Friday, September 21, 2018

The Trauma of Being Laid Off

I was laid off last week. It’s the second time I’ve been laid off in my advertising career. The first time, people congratulated me on getting my first layoff under my belt. Apparently it’s a right of passage in the industry. Despite it being so commonplace, it was incredibly painful to me. At that time, the recession was just beginning, the automotive industry was falling into bankruptcy, and I was a single mother of a small child. Losing my job meant losing everything. When it happened, I’m embarrassed to admit, I sobbed like a baby. I sobbed while they told me, I sobbed while security escorted me out, I sobbed in my car on the way home.

Never again, I promised myself. Never again would I let advertising hurt me like this.

I knew if I were ever laid off again, I would be prepared for it. And truly, in the ten years since that first lay off, I have emptied my personal belongings, cleaned my desktop and prepared myself for the fateful call. Despite having endured countless layoffs at ad agencies since that time, I myself have not lost my job again.

At least not until last week.

And last week, knowing that rumors were flying around that layoffs were coming again, I cleared my desk of anything important. Cleared my desktop of anything not important. Saved what files I needed and braced myself for the worst. And despite all the preparation, I was entirely shocked when my phone did ring. For whom bell tolls? Well, it tolled for me.

Despite every intention of handling this layoff with grace and detachment … instead I cried like a baby once again. But why? I’m married. My house is paid for. It is not a recession. I have every reason to handle this layoff as a minor blip in a long and successful career. I was not prepared to react to this second layoff as I did the first … as traumatic.

And yet there it is.

It was and still is traumatic. Losing your job without warning and without really believing it’s going to happen, is traumatic. Aside from being dumped by a lover, being dumped from a job is pretty high up there on the cruel jolts we can experience. It has all the same personal elements. You’ve been summarily dismissed. You no longer matter, your contributions are not valued. For whatever reason (even if it’s just financial), you’ve been told that you are no longer wanted or needed. This is rejection, writ large. So there you are, with your manila envelope and your hurt feelings, trying to figure out how to get out of the building without your key card.

Now my usual way of dealing with a traumatic event would be to immediately fix it. I would start searching for a new job, applying posthaste to every job within a 20-mile radius that might possibly consider me. In a rush to escape the pain of being rejected, I would set to work on being accepted somewhere else as quickly as possible.

My therapist counseled me otherwise.

She suggested I do nothing. She suggested I sit with my feelings for now. I have a severance package. There’s unemployment compensation to apply for. And there’s that spouse of mine who can certainly keep the bills paid.

My husband also suggested I take some time to figure out what I want to do next.

Both of these suggestions leave me dealing with … trauma. Everything in me suggests that the best thing to do is to avoid all of the bad feelings. I should do everything I can to keep the bad feelings at bay. I have to admit to glancing at the jobs in my area on Indeed and on LinkedIn. I have to admit to debating whether or not to just take a job — any job — to be anything but job-less.

But instead, I’ve decided to heed my therapist’s advice. Maybe there’s something to this? Perhaps I should allow myself to grieve the loss.

I’ve started reading a book I couldn’t get into a few months ago. This time I really took to it. It’s called The Trauma of Everyday Life and it’s by one of my favorite writers, Mark Epstein. Epstein combines both his experience as a psychoanalyst and as a Buddhist to share his thoughts on trauma and recovery. And in his book, he echoes some of what my therapist suggests:
A critical component of what became known as The Noble Eightfold Path, Realistic View counseled that trauma, in any of its forms, is not a failure or a mistake. It is not something to be ashamed of, not a sign of weakness, and not a reflection of inner failing. It is simply a fact of life. This attitude toward trauma is at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings, although it is often overlooked in the rush to embrace the inner peace that his teachings promised. But inner peace is actually predicated upon a realistic approach to the uncertainties and fears that pervade our lives.
You don’t get to inner peace by avoiding your negative feelings. You don’t get over the trauma of being rejected by pretending it never happened and replacing the job or the lover with another job or lover. You find relief through allowing yourself to experience your feelings, as they are. Allowing yourself to grieve. Allowing yourself to be sad. This can be a challenge, however, as everyone around you is trying to discourage you from feeling those bad thoughts too.

