Stuck

get me out of here
Photo from Photofunia

This is continued from my previous post.

After living on my own for two years and basically failing at life, I moved back in with my mom when I was twenty. I’ve heard today’s younger generation being called the Boomerang Generation because many of them return to live with their parents after trying to make it on their own. As a GenXer, I guess I was ahead of my time.

After recovering from the shock and disappointment of the events that had led me to return to my mom’s, I tried to make the most of the situation. I was not intending to give up. I earned my GED (grade 12 equivalency), ranking in the 99th percentile. With that accomplished, I then managed to secure a student loan and enrolled in an Office Admin course, since 1) that was one of the few things the local community college offered, 2) I had a bit of experience in it from my government-funded work program job when I was a teenager, and 3) I reasoned that perhaps I could make a better living doing that as opposed to customer service/retail.

I also got a part-time job at a store, but once I started my course my boss was putting huge pressure on me to skip class to take on extra shifts, not to mention repeatedly asking me to, “Come out back and smoke a doobie,” (which was not my thing at all), so I quit the job to focus solely on school. I’ve never been a great multi-tasker anyway. (<— Big understatement.)

I ended up getting stellar grades in the course and earned my certificate with distinction. And then my work search started again.

To my crushing disappointment, I could not find an office job. I wanted one really badly so I could get out of my mom’s house again, and I thought my new training would help me, but it didn’t. I searched for months. I thought maybe the office I’d worked in when I was a teenager would hire me back, but they had a full complement of staff and weren’t interested. I even resorted to applying for retail and fast food jobs again, to no avail.

My mom had calmed down quite a bit by then and wasn’t yelling at me as much as she had in the past, but as time went on and I couldn’t find anything, she would sometimes make the accusation, “You never intended to get a job, did you? You just want me to support you.”

The neighbourhood we were living in was getting unpleasant, and we had a drug dealer living across the street, so my mom made the decision to rent a house several kilometres out of town in a rural area, thinking it would be safer. But she either hadn’t considered or didn’t care about the consequences for me. I had no car and there was no public transportation servicing that area. My mom’s job required her to be mobile and she wasn’t even going the same way every day, so I couldn’t count on a ride into town every day with her. I was stuck out there.

I stopped looking for work and fell into a sort of complacency that lasted for, I’m embarrassed to say, years. We had no internet back then, so I spent my time reading lots and lots of books. Sometimes my mom would yell at me to get a job and help her financially, but when I pointed out my predicament, she backed down. She said I could live there rent free as long as I cooked supper for her and washed the dishes and laundry, and I complied. When people asked her why I was living with her in my twenties (which wasn’t as common back then as it is now) she told them, “She’s my housekeeper.”

We were living in the upstairs of the house and there was a co-worker of my mom’s living in the basement who thought my lazy, isolated lifestyle was disgraceful. It didn’t help that my personal grooming was suffering too, and she noticed. The way I saw it, shampoo and makeup cost money, and I didn’t have any money, so I only used those products when I knew I would be able to go somewhere, which was usually about once a week on the weekend when my mom and/or her car were available. Also, my weight, which has always fluctuated (I have PCOS and hypothyroidism, both of which make it hard to manage weight), was on an upswing and I couldn’t afford new clothes, so I either wore ill-fitting clothes or clothes from the thrift store’s monthly $2-a-bag sale. The neighbour started giving me advice about grooming and taking pride in my appearance, which made me feel judged. She also pestered me to get a job, saying it was wrong and unhealthy to live off my mom, and when I explained my predicament, she said she knew of a factory close enough for me to walk to where she was certain I could get a job. She offered to go there with me as moral support so I could talk to the manager and I accepted. She walked me into the building and to the manager’s office, as if she didn’t believe I would follow through otherwise. I introduced myself and asked if there were any job openings. He said no. I asked if I could leave my resume, and he was reluctant to take it, but eventually he did. My neighbour and I returned home in total silence.

