Saturday, May 6, 2017


I wrote this piece about 3.5 years ago after I left a terrible, now-closed (HUZZAH!) company. Things are much better now, emotionally speaking, but I still get blindsided with grief from time to time. It irritates me; I feel like I should just, you know, buck up. Ovary up. Chin up. Get over it. But that's not how grief works. The damage lingers. The scar still aches when it rains.


In this story, mentions of internal bleeding are not literal. Welcome to the world of metaphor! And hazy details.

The job was bad for me. I didn't know that right away. If I'd known, maybe I wouldn't have gone for it. Maybe I would have. I really needed a job.

It started out as a temp gig. I had been working part time for another company and had begun researching how to apply for food stamps because $9/hour wasn't cutting it. Even though it was temporary, the new job was full time and paid a little more, so I leaped.

The first sign of trouble was when my new bosses didn't really know what to do with me and the other employees they'd hired. It was like they had bought a cruise ship and wanted us to row it.

Work came our way and our ragtag group of misfits started getting to know each other. At first the work was a lot of research and data entry, but I didn't complain much. Full time. Occasional free lunches. Regular paychecks. Relief.

Near the end of the temp assignment, management decided who they wanted to keep and who they wanted to cut. Sadly, the folks whose contracts weren't being extended were pulled out of work one afternoon and unceremoniously dumped. Follow me into this room. Line up against the wall. Blood stains? No, those are -- bang.

I hardly thought the HR department was going to wheel a big cake into the room and make champagne toasts at the end of the first phase of the assignment, but one minute my coworkers had been working and the next, they were quietly packing up their things and leaving the room while the HR rep monitored them.

Hmm. This little red flag. Where did that come from?

Fast forward a bit and I was sitting in a final interview with the HR rep who let me know I was being hired permanently, but that new hires were on 30-day reviews. If I failed to deliver, my "relationship with the company would be reevaluated."

It is no understatement when I say I never relaxed at that job.

Over the next 18 months or so, select employees would be marched into conference rooms or manager offices and put on probation, "invited" to resign, or outright fired. Rumor had it these people always knew the end was coming, but it happened so often I had a hard time believing so many useless people worked for one company. The whole drama played out like an abusive relationship. From the front, big smiles and bigger sunglasses. From the side, visible bruises behind the shades.

Work piled up, which wasn't surprising considering the workforce kept getting reduced. The office became the land of unrealistic expectations. Employees were made to feel guilty for taking time for themselves on the weekends. We worked four, 10-hour days, so we always had Fridays off. The HR rep explained, during a too-long, too-bright, and too clip-arty PowerPoint presentation, that the company had therefore given us an extra day off each week. We should be happy to put in extra time! To wit, a manager literally screamed at the writing/editing team one day because we balked at coming in and working for free on Fridays. We were told we were "unwilling to go to any lengths to further our careers."

I became progressively unhappier and took my emotions out on food. I vented to coworkers who were fighting the same battle. I thought we were all in the same boat. I should not have been surprised the day I found out I was on a sinking vessel and all the life jackets had silently been distributed.

As you might guess, the death march eventually came for me. I held on at first, clinging to the side of the ship even though pirates were on board and there was nothing left to save. Fearing shark-infested waters, I did not want to let go. A few days into the fight, I had to surrender. I was not going to be allowed to win. Even if I swam faster, the water level was going to continue to rise.

At first, I was absolutely destroyed. I had been blindsided and betrayed. I was mired in the societal definition of success. When employed, I meant something. Having resigned -- essentially signing my life away while being pushed out the door -- I felt meaningless, unwanted, unimportant. The truth was in the word, was it not? Resignation. I had given up. Slipped under the water and faded away without a sound.

Now, however, some nine months later, I understand so many things I could not see then. I know, much like some character on Grey's Anatomy, that I had presented with no external injuries but I was quietly bleeding internally.

I would remark to coworkers and friends outside the company that I was dying inside, but I always laughed it off as the darkest form of sarcasm-rich hyperbole. Really, though, I understood my life force was ebbing. Actual death may not have been imminent, but an emotional and mental end was nigh.

For three months after I left, I couldn't do much more than rage and take my emotional damage with me on interviews. Not surprisingly, none of the jobs I applied for resulted in employment.

One night, though -- and I can no longer remember the impetus -- I got my art back. The urge to create, the same the terrible job had all but squashed out of me, came back. I stayed up all night drawing. It was early spring. The weather was balmy, the windows were open, and at 3:00 a.m., there was little else besides me, my art, and Spotify in my headphones. I felt almost unnaturally good. Night after night, I drew for hours, losing time in details and color matching.

My inner critic was good at reminding me I had no business being happy. If I stayed up all night creating, it was still my responsibility to get up after a few hours' sleep and start applying for "real jobs." I did, but the louder message I kept hearing was that everything was going to work out.

The past nine months have been a time of incredible upheaval. Creating art has brought me the most incredible joy. I have also spent considerable time lingering in my own darkness, letting fear and worry consume me. The good, though, has been shinier and brighter and useful for beating back anxiety and all my "shoulds."

Art healed me. Beginning to pursue the path I want to walk -- the path I am meant to walk -- stemmed the flow of blood I didn't want to believe was spilling away. I knew I was down, that I was unhappy, that I needed to make a change, but seeing around fear was difficult. Leaping meant imminent death instead of the realization that I could actually fly, that I had known how to fly all along. I listened to my critic instead of my heart. I put stock in mantras I didn't actually believe in, like buzzwords, jargon, and the unspoken rule that success would come if I just had enough Twitter followers.

I am still figuring out how to make everything work out. I have my days when I dwell on the past year and let a rush of anger flood my face, but I have so much more to take away from this time than one bad experience. I have my freedom, knowledge, and my art, none of which can be destroyed by any number of marauders. Above all, I have the unshakable feeling that things are going to work out. The excitement is in swimming away from a sinking ship and seeing only clear blue water.

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