Thursday, August 2, 2012

Not "worthy"

As discussed in the previous post, I've been wrestling with my unemployed state, searching for work and not getting any responses to my applications yet, and the freedom that I may or may not take advantage of. For those who didn't read or don't remember, the situation was that there was a job that was mine for the taking, but paid very poorly and wasn't what I wanted to do. It was part-time, and would have made enough money for me to pay my rent (and greatly reduce the dip into savings). With my history of childhood poverty and my feelings of worth (or lack thereof), I was pressuring myself to grab the first thing that came along. It was a monumental struggle for me to turn down the opportunity because I grew up being told not to say no to any opportunity because there may not be another chance.

Part of wrestling with this issue has been talking about my tendencies in this regard with my husband. He told me that I have taken any job I have been offered each time regardless of whether I actually wanted it. Now, the truth is that most people don't apply for jobs that they don't want, so this doesn't necessarily mean that I've been living on whatever crumbs have come my way. However, it is true that I have felt that I have a habit of taking whatever I can get when it comes to work and some of those decisions have had a very bad impact on me.

As I look back over my employment history, I have taken three jobs that I really wanted and experienced personal growth from, and several others that I took because I felt I "should" that didn't turn out very well for me. One of those jobs was one that initially was good for me, but grew into a bad situation in which I overstayed and ended up clinically depressed and gaining about 100 lbs. or more over the years I worked at it. I did that because I was afraid to leave and thought I'd never get another job if I quit.

People change jobs all of the time in America. They step up or step down based on the prevailing economic winds. Sometimes, they stay in a state of unemployment for a long time. Many of them will not take work which does not suit them and will choose to remain jobless for a longer period of time rather than take something which is simply a way of making money if they have that luxury. Some people have little choice but to do what it takes to put food on the table and cannot afford themselves the luxury of being picky. I know this well as that was what slowly ground my mother down through the years. She worked because she had to, not because the work was good for her in any way.

At any rate, I've been considering why I don't take the path that my husband has said is available to me. That route is one in which I do what I want (mostly write) for the next 2-3 years while we live off of our savings and my husband pursues his new career path. At the end of his study and internship, there is an excellent chance that he will get the sort of job that will allow him to support us both on his income if we live in the same modest fashion that we have for most of our lives. Instead of waking up every day and feeling so stressed out that I get headaches and feel exhausted by early afternoon, instead of pushing myself to apply for jobs regardless of whether they suit my skills or desires, instead of eating myself up inside with worry, why don't I just decide to walk down that road?

The answer, as is so often the case, is not simple. Part of growing up poor means growing up with an immense amount of insecurity. The potential outcome of the path he's taking is hard for me to comfortably live with. I want a promise of something more concrete and that means that I want to be relying on income I generate now rather than something which may or may not happen later. In my world, "may not" is always stronger than "may", but this is an issue I need to deal with, not necessarily a reflection of reality.

The second aspect of this is that we worked hard for those savings, and part of the reason we did so was that the money was ear-marked for retirement, not for me to "squander" by sitting around doing nothing. Though I had begun the process of wrapping my head around the idea that the money was not promised to the little grey-haired old lady that will be me in another 20 years and could be used by the somewhat grey-haired lady that is me now, that psychological transformation was incomplete. 

Third, I want to work. The truth is that it's about feeling productive and engaged. I want to be a part of mainstream society here in my home culture again. Though I can get that through other means (other social groups, volunteering), I'd prefer for it to be something I'm paid for if that is at all possible.

Finally, and this is probably the biggest part, there is an identity issue at play which is interwoven with my self-perception based on, you guessed it, my weight. To put it more accurately, it is based on my former much weightier self. Though I'm still fat (I'm currently 185 lbs. and seem to have stuck there for the time being - and that's okay), I'm not the sort of fat which is considered freakish or unusual in current society. However, I still see myself in a particular way based on having lived most of my life between 300-400 lbs. My sense of self is still at a much higher weight.

