Tag Archives: coping with change

I Am The 99%

This post was inspired by We Are the 99%

2008 is a year that I will never forget. First, I lost $50,000 in value from my 401K which was 1/3rd of the value of my portfolio and had taken me 14 arduous years to save. I thought that was the worst.

Then, October came along and I lost my eleven year job as a Telecommunications Engineer/Project Manager. I was one of three laid off with whom I shared tenure as we all had been with the firm for over a decade. Not surprisingly, two of us were POC. Too boot, I was the only female technologist. I did have a sneaking suspicion but that did not really prepare me. As I was to discover, what we imagine rarely holds up against the implacableness of stark reality.

I remember what I wore that day, red and gold. I was attired as a warrior goddess, ready for battle and was already packed, just in case. My motto, never let them see you sweat held firm – for a minute.

I made it home fueled on rage and then went grocery shopping. In aisle 11 of Costco, the dam burst and I dissolved in tears. I was hit by a mix of emotions, best summarized as disbelief and fear.

Anyone who works in Corporate America is intimate with the knowledge that anyone is dispensable. That is doubly true for POC and triple enforced with superglue for those of the fairer sex. Even so, I had great difficulty getting my mind around how I suddenly lacked value with 22 years of experience. It took a lot of stripping away to face the ugly reality that I had NEVER been valued and it was the thing that sat on my chest at night, indigestible and spirit stealing. Honestly, I merely stomached it in exchange for my piece of the American dream. It kept me up at nights but I always put on my game face because the ends justifies the means. How wrong and horribly naive of me.

I could not belive how wrong I was and I can’t tell you how many hours I spent grappling with the truth that was entrenched in my spirit and the deconstruction of my carefully constructed reality. I wonder even now where I would be today had I not been so eager to buy into what I was told and invested more in my dreams.

I could only sit still so long though. In the background, was an ever increasing death knell of friends who were let go, one after another, and others who spent fruitless hours job searching. I told myself it wasn’t THAT bad but the unanswered query letters, calls to industry friends and mounting resume submissions kept climbing right alongside my mortgage, my credit card bills and all that I needed to live.

November came and just as I had predicted Obama won. His victory shook me out of my stupor and propelled me forward to start a business. Finally, due to unforeseen circumstances, I could take all the energy I put into someone elses business and do something that I loved. 12/31/08 was the date of my incorporation and that day changed my life forever. It realigned my personal beliefs with my reality and I changed. An unfolding which will always be incredibly precious and beautiful to me.

I’d rather be naked in the light of truth than bask in the falsehoods designed to keep us compliant and satisfied. Not a lot of people feel that way, sadly.

Do I have to say that I was told that I was crazy? A Black female entrepreneur in the landscaping business in NEW JERSEY?! I pressed on anyway because of all the things around me in that I no longer believed in – I still believed in myself. It is the one thing they could not take away from me.

I withdrew what remained of my 401K savings and invested it in – me. Fuck a stock. Banks weren’t lending at the time either. Who better to gamble on? I thought for sure then everything would be alright. WRONG. In hindsight, I realize that I had merely bought into the mindset that I could “Pull myself up by my bootstraps.” You can only do that if the system isn’t rigged. It didn’t take long for my severance package to run out, followed by unemployment. Unemployment is the new welfare, quiet as it’s kept. In NJ, you can only get $320 a week. Try having a mortgage and a car and kids etc. and living off that amount. Good luck! Not to mention the indignity of filing reports, being called down to the office for mandated workshops and certifying continuously so they won’t cut you off. Amazing, since I paid for insurance for 22 years. It took me ONE week to even get through to the office since the lines were flooded and they now only have one office to walk in – located in Albany – for New York.

It seemed that there was no other choice than to supplement my income with what was left of my 401K savings. My health insurance went by the wayside. COBRA was approx. $500 a month after the government subsidies expired in 2010. Who needs to be healthy anyway?

To add to my delight, there is the conundrum of my taxes. For the first time in my life, I owe the IRS a double-digit figure because I had the gall to LIVE off my savings. There were claims that there would be dispensation for such circumstances during the election but my accountant laughed when I mentioned it. His laughter still rings in my ears as I go about the daily business of survival.