It’s amazing how determined we all are to avoid bad feelings. Since losing my job, I can’t tell you how many people have immediately remarked that I’ll find a better job. Everyone’s in a big rush to not feel sad. It’s human nature.

Other people have reacted to my news with, “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that!”or “How awful!” And this makes me feel better. I read those comments and emails and I nod my head, “Yes, it is awful. I feel terrible.” There is relief in that. Almost a weird kind of acceptance.

How odd.

I’m still sad. It’s only been a week and apparently I’m going to have to sit with this feeling of rejection a bit longer. But in a way, just allowing myself to be sad that I lost a job I really enjoyed, and I lost the opportunity to work with people I really loved, is making me feel better. I feel calmer and deeply rooted in myself, if that makes any sense.

The other day I decided to walk to my therapist’s office instead of driving. I’m usually in such a hurry all the time that I don’t get to walk anywhere. My neutral setting is a “rush” setting. I think this is true in the case of most working mothers. I’ve always got to be somewhere and I’m always running late or disappointing someone. There’s a constant clamor in my head where I’m trying to keep everyone happy simultaneously and quite frankly, it’s an impossible task.

Walking to therapy was a big deal.

It was a beautiful, humid morning. The moisture in the air combined with the sunlight to create a sort of glorious haze over the park behind my house. The leaves on the trees were suffused with a living light. I ran my hand through a row of puffy-tailed plants along the sidewalk. I watched my hand move through that morning light, move through those puffs, and I heard a Blue Jay’s siren from above. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d heard a Blue Jay. A lawnmower started in the distance. Someone was walking their old dog.

And it was all so beautiful, I felt a kind of joy I hadn’t felt in a long time.

I wouldn’t have felt that feeling on that particular day, if I hadn’t gotten laid off, and if I hadn’t allowed myself to mourn the loss. I’m sad, but I’m also joyous. I contain both feelings, fully. As Mark Epstein puts it,
When we stop distancing ourselves from the pain in the world, our own or others’, we create the possibility of a new experience, one that often surprises because of how much joy, connection, or relief it yields. Destruction may continue, but humanity shines through.
I’m hoping I’ll shine through in this. I can’t say I know what exactly is next, but I’m open to it. I’m open to all of it.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Have a Merry, Perimenopause!

I've been dealing with perimenopause for the past six months or so. While discussing it with my therapist, she suggested I blog about it. I tend to gravitate towards writing and talking about taboo subjects, so that idea intrigued me. Perimenopause is so rarely spoken about that my spellcheck doesn't even recognize it as a real word.

It's frustrating that while society prepares us for puberty with multiple health classes throughout school and lots of books preparing kids for "the change," and the same thing happens for pregnancy and breastfeeding (all the classes, all the books!), you really don't hear much about menopause.

I mean, sure there are the jokes about hot flashes and such. And maybe they talk about it on Golden Girls. But sometimes I think being perceived as an attractive and sexual being is so important to our concept of womanhood, that it's hard to talk about anything that would suggest that you're old or not fertile.

I mean, there's nothing unsexier than your ovaries and your vagina drying up, amirite?

In private though, I find my friends are more than willing to discuss perimenopause and menopause. Take my book club, Puss n Books, for instance. The Puss n Books women love to talk about the things you're not supposed to talk about. Sex. Husbands. Penises. Vaginas. Marriage. Divorce. Infertility. Fertility. Anal sex and clitorises. Well, that used to be the subject of our conversations, but now we tend to talk more about estrogen patches, marijuana lube and vulva gel. We laugh just as much, but I'm sure our conversations are much less sexy than an episode of Sex and the City.

Without including perimenopause as part of the cultural conversation, we leave women unprepared for the physical changes and symptoms that they will inevitably encounter. After a lifetime of sleeping through the night, I now wake up around 1:30 a.m. and can't fall back asleep for an hour or two. It leaves me exhausted by the end of the day. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat, the sheets wet just like they were after I gave birth. And other times I find myself incredibly irritable for no discernible reason. The hormonal rollercoaster wrecks havoc on the mind and the body.

