Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Painted into corners

One of the reasons I want to write a blog is to help people who feel like I do.  I'm guessing I'm not the only one who finds myself in a lifestyle like mine.  And I'm also willing to bet there are hundreds of people out there who will know exactly what I'm talking about, but are too afraid of pulling the trigger, too afraid of the What-if's and the hopes and the self-reliance.  And, I'll go even further to say that there are probably even hundreds more than THAT who could read this and go "oh my god.  This is EXACTLY what that vague sense of discontent feels like." 

I'm going to tell you my origin story, as it were.  My reason for being here, 27, unemployed, broke, freelance-everything.  It's a little triggery for sexual assault, self-harm, and suicide.  Consider yourself warned. 

I entered the workforce at 18, which is... a little late.  I didn't work in high school, but instead waited until I graduated, since I was privileged enough to have understanding parents who were totally onboard with the belief that school and homework and theater were enough for one person to contend with.  I worked for a few summers/holidays (through college, actually) at a grocery store, ping-ponging between being a barista, stockboy, fruit-basket-construction-artist (shut up), bakery assistant... you name it.  It was retail, it was mostly full time, and I spent every moment of it with a notebook and pen in my apron pocket, counting down minutes until it was time for me to go home and be free.  I thought that the vague sense of dread I felt every time I got in the car to go to work was something everyone felt.  (Maybe it is.  I haven't really been able to definitively determine that yet.) 

I quit working there after college, because, after months of being followed out to my car on breaks and at the end of the day by one of the numerous undocumented back-of-house employees, I was cornered in the stockroom and narrowly escaped being assaulted.  I wrote a statement "for the police" (it was never submitted to the police), and they determined that I was too much of a problem-child to be asked to return the following summer.  So I shopped my perky little behind across town to their direct competitor, who offered me a better position, better pay, and generally much nicer conditions. 

That was probably the only day job I can classify as having "enjoyed", but I still felt trapped while I was there.  Part of it was probably growing pains, since I was in the process of moving to Chicago for most of that year. 

I moved to Chicago and proceeded to cycle through 5 jobs in 5 years (which includes a cumulative year of unemployment at this point, full disclosure).  All of them hallmarked by the vague sense of dread which would eventually blossom into full-blown daily panic attacks, usually between months 3 and 6... if I even lasted that long.  I'm talking about crying-in-the-car, contemplating-suicide-to-get-out-of-it terror.  My dad got biweekly calls at work with me sobbing on the phone... usually from work... usually during work hours. 

I was afraid of leaving.  I was afraid of quitting ANOTHER job, because the economy sucks and you're supposed to be grateful to even HAVE a job.  But I wasn't grateful.  I was terrified of being yelled at by my bosses (even though I was a productive, quiet, well-behaved employee), I was exhausted by the schedule, I was falling asleep on my commute, and I was racking up thousands of dollars in debt because I would get home and I couldn't bear to do anything more strenuous than order a pizza and climb directly into bed.  Literally.  I've lived probably about three years of my life either sitting in my car, a rolling office chair, or my bed with no more transit time between them then it took to climb the stairs. 

To contrast this, the time I've spent unemployed included weekly 12-mile walks across the city.  Cooking for myself (and Kenneth) on at least a weekly basis.  5-hour binges of editing photos while watching MacGyver.  Travel to Boston.  I haven't had a single panic attack since I quit my last job.  I haven't had a major depressive episode since a month or two after I quit.  I haven't held THAT bottle of pills in my hand, the ones I know could kill me in 20 minutes if I swallowed them all, and thought about what would happen if I did, in so long I can't barely remember. 

The trade-off is that I don't have a steady income.  The unemployment extension that Kenneth keeps telling me is definitely going to get renewed is failing over and over again in the Senate, and this is month 2 of $500 or less income.  I live on food stamps, I maxed out my credit card in just under a year, my parents pay my health insurance, car insurance, and cell phone bill.  I'm basically a failure at being an adult.  But... so is everyone in my generation.  That's what happens when you're set up as a patsy, set up to fail. 

My point is... if you feel like I do... it's damn difficult.  But I'm making the choice for mental health and a life on my own terms.  Because, even when I'm staring down the barrel of completely running out of money, of moving back to my parents house with nothing but the clothes on my back, I remember that sitting for 40 hours under someone else's flourescent lights made me want to die.  Made me physically and mentally sick.  And I really don't have a choice at all, if you think about it that way. 

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