About (my) privilege

I can’t watch anything on TV – concentration isn’t there.

Books. How about books? I said I’d spend the kids’ holidays reading. But today, my thoughts keep drifting.

Okay. Take a walk? But it’s stormy outside.

I could try yoga, but yesterday’s attempt didn’t work out. I can barely climb the stairs today. Something’s wrong with me.

Something’s wrong.

Was it the attempt to get off the SSRI that caused this, one of my worst bouts of depression ever? Or was it, oh, I don’t know, the fact that I’m finally strong enough to start thinking about the future, which includes my rather hopeless job situation and all the plans I’d made for a life whose best – they say – half is now over, which never came to fruition? Is it that I constantly think of my 86-year-old dad, and the fact that he dreamed of going to Bergen someday, and all the things I’ve been wanting to do someday, so that it’s been someday for the past twenty-odd years, and how these things still haven’t happened, just as my dad never got to go to Bergen, and his someday never came to be, and how – I see it, and it fills me with despair – my someday will not come to be, either?

Or is it my bad habit of comparing myself to the luckiest and most privileged people I know instead of taking a good sane look at my life and being grateful of where I am and what I have? I should be grateful, after all, given my initial conditions: I grew up in Greece. I’ve done well, all things considered, even if it’s only by getting married to someone who can give me a quasi-secure life in Germany while I keep struggling with mental health disorders for decades. In Greece, I’d be the village fool. I wouldn’t have the extensive mental health care I have here practically for free. I wouldn’t be able to go for hiking in the Alps. Now, the Alps are a short drive away, and that’s worth something.

See, what most people don’t get is that more important than any amount of work you can invest in anything is pure luck. Where you’re born, to what parents, in how educated a family, to how steady a home, in what country, with access to what schools, with what kinds of opportunity around you, which gender you have, who you happen to meet and marry (although, I should get some credit for that, because I only ever liked the safe and boring guys – those who are solid and loyal and steadfast). Sure, there are those rare cases of people who’ll pull themselves up by their shoestrings, rising from a very underprivileged position to heights nobody in their environment ever reaches. But these are memorable exactly because they’re not the norm. You can’t blame the rest for not making it – and sometimes they don’t, no matter how much they try and how much effort they put into it, because, in all we achieve, there’s a crucial factor: the random factor; in short, luck, whose importance for our achievements we all tend to underestimate.

So, why should I be bitter? I’ve been very, very lucky, even if my kids complain because the neighbours have a pool and all their friends have Playstations and Nintendo Switch and their own iPhones, and we can’t afford any of those things. We can’t really afford our house, to be honest. We’ve been overoptimistic – mostly about my employment prospects – and now we’re paying the price for that. But I’m still lucky. Many would give a lot to be in my position. Okay, no career prospects, sure, but a super-loyal and loving man, two wonderful children (yes, even with all the mental health problems), a home, even if mortgaged, and an acceptable level of health, even if it’s after a lot of bad luck and trouble. And, as much as I want to travel and see the world (which will not really happen – finances, time, you see), I still have Greece. Home. If you can’t afford holidays, how lucky is it to be able to go home to Greece and hop off to amazing tropical beaches, sparkly Aegean islands (the obscure cheap ones, every bit as stunning as the more known ones), mountains, forests, gorges, archaeological sites, medieval settlements, all that condensed wonderfulness that is my home country?

What a fail it is to compare yourself to others. What an absolute, soul-straining fail.

So, what to do now?

I’m going to try to earn some money, for starters. I don’t think it’s going to be easy to do that – either with editing/proofreading, or by finding a job. “Oh, with your skills you can definitely find a job,” all my male friends say, while the women chuckle under their breath and nod condescendingly, because it’s the truth we don’t like admitting that a woman with a family at the age of about forty has about one fourth the chances a man in the same situation has – not to find a job, but just to be called to an interview, and from there it only gets worse. With my patchy and erratic CV that includes mostly academia and multiple changes in branch and type of job, and with my non-native speaker status in Germany (I’m perfectly fluent, but have the suspicion they don’t believe me when I write it in my CV) these chances are even more diminished. A couple years ago, a recruiter – overoptimistic himself – tried to suggest me to a consulting company that hired PhD physicists, only to be told I’m too unstable (which, in a funny twist of fate, was accurate in more ways than they knew). Add to that being female, with kids, no industry job experience, and you see how much fun I’ll have as I try to enter the workforce. Stick with me for the next few months. It’s going to be soul-crushing. We’ll have a blast.

Luckily – a female friend said a while back – I’m growing out of the age when women can have children, and this will increase my chances a little. Not by much, of course, but still, it’s something.

Just think about that. Go on, stop reading and consider that statement, which – I’m not afraid to say – gave me some relief. Very well, men, tell me: how happy are you to be men? Imagine all the shit you’re going through trying to find jobs, magnified by, I don’t know. Pick a number. Chances are, whatever number you pick, you’re underestimating.