And did you know that perimenopause can last for up to ten years before you even hit full menopause? A DECADE. How can we not prepare women for this? With symptoms like fatigue, sleeplessness, irritability, acne, vaginal dryness, lowered sex drive, headaches, irregular periods, incontinence, mood swings, forgetfulness ... MY GOD WHERE DOES IT END? ... we really need to give women a head's up on all this.

And guess what else? You can still get pregnant while you're perimenopausal. Yes, you still have to worry about getting knocked up while your body's clock is winding down and closing up the baby shop. It's like you get the worst of both worlds.

Sure there are ways to help you cope with perimenopause. A low-dose birth control can help alleviate symptoms, an antidepressant, a skin patch, a vaginal ring, progesterone injections and suppositories too. But if we don't even realize we're in perimenopause, how on earth would we know to ask for help?

And many of these symptoms I wouldn't even think of mentioning to my doctor. Things like headaches, sore joints and sleeplessness I chalk up to lifestyle and not menopause. I'd just like a head's up. That's all I'm saying.

So this is me giving all my girls ages 30 to 50 a head's up.

Strap on your seat belts, it's gonna be a bumpy ride.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

On Becoming My Grandmother

Grandma working the swim cap.
It just dawned at me that I may be becoming my grandmother.

My grandmother was fancy, at least in my child's eye. She wore jewelry and always had her hair, nails and makeup done. Or if her hair wasn't done, she wore a turban with a jewel in the center. When she swam, she wore patterned swim caps with chin straps. She smoked cigarettes on slim holders and extended her pinky when she drank coffee from her china cups. When she flipped the remote control from the stock exchange to the Home Shopping Network, she stretched her fingers in such a way so as not to ruin her nails. She owned a number of fur coats. Not particuarly warm and fuzzy, my grandmother did not cuddle or bake cookies, though she did offer to buy me bedazzled sweaters that were featured on cable television. And she kept the refrigerator stocked with Andes chocolate mint candies, which I was welcome to have.

My children and spouse were imitating me the other night. They were pretending to eat like I eat. They extended their fingers dramatically and pursed their lips carefully as they ate their imaginary food. Then they all erupted into laughter. I remained somewhat flabbergasted by all of this. When my son makes his "Mandy Face," he purses his lips and raises one eyebrow.

None of these are things I knew about myself before their antics.

Sitting at lunch with some co-workers today, I realized that I dress up to go on an airplane, I never wear tennis shoes or athletic gear unless I am exercising. I don't leave the house without makeup, not even to go get bagels or coffee. I put on lipgloss before I get out of my car or attend meetings. The older I get, the more I prefer wearing dresses. It's one piece of clothing, so it's easy and you always look elegant. None of my dresses go above the knee. And I would never wear a dress with a flat shoe. The mere thought of it makes me shudder.

All of this leaves me to conclude that I may need a swim cap at some point in the near future.

And though I'm not particularly affectionate, if you visit my office, there is candy and you are welcome to it.





Friday, September 29, 2017

If You Would Sing For Me Like That


When my husband and I first met, we bonded over books, music and a mutual appreciation of suffering and psychotherapy. (That may sound, odd, I realize. But there it is.) We shared favorite books and bought them for each other. We made each other mix CDs. We told our childhood tales and shared our therapists' wisdom.

There was a deep ache in all of it that resonated in one another.

And beyond a shared pain that could be pressed with just the slightest touch of a fingertip, beyond that there was a shared hope. Such a joyous spark within in us, a faith even, that things could be better. Should be better. Maybe even better together?

How the stuff that reached down into our bone marrow and shook our protective shells loose, oh how that stuff made us wrap around each other and intertwine our broken arms and wounded hearts. You can laugh or roll your eyes if you like. But we were both damaged goods, fragile to the touch and quick to bolt. It's true. I'm laying it bare before you like a fool. And in each other we found shelter. We found safe quarters. Buddha help us, we did.

That was many years ago and we've each grown stronger. We're not quite so fragile. We've recovered from bad relationships and reconstituted ourselves into two successful people with a happy family and a nice house and successful careers.

