Thanksgivingish

Thanksgiving was dreaded, but turned out better than expected.  I think that’s my new normal on holidays.  

It’s been about month since I was laid off.  I immediately sprung into action.  Within a week and a half I had 2 new job offers.  I ended up accepting one, and am slowly training and building a client load.  But losing your job is a loss.  One that triggers those other losses as the merciful numbing of shock and action wear off.

Again this year, the blessing of being a(n unemployed) therapist is that we attend to our feelings and acknowledge the grief and walk each other through our shit.  An angel came in the form of a fellow laid off coworker, and we spent hours on the phone processing and acknowledging the dirty shit and laughing, sometimes bitterly, sometimes with evil joy.  We talked until we began to perceive a vague outline of the shape of what had just happened, the grief and the trauma, the ugliness.  We talked for a week and a half until I knew what I would say when the call came to join the new agency rising from the ashes of the old agency.  “At this time, I have to say no.  Maybe we’ll work together again in the future.  Good luck.”  As it turned out, only 1 of the 5 original therapists agreed to join the new agency.  To me, that said a lot.  It was validating in the extremely difficult decision I made not to return to the agency that made me, to the job that was so much more than a job.  I chose the unknown instead.  

It looks like it’s working out.  The new job I chose to accept has big opportunities for growth and leadership, sooner rather than later.  I will be getting a really good range of experience to complement the training I’ve had so far.  I’m getting unemployment as I build my caseload so though the building is slow, I’m not rushed or panicked financially.  That’s a blessing.  Thanks.  

From the outside it looks like things are in order, and from the inside I know that in a couple of months I may be settled into a new routine.  But there’s a hollowness that caught up with me around last weekend.  It’s hard.  I’m not good at connecting and reaching out when things are darkest, I prefer to stew and wait it out alone, telling my survival tale when I’m on the way back up.  

So I think I’m on the way back up.  

Talking to a friend tonight, I’m pinpointing this feeling of a loss of professional identity.  Yes I will still work in mental health, yes I will be back to therapy in a short time.  But I lost something, a big piece of myself.  I don’t have a boyfriend or kids, so I overemphasize my professional life.  That’s where I gain meaning, power, self-esteem.  And it feels like that was snatched away.  And I’m nervous about how the identity will be rebuilt as I return to work.  It will be a different version, because who I was as a Therapist at The Agency was very specific, it was something I had never had before on a number of levels – culturally, professionally, as a leader.  I felt comfortably embedded with Place, Role, Respect.  I was a very specific person with specific worth.  And that was lost.  

And damned if it doesn’t feel eerily similar to surviving the death of my loved ones last year.  

I lost some things.  And aside from the concreteness of Auntie Barb, of Grama, of my job… its a loss of pieces of myself, of my identity.  What will I look like when I put me back together in a new place, a new life, without them?

The cosmic timing.  The first inkling of my job loss was on the anniversary of Grama’s death.  Then quicker than I could imagine, we were back into the holiday season.  I felt dread settling back in as we approached Thanksgiving, randomly bursting into tears again, only this time without the distraction of work and clients.  Healthy planning of my free time slowly broke apart into willfully unstructured days filled with daytime talk shows (I recognized rather quickly which stars were on media blitzes), or long stretches of Scrubs in bed with my laptop (which was actually fantastic, no apologies, no shame for that, I fucking love Scrubs!).  Alas, everything gets old in excess.  

By the time Thanksgiving Day rolled around, I was pretty deep into a downward spiral with no interest in the holiday.  I forced myself out of bed and onto the couch.  Trying to find something to fill the 8am hour before something dependable was on, I accidentally hit channel 2 (public television, which I rarely watch, but my aunt used to rave about) and it was all this program on hospice care, death and dying, and end of life choices.  I was easily mesmerized in the best possible way.  I swear to you, it was the only thing that pulled me up out of the depths that morning.  It was like someone was speaking my language.  Yes some of it was very sad, yes I cried like a baby at parts of it, but it was exactly what I needed.  I’m not sure how to explain other than that it was validating.  Just like coming here to read grief blogs last year, I needed to know that grief and loss were on other people’s minds during the most wonderful time of the year.  With that programming in the background, I got up and baked bread.  I could do this.  