Primarily, I see myself as the sort of person who isn't looked after or cared for by someone else. Pretty girls, that is to say, thin girls, get to marry and be supported by their husbands. Cinderella had her prince come and save her while her evil, ugly stepsisters were left in the dust. When I was growing up, my fat mother had to work at a series of minimum wage jobs while the thin, middle class moms of my friends were housewives. I'm not from a stock or a class that gets to be taken care of. 

Deep down, I feel like I'm not attractive enough to live a life in which someone else earns the money while I pursue my own interests. I'm not worthy of that. I have to be a beast of burden. I have to work, even if it harms me because I'm doing something which is emotionally hard for me. Those soccer moms buying expensive food at the high class grocery store I sometimes peruse? Their husbands work and they are cared for because they are prettier than me and they are "prettier" because they're not fat.

I've talked many times before about identity, and how I've tried to rebuild mine as I've lost weight. I've dealt with a lot of it, but this was a facet that hadn't been discovered until now. I still see myself as fundamentally unworthy of certain things because I grew up being told so often that I was sub-standard. And it wasn't even what I was "told", but also what I experienced. No one wanted to date the fat girl. No one wanted to hire the fat girl. No one wanted to be friends with the fat girl. If you're the fat girl, you have to grab the first thing that comes along because you won't have another chance. Your stock is so worthless that you're lucky to get any buyers.

Though I've had years of a husband who loves me unconditionally (truly) and who told me how valuable I am, deep down, I'm not convinced because the person who has to convince me of my value is me. One bit of irony is that an option that may come easily for many, that is, deciding to kick back, not work, and be taken care of by someone else, is coming so hard for me. I have to at least entertain the notion of "letting myself" be taken care of with equal weight to the idea of working. At the very least, I have to want to work for reasons that are healthy, not because I believe I'm fundamentally of lesser value than women who are also supported by their husbands. The bottom line is that the best thing I may do for my self-esteem at this moment is to perhaps act in a manner which many may view as incredibly indulgent. I'm absolutely not there yet, but it is something I need to at least entertain as a possibility. 


Sharilee Swaity said...

Wow, wow, wow!!! You have written about so many of the issues that I am currently dealing with. I don't have answers but I can tell you that I relate so much!

First of all, about the writing. That's exactly where I am at, too. The only difference is that I don't have those savings that you do, and our finances are really dictating that I need to work.

I have also been for a while (two years) and feel very conflicted about it. I can relate to feeling like you have to work, to be considered "worthy."

Whatever you decide, it sounds like you are in a better place to handle what comes your way. Great post and thank you so much for sharing.

Do you mind if I include you in a future post about good links? Thanks.

screaming fatgirl said...

Thank you Sharilee for your comment. It's always encouraging to me to hear that what I say has verisimilitude for others. I wish everyone had the opportunity that I have. Of course, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't be in the position I am (changing careers, countries, lifestyle) if I weren't in this position (oddly). I couldn't have made the leap without knowing there was a cushion waiting for me.

I would be very pleased if you shared my blog or posts in a future post of yours. Thank you. :-)

Anonymous said...

This is a great post and I can also relate. I am a retired attorney and practiced for over 15 years and HATED EVERY SINGLE MINUTE OF IT! And I gained tons of weight doing it, but my entire identity was tied into being an attorney. And the money was good, but I finally realized that I was literally killing myself, with the food and the weight and the angst that I experienced all day while at work. My husband finally convinced me that I didn't "need" to work and that I needed to walk away and get healthy. It was hard, because if I wasn't an attorney...just who the heck was I? but I did walk away and in the three years since, I've lost over 100 pounds and become a much happier and healthier person. I've worked a lot on similar issues such as my worthiness and my identity and it is a lot of work. I admire you for tackling these hurdles and for sharing your experience. Best of luck to you in deciding what works for you!


screaming fatgirl said...

Thank you, anonymous, for sharing. I do wonder how many of us have deep issues in this way. I've come to realize that I have taken the first thing that came along far too many times because of my low estimation of self. Even when I thought I was pretty good, I was making choices that reflected fears that were linked to the idea that I didn't deserve any better.

I hope you're finding your way through.

My very best to you.