon, I was starving and pissed. So, I’d go to Wendy’s and shove some food in my mouth then throw away some of it and head back to work.

Then in January my uncle got very ill. He was the last living member of my father’s family and so this was a big deal to me. We went up to the hospital to visit him twice and I was glad we did. But there was an outbreak of flu during that time. I didn’t take it seriously, because I NEVER get sick.

Except this time I did get sick. I was quite sick for over a week. I ate very little during that time because I couldn’t. I also took very little time off from work because I thought I shouldn’t.

A month later my uncle died during my one week of vacation.

Then I got sick again for over a week and again ate very little and again took very little time off work.

I knew by then I was losing weight because my clothes began to hang on me and people were noticing it. My hair was thinner. My face looked exhausted. I didn’t think to weigh myself on the freight scale at work. Everybody used to do that, including me, but during this time period I guess I was avoiding the scale. I was in my own little world then.

I got kind of mesmerized by how I felt. My stomach felt so good being empty. No bloating, no gas, no queasiness. I felt so light and small and compact. It felt right not to take up so much room. I felt kind of powerful on some level. If I felt hungry, I could trick myself by focusing on how good my stomach felt when it was empty and it made me not want to ruin that sensation. Though I figured I didn’t look really good, I felt really good in my gut. I liked it.

And that’s what I remembered, and missed, when I watched that dying mother on the movie screen.

After I quit the terrible job, I took myself clothes shopping while we still had some money to spend “freely”. I was thinking I should get some new bras since I was kind of swimming in the old ones. And I caught a glimpse of myself at just the right angle in the dressing room mirror. My thoughts were, I look frail, I look elderly, and that’s probably not a good thing. This is probably not healthy. I should probably try to be healthy.

But I didn’t really want to. In clothes, I actually looked pretty good. And it felt sooooo good to be thinner and lighter and have that empty, flat stomach. So, I was torn.

As it turns out a year and a half later, unless I am under incredible stress, I don’t really have what it takes to go the full-blown anorexia route. Since we don’t own a scale, I don’t know what I weigh but it is obvious that I have gained back everything I lost. It took longer than I expected it to. But it happened kind of on its own.

I’m not happy with how I look and feel now. My challenge is to find the middle ground. Well, actually my real challenge is to find the beginning.

I still have to find out what is really me versus what I have picked up over the years and incorporated just to please others and “get along” with the rest of the world. And then I have to be okay with “what is really me”.

The dying mother in the film knew the answers to those questions in her life and she did what she could in the time she had left. I’ve met lots of people who also seem to have the answers to those questions in their lives and I imagine they are mostly happy or at least content most of the time. That’s what I want for my life.

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Stodgy Stuck Up and Not Fun at All

I had a nice Christmas Eve at my cousin’s house. I even drank a little wine which I seem to have developed some kind of liking for. It used to be that alcohol pretty much tasted terrible to me but if I wanted to get drunk, I would just tough it out and either ignore the taste or bury it with orange juice or Coke. Even with this new found liking for alcohol, though, I still don’t drink much. Or enough. Wink, wink. If I were a drinker, I might still have a job.

My cousin’s neighbor joined us later on that Eve. I’ve met this neighbor many times before. We never hit it off or anything but I can live with that and we have conversed in the past so it wasn’t a problem her coming over.

We ladies had been chatting for awhile when she turned to me and said she wanted to tell me something and she hoped I didn’t mind and she didn’t know if she should or not and if she said too much, please, just tell her it was too much and that she had stepped over the line and to stop.

Here we go. This kind of thing happens to me all the time. People often feel compelled to tell me exactly what thought just popped into their little heads. People have said some pretty unusual things to me over the years.

This time I smiled because I kind of suspected what was coming. Then she said that when she first met me, she thought I was very stodgy and not much fun. This made me laugh out loud. This is not news! I am aware that I make a certain kind of first impression. People who can only see surfaces are frequently left with a very basic and somewhat unfair impression of me. It became even funnier when my cousin piped up with, “People say that about ME, too!!!” A fellow traveler! Thank you, cuz!

I don’t know if the neighbor lady was relieved at my “fun” reaction to what she said or if she really didn’t think about the conversation that much at all. The only reason I care to think about this, and write about it, is because it reminded me of previous similar conversations people have had with me and my realization that I would NOT say such a thing to someone. I would not say, basically, “I used to not like you but now I do. Before, you fell well short of my requirements but now I think you’re A-okay.” Why, thank you! What a sweet thing to say. Wink, wink.

Well, it hurts my feelings when people tell me these things and I know not to do that to someone else. At least not on purpose.

As a kid, I was considered stuck-up by several of the school cliques. The popular kids couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t popular; they thought I should be, but I was not. Yes, somebody told me this. The not popular kids didn’t like me because they thought I was popular. Yes, someone told me that, as well.

On my long walks home from school by myself, passersby would say, Smile, it’s not that bad! Even though I wasn’t feeling bad and was just thinking about things on those long solitary walks. I guess I should have been tap dancing on the shoulder of the road and talking to myself.

Many years into the terrible job, one of my former co-workers said, “Man, that first day, when you first got hired, I told Lisa, ‘man, she isn’t going to be any fun at all!'” She told me this because I had finally passed the Fun Test. I was so relieved that I had passed the Fun Test. I do fit in! I thought I never would. Life is good.

Except that I didn’t fit in and life wasn’t good at all. The terrible job was really just a Red Flag Parade. Grab one of these here flags and swing it in the air with us! It took a long time for me to see it that way.

Last week I visited my mother. It was a pretty good visit. I stayed pretty laid back while I listened to Show ‘n’ Tell. At one point, she asked me if I wanted something to eat. She was hungry and didn’t want to eat in front of me. I told her to go ahead, I didn’t mind, I wasn’t hungry. But she kept asking me if I wanted something to eat. She tried tempting me with ever more delicious treats. But I truly wasn’t hungry and kept turning her down. “Oh, you’re no FUN!” Thanks, Mom.

Apparently, “fun” doesn’t mean what I think it means. Neither does “stodgy” or “stuck up.”

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