All of that takes a shit ton of work.

Building a marriage, a home, and a family takes a lot of god damn work. External work. Financial work and physical work. We've added a marriage counselor in the midst of all that to keep our relationship together at its core. We've just finished a major project renovating our yard. Totally new back yard and front yard. It represents a lot of money and a lot of shared decision-making. Also a lot of optimism. You don't spend money on a yard unless you feel pretty secure in life.

But all that building and buttressing and care-taking ... it all takes a lot of work.

Are you noticing a theme here? WORK WORK WORK.

How do you keep the soul of the thing intact amidst all that work?

Where has our vulnerability gone? Where is the rawness and shared grief? Where is the beauty of the mixed CD, the favorite book ... a childhood tale that neither of us has heard before?

Sometimes that magic gets lost in the day to day. Building a life is not exactly the same thing as a budding romance.

Lately my husband has been listening to classical music. I used to like classical music when I played the violin. But now I sort of hate it. It stresses me out. It doesn't speak to me and it has no soul. I like singer-songwriters and more contemporary or alternative stuff. He likes classical. We can't even make playlists for each other any more.

We don't share the same books anymore either. He's switched to audio books and I've switched to a Kindle.

But we do watch some of the same shows (but not all).

Marriage. It's an evolution. It's not all new and stardust and figuring each other out. It's easy to grow apart and feel like all you see is the differences. I don't like his music and he doesn't really have the patience to read what I'm reading.

What's closer to the soul than books and music?

I don't know.

Who are we anymore?

Where did we go?

Tonight he sent me a song by Gregory Alan Isakov. And he also sent me the lyrics. (He never pays attention to lyrics.) My husband is a musician and listens to the melody. I'm a writer and pay more attention to the words. Isakov has both going on, but more importantly, it was one of those moments in a long-term relationship where I was suddenly taken back to the beginning.

"Perhaps he still knows me after all," I thought.

We do know each other. Our souls speak the same language.

Music can do that.

Words can do that.

So for tonight, we're not talking about how many minutes we have to water the new sod or whether the new arbor vitae is tilting slightly to the left. We're not fighting with our daughter over taking her medicine. Or getting annoyed over who put what in the wrong place. (He did.)

So tonight we touched the soft places in the hidden corners of our hearts. Tender. Hurt. Hidden and real. How often do we neglect that secret self once we go from lovers steeped in discovery to spouses battling out turf?

Tonight I listened to the sound of our shared heart. Our shared hurt. Whoever it is we are underneath all the bogus trappings of propping up a life. Underneath it all, we are those two vulnerable people who dared to meet. Who dared to reveal ourselves to each other. To touch each other and uncover the soft places inside.

It made me remember a hairpin on his windowsill. Mine. How he told me he left it there on purpose so that he could touch it in the morning and think of me after I'd left.

It's a wonder how a little song can make you feel human again. Remind you that there's something beyond mortgages and deadlines and picking up the dry-cleaning. Something like love.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Twelve Years, Give or Take.


Twelve years ago or so, I winked at a guy on Match.com. Sure, winking's kind of a pussy-assed way of getting a guy's attention. But for me, I was practically throwing myself at him. I'm subtle that way. My flirting capabilities have barely evolved from running up and punching the boys I liked on the playground.

Despite the fact that I had no photo on my profile (amateur), this incredibly dashing and intelligent lawyer responded to me. He said it was my wit that attracted him. I had written a rather insane profile, in which I listed all my likes in dislikes in the most absurd fashion.

"You're a smart ass," he wrote. "I like that."

He also added that he shared my various likes and dislikes, including a seething distrust of old ladies.

"In fact," he wrote. "I just splayed an old blue hair across the sidewalk this morning on my way into the office."

The man called me a smart ass in his opening remarks and then used the word "splayed." I think we can all agree I was pretty much toast.

We crashed into each other for a year and a half. Our relationship was intense and joyous. I don't think either one of us had experienced that kind of connection. Over-the-top. Hilarious. Adventurous. Easy. And oh-so-very chatty. Sitting with Fred was like sitting with my long-lost best friend. We talked for hours over dinner. For hours late into the night and early morning, our legs tangled together, with me pounding my fist into the mattress from laughing so hard. Ridiculous and passionate and somehow we each felt we'd met our match.

