Mother’s Day Blues

27 Notes to Moms: is someone slicing onions?

About a month ago, I noticed I wasn’t sleeping well. I thought it might be the stress of the NAACP fundraiser gala I was helping to plan. But after the gala, I didn’t feel relieved. No pressure was lifted. I continued to sleep badly, waking often, no dreams, back aching, sometimes head aching also. Just restless. Whatever this thing is, it’s kind of like fine grit sandpaper. A few rubs feel like nothing, maybe they even exfoliate. But as the abrasion continues it becomes irritating, uncomfortable, painful and then unbearable.

Monday we had a department meeting. We never have department meetings, so I should have been suspicious. My boss told the 3 of us who are on her team, that she is leaving in July for another position. It’s a great thing for her. She’s been living away from home for over 2 years and commuting to her house and family on weekends. This job is near her house. And it’s a WAY big promotion. It’s got running paths that she loves and runs on every time she’s in the area. And on and on.

I don’t know why, I really don’t, but I started to cry. I tried to stifle it. I tried to keep it under control. 2 tissues later I was thinking, “What is going on here?!?” Following this meeting was to be a staff meeting with the whole facility. This also never happens. And the CEO was going to be conducting it. He is seldom in our office, especially this time of year. So we broke our dept. meeting and I returned to my desk. My colleague/roommate, also in my department, tried to ask me something about why I was upset, and I broke down. Then I was like sobbing at my desk, wads of soggy tissues in hand. Someone came in from finance to ask me something and asked if I was okay. You know that just makes it worse. I was on a freight train going out of control.

Time came for the staff meeting and I was like “NOPE! I can’t go in there like this.” You may or may not know, I’m as Irish-complected as they come. If I cry, I look like I went 10 rounds with Rocky Balboa. I can’t go into a room full of unsuspecting people and pretend I don’t know what’s happening. Everyone is going to take one look and know something is up. Nope. I’m staying at my desk. And that was a scary thing to do – I missed the one and only staff meeting. Everyone noticed I wasn’t there. My boss tried to cover it up. The Controller texted me asking where I was. “In my office,” I said. “Kind of a mess.” Afterward I heard that the CEO got scared. Oh God, what have I done?

And I don’t know what set me off! My God I’ve been through so many staff changes and moves, new hires, re-orgs, title changes and firings, why should this bother me? 2 things came to mind. One felt more true than the other:

  1. After all the staff changes I did go through at my last full-time place of employ, I was downsized after 6 years. That is true and there is stress involved in thinking about a new manager. A bad manager can make your life hell in a real hurry or even result in your job ending. I certainly have had more than my share of that. But this isn’t really what felt truest.
  2. What felt more to the core of this inexplicable outburst is that I really don’t like my job (it’s killing me inside, actually), but my manager was so flexible with me, went out of her way to praise me, to flatter me, to encourage me, befriended me, that I stopped making a big effort to find another job. I actually was scared to leave for fear I wouldn’t have such a great boss. I like my colleagues for the most part, but my boss is the reason I took the job, and the reason I have been able to stay so long. And now she’s leaving. And she announced it on the day I had worked there 1 full year as a full-time employee. Something about that hurts.

Every re-assuring thing she said made me cry. She literally said the words, “I won’t let anybody hurt you,” to the three of us. *Sob* The following day we did my annual evaluation. I tried to hold it together and look upbeat. I wasn’t expecting anything dramatic. I had written my eval, she had her notes too. As soon as she started saying nice things, I fell apart. The entire week I was in a fog; weepy and out of control. It was like her announcement was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I can’t seem to get myself back together again.

A couple of people have suggested it’s hormonal. I have had these kinds of waves of depression before and it had nothing to do with my hysterectomy. This is not all a figment of menopause, just as it wasn’t PMS when it happened the other 20 times. This is me pinched between 1000 rocks and hard places, feeling powerless to get free. This is the same impulse that makes me want to run away periodically. I feel like, if something doesn’t give, I’ll burst. And by burst, I guess that means implode.

Because as I am driving, I think of Mother’s Day this Sunday. My mother is dead. It’s been almost 9 years now. We had a difficult relationship. In many ways I felt, and still does, like she poisoned the well. She told me, as a child about every bad thing that ever happened to her. Much of it involved bullying. Now, I was not much like her. I was a very outgoing redheaded child and stuck out like a sore thumb. And I didn’t mind that. To the contrary, I felt like I was special and everything was going to be great. But it was quickly apparent the ghosts of her past were going to be re-visited on me. She was intimidated by authority, whereas I challenged it. She was an extreme introvert. I am the opposite. I sang, performed, acted, loved it. But I married at 20 and so did she. I had miscarriages, and so did she. I had two kids, so did she. I divorced, and so did she. Unlike her, I went to college and got a Bachelor’s.

I didn’t have any particular career in mind as I entered school. Everyone seemed to say you will find your way. Even with a degree, you might find yourself doing something else. But I found myself needing money after graduation so I took a job at a desk, doing the same type of work I had done as a student. Switchboard, data entry, filing. And for very low wages. Not only that, but I was treated poorly by the other staff. Job after job, I hated it. Huh… same as my mother. *GRRR!*

Another thing about my mother, she was the most indecisive person. I have always prided myself on being able to make decisions soundly and swiftly. Except about my career path. It came to a head when I divorced, now 16 years ago, and I had to find a job. I couldn’t wait around until a dream job called. I applied to those, but I never got a call. I had a hard time just getting office work, despite so much experience. I was competing with people without degrees and they were getting the jobs. After years of taking whatever I could get for as much as I could get, and being laid off 3 times, I went back to school to get more training. I DARED to think I could really work in the field of my Bachelor’s with just a bit more training.

