Monday, May 16, 2011

Useful vs. Useless

One of the things I find myself fighting against these days is a complete and utter feeling of uselessness.

When I was a young mother with a good job as a legal assistant, my days were incredibly full, I had a boss that counted on me to be there every day and get the work out, and taking care of my young children filled every minute that I wasn't working or commuting to work.  There was also a house to take care of and a husband to spend time with.  Life was not necessarily good, because in my own internal world, life is always seen from the glass half empty sort of place, but it was certainly full.  We worked to pay the bills and life was something of a struggle from a financial point of view, not to mention how much work having young children is.

Now, with my youngest child 12 already, my oldest child in college and almost completely independent, no job, and needing someone to do the majority of the heavy housework for me because of the fibromyalgia, I find myself somewhat at loose ends.  Justin has picked up so much of the slack and it is exhausting him, while I need to go back to bed after the kids go to school just to get the 8-10 hours of sleep my body now demands.  I no longer have a job that depends on me, at least from a career point of view.  Yes, my family still counts on me and of course I take that responsibility seriously.

But once I have picked up whatever it is that needed to be picked up or taken the kid for the dental appointment or walked the dog, my job is over for whatever period of time until the next task comes up that needs to be done in order to allow Justin to earn our mortgage money.  And I often find myself standing in the kitchen or the family room wondering what exactly I am supposed to be doing at that moment.

You don't realize how much of your identity is tied up in what you "are."  When people ask, "What do you do?" they are expecting a description of your job or career.  If you are a stay at home mom and shuttling the kids to soccer games and band concerts, that is also something that is admired, because it is recognized what an important job that is.

Justin has told me numerous times that he could not do what he does without my doing what I do.  It's great to be appreciated and I do try very hard to pick up the slack so that Justin does not have to kill himself by working a more than full time job and then shifting into full time dad/husband/housecare mode.  There is rarely a minute that Justin is not either working or doing something for the family.  If he's not at his desk, he's out cutting the grass, washing the cars, walking the dog, fixing things that are broken.  He's exhausted on a daily basis between lack of sleep and lack of down time, while I wait for those precious moments when he will be able to sit down and talk to me for a few minutes.  What has happened to my own life?  Where did it go?

The problem with having a chronic illness or two is that you isolate yourself more and more.  And as you isolate yourself and become reclusive, either due to your mental issues or physical limitations, your world shrinks and you find longs stretches of time with nothing that demands your attention. 

I didn't start out intending for this to be a negative post.  I seem to have fallen down the rabbit hole of depression once again, after a fairly hypomanic three days.  I can see that the bipolar cycling has become a routine of depressed during the week and hypomanic over the weekends.  I can't exactly explain that, except that during the week, I see other people going about whatever it is they do during the week while I am home, working on this writing thing, and wondering what happened to my life that it has become something that I am doing kind of on my own.  My husband is busy supporting us in every way that he can think of and picking my slack, a fact that does nothing to help with my opinion of myself.  My kids are growing up and do not require nor want my involvement in their lives.  We never went the sports route (the kids didn't like them), so we do not spend all of our weekends going to games, matches, meets.  My kids are independent both because they like it that way and because my illnesses necessitated it.

I spent 13 years being a stay at home mom.  Somehow that time passed and then I wanted to go back to work.  I went back to work and lasted for 13 months before my obsessive and anxious personality became too much for my employers and they found someone they liked better.  Actually, the writing was on the wall for at least three months before they found someone else, but I was too blind to see the signs.  You can't imagine what being fired does to your self esteem until you've been fired.  I had never lost a job that way in my entire life and I was simply unable to imagine that it could ever happen to me.  Although I decided I would use the huge blocks of free time I now had to work on a writing career, I was still feeling the sting of the total and complete rejection that comes from someone saying you worked here and we didn't like it, so now you don't work here anymore.

So, now I am struggling with periodic usefulness surrounded by a whole lot of feeling useless.  How do you figure out what you are when you don't have a job that defines you and tells you what you are supposed to be doing?



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