Dear Employer

It’s not you, it’s me.

Actually, it’s a little bit you. A couple weeks ago you sent an email to your customers that thoroughly pissed me off. (But thanks for the writing prompt. I’ve got a post in the works because of that gem.) You don’t treat your employees well. In fact, you flout fair labor laws. Lunch breaks? Who needs them? Reliable receipt of wages? Thanks bank for waiving that overdraft fee when my paycheck didn’t show.

I could shrug all this off, like so many do, such as my lovely co-workers, if leaving you didn’t mean a significant act of self-care. You see, about a month ago depression started lurking. He was sneaking up behind me like a cartoon villain. I’ve learned to listen for the floorboards creaking underneath his overly-exaggerated, be-vewy-vewy-quiet foot steps. Gotcha!

Depression is descending upon me, but why the hell for? Thanks to some good ol’ cognitive behavioral therapy, I’ve discovered my job has loosed the depression. I hate my job. I would likely hate any retail job. That’s why I say it’s me. I need more brain work and less run-around-the-store-like-the-world-is-on-fire work. I need weekends with my husband and friends. I need at least a living wage. I need to not work at this job anymore.

Minimum wage? What’s that? / Photo: Denis Bocquet, Flickr Creative Commons license
So, in this supreme act of privilege, dear employer, I’m making a clean break. No notice. “SELF CARE,” I cry. And with that I see an escape hatch of hope. I’m outta here, depression. See you next time. (There’s always a next time.)

Did you notice that part where I mentioned privilege? That I can just quit my job on a Friday morning without consequence is a luxury. It was an easier act because I fortuitously have a freelance job lined up starting next week. I have an approximate 5-week net of dependable income to fall on. That I have this, is also a privilege–a combination of education, professional work, and access to mental health care. I also have an equally-educated, privileged, white male husband who has a kick-ass job and income that can bridge any gaps in my employment. Again, I’m privileged out the wazoo.

My point on privilege, dear all employers, is the work environments you cultivate, the people you hire to be in charge, the shit-ass job opportunities you provide are making us sick. You’re asbestos to our mental health. I can count on at least one hand people I know who are a)depressed, b)can attribute at least part of their depression to their jobs, and c)cannot afford to leave the jobs that are making them sick.

Again, I see a hole in the wall, a bit of hope. I’ve recently learned of the existence of organizations like Companies that Care. I long for a socially responsible employer. I hope like hell I find one of you in the weeks to come.


All the Shitty Things

My Grandpa Melvin used to say, If it’s not one thing, then it’s another.  It’s a common saying–one I cannot truly attribute to him. But, I like to imagine him saying this oft-used quotable, because I loved him and I can picture him doing so with a goofy grin and good-humour. Maybe even with a bit of puckish appreciation for the absurd and ludicrous.

I’ve tended to view this observation of life as linear, like all the shitty things that might and will knock you around are all waiting in a nice, orderly queue. Shitty Thing A happens, you manage through it with grace or strife, and then Shitty Thing B happens, and so on, ad infinitum et nauseam.

If we add a few more adages to the pile, I suspect we get a clearer picture of the human experience: It’s either feast or famine, When it rains it pours, Shit happens. (My mother used to own a keychain with that last pithy expression. It’s a ’90s thing.)

If the Fates are kind, we get some breaks between the shitty things–times that infuse us with enough hope and happiness so we’re better armoured to battle the shit when it flies.

Or, we’re Oedipus.

The point is, I think, the first adage, that motto of Grandpa Melvin, is pretty decent, and my interpretation, when repositioned, could be dead-on:

If it’s not one thing, then it’s another. So, take care of that one thing, and after that, the other.

Perfection (or When You Half-Ass Half-Assing It)

Allow me a Shel Silverstein moment:

If you are a procrastinator, come in,
If you are a procrastinator, a nit-picker, a quibbler,
An over-achiever, an all-or-not-er, a good-better-best-er…
If you’re an avoider, come sit by my (perfect) fire
For we have some tasks we won’t be half-assin’.
Come in!
Come in!

Welcome! Come have a seat. I know you’re out there–those of us who walk that fine line between genius and ambivalence. Or, we think it’s a fine line. The truth is, though, there is a vast, grey-scale canyon between all or nothing. We just fail to see it. Or, if we do see it, we can’t seem to make our way down into it. Where are our pack mules and hiking shoes?

For me, perfectionism is tied into the Gordian Knot that is my mental health–the ropes of anxiety, depression, illness, catastrophizing, shame all twine themselves together in this beautiful, intricate mess. So, in my efforts to slowly untangle it all, I find myself staring down into that canyon where the balanced people live, wanting to join them.

I’m of the opinion that being a writer of any sort makes it more difficult to avoid the impulse of perfection.

I hate writing. I love having written.

-Dorothy Parker

When I was a technical writer, I figured it out, mostly out of necessity–wrangling with debilitating and chronic pain (in my case, migraines) forced me to shift priorities. My job wasn’t a career, my job didn’t define my identity, my job was simply a job. I decreased my level of investment, and found perspective. I could have conversations with my employers about quality versus quantity, and, more importantly, I finally accepted that my 75% was a hell of a lot better than most other’s 100%.

But enter today, and I’m struggling again. I’m writing academically and creatively, and I care deeply about both. I’m in a masters program where, to me, there are no throw away classes. I’m not taking classes I hate, where I can just toss some words together, because who cares anyway, it’s just a means to an end. That, however, does not mean I need to make my life more difficult, which, of course, I have done.

One master degree concentration? I think I’ll do two.

I don’t like any of these classes on the schedule. I’ll make up my own!

You’re going to assign paper topics? I’ll ignore those and write about something much more complex.

Half-ass? Nope, just can't do it.
Half-ass? Nope, just can’t do it.

No one can say that I haven’t embraced the “you get out what you put in” philosophy. But, really? I need to give myself a break. And, I almost did it. I’m so close. I wrote a paper last week that I’d been anxious about writing. (Why was I anxious? Just because.) My therapist challenged me to just sit down and write it in three hours. It’s a reasonable amount of time for a 1500-word paper. But, I was already in too deep; I’d dragged Aristotle into it. It took me an hour just to compile the works cited and figure out how the hell I was going to document the thing.

Ahhh. Whole ass. Much better.
Ahhh. Whole ass. Much better.

So, here’s to next time. Maybe I’ll finally perfect this whole half-assing thing. 😉


(Shel Silverstein moment inspired by his opening poem in Where the Sidewalk Ends entitled “Invitation.” Not familiar? Shame on you. Get thee to a library!)