Can I Have Empathy for Me #6
MY first boss despised us.
I was 16 and applied to be a busboy/dishwasher at a restaurant. The manager thought I was an irresponsible punk. To be fair to him, I had zero work experience. Furthermore, he didn't like any of us teens. We were all worthless in his mind.
If you think about it, this was an opportunity to mold me and the others. We could be shaped as leaders and mentored to excel. Instead, we were scolded and crushed flat. I have used this example before, but when a toddler touches a hot stove and gets burned they never do it again. Kids learn quickly. I was already developing this shame monster as a youth, so my first boss slipped right in there and burned me. I am not a worthwhile employee.
Thus, my first job shaped those to come. Being smothered by peer pressure at school and quashed at work left me with two options. I could believe that I am worthless because it seems this adult believes that. Or, I could protect my ego and get angry with the boss, the job, with work. Back then, I wasn't as black and white with my thinking. So, I chose to do both. I am a worthless employee. Also work did that to me so I want distance myself from it, or get angry at the job. Admittedly, with the way that most people are treated in entry-level jobs some of the anger may have been justified.
As I continued working in my youth each job was an opportunity to prove those employers (and my shame) that I did have worth. I volunteered for the extra shifts. I learned what was required to get better positions. I moved into key holder positions, manager positions and at nearly every establishment I burned out. It was never enough for that shame I carried. All those failures only enforced my self-loathing.
When I returned to university I was excited. I felt I was finally building a career. After a lot of freelance gigs and scrambling once I graduated, I finally found a home. I had a job where I was an equal, respected, and my colleagues supported me. This is how I look back on it, which is out of character. Those close to me at the time note that it wasn't so rose-colored. I was carrying a lot of stress. I may have enjoyed my new found work family, but the job did come with anxiety.
Leaving the job was not easy, but now that my life was more in balance I met someone. That relationship led me to move from my home to another country and I was no longer able to keep my job. Coming to a new country meant paperwork and more paperwork. All that bureaucracy takes time and I was unable to work in my new home. I managed to do some freelance work for my old company. However, I had a lot of time to over think.
My career was likely a fluke. Shame was back and stronger than ever. I was worthless. Somehow I had gotten lucky and that was now over. After getting residency, I had some interviews. Unfortunately, I didn't really have a network in my new home. I didn't have that inside track that other candidates may have had. Hopping from job to job in my youth lasted longer than my career, so it must be my truth. Now, I had a partner on top of a family to disappoint. Broken, jobless man is not something we value in society and media. I breathed these shameful thoughts minute by minute. I broke down. I wanted to die.
Therapy and medication versus 40+ years of shame is not a fair fight. It is a process that I will continue the rest of my life. Working through past trauma is not easy. I am not enough is the over arching theme and it can also color my recovery. I am not good enough at therapy to deserve to be healed. I have recognized that a great deal of my self-worth has been tied into my job/career. I don't want to be social if I have to say I am unemployed. In the West, that is all we talk about, our jobs that we do 40+ hours a week and the weather. My self-worth is based on internalized capitalism, always be producing. For you older folks this is the Protestant work ethic, doing anything but work is a sin.
Here I am with my toolbox of therapies attempting to parry every strike from my core belief that I am worthless. It is a 24/7 job. When I see opportunities to re-enter my career, I am terrified more than ever. I look back and see the connection between my self-worth and work. Surprisingly I see my progress from breakdown 'til now. Will a new full-time contract be different or will I repeat the pattern?
From the perspective of our capitalist society one must be employed. Those basic needs of food, shelter, water, and clothing are not guaranteed. Regardless of my health, I must work. While we may have made some progress with the stigma of mental health, it remains difficult for many to recognize how debilitating invasive thoughts are. Sometimes a serious physical accident can have severe consequences and we do not expect the survivor to return to work. However, someone with depression just needs to cheer up and get back to work. Anxiety? Relax and focus on the job.
I have been in a new part-time position for a month facing the fear of failure, the fear of repeating my pattern. I have received support from the new colleagues, but I cannot shake the need to prove myself. The imposter syndrome is thrumming in the background of every meeting. I will never do enough to impress my employer. Those close to me are waiting for the shoe to drop and to watch me disappoint once again.
In the moment, I can use my strategies and see some pride in what I am doing. I can know I am making a difference. Unfortunately, those positive feelings can be used against me by those damaging thoughts of worthlessness. I am overcompensating, being cocky, or completely ignorant of how easy my job would be performed by someone more talented.
That overwhelming fear that I will repeat the pattern of burning out while I try to prove my worth to those around me is so real that I can taste it in the air. Walls that I was easing down in therapy are quickly rising back up.
Of course, it is me who I am trying to prove myself to. It's not the fault of those around me. And, I wouldn't have known if I was ready to return to work unless I actually tried. Then, there's the thought from above that this is a journey. My healing will happen throughout what is left of my life. Would I ever be able to work absolutely free of the self-loathing? Perhaps, not. Does this fall under the 'it is what it is' category? Maybe I will never be ready to balance a career and my mental health. I don't know. If I did, well I wouldn't be having these thoughts, I guess. Anyway, time for bed. I have to work tomorrow.