Friday, September 23, 2011

The Hidden Costs of Being Out of Work

     If you are out of work, no one needs to remind you of the difficulties you're facing, and how deeply entrenched the idea of joblessness has become in your daily life.
     Unfortunately, it has likely become entrenched in your psyche as well. You are now at risk of going from thinking of yourself as someone without a job to someone who cannot get a job, and then to someone who will never work again.
     In this prolonged period of confusion in the markets, and of devastation in the personal lives of many Americans, the number of individuals touched by the onset of mental illness is increasing. Yet at the time when mental health services would most be welcome, these people are cut off from access to care.
     If you are in true crisis, feeling hopeless, or having suicidal thoughts, contact emergency services in your neighborhood. Here in Seattle, you can call 866.4CRISIS (866.427.4747) and reach The Crisis Clinic, a hotline that is open 24 hours a day, staffed with counselors who can listen and offer guidance and support. They can also suggest resources you may not realize are available to you. It is worth a call.
     If you are suicidal with a plan to do yourself or others harm, you can walk in to Emergency Services at Harborview Medical Center, for example, and tell them you are suicidal. They will help you determine what your next step should be. It could involve hospitalization in order to allow you time and opportunity to stabilize and move forward in a positive direction. 
     There is a medical center in every community that is prepared to assist you if you are in acute mental distress. That is what they are there for. Let them decide whether you would benefit from their services. Do not decide in advance to cut yourself off from options that may save your life, by thinking that mental health problems are for other people. Everyone has problems at one time or another. In this time of severe unemployment, many who otherwise manage with great skill feel cut to their knees. It is all right to ask for help.
     If you are not at a crisis point, but feelings of hopelessness have begun to color your thoughts, there are many self-help techniques available for you to try. Sometimes meditation helps, because it creates a quiet center in the midst of pain and confusion. It may not solve your problems, but it can allow you to feel some peace. In this peace, you may be able to find the strength to continue to gather your resources in your search for employment, instead of giving up.
     There are groups available in most communities for individuals to come together to share their feelings, situations, and thoughts, and to have the opportunity to understand that they are not alone in this difficult time of high unemployment. Often these groups are affiliated with a church. It is usually not necessary for you to be a member a particular congregation in order to participate in groups. A search of local directories can guide you, and when you find groups that interest you, call the church or agency and ask about participation. You may be surprised to learn how welcome your presence will be.
     The value in finding community at a time like this is that it can allow you to feel compassion for the pain of others. In doing so, you can begin to see that, like these other individuals, you did not do anything wrong. You did not do anything to deserve (one of my least favorite words) the loss of job and livelihood. Perhaps this recognition will allow you to extend these feelings of compassion to yourself, so that you can release feelings of shame that may unnecessarily be complicating your search for employment.
     Nothing is permanent under the sun. Not the leaves on a tree. Not the stars in the sky. Not the job you recently (or not so recently) lost. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know when I say this. I offer it as context, however, for the pain you are feeling about being unemployed.
     Life is a series of cycles. It is true that your life will never be the same as it used to be. That would be true, however, even if you were still employed. You could have a new boss with new ideas for how you should do your work. Your company could be bought out by another, and the entire philosophy could change. People quit, die, move on. It is an illusion to think that if you still had your job, things would be as they used to be.
     But at least you would still be able to pay your bills, right? So that is the main issue, perhaps. Money. It is a medium of exchange. We exalt it to something greater, and in doing so risk undervaluing ourselves when we don't have enough of it.
     So continue to look for work which will allow you to pay your bills. Remember, if you can, that your work does not define you. How you do whatever work you have does, however. And that includes how you look for work. How you hold yourself in crisis. How you continue to envision that you have the ability to resolve your problems.
     Bad things happen. We do not control them. We cannot read the future. We cannot, therefore, avoid being in the wrong place at the wrong time on occasion. We can be let go from a job which we are performing brilliantly.
     But we are not dismissed as a person. We are dismissed as a worker. It is no more personal than anything else in this universe of ours.
     We make things personal. We define ourselves. We are our most essential selves when we face difficulties. Allow yourself to live in the grace of your own compassion, in the light of your own wisdom, guided by your own belief that there is a place for you in the world of work, and that you will find it.
     Hold yourself in high esteem. Do not give in to misfortune. Overcome it. Decide to thrive.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Let Autumn's Energy Renew You.

