Tag Archives: job loss

on grieving…

I think Western society (well – truthfully – most of them, for that matter) does not like grief. It’s uncomfortable and distracting, and essentially, when a person is grieving, they are not productive. So we feel compelled to internalize our grief and it eventually manifests as disease (dis-ease).

Or, when we are incapable of keeping it under wraps, we function within the same life framework we were in before but everything suffers; we truly are less productive.

This brings about a snowball effect… we become disengaged, our work quality suffers. Eventually the strain of the expectation of optimal performance during these times creates the sort of situation that exacerbates the already heavy stress that we are attempting to navigate our way through.

The only cure for grief is time – allowing for the healing process to unfold, hopefully helped along by people who can guide the process in a healthy and mindful way. Time heals all things.

Despite the fact that at one time or another most of us have gone through the process of grieving, people don’t know how to approach those who are grieving. I think this is due to the fact that the process of grieving is mishandled by society. The pain is not honoured. The transition is not respected. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps is probably something to do at some point in the process, but not when we are at our most raw; the expectation to be able to do so is ludicrous, and yet it is the norm.

So why am I speaking about grieving?

Well, if one was to take one of those psych tests which evaluates the external stressors in our lives which influence our internal lives, job loss would be one of them – and I am intimately familiar with this one point on the checklist, having recently lost my job.

Despite the fact that I had been mentally prepared to be one of the “staffing reassessment” casualties, I’ve been in a sort of tailspin since. Maybe it’s a midlife crisis kind of tail spin (I turned fifty yesterday). I wonder why I am having such a difficult time with “launching” at this stage of my life. The disparity with what it is and how I would like it to be (career wise) is so wide a gap that I can’t fathom how to bridge it. The thought of repeating the last thirty years of my working life is making me balk like never before.

All of this “free” time has afforded me some opportunity to check out what the rest of the world is doing these days. Not the one I was operating in, but the one *out there*… not the one that I was mistakenly assuming was drying up of opportunity but the one that is actually transforming into a more tenable way of living and working in this vast and quickly shifting world. Well, perhaps not so quickly, and this shift is happening with only a visible few, not the vast majority.

[Aside: So many companies are still working off of the industrial revolution SOPs. Evolving from full factory sized staffing to smaller crews, the thinking continues to be “lean and mean”, the mantra of the end of the twentieth century. Almost two decades in to the new millennium and they are still not getting, despite the fact that they conduct “engagement studies” and know the facts, that people must be engaged in order to thrive. To me engagement involves interesting work, and by compartmentalizing processes – particularly in an office environment – that equates to small bits of rote work effected by underpaid people. It may not be about the money, certs, but if people are not earning enough to live a comfortable life, they are operating in survival mode and can’t relax enough to unleash their creative brains – which would be irrelevant anyway, given the fact that any incentive to be creative is slowly being stripped away because of role uniformitization **this is an interesting article on technology and its sociological effects** … (more on all of this later, because this whole paragraph segues into a completely other thought that I don’t really want to speak to at the moment, and is tangental to the my initial thoughts on grieving).]

In any case, the common refrain I hear these days from my age group and peers is: it’s really tough out there; there are little opportunities for the young people these days.

(Which to me translates to: You’re fucked woman… you’re over the hill, overpaid, under-educated, a has-been… and if the kids can’t flourish, with all of their verve and vigour and downright enthusiasm, how do you think that you will?)

I don’t mean they are thinking this in relation to me per se. They are thinking it themselves in regard to their own prospects should they also find themselves amongst the rest of us in the unemployment line, and similarly wondering what the hell they can do to reinvent themselves at this late stage in the game.

I mean seriously… hipsters we ain’t. We’re not even hippies. Most of us are late-in-coming baby boomers or Gen-X’ers (who the hell thinks up these ridiculous naming conventions anyway?). We’re done with the baby ranching and the marriages (because most of them didn’t survive), and in the midst of being overburdened with debts and living expenses way beyond the comfortable quality of life “ratios” that were decided upon during different economic times, a shrinking middle class and a soft job market, we are now having to reinvent ourselves and our raison d’être in midlife, not necessarily by choice but because all of the structures that we had in place to ensure some semblance of security and material continuum are slowly but systematically being dismantled.

