Thursday, September 20, 2012

Adventures in Employment, Vol. 1: Am I the only one who thinks this?

"Were you sleeping? So what, were you planning on laying in bed all day?" the assistant manager asked, after calling me to talk me into working more.

"Yes. Yes, I was. I was planning on sleeping until I am actually scheduled to work," I replied. I wanted to add, "And that's none of your fucking business!" And with that, I wanted to just throw my hands up. 

One of my favorite bloggers, who shares her research into BPD as well as her own experiences, recently did a series of posts about BPD and Jobs/Careers (Posts 1, 2, 3, and 4.) Now she has several engineering degrees and works a steady, high-intellect job, but has some of the same crazy thinking that I do when on the job. These are things that don't seem all that strange to me, because that's how I've always felt, but that most people in my life can't relate to. From post 2:

It can be tough. I see over and over how family and friends of people with BPD get down on those of us that have a harder time maintaining adequate employment.  Inevitably what I see is, “She’s just lazy and refuses to get to work on time,” or,  ”If he would just do [INSERT normal brain function that is impaired for us] it would be fine,”. There are plenty of other iterations but they all fall into the general category of: I don’t see why you can’t just grow up, be normal, and act like an “adult”.

  1. Because we’re not “normal” (whatever that is).
  1. Because there are a lot of things going on in our brains that make this whole “being an adult thing” kind of impaired. Like having the emotional development of a 3 year old. < ---- That’s actually what psychologists say. People with BPD tend to have a stunted emotional growth (often due to childhood trauma) which contributes to poor interpersonal development.
  1. This isn’t a helpful attitude. I get that it’s shitty for the Nons in our life too, but this is not helpful. We’re not dysfunctional on purpose. We didn’t choose to have the chemical responses that cause our brains to freak the hell out. What we need is to learn the kind of coping mechanisms that will allow us to be more functional. Blaming and shaming pretty much just makes us feel even more worthless and even more angry. When you feel worthless and you’re super pissed about it, that’s not going to end well for anyone. Just sayin’.

Not helpful face. Full of snark. (not me)

So why is it so difficult for some people with BPD to have steady employment? (Some People – this isn’t true of everyone, but it’s common enough).
Yanno all those things that hinder us in our day to day lives? Yeah those don’t magically go away when we punch in from 9a-5p (or 7a to 4p in my case). So now it’s even more important to hide it all.
So why’s it so hard?
·         Identity Issues·         Paranoia·         Criticism/Rejection·         Splitting·         Impulsive Behavior·         Co-morbid symptoms·         Poor Stress Response
I'm gonna guess that the above is how my step-dad, TyRoy, and probably even Moneypenny have looked at my work history. People just go to work. That's what you do. Unless you're some lazy, freeloading asshole. It's not all that hard. In my head, I can hear Moneypenny telling me that half of life is just showing up, as is much of graduating from college. But sometimes just showing up is hard. Then staying there can be even harder.

The getting a job and getting to the job like I'm supposed to get hampered by the "co-morbid symptoms" and the "poor stress responses." I get depressed about not having a job and it's harder to get motivated to apply for jobs. I have never been able to sleep when I was supposed to and being anxious about getting up on time for an early shift or about the job itself leads to rumination which leads to very little sleep. Then, I don't get up on time or sometimes I don't get up at all.

If only that was where my issues ended. There's also black and white thinking (what the blogger refers to as "splitting") and impulsive behavior.

Black and white.

