Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Sky Really Isn't Falling (Part 1)

Among the many enduring "gifts", or should I say more accurately, "boobie prizes", that my mother gave me were a number of attitudes about life. She never told me these thoughts overtly, but I learned them clearly and loudly over the years through her actions and advice. The main theme would be that the sky was always falling, though breaking it down a bit is rather more enlightening.

One of the primary messages she gave me was that life was incredibly insecure so I had to take whatever chances I was offered immediately, whether they suited me or not. If I turned down an opportunity, there may never be one again, so it was important never to turn one down even if it made me unhappy to pursue a particular path. This is a lesson that I have carried with me pretty much my entire life. It's one that had me accepting unsuitable jobs because any hesitation on my part not only made me believe I'd be unemployed forever, but brought about a rain of complaining from my mother.

The worst of these choices resulted in a crappy job as a camp arts and crafts counselor for 2 months followed by a two-week stint as a waitress in a mall snack bar just after college. My mother was apoplectic at the idea that I would wait and apply for jobs that were more suitable for someone who had a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. She'd rather I worked for sub-minimum wage than allow me in peace to search for jobs in my field. Since I lived at home throughout and just after college, as I was too poor to do otherwise, there was no escaping her haranguing. Also, quite frankly, I'd lived my whole life with her fears and had thoroughly integrated them into my mindset.

The sense that I could not walk away from anything because it made me miserable also contributed to my remaining in a job I held for over a decade even though my substantial and unique contributions were seen as valueless by the company's president. I was the only one capable of doing much of the work I did, and replacing me would have required hiring at least two people at higher wages. My immediate boss also spent a few years stealing credit for my work and quashed any attempts on my part to assist other employees (including himself) with an angry snappish comment because he was worried that I'd look more valuable than he and the president might replace him with me. This isn't speculation on my part. He told me this perfectly clearly. He only stopped covering up the extent of the work I did when the president considered firing me and replacing me with someone else. Essentially, his efforts to cover up my value had worked so well that I appeared to be someone who could be replaced on a whim for a younger, cheaper newcomer. Only then did my boss start advertising my abilities because his work would have been nearly impossible without someone of my talents and skill level.

My misery at this job was compounded by the fact that I was rarely given any but the tiniest and most insignificant raises. In fact after a year in which I did particularly excellent work, I was hoping for a bit of a juicier raise than usual. This hope was utterly dashed when my expectations were answered with the aforementioned near firing.

I spent over a year in a state close to clinical depression at that job because I was so fearful that I'd never find another job again. My husband did everything short of begging me to quit, but my sense that the sky would fall if I left kept me in place. I got up day after day finding no joy in anything that once made me happy and miserable at the prospect of going to my office. I sat in my cubicle feeling like I'd rather scream than remain another minute there.

I used to offer to do other projects or help others with their work when mine was done, and I stopped that. I used to use my down time to expand my skills (and indeed became an expert user of Adobe professional products through self-training), but during the last year or so at that company, I'd just do my work as rapidly as possible, keep my head down, and clandestinely play video games that I didn't even enjoy when I had nothing else to do. If anyone asked me to do something, I'd do it, but I was done growing my abilities or volunteering to assist others. That sort of thing gave me no satisfaction anymore.

Eventually, I did leave that job. Incidentally, when I quit, they did hire two people to replace me. It was during that job that I gained much of the weight since my marriage. I probably put on 50 lbs. due to strife with my in-laws and early difficulties with the situation after I married, but I probably put on 150 during that job. The job ate at me and I ate back in response.

People talk a lot about "eating your pain", but it really is a misnomer. The pain was right there in the open. I complained. I talked about it. My pain wasn't being suppressed nor was my sense of how crushing it could be to be so skilled and so undervalued. My boss knew it. My husband knew it. Some of my other coworkers knew it. I wasn't swallowing any of my anger, frustration or pain.

The eating part was about exhaustion, negative overstimulation, and finding some source of easily accessible pleasure in my miserable life. I liked the work, but the workplace and the general environment I lived in was oppressive and punitive. A bit of chocolate, a large amount of white carbs, and a pint of ice cream was a balm that I could lose myself in as needed, and I needed it a lot. Since the job itself was desk work and didn't require movement, and I was in too much back pain to exercise much anyway, the weight accumulated.

It sounds incredible to say I gained 150 lbs., but less astonishing to consider that that was over more than ten years. How hard is it to gain 10-15 lbs. per year? It's really not all that hard, especially when you are under a lot of stress, in physical pain, and have little comfort in your life.

(continued in part 2)


Bunpoh said...

Just discovered your blog, and I am wowed by your insight. I'm stunned by the similarities between what you've just described in this post and my own situation as far as food, weight, self-esteem and the job that I held for 6 years that I just quit after my own husband begged me to, including your description of how your boss treated you. I am now battling some of the depression you describe, but I am also relieved to have found the exit to that maze of pain and abuse. Thank you for sharing your journey. I feel less alone.

screaming fatgirl said...

Hi, Bunpoh, and thank you for your kind words and for taking the time to comment and read!

It does seem that a lot of us who struggle with weight have a lot of the same issues in common. It makes me wonder why no one has really come up with a therapeutic method to address many of these issues or at least discuss them in a way which makes people feel they are not alone.

I hope that your recovery is swift and steady. I'll be following your blog now that I know about it! :-)