The past three years have been hard.
That’s not accurate. The past three decades have been hard.
But let’s not think in terms of decades right now. Let’s pick up one of the themes of the last blog post again. Namely: what do you do when you’re singularly unsuccessful in everything you do?
Okay, I can’t claim I’m singularly unsuccessful in everything. I think I’m a decent mom. Not the best, mind you, but it’s a wonder I’m any good, given all the mental health issues. And I cook well. And I organize everything for my family. Oh, the joy! To be a glorified servant to mostly ungrateful people.
But, as I said last time, I’m jobless, careerless, and pretty much prospectless and likely to die in poverty because I’ll get no pension if I keep going on like this. For a person who grew up with the ooohs and aaahs of teachers, with the how-smart-you-are and the subsequent, continuing to this day, exclamations, “Oh! Astrophysics!” it’s kind of a bitter pill to swallow to not be able to get your ducks in a row.
And, boy, are my ducks all over the place.
Last time I tried to look for an industry job, I was unceremoniously dismissed for being “too unstable.” In this case, “unstable” means: PhD in Astrophysics, half a post-doc in Astrophysics, which I quit (HELLO, depression!), then baby, ruined health, ruined body, getting back in sort-of shape, a stint in web development, then climate science. That last bit went horribly wrong, and I mean badly, horribly, you’ll-never-work-in-this-field-again wrong.
And here I am, an unemployed mom of two, with several large gaps in her resume, wondering what the hell I’m going to do with my life, and agonizing over petty cash. Watching everyone pass me by. To be forty, and highly educated, and to watch all your dreams shatter in slow motion, your erstwhile peers becoming financially comfortable and settling into careers, and you slipping into a different socioeconomic class than everyone you know and just not being able to belong anywhere anymore. To have lost twenty years to mental health problems and the inertia of a neurodiverse partner who always stayed at home–so you didn’t do anything in your youth, and now your youth is gone and you still can’t do anything, but for different reasons. You and your big brain are largely useless to the world, and to yourself.
So, I need a win. Any win, as long as it’s for me.
I don’t mind working for it. I don’t mind training for it. I don’t mind spending a lot of time and effort to make it happen. I don’t mind if it’s as small as earning a hundred bucks a month–even that is a dream, right now–or even smaller, as small as selling a couple books per month. Or getting a couple reviews on a book. Or getting editing jobs. Or getting fitter. Or being able to hike uphill. Or sleeping well three days in a row. Anything, anything will do.
I don’t know if any of this is ever going to happen. I don’t believe it will, to be honest. Things don’t usually work out for me. But what else is there to do? Sitting and waiting for death is just dumb. I’ll keep trying to make things work, although in my heart of hearts I know it’s kind of futile.
Bleak, I know. If you ask my husband, he’ll tell you that’s just my pessimism, of course things can work out.
— (What the hell does he know? Things work out sweetly for white men with full resumes. They get relentless women who break themselves to make dudes’ lives work, so that people look at them and say–oooh! A hands-on dad! How awesome!)–
But I, being strictly logical and a scientist, look at past evidence: everything I touched crumbled and burned. It’s not the jobs, it’s me. I’m unable to bring things to fruition. I know many people want to see themselves as victims, want to believe what happens to them isn’t their fault. Thing is, this is as much true for the good things as it is for the bad things – but people never credit the good things to chance, do they? They credit their ability, hard work, and challenge.
I won’t do that. If the good things are part talent and work and part luck, the bad things have to be partly blamed on me, too.
As I said, it’s been a bad three years. Burnout, a huge emotional disappointment – a betrayal, if you want, by someone I thought was my friend – my daughter’s debilitating anxiety, the near-disintegration of our family, which took dozens of hours of counseling and a large change in school to save, the discovery husband’s high-functioning autism; all those things have left us reeling. I’m reeling. And my own inability to do anything with my life, earn money, be productive in any way…
But then again, maybe I’m too harsh on myself.
My daughter’s five-year-long anxiety, which culminated in her not sleeping and not being able to go to school, was resolved only last fall. We’re still recovering from that.
My husband was finally able to get evaluated by a professional re: autism. After lots of family therapy – he can’t go to therapy on his own; he literally doesn’t know what to say, so he ends up not resolving anything – he exhibits great progress with the regulation of his emotions and temper. He’s more open, calmer – and people notice. Our house isn’t the arena of daily shouting matches anymore. Our daughter sleeps at night. She goes to school. She does homework, on her own, for the first time in her life.
But this all doesn’t count, does it? Because that’s not how success is measured. It’s all unseen, unappreciated, unpaid work. And so, the danger remains that if I don’t manage to find or create a job for myself, I’ll keep not being able to follow my friends to outings and trips. And from there, greater dangers – like old age without pension – loom ahead.