Talking on the phone today* with one of our authors, after I informed her I’d been let go from the company and my last day would be tomorrow, she told me first that she’d light a candle for me and then pray for me in her church. A strong Irish woman who’s been through more than most people can imagine, I don’t take her prayers lightly. If this was the only thing she’d said, I’d have been grateful.
But she went on to tell me that after the shock and sadness wore off, I should let myself get angry; I should scream and curse and let myself go completely mad… and then pick myself up and get to work on doing what I do best: being a survivor.
She’s not wrong.
But what I forget every time I face a new challenge is this initial period, when I’m completely flummoxed and beside myself. When I wonder what horrible things I must have done in a past life in order to never quite catch a break in this one. When I’m always on the verge of breaking down or having a panic attack. And when I definitely can’t get to sleep until at least 5am, even if I start trying at 10pm.
I should have remembered this when I agreed to stay on an extra week at the company to tie up loose ends, write instructions and exit memos, debrief people, clean out my desk. I should have thought ahead to just how difficult it would be to be feeling all my beside-myself feelings while being somewhere I am no longer wanted, watching everyone else continue to carry out plans I either made or was supposed to be a part of. Every minute in the office is spent either white-knuckling it against locking myself in the bathroom for an hour-long sobbing session or taking deep breaths to stave off the constant waves of sheer panic. All because I wanted to be a stand-up person who did the “right thing” of leaving behind a map on how to do my job. All because I didn’t want to be that person who loses her job and leaves everyone else in the lurch. I wanted to Be Responsible. As a result I’m also now Terribly Miserable.
It’s past 5am, and I’m due in the office in less than five hours. It’s more likely I’ll cry myself into a migraine right now than it is that I’ll get to sleep before 7am. Every time I think about going into the office for my last day, panic grips my throat and I turn into a three-year-old screaming “I don’t wanna!!!”
But I said I would Be Responsible.
So even though it will hurt terribly and I know I won’t make it the whole day without either crying or having a panic attack and I will be miserable and I will resent every minute I am there, and even though no fewer than three of my coworkers have told me to just blow it off and tell the boss I changed my mind about sticking it out, I said I would Be Responsible.
I hope tomorrow will be the last day for a long while that I’m in a situation that is so difficult and challenging that it makes me unable to breathe and feeling like I’m going to faint from all the built-up uncryable-in-the-moment tears in my head. I also hope that one day I will look back at this moment—this moment in which I’m in bed, writing this, dreading tomorrow and knowing how impossibly hard it will be—and be able to remember that even though there was something ahead of me that I did not want to do more than I have ever not wanted to do something, I still showed up and did it anyhow.
Because that’s what being a survivor is about. It’s that whole Raging Bull thing I love about how you always get back up. It’s Anne Lamott’s “left foot, right foot, left foot, breathe.” It’s the fortune-cookie fortune I found cleaning out my desk today: “All things end.” It’s being hurt and lonely and scared and tired but showing up not only because you said you would but also because it shows that you can have dignity and grace even in places where you’re no longer wanted. It’s not letting anyone else tell you how much you matter, because you already know.
One day, soon, I’ll be able to take Martha’s advice and start screaming and cursing and going mad. For now I’ve just got to try to sleep, and then walk through what I least want to walk through. Like I said, one day I’ll look back and just knowing that I did that will mean something. In order for that to happen, though, I have to do it.
* Today = Thursday, even though it’s 5am on Friday, because I’ve not yet gone to bed; tomorrow = Friday.