Showing posts with label guilt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label guilt. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Life as it should be

I once had a therapist tell me that I’m living life as it should be in the world as it is.  It was probably one of the most powerful things a therapist has ever said to me.  I find myself living with a constant narrative in my head telling me that I don’t measure up to others, that I’ve missed the boat on growing up, that I have and am destined to fail.  So here’s my dirty secret: the closest I’ve come to a “real job” is a three month contract about a year before I had M.  That came after completing a psychology degree with honours, one year of grad school, a diploma in web design and administration and a certificate in arts administration.  All that edumacation and I never managed to get beyond one short-term contract.

When I had M and started connecting with other moms they were all on mat leave, coming from a wide variety of professions. While they were trying to decide how long to stay home before returning to work I was filled with anxiety and insecurity because I had nothing to return to. When I became pregnant I was engaged in a long and fruitless job search in arts admin and the thought of trying to return to that with an additional few years of being out with my kid seemed impossible. For about a year I operated under the delusion that I wanted to be an electrician until on the last night of my electrical theory class I realized there was no part of me that really wanted that.

So I went home, sat down with H and said, “I don’t want to do this, I really don’t” and he said, “Okay, let’s figure out what you do want to do” (have I mentioned how much I love that man?). I picked up the continuing ed course catalogue for a local college and started to flip through it for inspiration, and I found it.  One of their courses was in “life skills coaching”, not the same thing as life coaching but it reminded me that I had actually thought about becoming a life coach before but had dismissed it because I figured I couldn’t afford the time or money to train for it.  I did my research, picked a school and dipped into the money given to me by my grandfather.  Two years later I had a certificate in hand, a website up and running and even a couple of clients.  I love coaching.  It feels like a perfect fit.  If I could afford to I would do it for free but of course I can’t afford to do that.  And therein lies the rub. Whenever I think of how little I contribute financially to my household I get overwhelmed with guilt, insecurity and a diminished sense of worth.  It’s like my ability to make money overshadows everything else in my life.

I love where my life is at right now. I have a great partner and a solid marriage, an incredible child, a home that I love (despite the old roof and bizarre DIY work of the previous owners), some great friends and I’m doing work that I love.  But when I start to think about money and my perception of what others see as valuable or important it eclipses all of that. It casts a pall over my otherwise thoroughly fulfilling life.

I also know that I was not just twiddling my thumbs while everyone else was pursuing their careers and “getting things done”.  But the work in which I was engaged was of a deeper more personal kind.  While others were building their external lives and engaging with the outside world I was doing the hard but invisible work of healing, of trying to learn how to be okay.  It boggles my mind now to think of how many years I went, knowing that I needed some kind of treatment, some kind of professional support in my quest for mental health, and got none.  Ironically, university was the one time in my life when I could have gotten free therapy but I never availed myself of it because university was also the longest stretch I went un-medicated with no significant episodes of depression.  Until a month or two before graduation when I started to slip into a nearly paralysing depression that waxed and waned for more than a year.  At a time when I should have been jumping into the working world I was barely able to leave the house, just struggling to keep my head above water.

I know all of this. I know, intellectually how important the work of healing has been and how much energy and time it has taken and still takes.

But despite knowing all of that, I just can’t seem to shut down that voice that tells me that I can’t and will never measure up. That failure is inevitable. That I’m going through the motions, pretending that I haven’t already failed.  That there’s nowhere left to go because if I can’t make a success of this I don’t know what else to do.  That even if I decided to give up and go to work for someone else, no one would have me.

And right now I just want to “live my life as it should be” and “the world as it is” can go fuck itself.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Please sir, can I have some art?

So my new office is finally done. Up until now I’ve been working in my dining room but we found some surprise money and converted the old upstairs kitchen into an office. This is the one space in the house that is truly mine and I plan to make it not just a workspace, but a refuge. That being the case I plan to decorate it in a way that makes me sigh with contentment whenever I look around the room. 

Yesterday we went to the Queen West Art Crawl - an event where hundreds of artists set up booths in a downtown park - in the hopes of finding something to put in my office that would make me smile. Howard took Mae off to the playground while I looked around and I soon found a booth full of beautiful steel sculptures, candle holders, and coat hooks.  I quickly found two items that I liked and settled down to the task of deciding which to get.  I stood there looking back and forth between the two items – a wall sconce for a candle at fifty-five dollars and a tree shaped candlestick at a whopping thirty-five dollars. I stood there in a state of mental paralysis and as I tried to make my decision I noticed that I was getting more and more anxious and miserable. I was feeling sad, angry, guilty, even a little hopeless.  When it came down to it I just couldn’t feel okay about buying something that would be purely ornamental.  More than that, I couldn’t feel okay about buying art.

I love art. I grew up with a deep appreciation for it. My great grandmother and my grandfather were both graduates of the Ontario College of Art and my living room holds four of my great grandmother’s works.  I want my house to be full of art. But the thought of spending money on it fills me with a witch’s brew of negative emotions.

Is it that I don’t think I deserve it? Is that what it comes down to?

When I was growing up we didn’t have much. My clothes were either second hand or hand-me-downs and things like family vacations and Scholastic Books were the stuff of fairy-tales.  I understood that these were things that other kids had that I couldn’t have. But we were okay. We were always fed and my mom even managed to get us into some dance and drama classes. I didn’t feel poor. I’m sure it helped that I had no interest in designer clothes.

When I left home at the age of sixteen I was living on student welfare and after I graduated I lived on welfare for another three years.  My parents would do what they could, giving me groceries here and there so, once again, I never starved.  But I always felt the scrutiny of my caseworker. When I moved in with new roommates she first accused me of lying about the number of roommates I had and then accused me of sleeping with my male roommate. 

The rules for how you were expected to job search were designed not to help you find work, but rather to ensure that you spend your days running around town in the most inefficient way possible. Let me give you an example. I was required to inquire about at least three jobs a day, not on average but each and every day. That meant that if I approached twenty places on Monday, I still had to go out every other day of the week or else I would get in trouble.  Of those three places, each one had to be at a different address. This meant that if you were looking for retail work, as I was, you couldn’t go to several places in the mall in one day and leave it at that without getting a warning letter. So I could approach fifty stores in the mall in one day, and not only would I have to keep looking every other day of the week, I would have to go to at least two other locations in that day in order to meet my requirements for welfare. This is not only inefficient, it is a waste of precious bus tickets and utterly demoralizing.

To add insult to injury, most of the programs designed to help people get back to work or refresh their skills were only available to those on unemployment insurance. 

From welfare I went straight to OSAP (student loans), which was marginally better but I still felt the powers that be breathing down my neck telling me that I was not permitted to have anything more than what they deemed acceptable.  Ten years after graduation we are still paying off that debt.

So after all that time, I am left with the legacy of living on little.  Where I get filled with anxiety at the thought of spending fifty-five dollars - fifty-five dollars that I know I have – on some art for my wall.

Because people like me don’t get to buy art.

This is what so many people don’t understand about living without.  It’s not just about struggling to pay the bills. It’s not just about the immediate hardships. It’s about the deep psychological impact of being under constant scrutiny. From the welfare workers to the student loan officers to the person behind you in the checkout line passing judgment on your food stamp purchases.  People who rely on any kind of social assistance are told that if you’re poor, you’d better be damn poor. 

So here I am. With my own house, new clothes on my back and organic kale in my crisper, still short on funds but with a much-improved standard of living. Money in the bank earmarked for making my office a place of solace, staring at a candlestick and waiting for someone to tell me it’s okay for me to have nice things.