Thursday, August 26, 2010

American Nightmare

This is gonna be a tough one for me to write. But it's part of my life and the story needs to be told. Last week, I was told my company was laying off three of our seven employees, including myself. You may or may not be aware that, a month ago, I got married. My husband is also currently unemployed, having lost his job about 2 weeks before the wedding. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, we are the American Nightmare.

I could go on about the circumstances, how it happened, why it happened, how I feel about it, but the point is it happened. Essentially, the company has been in trouble, business has been slow for a while. Publishing in general and educational publishing specifically has been changing rapidly, but it seems to me that no one really has a handle on what will become of how our kids are taught in the future and a lot of people who help create textbooks are suffering job loss as a result. I was one.

What happened isn't as important, to me, as what I went through. That's the story I want to tell. The day we were told, I felt like a train hit me. My entire body was in shock. I thought, "I haven't felt like this since they told me Dad was sick." (My father had a brief battle with terminal cancer 13 years ago.) Then I thought that thought was silly. But the more I thought about it, the less silly it seemed. Blood rushing, heart pounding, whooshing in my ears, hyperventilating, feeling nauseous and generally experiencing all the physical feelings you might feel if the floor opened up underneath you without warning and you were suddenly falling, which, metaphorically, is exactly what happened. So I looked up Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's 5 Stages of Grief, which I found out was not only remarkably similar to what I've been going through, but is commonly applied to job loss as well as death. Not so silly after all, I suppose. Let's have a look.

Denial - They sent us home early that Thursday and gave us the option of taking the next day off too. I spent the intervening time from then until about Monday night carrying on with my life as normal. Sometimes the reality of the situation crept in and set me crying but for the most part I tried not to think about it, didn't do anything to help the situation, and just went about my business. I did errands, I kept social engagements, I did a lot of things for other people as I usually tend to do. When I had a bedtime breakdown on Monday night, I felt I had been stupid for doing all those things, that I should have stopped what I was doing, cancelled my life and focused on processing and moving on with the situation. In retrospect, if Denial is part of the process, I guess it wasn't so stupid after all.

Anger - Oh man was I mad. So mad. I bitched to everyone I told about it. There were times when I seemed more mad that it happened than upset about it. I had long ranty screamy conversations with people until I realized I was just tilting at windmills at my poor loved ones' expenses and had the good sense to open up a blank document and pour all my rage into it. I went off on tirades against the world, the economy, the industry, my company, the former president, and just about anyone else I could think to blame for this. Including myself. I was mad at myself for not seeing it coming and acting accordingly. I knew business was bad, I should have started looking, I should have been saving. But the reality is no one knew it was this bad, that layoffs were a real possibility and without knowing that and being in the midst of throwing a wedding, I had no reason not to do what I did and use my money as I did.

Bargaining - After the announcement, a noble counter-proposal was made by one of my co-workers that, if accepted might have saved some of the jobs, mine included. I was told I would hear when the fate of the proposal was decided and I banked HARD on that. I knew the company was in trouble and that even if I could keep my job, there's a good chance it would be gone soon anyway, along with the rest of the company, but at least that would give me a chance to look for something while keeping my salary and benefits under me. When I received my "termination letter" on Tuesday, that stage ended...

Depression - ...and the next one began. It was unfortunate that the timing of the letter coincided with a couple of phone calls that pretty much confirmed some other plans I'd had in place that were disrupted by these events, would in fact be put on hold, and for longer than I'd hoped and might be harder to restart at that later date. I had intended to go home that night and get to work on my plan, get some things done, job-search-wise, since it was the first free night I'd had without plans since it happened. But I found myself unable to even do any work for the rest of the day. I grabbed a cinnamon sugar pretzel on the way home (I rarely actually give in to the urge to feed my emotions) and when I arrived, crashed on the couch and announced I was not up for anything. Depression looks different for different people. For me, it looks like me spending hours on the couch watching tv without doing anything else. To some people that is a normal night, but to me, if I am watching tv, I am usually doing something else at the same time, or at least I am not doing it for the whole night. But that night, it was all I could do.

Acceptance - Wednesday, things seemed OK. I didn't have any major crying jags, I didn't lose it at any point. I managed to smile at a few things I saw or read. And I started to think positively about things I might do with myself without a job. Opportunities I could take advantage of. Jobs I might do that make me happier at work than I've ever been. I started to get excited and that's where I've been since. At the beginning of "getting excited." At the point of "OK, this sucks, now what are we gonna do about it."

I'm not saying I won't be upset anymore. I probably will. But I think that will come from a place of "this is hard" not a place of "I am upset about losing my job." A week seems pretty quick to me to get over something like this, but in reality it's probably healthy. I'm a lot more mentally healthy these days than I used to be and the thought of staying depressed or angry about this because it seems like I got over it too fast just seems dumb to me. Staying depressed and angry is not going to help anything. Doing something is.

To close, let me assuage some of the worries you might have. I know you might have them because I have them. But listen. I got what I am informed is a generous severance package. I will get unemployment and that will help. I've already spoken to a career counselor who gave me some advice on what the most useful job for me to get would be. And if I need to get crappy, fill-in, part-time work, well I've done that before. But the biggest reason not to worry is that this is a good thing. I have never really been satisfied by my job. I guess without realizing it, I became one of those people who thinks "work is for work, it's not to make you happy, you find other things outside of work that make you happy." But I don't think that or at least I don't think it has to be that way. I think you can be happy at work, you can find a job you at least like to do and that's what I intend to do. I've never really had one of those before, but I've talked to those who have and from what I hear, it's pretty awesome.

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