human, being


Little bits of despair
March 17, 2009, 2:56 am
Filed under: divorce, work | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Tonight, as I finished up Jennifer Weiner’s “Little Earthquakes,” Steve tickled my back and asked me what is wrong. It was after midnight, on a worknight, and I was still awake.

“I’m just feeling anxious,” I told him. Five minutes later, I turned off the light and came to the living room so he could sleep.

There’s a bit of anxiety in the pit of my stomach, a slow worry of butterflies circling there. And then there are little bits of despair circling among the butterflies. Anxiety is about my lack of control of everything in my life. Despair is about wanting something that I cannot yet identify. I know that something has to do with how I spend the majority of my time: work.

I like my job. I like the people I work with. I believe in the important work my organization does. But I’m bored. Regardless of title or location or mission, this is essentially the same job I’ve been doing since I was 17 years old and editor of my high school newspaper. I’m damn good at it–great even. I’ve won awards, pretty awards that throw rainbows on my white office walls when the sun shines through them. I have more responsibility–aka, more work–in my current job. I have a little more clout. Still, it’s the same-old, same-old.

Every Monday, I receive a PR/marketing jobs list by email. Every Monday, I scan through the jobs. Nothing thrills me. None of the jobs listed are much different than what I’m doing now. The money is the same, or less. The cause, usually, is less inspiring. Seriously, I work for an NCI cancer center–exciting stuff is being done by smart people there. Several days each week, I get to learn more about biology, which actually interests me. People out there would love to have my job, with my benefits (10% match to my 5% 401k contribution, for example). And here, a kvetch that it’s not enough.

And bits of despair. My heart knows that, as good as this job is, it’s not how I want to spend my time for the foreseeable future. What do I want to do? I don’t know. There’s the rub.

Maybe I’m lazy at heart, because what I really would love to do is to NOT work for anyone. Do nothing at all. Retire. And maybe, just maybe, lessening the noise, the distraction in my life would allow me to figure out what’s next for me. I feel like something IS next but I can’t see what it is. I feel like the something is MORE. Bigger, yet not in an 8 to 5 way.

Actually, my ex accuses me of retiring in 2000–the year of the beginning of our demise. I hated, HATED my job and my boss. I was truly in a hostile work environment, and had I known better, I would have filed a lawsuit. Instead, I quit and started a freelance writing business. My intention was to work about 15 hours a week on freelance jobs and spend about 10 to 15 working on my personal writing–poetry, stories, maybe a novel. My oh-so-supportive ex told me, “Lynn, you quitting your job to become a poet is like me quitting my job to become a professional fly fisherman. Those are hobbies, not jobs.” Because at that time in my life I believed others’ opinions of me were more important than mine, I listened to him and didn’t write a lick of poetry, not a single story.

For the first six weeks I did nothing but detox. Three weeks after quitting, I stopped having nightly work nightmares. Four weeks later, I stopped eating Tums by the handful. Five weeks in, I started calling leads, and six weeks in I started my first two projects. Most days, I got up around 8, had breakfast, exercised, watched the Price is Right while getting ready for the day, worked for about four hours, ran errands and did housework, got dinner started and waited for the ex to come home. I was happier, even though my marriage sucked. I got pregnant after almost a year of trying, I believe partially because my stress level had dropped from RED to green. It didn’t matter that I was ew-y in the morning and really tired in the afternoon. I was in charge of my time. I took the mornings slowly and took naps. I went to client meetings by phone. I wrote website copy, an annual report, a series of newsletters for the nursing school and pharmacy school. I had a good stable of clients from the start. I did this routine for about six months, until I got my cancer diagnosis. Then I didn’t work much for the next nine months. Lauren was born in June. I had every intention of going back to work in October, but 9/11 wiped out the freelance market and I went to work part-time.

I loved working part-time: three days for them, four days for me. I got to spend time with my daughter. I got to spend time using my brain. I got to do mommy things with other mommies. I got to have grown-up conversations on a regular basis. I got to have the social outlet of a workplace, which I missed when I was at home with an infant all the time. I got to earn regular money without having to market myself. When I got divorced, I went to working four days a week–I needed more money, but my employer wouldn’t let me go full time. Secretly, I loved the time off. When my daughter went to full-day kindergarten, I started working every-other Friday as well. I still had that one extra day for me. I usually spent it writing, or taking pictures, or going for drives, or running errands so Lauren and I would have uninterrupted time on the weekend. In 2006, I started working full time again. That was hard. I missed having that Friday for me.