So there is much mourning going on at the fort.

Job loss. Mid-life. And, frankly, disillusionment – the realization that we must fight for relevance, but not of the sort that I’ve been waging a war for over the last three decades.

For many years, at least the first decade of my working life, relevance meant accumulating more job-specific skills in the area I was working in (which were obtainable on-the-job and considered valid training and education, perhaps even more so than a certificate or a diploma). That was the challenge that kept me reaching for greater responsibility, professional respect, and career advancement. I find that is not true of the job market and the opportunities for growth within companies today. They are stiff with their requirements, and even less flexible with promoting people into more challenging roles if they do not already have the set of skills and qualifications that the job requires, despite the potential of the employee or candidate.

Much of my career-centric views changed after the birth of my son. My priorities shifted greatly and I was focused on parenting and trying to keep our family unit functioning (and together – much of my marital challenges were present from the very beginning, and deepened as time went on).

I wasn’t thinking about career at that point – I was thinking about survival of the family unit; OUR family unit. I’m sorry that I didn’t focus more on myself and my higher needs, and demanded the support in a way that wasn’t negotiable. That was a huge tactical error. I self-soothed in all of the wrong ways, and lacked the ability to make my way through the forest, and likewise lacked a capable partner to accompany me throughout the journey.

All this rumination has made me realize that I am grieving. Despite the fact that I did not (recently) lose a loved one; that my marriage has been over for a long while and the divorce papers were filed last spring; that my job (for all intents and purposes) summarily sucked and I was not being utilized to my fullest potential (which, incidentally, I’m not even sure how to quantify anymore, because for me a good job has always meant room for potential growth and I’ve clearly maxed out on what that is in relation to what I am currently considering my “profession”).

So… what to do? I am seriously in paralysis mode.

I get up, and I do things: eat, sort and do laundry, load the dishwasher, make meals, sleep, (sometimes) get dressed, (sometimes) go outside, listen to music and podcasts and YouTube videos, intermittently shower and groom myself, read, occasionally talk to people for longer than three minutes, make some art, journal, dust, vacuum, scrub out the tub and the toilet and sink, (sometimes) make my bed, write. Mostly, though, there is a sense that my world has completely collapsed in on itself (think post-apocalypse) and I’m staring at the steaming ruins and wondering where to pick up the pieces – which things are salvageable from the piles of debris and which ones I just need to let be and walk away from. Throughout all of this, I beat myself about the head and shoulders for not moving on.

And so I ran across this excellent young woman’s blog, who had this post (excerpt follows), and I said YES! that’s it, that’s how I feel, and then thought that the letter, What To Say (To Yourself) When You Are Grieving, was… brilliant:

Dear Self,

I am grieving.

Grief is natural.

But I was not born to grieve — I was born to love, and laugh, and live.

Grief is only my waiting room — for the moment.

And one day, soon, I will step out of that waiting room, and back into my life.

I’ll take one small step today, right now, by {insert itty-bitty action step, here}.

That one small step will feel loving, and beautiful, and good.

And that one small step is all I need to do — for now.

Love,

{your name}

XO.

I’m grieving. Ha!

Society doesn’t know how to deal with grief (see above), ME included.

I’m learning, with every crisis and major life change – I’m learning.