I felt the most bizarre combination of humiliation and vindication. Humiliation because I’d just been rejected in front of the neighbour, but vindication because she’d just seen that it was not as easy to get a job as she thought. The baby boomer generation always seems to think you can just walk into any business and say, “I’m ready and willing to work,” and they’ll fall all over themselves to hire you. Maybe that was true in their day, but it wasn’t in mine, and it is even less so today.

Anyway, because the neighbour was so disapproving of me, I started dreading encountering her. If I looked out the window and saw her car, I would avoid common areas such as the laundry room or the yard. This made me feel even more trapped and isolated.

I lived like that from age 21 to 26. During that time I couldn’t envision a circumstance that would result in me getting out of there and having a life. A deep despair set in. Those years are just a blur in my memory, with nothing of significance to distinguish one year from another. But at 26, I started going to church, as my mom didn’t work on Sundays and could give me a ride, and that got me out of the house and resulted in me making a couple of friends. By the time I was 27, the nature of my mom’s work had changed and she was able to give me a ride into town in the mornings and pick me up in the evenings. I then went back to community college again to upgrade my education.

Through people I met during that time, I was offered a temp job. It was in a neighbouring town, but someone else generously lent me a car so I could get there and back. The job lasted long enough for me to save up enough money for a computer, which became a link to the outside world. The internet had become a thing by then, and about a month later I met my husband online, although it didn’t progress to anything romantic right away. I was totally hung up on a man at church until he made it clear that he was completely and thoroughly rejecting me and quickly got engaged to someone else. Only then did things with the man who is now my husband start progressing. But with him living in England and me living in Canada, things progressed slowly.

Just before I turned 30, my parents got back together after 16 years of separation. With things easing up for my mom financially as a result, she bought a new car and gave me her old one. I was still unable to secure long-term employment, so I lived with my parents for another year until I married my husband at age 31. He freed me from the prison of my parents’ house.

I’m sorry if this sounds very anti-feminist. I didn’t need to be rescued by a man because I am a woman. But I did need to be rescued by somebody because I am a person who had failed at trying to rescue herself and had lost all confidence that it was even possible.

I wish I could end this post now and say he freed me once and for all. But he found himself out of work seven years later and we felt we had no choice but to move in with them. My husband is highly educated and has an enormous amount of potential, but I felt like I’d dragged him down to my level. We did end up getting out of there again two years later, but my husband’s work contract is about to end and we are on a path to heading back there if something miraculous doesn’t happen soon.

My life is not isolated right now. We live in a city with decent public transportation (except on weekends) and with a mall, library, movie theatre, grocery store, medical clinic, coffee shop, etc. mere steps away. I don’t have a job right now or any local friends, but I do get out and about quite a bit (except when it’s really cold, as that aggravates my asthma) and I am very well-groomed, if I may say so myself. I don’t love it here for various reasons, but it’s better than going back to my parents’ place. Especially since they are living in a rural area again.

I fear a return to hopelessness, poverty and isolation. It could so easily happen.

I admit I am shamefully bad at overcoming my obstacles.

Trying to Make it On My Own

Toronto

Photo by Kat Northern Lights Man via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

When I was a teenager, I couldn’t wait to be old enough to live on my own. My dad had left just before I turned 14 and a couple years later my mom decided we needed a new start, so we moved to a small town of her choice a four-hour drive away. Unfortunately, I hated that town. This is going to sound really flaky, but I just got a bad, oppressive vibe there. Plus, it was really hard for me to make friends there, and it seemed like all the people my own age who were willing to have anything to do with me when I first moved there were heavy drug users. I drank alcohol, but illegal drugs were not my thing and being around them made me really uncomfortable. Meanwhile, I didn’t have a great relationship with my mom. She yelled a lot and was very critical. It’s like she took pleasure in pointing out things I was doing wrong and ways in which I was at fault for various things.