Now, foreclosure looms. Chase (aka Cheat)continues to play with me, 120 pages of documentation and 3 applications later, my modification app. is still amongst the thousands pending. Yet, they keep asking for MORE information, 99% of which they already have, as one friendly rep told me. Is there oversight – NO.

I am not alone. Many of my friends face the same struggles and the reality of panic attacks, poor health, depression and ongoing stress, as they try to cope with the mounting waves of economic fallout. They too, did what they were told and their worthless degrees and professional accolades mock them. They too have had to face that their reality was ALWAYS tenuous and that the angry rhetoric we spouted about the system being stacked against us was a pale shadow of what could come. When shit gets real, that’s when you find out what you are made of.

My mother was on welfare when I was a child and I remember thinking that I would NEVER be in such a position. I would NEVER ask for anyone’s help after the way I saw her treated by so called social workers and professionals who were there to help. At 9, I could tell that was a JOKE. Yet, no one could be more amazed than I that when I finally had no choice but to ask for help, from a system which I have spent my life upholding and following inside the lines, there would be roadblocks, penalties and misdirection at EVERY turn. The banks are good though. Who will bailout faltering Americans?

Are you feeling worthless yet?

The closest articulation of truth that I have found, outside my own heart, is the cry that arises from Occupy Wall Street. I wouldn’t have believed it but the camaraderie, tons of information that I have gotten thanks to Twitter and the people/organizations which I have found through them has empowered me to continue fighting when I was just about to give up. Now I fight for more than my survival, I fight for CHANGE.

We are the 99%. 

Tales From The Edge – Battling Depression

I spent part of this Summer caught in the mire of depression. It felt like I was drowning in concerns and worries. I can’t say that’s really like me, as sensitive as I am, but as there has been an overwhleming amount of change in my life in the past few years it is understandable. Even so, I did not expect or accept it. Amongst all the things I’ve adjusted to, I am still fighting with the bank to keep my home so it’s far from over.

Like most of us, I find it easy to suppress my fears under the mantle of busyness. When there is so much to do, there is little time to feel. When things slowed down in June, I stumbled to a crawl and stalled.

When I look back at my life, I can see that I have had four major go rounds with the monsters known as fear, anxiety and depression. They coincided with major life changes like breakups, miscarriage, divorce, and this time around the culprit was job loss and the resulting fallout. What makes this unique and dangerous is that I did not know that I was depressed. I just felt tired and after all the running around, planting, coordinating with clients and day to day tasks of running a small business that seemed normal.

My first clue came when I was driving and felt like I was falling asleep. A numbing feeling would steal over me and I would have flashes of myself in a car accident, and throwing up my hands to protect myself. I could see the mangled cars and it was scary. Each time it happened, I would open the windows and tense, grabbing the wheel harder to force myself to stay alert. Again, I chalked it up to exhaustion. I wasn’t deeply alarmed until an alien thought zoomed across my consciousness, “Maybe it would be better than this. It would be peaceful.”

I mentally shook myself not for me but for the thought of how the people I loved would feel at such an event was what gave me pause. Still, I was silent.

I got my second wake up call in the form of a good verbal thrashing from my fiance because he said I was not “acting” normal. Of course, I vehemently denied that but it did cause me to think. Reflectively, I could see that something was quite wrong but I was extremely resistant to discuss my feelings with anyone. I was afraid of all the typical things: shame, judgement, the perception of weakness, how this affects my view of self, and oddly enough, scorn and laughter. In my head, these ideas loomed so large that it quite literally glued my mouth shut. Yet, the more silent I was, the worse I felt.

In July, one of my friends said that she was coming to visit me and we could go out to lunch. I dreaded this as I had been spending all my time in doors with the blinds shut curled up with a book. When the day arrived, I tried to cancel but she knows me too well lol. The only thing I could say was, “I’m not feeling well..” Thirty years of friendship is hard to circumvent so it took only a short time for me to crack and all my anxieties tumbled out in a torrent.  She came anyway, of course, and we were able to have a long and very necessary talk.  Step 1.