I’m learning that the only way over is through, and that progress is slow, because *all the debris and shit* … and that I need to remember to breathe and pick small steps, because that is all the lizard brain that I’m operating from at the moment is capable of. Eventually, though, it will make the transition back to higher-order thinking and we’ll be in business again. Until then I’ll eat Scottish shortbread cookies for lunch and veggies and hummus for breakfast if I want to and be okay with it, keeping in mind that there will be a flip side. There always is.

the season of giving

As some of you may or may not know, the position I occupied at my last job was “eliminated” and thus so was my income. I received a modest severance and because of this will not receive any actual Employment Insurance until the first week of February. For most of my life I’ve lived pay check to pay check. I’ve posted plenty of times about how my handling of and relationship to money, like most people who live in the western world, could stand for some improvement. It is an ongoing investigation and process, involving a lot of self examination and, subsequently, necessitating growth.

As some of you may or may not know, the work that I’ve been doing for most of my working life has been less than satisfying on many levels. While the way in which I’ve chosen to support myself has lacked much in the way of professional validation and stimulus, I’ve managed to support myself when I was alone, contribute to -at times more than half of- the household income during my marriage and now, as a single parent, largely support myself and my son, with my earnings. I want to acknowledge that my son’s father does contribute to our household, and without this contribution we would not be able to enjoy the lifestyle that we currently enjoy. The standard which we live in is largely the standard to which my son was born and the one which we’ve become accustomed to in this affluent north american culture in which we live.

By the same token, though, we haven’t had an excess of loose change, and many of the luxuries that were easily accessible during my married life are no longer a possibility. Every luxury has to be considered and weighed for value and worthiness, even while I was employed.

And, if you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you also know that there have been some financial struggles in our lives, especially over the last several years since leaving my marriage. The loss of my newly acquired job in January 2010, soon after our move back to Canada, was a huge blow. Without any savings to speak of, the first month after being let go was brutal, and the struggle continued for months after that, while anxiously waiting for the EI checks to arrive and not being able to pay the bills (cell phone, cable, health insurance, furniture I had purchased on credit) that continued to roll in. There was money for food and rent but much of everything else fell by the wayside.

It took four months’ time for me to find another job, one that was not ideal but that certainly was a relief to obtain so that the looming bills could finally be settled, at least in part. Four months later I got into a car accident in which my car sustained lots of damage. Because it was considered my error, my deductible was $1,000, which I of course did not have, but in order to claim my car back from the body shop which held it hostage, I had to pay it. Robbing from Peter to pay Paul, I got the car back, but the hole that was left in the wake of this financial gap was something that I continued to struggle to recover from.

And now, once again, I am jobless. Jobless and truly wondering why the Universe continues to dish up this same meal for me to partake of. Someone recently, after I mentioned that I would not have any money flowing in to the household until the end of January (which I’ve now recalculated to actually be the beginning February) told me that this was a character building experience. Initially, I found the remark to be insensitive and flippant, making light of something that really was very serious and life altering in a way that only someone who has had the experience of being in the place in which I find myself to truly understand. The growth will occur, certainly, and will potentially yield a better direction – at least that is my hope. The choice, as always, remains mine to take, though everyone has an opinion on what that choice should be. And while I “trust” in the Universe, it doesn’t exactly deliver random and sizeable checks through my mail slot just because I need it.

The day that I had that brief exchange, I had been catapulted into complete deer-in-the-headlights mode. How was I going to pay for food and rent? Both my son’s and my birthdays are in January – they would be write-offs, certainly, in that we would not be able to celebrate them. I spent the night tossing and turning, stomach churning and cursing that I had to once again be mired by this burden that I could not seem to pull myself out of.

Finally, I did the only thing that I could think to do and asked my ex-husband for additional help, so that, in the least, I could pay my rent. To put this request into context, you have to understand that much of the strife within our marriage was one spurred by financial discordance. My issues with money. My inability to have enough self-mastery when I was emotionally bereft to come to grips with the management of the funds that he so trustingly put into my very incapable hands. To further frame that, you also should know that I never hid the fact that I had these issues. From very early on, in our conversations, I openly and with much candour disclosed that I was not good with the stuff, and told him exactly what happened with the stuff when I had it in my hands, especially when I was in crisis. He had his own issues with it. It seems that many of us have a rather unhealthy relationship with the stuff – I am not an anomaly, despite being made to feel so throughout the length of my marriage.