If you’ve read my blogs or know me, you know what a success college was the second time around. I love college. I’d love to teach it. I love the environment, the students, the material, constantly learning and sharing. I felt more alive there than I have, literally, since I graduated from college the first time in 1993. I had a paid internship that was going well and the idea was to stay there when I graduated as a f/t employee. Well that didn’t happen. They had a change of plans. So I tried to spruce up my digital portfolio and applied like crazy, started an inbound marketing course to keep momentum, and nothing happened. No offers.

The clock was ticking, I was out of time. So I took a temp job. The same job where I am today. Doing data entry and administrative work. And my freshly-full spirit is now a shriveled husk, dry as a bone. My tears, I think, are the last drops of moisture leaving. I recognize there are a few moving pieces to my problem. 1, I don’t have a concrete, set in stone, exact perfect career in mind with universally prescribed criteria, qualifications, and salary, 2, I’m broke so working comes before trying to find work that will be fulfilling, 3, working at something so soul-draining leaves me empty at the end of the day so I don’t have the drive and energy I need to do a great search.

I made the mistake of clicking “Yes! I want more information on Master’s Degrees” on some website, and a college recruiter made the mistake of calling me. They don’t have an MFA, but they have a MBA. I don’t want to get an MBA. They tried to say I would have more options with it. I said I don’t want to pay big bucks to study something I find completely uninteresting, to get some random job that nobody will want me for. Nobody wants a generalist with lots of options. Everyone wants a specialist, with laserbeam focus only 1 thing. I need to show I have that level of mastery in my field.

But in the process of having this conversation I broke down again. I said, if I left my job tomorrow, someone else could sit down and do my job and it would be no different. But if I’m designing, nobody will come up with the exact same solution that I will. My work is special in that area, and I need to be doing something that not just anybody with average aptitude could do equally well. I need to be in a role where I can use all my best skills. Problem-solving, analysis, communication and all things aesthetic & creative. There must be a niche for me out there. Surely what I have to offer has value, no?

Why do I not have my own business? I’ve been asked that several times. Because there is too much sales involved. You spend half your time doing the work, and the other half trying to convince people to hire you. I don’t want to have to be a salesperson, as it were. And the risk when you work for yourself is that if you fail at the sales part, you fail. No money, game over. I don’t have another breadwinner in my house. I can’t move into my parents’ basement. I have a family and my income has to support us all. There’s no time for start-up failure, and are no investors to put my hand out to. I also need insurance, and that’s a big factor when I look at a workplace. And I like interacting with people. As much as I enjoy being able to work autonomously, I like interacting with people too, so having colleagues is important to me, both in the short and long-term.

So I am grinding my mental gears on this, and have been for a year. My level of discomfort is approaching a 10 on the hospital pain chart – I’m crying, depressed, have lost my zest for life. What compounds this, thinking again of Mother’s Day, is how it impacts my kids, and how my whole adult life has been from their perspective. It’s sucky enough that 2 decades have gone by and I’ve been downsized or let go from 3 major yucky jobs, lost my internship-to-perm doing what I loved, and am back doing work I dislike and still have no idea of my career path.

It’s REALLY sucky to be raised by a single parent who has been downsized or let go from 3 major sucky jobs, lost an internship doing what she loves, then watching her go back to work she doesn’t like and still has no idea of a career path. It’s super-sucky to have an exhausted single-parent who’s having trouble getting up for work every day because she’s depressed. It’s sucky to never have enough money for all the bills, let alone stuff you want. It’s sucky to never be able to go on a vacation. It’s sucky to have to skip buying groceries on a regular basis. It’s sucky to have one car with 3 people working 5 jobs in an area that doesn’t have adequate public transportation. It’s sucky to do poorly in school and not to be able to get a tutor. It’s sucky when your parent has to borrow money from you to pay bills in the winter. It’s sucky to have anxiety and financial stress before you hit middle school.

It’s sucky to have a parent who can’t help you choose a direction for your life because they don’t have their own life together.

And this is what hurts the most. Because though my life’s twists and turns have been very different, in this way I have ended up just like my mother. Unable to help, unable to guide, unable to offer perspective because she herself had no idea and no direction. I know it’s typical to have these identity struggles at various stages of life where we either identify with our parent or are trying like hell NOT to be like our parent. I’m in the latter camp, and I’m pissed off that it has ended up like this.

I have a child in college and I can’t contribute to her expenses at all. I have one finishing 11th grade who doesn’t know what she wants to do and I’m trying to help her figure things out but she doesn’t want to hear it. She’s stressed. She’s got 2 jobs. She’s helping out at home. And I’m hardly a role model for career counseling. What the hell do I have to offer? I know what I’m NOT going to say. I’m not going to say, “Do whatever you think is best,” – my mother’s famous line. What a cop out. My only advice is, look at how you spend your free time. What are you passionate about? Do more of that. Find a way to monetize it. Find people who do that and talk to them about their careers. That’s all I have to offer.

And a sincere apology. To my children, I’m sorry. I wanted to take you to Disney, just one time. I wanted to show you more of the world. I wanted more fun, more adventure, more happiness, more time with you. I can’t show you an example of a healthy relationship. I can’t show you how to maintain friendships. I can’t show you appropriate self-care… but know that YOU should have those things. And I want you to hear me loud and clear, my woes are not your fault. Your life has not derailed mine at all. If anything, it’s made me try harder, fight longer for what I deserve. If I didn’t have you, I’d have nothing. You have been the best part of my life. It’s just terribly sad that raising you happened during the hardest parts of my life. I hope that one day I can find my path and be that great thing I was meant to be, and you’ll be proud to say you’re some little bit like me.

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