Friday, October 20, 2006

Working For a Living

I've been seeing a counselor pretty much every week for almost a year now. I quit my job about 16 months ago and this time last year found myself sitting at my kitchen table, staring at an episode of Jerry Springer, mired in misery. Trading in my big title and fat paycheck had not brought me the happiness and balance I had expected. I'd had four months of unadulterated free time and found myself at a standstill. Unable to create a better more fulfilling life for myself but not wanting to go back to my 12-hour-a-day, Blackberry-checking-at-all-times, frenzied, unappealing work life either. So, I broke down. . .

I finally realized that, as super smart as I think I am (and in this department, my ego can be ENORMOUS), I needed help. Perhaps putting my hand up and admitting this would not totally crush my self-sufficient self image or make the walls around me come crashing down. On that day in the kitchen, I finally picked up the phone and made an appointment with Jane.

Jane was the pre-marital counselor that Craze and I had seen as a pre-requisite to getting married in the church. I had liked her. She had a straight-forward manner that I appreciated. I felt like Jane could help me--and somewhat comfortingly, she already knew me and my husband. And as I've driven to Evanston each week over the past year, I look forward to seeing Jane in her cozy office in the church basement. I like taking off my coat and sitting down between the pillows on the plump, beige couch. I talk about whatever is on my mind and it's been pretty enlightening.

I've realized that I spent much of my childhood bringing up myself, since my parents' time was taken up by my harder-to-handle younger brother. After-all, I was so self-sufficient from such a young age. They were neglectful without ever really meaning to be. And things obviously got worse when my mother died when I was twenty and my dad had a nervous breakdown. But through all this, I just kept going/doing. I worked hard to try and keep the family intact. I cleaned the house, cooked the meals and made sure my dad got up to go to work and that the rent check got mailed every month. I called my college's financial aid office to ensure that my brother could still afford to attend college the following Fall, because we were suddenly a one-income family.

I've also talked about Lee during my couch-sitting sessions. He is the man I've loved for two decades who left me for a "friend" only to return 12 years later. And then of course, he left again, silently, without a word of why. I haven't seen him now for eight years. But I still wonder how he is and what his Big Apple life is like today. And woven through these thoughts is the single wish that I could just find it in me to just stop caring and wondering. To finally just left him go.

I've also relayed the anger I still feel towards Lynn, who is no longer in my life, but once accused me of being a neglectful friend. It should be noted that during this time my focus was totally on my elderly father who was living with me for six months while he recovered from a massive stroke. I cared for him all by myself, slept on the couch of my one-bedroom apartment for months and still held down a full-time job. And through this, all Lynn felt the need to tell me was that she was experiencing "lack of friend." I barely had time to take a shower during that period, let alone find the time to chat with her or arrange a frivolous dinner outing. What a self-centered bitch! Of course though, I never called her on this.

The recurring theme of my life seems to be that I often feel alone. Even in relationships. Even in the midst of my tiny, disjointed family. I feel that I am my only safety net. I believe that I am the only one I can really rely on. And as a result, I often make it difficult to accept help from others. My drive to be the all-seeing, all-knowing doer made me great at my job. But it also gave me a crazy, work-obsessed life that never allowed the time to reflect on what I was missing or how I'd never really stopped to grieve my losses.

And unbeknownst to me, when I sat at that kitchen table all those months ago, I wasn't alone at all. All those losses were still there with me. Weighing down my spirit and scratching at the closed door inside my head wanting to be set free.

During my 17-year career, I worked really hard. And I've done a lot of creative and strategy consulting in the past year, too. Enough to pay the mortgage and some of our bills, but only a fraction of the big bucks I used to make. But we do ok. And after months of Jane meetings, I've finally begun to use my free time more constructively. It's clear that quitting my real job and going through these months of sorrow and contemplation might just be the most important work of my life.

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