I forced myself thereafter to get up and face things a little at a time, anything else would have been overwhelming. I talked to my friends and loved ones and surprise, surprise, there was no laughter. There was empathy and sunshine just waiting for me, literally. For me, that was all that was required to get me back on track and resume the fight.

I learned something this time, or perhaps I should say I was viciously reminded. Sometimes, you can’t go it alone.

Weeks later, I watched The Beaver, a movie about depression and the lines which struck me most were:

“No matter how bad it gets there is always one person in your life who is willing to stand up for you, fight for you, take care of you, accept you, love you, pick you up and dust you off, bandage you up and uphold you until the storm has passed…”

I have paraphrased, of course. I felt the need to write this because I have listened to the fleeting reports about just how many people are silently suffering from depression during these tough economic times. We turn inward when help is outward, you just have to find the courage to reach for it. If not for you, then for the people who love you.

 

Eviscerated Dreams – A Short

Love lie lorn on a floor that was once solid. I felt the warm, impenetrable face of the wood beneath my cheek. I breathed in dust, vapors du wax and the spent dreams of the faceless which lie forgotten around me. I could not move. I could not move. The weight of an unfathomable sadness bore down on my being. My eyes were shut, squinched tight, as if shutting out reality could help me find the truth which had evaded me. Truth had departed. 

Why when we seek happiness do we so often find in its place a collapsing emptiness that folds in on itself?

They say to live is to dream, take chances, swallow the brew of life whole… They said. They never said how it feels when terra firma disappears and dreams are eviscerated by disappointment.

In my dreams, Vivienne is flying northwards, a pinpoint on the horizon that winks like diamonds. The sound of her beating wings are tinkling chimes that beckon me to follow, or be left in their wake. I run to keep up but am kept from my goal by the weight of memories.

Ruthless memories, which play unceasingly across my inner eye, the one I cannot shut. I feel her hand, lovingly graze my cheek on our first date. I smell the bewitching scent that is her pheromone signature wafting upwards to tease my nose just like she used to, leaning in at any given moment, to whisper in my ear. I see her smile, brilliant like gold in undiscovered mines, flash at me as we drove across the stark, arid beauty of the moon drenched Sahara. I hear her deliciously infectious laugh, infused with child like wonder, as we soared on swings, or spent a day careening skywards, then earthward and hit repeat, on stomach dropping rides at Great Adventure.

I see us, Vivienne and me, drunk on an art filled day at the Metropolitan lying in the sun. We stared up at the great blank windows on the East side of the museum, drinking wine and nibbling gourmet treats. I remember the way the grass cradled our forms and how with each turn her cotton dress caressed her thighs and ass until I was jealous and bloated with a passion that begged release. A release that I would take anywhere she would give it to me.

We were a living, breathing sculpture of skin, teeth, sinew, bone, tongue and liquid fluidity. Our mingled breaths a gale that swept through deserted offices, sumptuous hotel rooms, public bathrooms, or wide open spaces where nature was our happy voyeur. The consummation of our desires reaching a crescendo when she emitted long, slow, piercing, jazzy moans. My deeper pitch adding the bottom required to make an unforgettable trio whose alchemy was forever imprinted upon my inner ear.

She said it was the same for her… That way madness lay. To think of all the things she said and their truth, or untruth, would surely drive me careening over some interior edge. Ah, but I was already there.

My instinct was to run from the pain but a final, unwelcome memory waited it’s turn in the line-up. This time, she was quietly vivid. Her wild spirit tamped down, hair slicked back, in an emerald velvet dress drinking Veuve, and making her rounds at my gallery opening. I smiled to see the mask of adultness and not the wandering, bewitching, adventurous, girl child whom became my lover, that lived within. She was all grown up – the day before she left me. My mind stalled on this memory and my eye went dark.