But enough about the work issue. I haven’t started searching for industry jobs (again) yet. All I’ve done is look for editing jobs (ha, those don’t come easy – and to be employed as an editor for a company or website you have to be a native speaker anyway, so that’s out of the question). I’m going to go the self-employed way for a while, because there’s nothing else to do right now. It doesn’t pay, and I don’t get social security, which stresses me quite a bit.

But I’ve made a mess out of my life anyway. In all categories, I’ve fucked it up, big time. The only thing I did right was find a man who won’t leave me, no matter what I do to him. I’m not sure he’s in his right mind, to tell you the truth. No idea why he’s still here. I’m nothing but trouble. Delightful, if I believe my friends, but still trouble.

In any case, the one thing I will certainly do is keep writing and editing. It’s pretty much the only thing that keeps me close to sane. This, and the very few people who came through for me. You know the name: Dimitra.

Funny story: today, I told Dimitra I shouldn’t compare myself to others; it causes nothing but pain. And she pointed out – tongue in cheek, I think, although it’s true – that, no matter what these people have, they don’t have her.

She’s right. I’ve never had a more loyal, self-sacrificing friend. And, you know what? She has to factor in in the evaluation of the worthiness of living my life. Family, luck, wealth, opportunities, friends. Well, on that last front, there’s no way you can do better than Dimitra.

9. Middle of the night anxiety

<< 8. Here to stay (or: the disorder and I) / 10. A borderline borderline >>

Have I told you I’m planning to write a memoir?

I thought I was doing fine, really, but it’s the middle of the night and I’m sitting in the kitchen, tinnitus in full swing (I suspect it’s a good gauge of my anxiety) and thinking of all the ways I’m fucked up. To be fair, relapses were to be expected. Which means, everybody except me expected them, told me to take it easy, not to start doing stuff too quickly, that it will take some weeks to figure this out, and that I need to give myself time. Guess who was, once again, overconfident? Yup. It’s as if my friends know me.

Okay, to be absolutely honest, I can’t be that fucked up. I’m sure there’s way, way worse. As I sit here, I’m chatting with my friend Stevie, who lives in Edmonton, my kids are sleeping upstairs, the husband is taking them to school in the morning, and I just have to sit here and get better. Possibly fatter. This thought makes my anxiety worse.

But I digress: there are problems. I have problems. Like, a lost youth. Do people lose their youth? I did. Or, better said, I missed it. It passed by, waved at me, gone, poof. Didn’t even come in for a quick coffee.  

When people talk about their youth, and how they miss those days when they were, I don’t know, fit? Desirable? Having fun? Being carefree? Dating? I have no fuckin’ idea what they’re talking about. My youth was not all that great. I didn’t go out much, didn’t really travel—Tyler, you’ve done a bit on me there—suffered from debilitating phobias and depression, my friends pretty much ignored me, and as a small woman in a misogynistic country, I was put down so often that I was finally convinced I’m not worth squat as a person or as a woman. Especially as a woman. Big trauma there. (Wink-wink, nudge-nudge, it’s all going to be in my memoir. I had this idea of releasing it on my fortieth birthday. That’s roughly sixteen months from now. Holy fuck, I’m old.)

Side note #1: Interestingly, all those people putting me down couldn’t convince me I was dumb. Still, after all these years, I find myself reverting to that scared girl when Greek men I’ve never met before put me down—which they invariably will, given the chance. Shall I tell you about the time I went to the Greek consulate, at the age of 37, a grown-ass woman, and was immediately shouted at by one of those, and felt exactly like I did twenty years ago, a teenager being berated? Let’s not open that can of worms right now. As I said, I have issues.

Side note #2: Greece is misogynistic, I’m sorry to break it to you, especially all my Greek friends living abroad who long to return one day, but it is. Horrifyingly so. Holidays in the sun, frappe, souvlaki? Perfect. Wanna live there? Better be a rich white male. With a thick skin.

Side note #3: Here come all the condescending folks, telling me, “People only treat you the way you allow them to treat you.” Prime victim blaming, thanks, folks! I’ve heard it all before. Move along!

Where was I? Ah, missed youth. I was planning to make up for that now, soon, in my forties, maybe, but with the latest developments, who the fuck knows? I’ve been having some health issues as well—it’s suspicious how it all piles up, to be honest—and don’t know where I’ll be next year. I hope I’ll be here. There are books to write.

Long story short: it’s the middle of the night. They say if you have insomnia, get up and do something else for a while. Is it all right that, six days after a nervous breakdown, and while experiencing debilitating anxiety, I feel guilty for writing blog posts instead of working on my novels, or editing for clients, or doing something productive?

You know, don’t answer that.