Until we broke up.

*Record scratch*

I know. That's not how this story was supposed to go. What can I tell you other than when we first met, we were both fresh out of relationships that had left us reeling? Our lives were complicated and we were still disentangling ourselves from the wreckage. It's not an unfamiliar story and it's often the story of the rebound relationship.

But this didn't feel like a rebound.

"Sometimes the best love stories don't have happy endings," my sister told me. And it rang true. It continued to ring in my ears for almost a year while we were apart. Until I decided to get him back, of course.

So I chased after that boy and punched him in the arm again.

Wouldn't you know, the sucker came back.

We're coming up on the twelfth anniversary of meeting each other. If you want to get complicated, you can't really say it's our twelfth anniversary because there's that whole ten months where we both dated other people.

*Awkward*

But twelve years ago, I winked at a guy on Match.com and he was funny and lovely and he set my world back to shining again. I felt smart and witty and wonderful and strong. He propped me back up, put a spit shine on me, and set me back out into the world. Not quite a new woman, but back to the woman I was before a bad relationship had stripped me down to nothing.

And isn't that something?



Happy Not-Anniversary, Fred. I love you a lot.



Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Interesting Thing About Anxiety

Meet Obi, my therapy cat. 

My friend John has been writing a blog post a day for the new year. I admire his ability to write something short, pithy and with a moment of illumination. My writing is overwrought and overlong. I back into stories. I do this thing that I'm doing right now.

I wish I could be concise. I wish I could keep it light with a deft touch of wisdom. Hell, I'd even settle for something funny. But when I sit down to write, nothing funny enters my head these days. The only stuff that comes to mind is the tough stuff.

Maybe that means I should just go ahead and write about the tough stuff?

I've been in and out of therapy since I was 14 years old. For the majority of that time, I've worked on what I've perceived as my "heavy duty" issues. Things like depression, suicidal ideation, self-mutilation, an eating disorder. You know. The big guns of mental illness.

But mostly, as an adult, I've conquered or at least learned to manage those issues. The long-term depression is mostly a thing of the past, thanks to therapy and medication. (Yay! Science!) It's only very recently that I've begun to look at anxiety.

Isn't that odd?

Anxiety was never really at the forefront of my mind. Believe me, it's been running in the background   like so many of the apps on my iPhone. But it didn't seem like a life-or-death situation. Hell, it even seemed kind of useful at times.

Anxiety drove me to overachieve. Anxiety drove me to get shit done. Anxiety made my house really, really clean. Hell, anxiety kept me pretty slim, most of the time. What's not to like about a little low-grade anxiety? Keeps you on your toes!

It turns out that's not exactly true.

Maybe I've been avoiding looking at my anxiety because it scares me? What lies behind that anxiety? What causes it? As much as I describe it as an app constantly running in the background of my mind, what I fail to mention is that the app is run by a bunch of Russian hackers and they're stealing all my financial information.

What's even more interesting about dealing with anxiety head on, is that the more I talk about anxiety in therapy, the more anxious I become. Oh Irony, thy name is Psychoanalysis. Lots of people would tell me to just stop talking about it and then everything would be fine.

But the truth is, I'm not fine.

Anxiety causes a lot of panic in my life. I'm sure it's shortening my life by years if not decades. I'll probably drop dead of a heart attack or get stomach cancer because of all the worrying and stressing I do about every little thing. And my body carries the physical symptoms of anxiety. Headaches. Constant neck and shoulder pain. Stomach pains. It's not good.

Living with anxiety is like stepping on the gas pedal of your car while it's still in park. My engine revs, if not screams, at times. But nothing moves. You may not even know I'm so ramped up because my outer appearance is still set to "Park."

But inside I'm burning my motor out.

So I'm talking about it. I'm talking about why I'm so anxious. Why I panic. Why seemingly minor things cause me to freak out as if my world is about to end. It's not comfortable. I don't like any of it. And talking about it is temporarily making the symptoms worse.

