Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Job for Life

I’ve suffered a pretty serious professional setback this week. The timing couldn’t be shittier as I’ve only just found some tentative stability once again. Suffice it to say, I’ve always been achievement-driven, always defined myself by what I do. Teaching four classes while taking three classes in graduate school? PhD by 28? Writing my first book and winning awards? Tenure-track job and glowing teaching evaluations? Accomplishments and accolades serve to reinforce that surface sense that I am, despite the craziness, okay, acceptable, lovable. As long as my professional life is zooming along, as long as I continue to do and do and do (and relying on the consuming busyness to compartmentalize IT, shunt IT to the side, managing as Surface-Successful-Me), then I can allow myself to exist, to believe that it’s possible to coexist with IT.

Now? Without the external applause, without the visible, tangible signs of success, I’m thrown back on the reserves of internal me. The Self stripped of all pretenses, all costume, all fancified get-ups. For years, Dr. B. has been trying to get me to believe that I am worth fighting for—and for years, I’ve agreed that as long as I could still meet those self-imposed, excessively high expectations, than sure, yes, I deserved love, deserved to live.

Given the continued loss of all those external signifiers, it’s time to find out if I am, indeed, worth it on my own. Can I finally believe that I am lovable because I simply am? That my life is inherently rich and full and meaningful? That for now, it is more than enough that my job is recovery? As my psychiatrist reminded me, now is the time to get healthy, now is the time to hunker down, bunker down with my family and allow myself to be loved and to love. No need to earn love anymore: I have it already. I am not alone, but am surrounded on all sides by a fortress of love. Christopher and the kids. We make a four-square together and that is enough, and that is all, and that is the point and purpose of life.

Of course, with this loss of professional status, my ego and pride are decimated. Part of me wants to yield to this defeat and give up. I’m exhausted from having to try and try to maintain stability, exhausted from the minute-by-minute effort required to reign in the manic despair. And this has been part and parcel of my existence for as long as I can remember. Nine years old and I am climbing up on the counter in the kitchen, rummaging the cabinets for the bottle of Flintstone vitamins, pouring them out in my hand, swallowing one after another in hopes that I can put an end to IT’s voice--already, even then, assaulting me. Fourteen years old and sitting on the toilet in the middle of the night, carving up my arms with a razor blade. Sixteen years old and attempting a drunken, middle-of-the-night swim out into the ocean, intending not to come back. Twenty years old and submerging myself in a campus lake in late November, and against my will, fished out by security. Thirty-three years old and threatening to hurl myself from the Triborough Bridge. Thirty-six years old and overdosing on Lithium. And I’ve been telling myself all these years that I can manage IT? That co-existence is possible? IT has no interest in living side-by-side with me in my successes. IT’s only purpose (and ultimate achievement) is my death.

Now, I must allow myself to be driven—not by goals or expectations or IT—but be driven by love. And to be grateful that after all these years, I am alive, have survived, that I am able, today, to sit beside my daughter after school and run through her spelling words, and give my son a push in his sled down the snowy hill, and spend a meditative hour baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies, and curl up on the couch, in front of a toasty fire with my husband, losing myself in a few hours of uncomplicated T.V., and later, burrow into a warm bed with a complicated novel, and that I will, eventually, fall asleep, waking, blessedly into tomorrow. Into my life—which is the real, necessary, meaning-filled work.


  1. I have really struggled with the self-worth thing since my health went down hill. I can no longer do much. I can't volunteer for everything. I can't work fifty hours a week. I can't be everyone's miracle worker. So if I can't be that then what am I? Trying to find a place inside me that believes I am of worth even if I am not producing anything has been so hard.

    But I am trying. Nice to know I'm not the only one.

  2. So sorry to hear this. We are what we do, of course- whether we should be or not, we are.

    I wish you nothing but the best. I hope you can find the strength to make you, the care and feeding of Kerry, job #1.