Eighteen months later I moved into my current job. It was a slight step up, and it was a change at least after being with the previous employer for almost seven years. The first year of this job was incredibly stressful: the politics, the learning curve, two enormous projects right off the bat. I went from being that person everyone went to for information to that person who knew zilch. When I found out I could claim comp time, I rejoiced. I don’t work much overtime anymore, but in the first three months I was averaging 50+ hours a week. The past nine months have slowed down a bit. I’ve decided that I cannot go on acting as if I am a full-fledged department when I am only one person. Unfortunately, that means disappointing some people who I have over-promised and will now need to under-deliver. (Lucky for me there will be no raises for University employees this year, regardless of performance.) I feel like I run on a quarter-tank most of the time. I’m committed but not fully engaged.

I keep thinking about these little bits of despair that float up to my head like plastic bags caught in a draft. They mean something–I’m off path, perhaps. I felt this same way in November of 2002 when, deathly ill with the flu, my ex refused to go to the store for more Kleenex, and I lurched to King Soopers myself, wiping my nose on my sleeve through my fevered haze. I remember not thinking, but feeling that I wanted more than this. But THIS is what I’d committed to. THIS was all I could see through the windshield. I could daydream about being with someone else–a man who loved me and respected me, who didn’t beat me down–but  couldn’t see that daydream as reality. And here I am, almost seven years later, feeling the same way about my career, and feeling solid in the relationship department. Right now, at almost 4 am on St. Patrick’s Day 2009, I can’t see anything except the career I currently have.

Since I was a little girl, I knew I would be a writer when I grew up, and I am. It’s not so much what I do, but what I am–the essence of me. I’ve gone the route in my writing life that requires the least amount of risk. Journalism. Corporate communications. Public relations. I get to write for a living, a good living, I say, but the honest truth is writing is perhaps 15 percent of my job. I’m a project manager, which is fine for now, but not forever.

There are days that I fantasize about just calling in “done.” Realistically, I can’t do that right now. I’m the bigger bread winner. And I like having money for things like haircuts in a real salon, and occasional vacations like the mini-break we just took. And my simple Honda Civic. And food on the table. And TiVo. So tomorrow morning (or maybe that’s this morning, given the current time), I will get up and go to work, and I will do a good if not excellent job, and I will generally not feel bad about the work I’m doing, and I will sometimes get really excited about a story I stumble upon. I am grateful that I have this job, which pays well, is flexible and helps promote a place that does an enormous amount of good in the world.

And I’ll continue to pay attention to the little bits of despair, and do my best to listen for the message they are sending me.

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2 Comments so far
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When I’m in my car or about to go to bed, I literally freeze with fear that I will never be able to support myself again that I will always be a one income household and that I can’t deliver on what needs to be done, that time is flying by and I’m still sitting in the same place

I read this post twice. You’ll know when you can leave, in your heart, you will know

Comment by jessica

I relate to you on so many levels Lynn. The weight struggle and the bouts of depression have also been my own.

I have very little control over my life. I have been trying to grow a business for over 2 years, all the while not making any money. If you have ever had ZERO money, you understand how helpless you feel and how much anxiety it causes. I can not steer my own boat, but am at the mercy of the fiscal tides, the ebb and flow of external monetary influence on my life. Lucky for me, I have a generous (although not legally obligated) ex-husband and an absolutely fabulous boyfriend, both who contribute in their own way, for their own reasons, to my meager ability to contribute to my own maintenance.

For some reason, I am not stressed. I am not anxious. I am no longer on any meds to help me control the anxiety. It has taken years, but there has been a slow subtle shift that I attribute to having only positive relationships in my life (I know you have the same wonderful love with Steve that I have with Chris…and without that I know I would not be as calm or even tempered), but I took it farther and eliminated everyone who I felt anxious around as a result of their actions, whether aimed at me or not. I even cut my sister out of my life for a while as there was nothing positive happening there. I cut friends who had been there for me, but were no longer a positive force.

I also cut some of my own negative behaviors that were not serving me well. I used to be a snoop, micro managing information that should never have been mine. It was in an attempt to try to ‘know’ what was going on in the lives around me so I am not surprised in a bad way if something happens. While it came from a desire for self-defense and was conditioned response from previous negative relationships, it was also self-destructive and relationship destructive.

I think part of it was I just got tired. Being anxious takes up so much energy, time and thought. (I am starting to feel every one of my 40 years now) I was incapable of being anxious and being a good person to the people in my life. I have so many people who are generous with me, emotionally and financially, that I had to start being better to them. I still have my moments, but mostly I have a kind of zen-who-gives-a-shit attitude about things that don’t REALLY matter. It took a while to cultivate, and I don’t know that it is possible for anyone else to manage this way, but it has been working for me.

I am not trying to give any advice. Lord know I am not anyone who should be listened to for guidance or counseling. I have made monumental mistakes in my life and make no pretense that I have all the answers. I admire your ability to articulate your struggle and share so readily. It inspires me to write, to put down my thoughts, but I also know that I am not capable of writing with regularity and clarity that you seem to easily possess.

Love you Lynn…I don’t know that any of this will help you, but I know it helps to know that someone has heard you and understands, and I do.

Comment by Laura Riffel




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