That's how it is sometimes. Sometimes you have to get worse before you get better. Maybe that's why so many of us never get better?

It's not easy to walk through the fire. But I have faith that there is peace on the other side. And I also have faith that I'm strong enough to get to the other side. And that, my friends, is quite something. At least for a kid who didn't think anything would ever get better and that no one would ever come to rescue her.

Turns out, I can save myself. And I'm getting kind of good at it.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Experience of Being a Woman


The first time a man flashed his genitals at me, I was about eight or nine years old. I was walking to the store with my friend and a young man—a teenager, I think—called to us and when we turned around, he was shaking his dick at us.

In some ways it's a funny story. I mean, how ridiculous. Right? I remember my friend laughed. But I felt simultaneously angry and sad. I grabbed her arm and pulled her along so we could run away. It felt like a violation. I didn't ask to see his penis. I wasn't old enough to see a penis. And I didn't know what he was going to do next. Would he try and hurt us? Rape us? I didn't know.

It wouldn't be the last time a stranger would flash me. It's happened a few more times as an adult and usually at gas stations. I have no idea why gas stations attract so many sexual predators. But there you go. It's an added experience some of us get as women that men may have no idea about.

When I was a teenager, I was chased by a group of boys on a playground when I was babysitting two children. I half-carried, half-dragged the two kids as fast as I could to my car, whereupon I stomped on the gas so hard the engine revved and the tires threw stones up into the air. In my panic, I still had my foot pressed on the brake, so we didn't move. One of the young men reached the car and punched my window. He left a greasy fist print on the window, but I released the brake in time to get away.

Another time, as a teenager, a boy assaulted me at a party. He grabbed me by the neck and threw me into a swimming pool in front of an entire party full of teenagers. Then he jumped in the water and grabbed my head and held me under until some other boys came and had to physically pull him off of me.

Was he trying to kill me?

I don't know.

Would he have let me up soon enough for me to breathe?

I don't know. It didn't seem like it, at the time.

Why did he do this?

Because I didn't want to go out on a date with him.

I was raped by a 50-year-old stranger when I was 17 years old.

I have been cursed at, yelled at, propositioned and grabbed throughout my life. There have been many mornings where I can't fill a tank of gas without having to politely accept some strange man's compliment. If I don't say thank you to all of these unwanted comments, I'm called a "bitch" or "cunt." I've been cursed at while jogging. I've been told, "I want to fuck your pussy" while shoveling my driveway. I've been called a stuck-up bitch for simply ignoring these comments.

If you say thank you, it's an invitation for more. If you ignore them, you're a bitch. If you flip them off, then they'll stop the car and threaten to assault you. I've had all of these experiences personally. I'm sure lots of people will have excuses for them all.

"Not all men" are like that.

"You should be flattered someone said something nice to you."

"You shouldn't have been alone."

"You shouldn't have been there at night."

"You're exaggerating."

"Get over yourself."

"It's not that big of a deal."

And on and on. All of the ways we minimize women's personal experiences because they are not our own experiences. And on and on. All the ways we tell girls and women to be quiet. To be polite. To not cause problems. Just suck it up and smile. Say thank you. Don't be difficult. Don't be a bitch. Why do you have to be such a bitch? Why do you have to be so dramatic? Give me a break. Typical liberal bullshit. There's a lot more women who falsely accuse men of rape and ruin their lives than women who've actually been raped. Why didn't you report it? Why didn't you fight back? Why did you fight back? Why did you say something? Why didn't you say something?

My experience of being a woman is that I can never get it right. I can never guarantee my own safety or protect myself in the right way, in a way that will please everyone, everywhere, all the time. My experience of being a girl and being a woman is that there is no one there to help you. You're on your own and if anything does happen to you, it'll be your fault.

My experience of being a woman is that everybody will tell me why I'm wrong.

I hope I can teach my daughter to have a different experience of being a woman. That's why I write these words. That's why I say it out loud. That's why I don't care what you say or what you think. I will no longer be silenced or shamed. I will speak up. I will be a bitch and I won't give a damn what you think about that.