The day was uneventful, just our little family gathering at my mom’s house.  No friends, no extras, no replacements this year.  My cousin and his fiance came over for a while on their drive-by.  We laughed and had a good time.  We watched “The Outsiders,” which I loved.  It was my first favorite book as a kid.  The way it is bookended really touched me as a kid, and inspired me as a writer.  So that was nice.  

I feel like there should be something nice, some way to wrap this up in a bow.  But I’ve still got Christmas to get through and like I said, I’m building a caseload slowly with a lot of free time on my hands.  But.  I’m also coming up out of the hole, and working to take responsibility for my time, structure, thoughts, and feelings.  I’ve done a little EMDR on myself the past 2 mornings and that is helping.  We’ll all get through it.  

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What Happened

So Wednesday, October 30, was the 1 year anniversary of my grama’s death.  I was already a little on edge but planning to be as gentle as possible with myself and honor whatever came up for me (proper tribute to come).  I went into work, planning to start my group first thing as scheduled.  When I walked into the group room there were no clients, but the leadership team was waiting.  They told me all clients were canceled and we were having a staff meeting instead.  I knew it couldn’t be good.  

A little bit of a back story.  This has been a terrible year for the agency.  In January we were pulled into our first traumatic meeting.  They weren’t going to be able to make a full payroll and so our checks would be slashed by 30%.  There were many other traumatic meetings about payroll days away that wouldn’t be met… a 10% mandatory paycut for all employees effective immediately for a period of 3 months… no 6 months… no indefinitely – hopefully we’ll get them restored when we merge with a non-profit monster… no they’re gonna keep you at this salary, this is the new normal… watching my coworkers quit… watching a pack of coworkers get laid off several months ago.  It’s been really rough.  And despite our regular advice, objections, and modeling as therapists about handling these traumatic announcements in a healthier way, they kept coming.  Just last week a surprise policy change via email:  “Use your PTO or lose it, it will not be paid out to you even if you give proper notice.  Effective immediately.”  No problem, I’m not going anywhere.  

I stayed because I believed in the agency’s mission, because I loved my clients, because I deeply loved and respected my coworkers, my team.  I stayed for the unusual opportunity to practice therapy while still unlicensed, for the ownership and leadership I took in the agency, for the extraordinary opportunity.  I kept staying as I depleted my savings on the hopes that this would end one day soon and our salaries would be restored.

So on that Wednesday morning, we were told that the agency wouldn’t survive and would need to dissolve.  In making a decision to pay bills or pay employees, they chose the staff and they said that we would continue to be paid, that we would become employees of the meganonprofit and someday in the future, a new culturally specific agency would be created.  We would be a phoenix rising from the ashes.  It was a sad conversation, we fought so hard to keep our autonomy, but the agency was over.  We were told that we would probably not practice in this building again (not a surprise) and that we should finish up our paperwork and begin packing offices.  

Thursday morning I got a text saying my office needed to be packed up by we needed to be out by the end of the day.  In a daze I went in and packed up my cozy place of healing in kind of a daze.  Late Thursday night I texted my supervisor to make sure we didn’t have a Friday meeting since we were just transferring to the new agency.  I was told yes, we did, and come to the office at 10am.  

It still never dawned on me what was about to happen.  The Director kept it short and sweet.  “This is the day I’ve been talking about.  The time has come.  I have your separation letters and I have applications for the meganonprofit.”  It took several minutes for it all to sink in for all of us.  I broke it down bit by bit and asked him to verify that’s what he had said.  “We are being laid off.  I’m unemployed.  And I need to apply for my job at another agency.”  

“Yes.”  

Another employee asked, “But basically you’re saying that our jobs are waiting for us at the other agency?”  

“No.  No that’s not what I’m saying.  I’m no longer in charge and I can’t make any promises.”  

We all filled out our applications in a daze.  I went and found the director to hand mine in.  He looked at me for a good 30 seconds with some kind of expectancy or question, I couldn’t figure it out.  Did he want a hug?  What?  “Alright,” he said.  “See you on the other side.”

And with that, I was unemployed.  Totally dumbfounded and unemployed.