as the roses fade...
     In Seattle today, the weather has turned indubitably from summer to autumn. It's not just that the sky is grey, or that the raindrops mix with the cool air, or that the wind is carrying yellow and red leaves to the ground. It's also the lighting: clearly, the summer sun has slipped south to warmer climes. Its departure leaves us with deeper shadows, more saturated colors: we have evidence of something on the wane.
     For most of us, this is a time of year we associate with beginnings, because we grow up trained to an academic calendar. Fall means fresh starts: new classes, new friends, new styles in clothing. New. Fresh. Beginning.
     If you're not the one getting off to school in the morning, perhaps you're guiding your own children as they get back into the habits of schoolday life. Already, in a sense, you're once removed: it's a new year for them, but the newness of the year for you means meeting new teachers, going on new field trips, and fitting all the other children's activities into your already busy life. This busy life does not typically run on an academic calendar, and most of the excitement attached to fall's fresh starts is experienced instead by your children.
     Once they are off to college, the ties lessen further, and after they have graduated, poof! It's over. You may not have seen it coming. You may not have given it a second thought. But now you find yourself going about the business of your daily life, a life in which September is just the ninth month of the calendar. There is nothing new to celebrate, nothing new to look forward to or to wonder about. Buying fall clothes even feels different, because as you get older you realize that last fall's clothes are perfectly good, and really all you need is a new belt or a couple of cashmere sweaters to add to what you already have.
     You feel melancholy. Not depressed, really. Just sort of sad, in a way you can't quite figure out. Nothing in particular has happened.
     I believe something in particular has happened. Underneath it all, we are still children. Children usually respond with enthusiasm to the idea of starting a school year afresh. As the school year gets underway, and the new becomes the old, things settle down. Then it's time to look forward to the holidays. Such is the life of children.
     As adults, though, we still carry the emotional connection between fall and these exciting new starts. We were in school for so long that we are habituated to them. Now we have all the cues for a new start as the leaves rustle and the days get shorter, but we are beyond the reach of having our excitement met with gratification. There is nothing new, really, about another day or another week, in September. These days hold no surprises, no opportunities for starting over, no encounters without precedent.
     Unless we make it so.
     We can choose to muster all the energy we have spent our lives aligning with the expectations for autumnal change. We can then use this time to raise to consciousness the idea of paring away the old that may have come to fruition and full bloom, and is no longer useful. We can apply ourselves to the idea of renewal, and create for ourselves opportunities for fresh starts.
     It is in making room for the new that the new arises. Sometimes we have accumulated things, ideas, commitments to the extent that there is no room for a new thought to wedge itself sideways into our busy lives. Let autumn be a time for shedding the extraneous. Ask yourself some questions, much as you do when you purge your closets: Is this serving me well? Do I like it? Is there something I would prefer to have or do or think?
     We often hear the phrase go with the flow. Sometimes it carries the subtext of encouraging mindless  drifting. I suggest it can mean something more: it can suggest aligning yourself in the direction that the flow of your life is already going, taking advantage of your tendencies and predilections, knowing yourself well enough to foresee and avoid self-induced obstacles.
     Going with the flow can mean taking advantage of this glorious autumnal energy, and preparing for the newness that comes with all exfoliation: as the leaves fall from the tree, let the extras and redundancies fall from your life.
     Love autumn. Remember there can be no summer flowers without the wilting of blooms and the passing along of seeds for seasons to come. Is that not a new beginning unto itself?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Anniversaries: What Do They Measure?

     We celebrate many anniversaries in our daily lives -- from birthdays to Jarhzeits. They are commonplace. They are ritualized. As such, they are also taken for granted.
     Typically, an anniversary marks another year's passing since the original event took place. And what is it that we are actually celebrating or commemorating when we acknowledge an anniversary? In the case of a Jahrzeit, the Jewish custom of remembering the dead on the date of their death, we think about those who are no longer with us. On a wedding anniversary, we rejoice in the strength of our marital bond, and the shared history that grows with each year. On a birthday, it's cake and candles for one more year of lived experience.
     But sometimes amidst the joy that accompanies an anniversary, a shadow of melancholy flutters over things. We miss the company of those who have moved on; we question whether all these years of marriage are sustainable in the future; we wonder whether we've lived as fully as we might when we realize that another year has slipped by.
     But there may be something else, something deeper, that we miss. All the mention of the events of 9/11/01 in the run-up to the tenth anniversary of those terrorist activities have made me acutely aware of it.
     An anniversary is the line of demarcation between what came before and what follows. In the case of 9/11, the anniversary delineates the era of an America living in innocence, and an era of an America which will forever now live without it. You might question the use of the word innocence here, so I will amplify it by suggesting that our sense of incorruptible faith in ourselves was assaulted on 9/11/01, and each year since we have witnessed more falls from the grace of living in that faith as we continue to grapple with making sense of the new ways of the world and our place in it.
     We mourn the loss of those who died, and we mourn the pain of those who survived the loss of loved ones on 9/11. We also mourn the loss of the arc of our own lives, which was abruptly interrupted on that day. We mourn the loss of what we thought we knew about ourselves.
     There is a great deal to be said for resilience, however. Anyone who has ever changed direction while on course in order to avoid an unforeseen obstacle can attest to the fact that creativity and resilience can save the day. Oftentimes, the results can be greater than what was originally imagined, before things were shaken up.
     Yes, mourn your losses. Yes, remember how things used to be. But at the same time, make a conscious effort to open your eyes to the perennial gift of the present, and to its surprising potential to offer more than anything that preceded it.
     Be gentle with yourself if it hurts to pass an anniversary of any kind, and honor the fact that a dashed dream leaves room for a new one.