A brief respite, only to be followed by tears which came, one by one by one, to fill the saucer of my lids begging release. Sweet surcease, as I gave in and opened my eyes to a watery world. It was here that she had left me with the memory of her kisses beginning and dying on my lips. I knew her body now as well as I knew my own, the mole behind her ear, the imperfect beauty of a cloud shaped birth mark that adorned her lower back, I knew the honey-tan-chocolate landscape that was her breasts, the valley in between and the whorl of her fingertips that memory had engraved upon the skin of my lips.

The world felt wrong, I was wronged, bereft, lonely, and empty like a husk with all the tears that had spewed forth in the time since she left. She left me for greater things, a better job, a richer lover, another continent and I could not compete.

And so I lie upon the floor for untold hours listening to our favorite CD’s on repeat. The phone rang, the neighbors banged till they grew tired, the alarm went off and I registered it all from a great distance. Myself shut down until all I became was distilled to a curled up embryo left behind on someone’s floor, plagued by memories, tears and loss.

Who would save me from me?

I was not up to the task of rediscovery as my splintered selves, the one whom had left with her, and the wretched soul that she had left behind, struggled to merge. A whole day passed before I could move to the sheltering arms of our bed. There I slept and woke consumed by dreams of running on an endless empty beach. I woke only to eat, call in sick and fall in bed again. The dreams returned. No matter where I ran I ended up in the same beautiful, pain filled place.

It was Giselle that woke me. Three days of uncharacteristic silence bought her to my door with flowers, chicken soup and books by Nin, Morrison and Maya in tow. She opened the door with her key, held me in her arms, and listened to the disjointed ramblings of how my fairytale ended. There was relief in that to expel the nightmare in my head to another human being. There was relief in finding compassionate solitude in the arms of my friend. She dried my tears, fed me, read me books, washed my hair and held me as I cried myself to sleep. She took off work and stayed with me for four days until I was a former semblance of myself, divided but standing, once again.

Life would not stop. A week passed and I found myself on the sidewalk, blinking in the sunlight. I had emerged. Changed, missing a piece, haunted, more somber, less trusting and more cynical but at least I was out of the apartment. I learned to live with the most silent and pervasive of enemies, grief.

Time taught me a new trick, it divided. Internally, I now measured my life in segments, the time before and after Vivienne…

INSPIRED BY WASTED TIME by Me’Shell Ndegeocello

Business Woman or Employee: To Be Or Not To Be.

So, I was talking to my Mom the other evening about my latest angst. An old co-worker of mine recently got a new job in Telecomm after being unemployed for 1.5 years. I am jubilant for him, of course, but surprisingly I am a mite envious too.

I can’t believe that I am about to say this but I miss some things about my job. There, it’s out, that wasn’t SO bad lol.

What specifically do I miss? 

  1. I miss the challenge and thrill of technology. We loved working till all hours to figure out a workaround to an anomaly and emerging triumphant and exhausted. “Yessss!!!” is the best sound one can hear in the Technology section of an office. You just know someone has just kicked the ass of some reluctant and unwieldy application to get it to the nirvana of workable compliance.
  2. I miss the regularity of income. Not to mention that Corporate America pays it’s minions well.
  3. I miss traveling to exotic places and staying in world famous hotels on someone else’s dime. Hey the Ritz is nothing to turn one’s nose up to.
  4.  I miss dressing to the nines.  Lord and Taylor was my store of choice. I have traded it in for jeans, Bogs, Workman’s jacket, Pink Gators and a Garden hat. But oh how I miss Jones NY and Anne Klein.

So speaks the Project Manager/Telecomm Engineer turned Small Business Landscape Owner.

My mother’s succinct response was one powerful observation, “You need to decide if you want to be a business woman or an employee.”

Ugh, leave it to her to blow past all the bull and oust me. Of course, she is right and of course that is a no brainer. Walking the line between the two is making me a little crazy and just between us, I have enough crazy :).

Choice. We all struggle with who we are, or want to be, and I think what’s happening is that there is a schism in my head. On the one hand, I am still the snazzy, intelligent, articulate, Technophile and on the other I am the creative, Shepardess of Nature with Felco pruners clasped in one hand. One side of me, sits behind a computer all day, looking out a window that can’t be opened and breathing in recycled office air and the other is striding through somebody’s yard, sweat on her brow, barking orders at her burly, young staff (they just don’t know how to be gentle with flowers lol). The transition was so abrupt, that understandably, I have not fully adjusted.