So, when I asked for help by requesting the very thing that was the bane of our marriage, it was humiliating in a way that I can not even begin to adequately express. I knew the thought processes which would run through his head when I asked. I knew that ultimately he would probably help, but not without a cost.

Last night, after preparing a very nice meal and sitting down to enjoy it with my son, we got into a discussion about jobs, job searching, how tight things would be for a bit, and that it would be a good thing for him to perhaps find himself a part time job as well, so that he could buy himself the nice things he’d like that extend beyond the necessities that I am able to provide. What he said floored me. He said that I shouldn’t rely on income from his job to supplement our household, and that my lack of an income was affecting others already, including his father. Firstly, I never intimated that I would be asking for his help in assisting with the household. However it was not what bothered me the most about our conversation.

The fact that his father discussed -even merely in passing- our financial arrangements with my son violates an unspoken agreement that I thought parents should have (certainly one that I thought we had), especially those who are no longer in a family unit, in regard to affording their children the semblance of a unified front, a sort of solidarity that despite there having been a rift that separated our mutual ideologies enough to necessitate a parting of ways, that at the core of our interactions and by virtue of our shared history (and joint interest in our offspring), there remained an underlying respect and genuine caring for each other’s well-being.

I resent that I am (or continue to be), whether overtly or subliminally, being vilified – by my ex-husband to my child – when I am in need of the most support. Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s best interest to be supportive of each other, and hold each other up rather than beat each other down? Furthermore, I have never spoken ill of my husband to my son, despite there being plenty of ways in which I could list his various failings both as a father and as a husband. We are imperfect, and thus we at times make choices that are not necessarily the best ones. In light of this, I don’t share my thoughts on these things with my son.

I resent that, while my son is too unformed in his own maturity to see it otherwise, his father is engaging in skewing his opinion of me, despite the fact that he does not live in our household (and is not even able to witness it in any proximate way) and is clearly not in a place to judge. Not only that; his lack of clarity not only in this case but essentially in regard to his own role and contribution to the success or failure of our relationship while we were married strips him of the right to comment in this case, but should he desire to comment, it should be to me and not our seventeen year old son to whom he should air.

It is easy to vilify someone, but much more difficult to embrace our part in the failings of an enterprise. For many years I looked to place blame outside of myself for many things, and at some point decided that the only way to begin to tame my demons was to finally accept them, own them and examine them. Sure, there were (are!) reasons for which I am the way I am that were outside of my control, many in fact formed during my childhood despite them not being formed in a way which engages enough life experience to be useful (then or later), and ones which continue to manifest even as mature adults.

I have spent much of my life attempting to deconstruct the reasons why I do things, to gain an understanding of what underlies my instinctive reactions and to gain enough emotional maturity to be able to lay new pathways, to rework those reactions in more beneficial ways. I could cite various and sundry childhood and early adult traumas which are partly at the root of these behaviours and the ways in which I’ve learned to cope with them. I have been alone and unsupported throughout this process, particularly in the context of my former marriage. I understand that we can only show up with what we are capable of (and I did, after all, choose the relationship), that despite our intelligence, knowledge and life experience, things continue to escape us. We are human, after all. I did expect, though, that after all of the things that we shared together, that there would be an underlying sense of compassion that imbued our dealings, post and prior to our parting, though seeing that if that would have been present in the first place, more than likely we would still be together.

So I leave you all with this. Even for a moment, try to imagine yourself in another’s place, not just as an onlooker but as you would if you were in identical circumstances, not in the context of your own life but the one in which they are in. What would you do? How would you feel? What, if anything, would you want someone to say to you or do in order to ease your distress, lessen your burden, share in your human experience?

Being kind costs nothing. Staying out of judgement, despite it being really difficult to do for some of us, affords greater connection with our fellowmen than it does to stand in judgement of them. Compassion is truly the only way for humanity to reconnect with itself, to cure whatever ails it, and much ails it.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.  Romans 14:13