For example, sometimes my dad would phone and if I was friendly to him, my mom would scream at me, “How can you be so nice to him after the way he’s treated me? I’m the one who’s always been there for you! Where is your loyalty?” So then one time I refused to talk to him, thinking I was showing loyalty to my mom like she wanted. But then she yelled, “How dare you treat your father like that! No matter what he’s done, he’s still your father, and you have no right to disrespect him that way! If you keep doing this he’ll never come back to us!” This is only one of many examples. It was an ongoing pattern in our relationship when I was a teenager. I couldn’t do anything right in her eyes and I got yelled at for every little thing. It was unbearable. I don’t even have words to describe the pain and stress her yelling and criticism caused. Needless to say, home did not feel like an emotionally safe place for me.

I had dropped out of school when I was 14, but I was enrolled in a part-time education program by this point, and through that I got involved in a government-funded employment program for at-risk youth. They got me a summer job in an office, and when summer was over, I was kept on as a part-time employee. I was extremely good at not spending any money back then, so nearly every dime I earned went into my savings account. At 18, having saved up a small nest egg, and with my hours now being drastically cut at work anyway, I moved back to the hometown I desperately missed. Alone.

It never occurred to me that I might not be able to handle it. I had this boundless optimism (which is now long gone), and even though I had already failed at many things, it still never occurred to me that I might suck at life. I just thought anything would be better than living with my mean mom in that town I hated. And I was perfectly willing to work for what I needed. I assumed I was able to do that.

I initially rented a basement suite owned by a family friend. I assumed I would find a job right away, but it turned out to be harder than I thought. Part of the problem was the suite’s inconvenient location and the transportation issues resulting from that. I loved living alone, but seeing how quickly my little nest egg was diminishing just due to basic living expenses, I took a friend (the frenemy I wrote about here) up on her offer to share an apartment with her and her boyfriend. It seemed like a wise decision, as rent would be far cheaper and it was close to all amenities, making my job search much easier (there was no internet in those days; you had to pound the pavement, as they say). It actually went well at first, but then they broke up and my friend moved out.

Now here’s where I made one of my clueless social blunders. It didn’t occur to me that because my friend had moved out, I had to move out too. I liked the apartment and the location, and I got along well (platonically) with her ex-boyfriend. He was a really nice guy. It wasn’t like he had treated her badly; she had just gotten bored with him and wanted to move on, so I didn’t see how it could be a loyalty issue like when I was nice to my dad in spite of him treating my mom badly. But my friend got very angry at me for continuing to live there, and I was utterly clueless as to why. Now in retrospect I can understand that it was highly inappropriate for me to stay there, but I couldn’t see that back then. I was just baffled. I saw that apartment as my home. Why should I have to leave my home because of a decision someone else made? It was bad enough when my parents broke up and I had to go wherever my mom went, but I was an adult and could do what I wanted now, or so I thought. But it understandably led to a huge strain in our friendship.

And then a few months later my friend’s ex-boyfriend moved out too. He couldn’t cook and I certainly wasn’t doing that for him, so he found a room-and-board situation that included meals. And I couldn’t afford to pay the rent on my own, so after a disastrous situation resulting from placing an ad in the paper for a new roommate (which deserves its own post), I ended up having to move anyway.

The next couple years were spent moving from place to place and having roommate after roommate. In total I lived in six different apartments/suites with 9 different roommates. My living situation was a constant source of stress and worry. Some of my roommates were very unpleasant. One of them told me she thought I had a mental illness because I spent so much time in my room, but I was only doing that because being around her was a constant sensory assault.

I wished I could live alone again, but I just couldn’t afford it, even once I had found employment.

I was only able to find minimum-wage jobs (not surprising, given my lack of education). The first one was at McDonalds, where I started working a few weeks after moving in with my friend and her boyfriend, but I only lasted six weeks. The noise and the fast pace were more than I could handle and I ended up having a crying meltdown and getting labelled “emotionally unstable” by my boss, so I quit in a state of overload and humiliation. About a month later I landed a job in a mall bookstore and worked there for about 15 months.