Of course, there is the other side of the coin. I never expected NOT to be successful in this endeavor but was too afraid to be cocky and claim success. I never planned to go back to being anyone’s employee and that’s what this is all about. 

I look at our books and realize that we have been successful beyond our expectations, as we have grown leaps and bounds in knowledge, are establishing a reputation and have an established client base who values our work. I find it hard to believe that this is our third season as I can still recall the first client visit and “Yes” like it was yesterday. 🙂 I have no doubts that we can extend our reach and income by aggressive marketing and it is the next step in my plan. My vision continues to blossom…

So, no I have absolutely NO real wish to return to Corporate America but at the same time it is hard to envision myself as never working in Telecomm again. It was my life for two decades after all…but this is my choice. I am just one of those people who always has a hard time letting go and that’s the Truth, Ruth :).

Has anybody undergone a similar metamorphosis in terms of their career? How did you handle it?

Defying Gravity

I want to sleep but I can’t. Sleep, these days, it seems is the haven of the safe and secure. Funnily, I have always been a person that loves sleep. Give me a dark room, a soft, downy bed to sink into and plenty of covers and I surrender gratefully to the well of unconsciousness. Let the world go on without me. Sleep perchance to dream is my motto and what is better than dreams? Nowadays, there are too many thoughts and challenges clanging in my brain for solutions. More often, of late they steal away my dreaming sleep.

I have discovered in myself a penchant for quietness. I have always been a social person, garrulous, outgoing and blessed with many friends. This year marks a period of change in which I have withdrawn into myself and had to make a concerted effort to be with them. I have asked for their forgiveness and understanding. I love them just the same but my ability to communicate has been truncated at times. Some of my friends put me on notice but its hard to open up when you know no one can help. It’s especially hard if people have not walked in your footsteps. I have learned the hard way that there are times in life when outside help is meaningless, you must find the strength to stand by yourself with God’s help. I am, of course grateful for all the love and support I have received but life changes you, sometimes without your consent.

In this period of introspection, I have begun to notice just how much people talk about nothing. So much space, so much noise and it’s often about nothing. I have realized with dawning horror that I am just as guilty as the rest.

Since the fortunes of life have changed my path, my reality is bent on survival. Material survival, yes, but emotional and mental survival as well. It takes all my focus to shoulder the burdens that keep landing in my lap so I have developed another face. The face which I show so often to others is a mask that I use to hide this change, panic and sorrow. I have experienced panic which crests and falls with a strength that I have not experienced before. This year, has brought me so much sadness as I have dealt with the loss of my estranged father; the realization that I may never have a child; my disconnection from family; choices I have made which can not be undone and mounting debts coupled with financial insecurity. It is scary to see all that you have worked for on the precipice of dissipation. Scary and weighty. I have questioned who I am, the worthiness of past endeavors, my foolishness at nurturing grievances and my inability to forgive others for things real or imagined. I have spent a lot of time pondering who I will become. Life is a never-ending path on the road to our becoming. It’s been like an interior free fall, so I have been defying gravity, you see.

I don’t like cloaking these things and being someone I am not, so often I have chosen to be silent and distant. It has taken all my strength to fight off depression and face reality. She can, at times, be a cruel mistress. I succeed, at times, in mastering my anxieties and I applaud myself for the victories that have come my way, knowing how hard won they were. The paring away of material security has given me gratitude for the essentials and so I wonder why so many words that leave our mouths are meaningless. I wonder at how much of our time is caught up in self-generated drama and foolishness. I have resolved to myself that once the storm is past, I will not forget the lessons it has contained because therein lies balance and a security within which can never be challenged.  I want that so badly so that if a time of change of this magnitude ever comes upon me again, I will be better prepared and able to withstand it. It is way more important to me than material things.

My only resolution for 2011 is to be stronger, happier and more courageous in the face of whatever may come. Everything else is just drivel.