I’ve felt euphoric about losing my job at moments, entirely delighted, though at other moments unease has crept in, and now, five days later, the balance has shifted inexorably to worry and gloom. A friend sent an email this morning suggesting I visit her for a weekend in Southern California. “Great!” I thought, before remembering I’m no longer a member of the flying class.
Before I got the job I just lost, I was pretty broke, often extremely so, agonizing over the decision to see a movie or buy a pair of socks. I didn't have health insurance. My health was cared for at community clinics, and if anything needed to be followed up on, it was a matter of sitting in a waiting room at the county hospital for hours at a time. When my ex-company hired me in 1998, I felt rich beyond my wildest dreams. I grandly told my therapist she’d be receiving a raise, though she wouldn’t let me pay at the top of her sliding scale—it seemed there were people in the Bay Area making even more than $40,000 a year.
I’ve never lived much higher on the hog than about knee level, but I loved being able to take a cab if I felt like it, to give every person on the street who asked a dollar and occasionally twenty dollars, to visit my parents twice a year and go on a meditation retreat annually, and so in the shower this evening, I finally wept for the loss of my first real, true, grown-up job.
Because of course I will never have another. I will return to being unable to visit a movie theater without saving up beforehand. It now seems obvious that abdominal surgery, DCIS, and losing my job merely presage a bunch of other terrible things that are going to happen, the final one being when I die in a homeless shelter.
Lisa M. happened to call. She asked me how I was and I reflexively said “Fine” before remembering I wasn’t. I told her a bit about my worries, and she said it will probably be good if I can avoid giving energy to such fears. That would indeed be good, but would also require a complete personality transplant. I was pretty much born worrying: my mother will die, I’ll be all alone, there will be no one who knows me or loves me.
Of course, the truth is that my situation is enviable, when I’m the frame of mind to see it that way. I’m old, but not that old. I have no mortgage, no car, no expensive hobbies or vices, no offspring soaking up my cash. I’ve been saving money for years, and I have some severance pay coming, during which period my health insurance will also continue. I’m fairly intelligent and have a motley collection of skills and talents that may be of use to someone somewhere.
But I find that kind of self-reassurance slippery. It seems a bit like trying to think the situation away, and just as easily as I can think a bolstering thought, I can think the opposite—aren't there tons of brilliant young whippersnappers who just graduated from Harvard and can't find jobs?—and the entire world swings dizzyingly from perfectly fine to unbearable and back again. With all those vivid alternate universes flashing up and dying away, I forget about what Howie, my meditation teacher, says: that all of these good or bad things are happening to an imaginary version of myself. None of this is reality, which can only be found here and now.
I’ve found it better to return to my three mantras (see previous post), and, being one of the terminally lazy, was happy to note that two of them even kind of overlap: turning toward difficult feelings involves some attention to the raw data of cognition.