Walking usually boosts my mood, but today the walk is a mistake. My forehead glistens with sweat and my skin feels like a droplet of icy water might sizzle on it, like a searing griddle. The temperature makes the air seem white, as if bleached by too much L.A. sun.

One minute I am walking my dog around the neighborhood, trying to smother the invasive thoughts with an inspirational podcast that I listen to like it’s my daily dose of Zoloft. The next minute I am drowning.

My chest constricts and the memory of advanced pneumonia covers my vision with its wet fingers. I slow my walk to a halt and the dog keeps pulling along, unable to understand why we’ve stopped when we’re having such a good time. There are so many tree roots to sniff and electrical poles on which to piss.

But the drowning is insistent, and it does not give a fuck about tree roots and electrical poles or the need to keep moving ahead. It is indifferently rational, calculatingly cruel.

You are a loser and you will never amount to anything fills the air I breathe. You fail at everything you try squeezes my trachea. You bring everybody in your life down with you waters up my eyes.

You are so stupid and worthless. The longest running playlist on my mental audio causes my knees to shake. I hear that voice so clearly I can almost reach out and touch it, razor edges inviting me to challenge it, see what happens.

– – –

After ten months of unemployment speckled with freelance gigs, I have reached a new low in my job-search. 50% pay decrease. Not in my field. Minimum-wage service sector jobs. Administrative grunt-work for non-living wages. I see among the “clerical” positions a solicitation for phone sex operators, preferably speakers of Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and Chinese. Sadly, it offers the highest available wages in this sector, and sadly I speak none of these languages.

I whack my Master’s Degree off my resume, followed by my B.A. My writing experience goes too, as does my salary history. Whack. I become someone I don’t recognize, a square-shaped, polite woman with a friendly voice and a can-do attitude.

Over the past few weeks, I have looked into how much schooling I’d need to become a psychologist (too much), a doctor (too much), an IT Manager (too much), a graphic designer (too much). However, the most insurmountable problem with all these careers is not that they require too much schooling, but that I do not feel one iota of drive toward them. Ten years of sacrifice and study taught me how it feels to have a calling on your life.

I didn’t even get to practice the career I trained for, and now I am supposed to switch gears for a second career? It feels like I broke up with someone I haven’t even started dating; someone I don’t really want to break up with, but have to because they are allergic to me. Or they simply disappear.

After updating my job-search spreadsheet this morning, my face feels like it is filled with lead shavings. Knowing I have to do something, I put on my shoes and grab the dog’s leash.

– – –

After a short span, my eyesight returns. My chest remains tight, but I walk on, legs feeling waterlogged and sluggish.

– – –

I wish I could say I’ll take the day off, enjoy a cold shower and read a book, maybe, but that wouldn’t be the truth. I’ll look for work again, under compulsion to silence the voices that drown.

Photo courtesy of Olivia Henry



Not Waving But Drowning — 61 Comments

  1. Hang in there. I see this happening with so many people close to me. We are more than our jobs. We are more than the money we make. This is such a hard time for so many but if we just keep swimming, we can make it.
    cris recently posted…At Midnight…My Profile

  2. Like you I have questioned my worth over these last 4 months, but I realize every day that I have myself and self worth. Like you, we both have skills and gifts that we use to our best to move people and help them. You have gifts that make you special and touch people. I do too. Try to take this time to reflect on all the good you have done, and the good you WILL do in the future. I know you will because it is within you. This not a pep talk from your uncle, but the certainty that I know you will persevere.

    • Thank you so much for your encouragement; it means so much to me. I try to do remember that, and most of the time I succeed – just not all the time. It’s a continual struggle, to remind myself that I am not my job, that I want to contribute my skills to the world. It’s just not a good time economically, for most people. It doesn’t mean we don’t have immense worth. I believe that for you, too, because you are one of the smartest, most skilled people I know.

  3. I’m so sorry you’re going through this. I’m in the thralls of job searching too, from abroad, hoping to land something before I move across the planet, but it’s very daunting! Hang in there! As a friend said to encourage me recently, “Someone will realize how awesome you are!”
    Janelle recently posted…Don’t Mess With Me, I’m From The GhettoMy Profile

    • Sometimes I feel like a big faker, like the writing is going so great! I love it so much! And it’s true, to a point – I only wish I could support myself doing it. However, I do believe in you, Cindy.

  4. You made the feeling of anxiety really shine through in the crafting of this piece. I am also unemployed (well, underemployed) and the pressure that comes with knowing that I may be the one to cause our family to lose our home is cruel and spirit-decapitating. I wish you the best of luck. I really do.

    • Oh, I’ve been underemployed before, too, so I know that frustration. I lost my apartment because of it, eventually. It is cruel and spirit-decapitating, because I feel like I’m failing my family by not bring in any money. I wish you the same luck.