“People with BPD may be more likely to view potential work situations in terms of extremes, idealizing each potential job or career choice as an opportunity like no other. A person with BPD may be blind to anything potentially negative or questionable about the job. This perspective can also hide potential difficulties in achieving the idealized goals. For instance, if Bruce were looking into certain sales positions, he would need to be able to clearly assess his ability to make cold calls and deal with the rejection from these calls (something that he is extremely sensitive to) in order to reap the rewards of the generous sales commission plan.”
 I’m not sure how I feel about that particular example but I definitely know what it’s like to idealize and then demonize a particular job. Hell, I do it all the time. Ever have one of those days where everything goes wrong, nothing goes right, and all you can think about is the bad, atrocious things you have to do and put up with every single day? Sure. Everyone has. Now imagine those scenes from the day projected onto an I-MAX screen in 3-D magnified with surround sound replaying endlessly on repeated ruminations inside your own head. Everyone deals with it, but it feels extreme. And it’s impossible to remember the reasons to stay when you’re shrouded in the darkness from the day. I have plenty of days where I hate what I do. I have days where I love what I do and feel like I’m the king of the world wearing a clockwork crown of awesomeness. I rarely have days where I just feel content. I actually hate feeling like I’m not progressing. I hate the feeling of stagnation. I hate that sometimes you just have to keep plugging on, for what seems like an endless indefinite amount of time with no site of change.
For me, on a day like today, it feels impossible to remember the good things about the job. When you're settled with a client and things are going well, you don't talk to the main office very often. My client, his wife, and I are in a nice little groove and things are going well. But I'd also worked with another client, his family likes me, and the office e-mailed me to see if I could sub in for his current caregiver. But I'm fine with the number of hours I have right now, which I haven't been able to convey to the office. I was planning on emailing them back this afternoon, until the assistant manager called me before I even woke up this morning. Every time they call me about working with another client, I feel so much pressure. I feel like I'm letting them and the other client down if I say no. I feel like I'm going to be judged if I just tell the truth, which is that I don't really need to work 40 hours, that I'm happy getting 60 hours over a two week pay period. And, as they usually call me when I'm half asleep or stressing about something else, I am not really "with it" enough to firmly explain myself and turn them down. Then, all I can think about is how much this sucks, how I hate this pressure, how I've ended up working more hours than I want or need because I couldn't turn them down, how I won't have enough time to myself to decompress and destress in between shifts.

This leads to the rumination. All I've been thinking for the past twelve hours is "I can't fucking do this. I'm so fucking done. Done, done, done, done, done." Which quickly leads to "How can I not do this? This work thing that people find so easy, that most people can do every day, forty hours a week, more than forty hours, that so many people all over this country are busting their as looking for, how can I not do this? What the fuck is wrong with me that I want to just give up on a job that I actually really like, that is rewarding for me, and most people would love to have?" Then, I get even more freaked out thinking about the near future. This job has made me contemplate getting schooling in this field, but I know that many jobs, most jobs, in this field require 12 hour work days in much stressful situations than the one I'm currently in. How am I going to be able to do that if I can barely do this? Which leads to being freaked out about the future, even longer term. I can't make a living doing this, especially with no certification. So what am I going to do? Though I know this might make most people more resolved to work harder, I just don't have much fight left in me. It just makes me want to give up.

Which usually leads me to impulsive behavior. I attempt to take back my power, either through acting out in my private life, which usually bleeds through to negatively effect my work life, or by lashing out, even just quitting, at work.
 One of the problems with having impulsivity as a part of the way your brain reacts is that by definition, there’s no time given to consider consequences. When you’re faced with a scenario that makes you feel threatened (paranoia, stress) that fight or flight response kicks in. Adrenaline pumps, fear chokes you, and all there is to do is react. When you have a disorder that is marked by emotional dysregulation (a.k.a. impulsive emotional responses) controlling those emotional responses is extremely difficult, if not impossible, if we haven’t learned how.

For example, receiving criticism in the work place can trigger a fear or anger response leading to vocal attacks or quitting on the spot. Hearing something, being in a situation, where you feel like your job is threatened, you become paranoid that you’re going to get fired, so instead of letting someone do something to you, take that control away from  you, humiliate you, it’s better to take action, make the decision yourself, quit on the spot… except less thought out and more emotionally charged.
I had a very unrewarding job as the cashier at a valet stand. One particularly busy Saturday night, the bosses decided to hover over my stand. Not just my immediate manager, but the bosses of my boss's boss. The company didn't have a very good way of keeping track of the keys in relation to the tickets and I was getting really frustrated by the end of the night as more people came back for the cars. My bosses were pushing me to go faster, while not actually helping at all. Finally, in frustration, in front of a group of customers, I told one of them to just give me goddamn minute. Yeah. That didn't go over well. Instead of just apologizing and hoping that it might blow over, I took my employer-issued shirt, tossed it at my manager, and walked off the job. That job doesn't go on the resumes.