I performed fairly well at the bookstore, despite the stress of dealing with customers, but I had a difficult boss. I got to be good friends with one of my co-workers (whom I’m still friends with to this day), and our boss became very paranoid about the friendship. She accused us of plotting against her (which was a completely false accusation; I wouldn’t know how to plot against someone even if I wanted to, and I have certainly never wanted to) and forbade us to speak to each other. One time, she saw us smiling at each other across the store and demanded to know what we were up to. We were “up to” nothing. We were friends, and we smiled when we saw each other; it was as simple as that.

I have always tended to get sick a lot (mostly bad colds/coughs and nausea/vomiting) when I’m in the workforce, so my choices are to either come in to work sick and get criticized for that, or call in sick a lot, and get criticized for that. During that time, I tended to call in, but then my boss accused me of calling in sick because of hangovers! She even wrote it in my employee record! Again, another completely false accusation. I have never called in sick because of a hangover in my whole life. I did drink socially, but I’ve never been falling-down drunk in my life and I have rarely had anything resembling a hangover. But I guess in her mind, there could be no other explanation for such frequent illnesses. It is odd, I admit, but I have always been this way and nothing I have tried has helped.

The work environment became increasingly tense, and soon the boss had become paranoid about the entire staff. Apparently another staff member overheard her telling someone that she intended to find reasons to fire the entire staff so she could start fresh with a new “uncorrupted” staff. This was because she thought one of the staff members (fortunately not me) was a troublemaker and was poisoning everyone else against her. It was insane; there was nothing like that going on. But she did start firing people one by one and I knew it would happen to me eventually. I dreaded going in there every day, not knowing if that day might be the day. One day I couldn’t take all the stress anymore and I quit. I knew it was unwise, as I had nothing else lined up, but I had reached a breaking point and I knew I would soon be fired anyway. Knowing that potential employers always ask why you left your last job, I knew it would be better to say that I left of my own volition than that I was fired.

In the following weeks, my former boss did indeed fire every last member of staff. In one case, she rummaged through a staff-member’s bag and found a roll of toilet paper, which she then accused her of stealing from the staff bathroom. My close friend was let go with the reason, “The length of time you have now worked here has made you overqualified for the position for which you were originally hired.”

For about three months I desperately tried to find another job, to no avail. Then some awful things happened with my roommate. I had come full circle; this was actually the same person who was my first roommate, the friend who had broken up with her boyfriend and moved out; we had since made up and moved in together again. She said she didn’t want to live alone because she had an ex-boyfriend (not the same one we had lived with) who had been violent with her and was continuing to threaten her, and she thought living with a roommate would offer some level of protection. It didn’t. She ended up getting assaulted by him and I was called to court as a witness (it turns out he had actually been on a bit of a rampage that night, so assaulting her wasn’t the only charge). But having reconciled with him before the court date, she lied in court to protect him and got angry with me for telling the truth. She moved out of our place and in with him (and eventually married him). We had been friends our whole lives but have not spoken to each other since that day. Her choice, not mine. I did not reject friends back then, no matter what, even when I probably should have.

Meanwhile, the guy I was seeing at the time was fast losing interest in me, dashing my hopes for something serious to develop there. A mutual friend he’d confided in told me he had developed feelings for someone else, so I asked him about it. I wasn’t angry (I never got angry about anything back then; it was almost like a weird deficit in my emotional repertoire), but I did want to know. He admitted it was true, but he got angry at the person who told me, which made that person angry at me. I apologized, but she said, “I don’t have time for this juvenile bullshit,” and never spoke to me again.

Emotionally, I hit rock bottom. I had tried and tried to make it on my own. I had been running on adrenaline for two years. I was exhausted, and I was getting physically sicker by the day (probably partly because I couldn’t afford to eat healthy food, or much of anything, really). I’d lost a couple friends, lost my boyfriend, had no job, my money had run out, I couldn’t afford rent on my own, and my mom had been calling me on the phone daily, begging me to move back in with her. I remember just sitting there thinking, okay, what are my options? Everything I had tried had failed, so I narrowed it down to two: I could either kill myself, or I could move back in with my mom. Killing myself would take a certain amount of courage and impetus that I just didn’t have. So I chose the latter. And it felt like a death of sorts anyway.