  5. I feel your pain and anxiety and understand how you feel well. After a year of trying to build a freelance business I’ve been taken very ill and have had to put everything on hold. You can be really happy with choices you make or are forced to make but the financial strain can be indescribable. I hope things pick up for you soon.

    • I’ve been trying to build a freelance business, too, I just lost my unemployment and had to devote every waking moment to finding a real job, instead of working on what I really want to work on. And the financial strain is crippling, I know. I hope you recuperate, soon.

  6. I’m a first-time reader here, but I love your eloquence, and I can completely identify with that cruel voice that sometimes pops into our heads and points out all the ways in which we’re lacking. Your writing is beautiful, I hope that good things make their way to you soon!

    Rachel recently posted…It’s a Love/Hate ThingMy Profile

  7. Is it in the water? Or the air? Or the moon? I have been sharing these same thoughts lately and it sucks. You are above those thoughts, though, and you will find your happiness and worthiness. Because you are amazing and gifted, it’s hard to see it when you’re on the inside. But we see it from the outside. <3
    Jen Brunett recently posted…Front Seat BuddhaMy Profile

  8. I hear ya. The past ten years have been bleak. Other than owning our own charter boat biz a few years ago pre-economic collapse and running our own nonprofit also pre-economic collapse, the only job I’ve gotten out in the real world was filing crap for a sort of friend of mine. I could only take 2 days of the $8/hr insanity before I left in a cloud of depression. All this experience and education and talent and that’s it? What’s next? Greeter at Walmart?
    Enchanted Seashells, Confessions of a Tugboat Captain’s Wife recently posted…A Rose of Many Petals #Wordless Wednesday #Photography #FlowersMy Profile

  9. I could commiserate. I could chime in with my own anxiety and discontent about work, family, life in general. But I could never write it like this. As much as my heart aches that you feel this way, it was one of the best things I’ve read in ages. *hugs* for both those reasons.
    Christine recently posted…Biker MeMy Profile

  10. I thought after my BA I would be able to find the career of my dreams- such was not meant to be. Now that I am pursuing my MA and continue jobless, I have to wonder if I’ll ever land that job. But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? We struggle to achieve. And we keep struggling through that cesspool of job postings. Whatever you do, don’t settle. Those who hire within companies probably spill coffee on all the resumes, or nap instead of doing their work. You’ve got talent- as you showed here. Keep walking forward, or, as Dory would say, keep swimming! (Zeus knows we need to in this heat!)
    Renada Styles recently posted…Feeling That Summer Heat 06/03/14My Profile

    • Yep, I keep struggling too, because I don’t want to settle. Maybe it’s time to go back for the PhD after all, and just go for it.
      And that you referenced Dori in this made me smile. Sometimes that’s all we can do.

    • Thank you so much for all your support and cheerleading, Linda. You’ve been so encouraging to me through all this.
      And yeah, THE ECONOMY SUCKS ASS! Thank you for reminding me, because it feels good to blame that. 😉

  11. Beautiful writing as usual. I can’t think of anything to tell you that would be original or helpful but I would give you a big hug and take you out for coffee if I lived in LA. Are you really thinking of relocating anywhere? Boulder CO is lovely:)

  12. Oh sweet friend, this makes me hurt for you. You are smart and amazing and none of the things you are thinking about in this piece. Wishing you peace and happiness, knowing for sure that the very best things are coming your way.
    Sam Merel recently posted…Israel Day Parade 2014My Profile

  13. This is beautifully, poignantly written. You are supposed to write. I’ve been under-employed, unemployed, self-employed (which really was the nadir because I made less than I did on unemployment). And then there was light at the end of the tunnel and I got a job at a literary mag — how the fuck did that happen?! Now I do grant writing (better offer, more hope for advancement). I went through all the emotions and self-recriminations that you are experiencing. I’m just posting to tell you 1) you are a writer; and 2) light is ahead. Clearly, you are loved too. Be well, my new friend.
    Meg recently posted…Scout Picture of the WeekMy Profile

  14. Oh Nat. This breaks my heart. Why is it that the world so often looks around/over/above the truly talented? You’ve got to hang on- and you know it- so take walks, and swing on swings, and watch those funny movies, and bake those cakes! This too will pass. XXXOOO
    A Pleasant House recently posted…AGING IN THE FAST LANEMy Profile

    • I don’t know why, but when I’m in a positive mood, I hope it’s because I’m supposed to be doing something else. I can be pretty philosophical about it when those voices aren’t being assholes. And I think I’ll take some of your suggestions. 🙂

  15. Pingback: yeah write #165 weekly writing challenge kickoff: summer series teaser, challenge winners round-up, gargleblaster prompt, badges are ready | yeah writeyeah write

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