Not all my decisions to quit are that impulsive, but they aren't usually that well thought out either. I've never had a job for over a year, I've rarely given a two week notice, and I've only ever once had a job before I quit the previous one. If it wasn't for the fact that I'd be leaving my client(s) high and dry, I probably would have already quit this job in one of my freak-out sessions. And if I hadn't been working on the DBT skills for a year. Hell, if I hadn't been half asleep, I'd probably have said everything I wanted to say to the assistant manager, then I'd have added paranoia to my ruminations.

I know that other people have much more difficult lives than I do, much more difficult jobs than I do, much more difficult bosses than I do. I know that they do it everyday and don't bitch half as much as this. I don't want to discount them and I don't want to say that "normal" people don't have these same thoughts. I really have no idea. But what I now know that I didn't know until those posts was that any other people felt like I do. While group has shown me that I'm not alone in some of my fucked up thinking, most of those people are actually firmly employed and, as it's an education group not a process group, I don't hear as much about what goes on in their heads in relation to their jobs. Reading her blog posts gave me a window into the thoughts of another person who felt those same things, but the fact that she is steadily employed gave me hope.

(Yes, I did just get into gifs. Why do you ask?)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

"The other day I saw a car like you used to drive..."

Yesterday, getting into my car, it smelled like it always used to when it was her car. That is to say, it smelled like a perfume of cigarette smoke. Not lingering smoke, like someone had just smoked in the car, but like how everything in a smoker's house smells, if they'd been gone a couple of days, the way that scent seems to have seeped into every bit of fabric. I always leave my car windows rolled down while I'm at work, so it's a bit cooler when I get into the car and there must have been some combination of the temperature and the rain the sky was threatening that unlocked the last little bits of that fragrance. My grandma refusing to be forgotten. As if I ever could.

Today, as I pulled out of the drive at work, there was a Mazda 626, the car of my client's friend. He'd had one of those. Actually, one summer, he had one and his (now ex-)wife (or was she his girlfriend then? I can't remember) each had one. One of the 626s was yellow and we managed to "lose" it in the parking lot after a concert. Turns out we parked much farther away than we remembered. I made it all the way onto the highway before I started crying and even then it was only a few tears. That must be some kind of record.

I do not know how to communicate how this feels, not even to myself. I only know how it does feel. I know that when I start to think "Will this ever get better?" I can look back at how I felt when the losses occurred and know that it does not feel that same way anymore, though it is difficult for me to label the difference as "better." It is not as intense, not as overwhelming, not as painful, not as likely to lead me to disassociate from my feelings, more manageable. So I guess most people would say that it is better, but just because something is brighter than black does not necessarily mean it is light.

I thought that I would heal, that all these breaks were clean. A painful reset, a good bit of time in a cast, but then I'd be almost as good as new, except for some pain when a storm rolled through. And with my grandparents, I am. I miss them, but it feels... like it was what should be. I thought by now that I would be more at peace with more with my uncle's death, that I would be more healed. "People love that cliche: time heals all wounds. But live long enough and you realize that most cliches are true. It's amazing what even the smallest passages of time can accomplish, the cuts it can close, the imperfections it can smooth over. But in the end, it comes down to the size of the wound, doesn't it? If the wound is deep enough, there might be no way to keep it from festering, even if you have all the time in the world." I no longer feel like I walk through life an open wound, raw nerves constantly exposed, but I don't think that the pieces will ever fit back together or that the wound will ever truly heal.

And it is hard when you feel like the people around you just wish you would get over it already. Don't get me wrong, I know that some of them wish that I was "over it" because they don't want me to be in pain, though I'm sure some of them feel that they are "over it" and I should be too, while still others are just tired of hearing about it. How do you tell them that you'll never be "over it" without them taking that to mean that you'll always be the same brand of basketcase that you were at the funeral or are at memorials and death-anniversaries? And how do you tell them that everyday you are more accepting of, even alright with, the fact that you'll never be "over it," that you'll never be who you were, that there will always be something missing because the person who is gone is missing? "Who can say if I have been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good."

I think that I should be sad, that this should be painful. Pain and sadness are natural responses to hurt and loss. I think that feeling those emotions tells us how much we hurt, that what we lost meant something to us. I don't think that anyone should go through life pain and sadness free. Now, suffering is the thing we're supposed to be working to reduce. I'm not sure that the people who know me think I'm doing the best job at that either, but, meh, it's a work in progress. The point is that I don't feel like it shouldn't be painful to be without those I love, that I shouldn't be a bit sad when I remember them. Like when I see a Mazda 626.