Workshop Hell

chair
Photo by Justin S. Campbell via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

My husband and I both started attending employment counseling last week. After the first appointment, we came away with very different schedules. My counselor had me fully booked for workshops and appointments every day this week and into the next. Meanwhile, my husband was scheduled for only two workshops and one one-on-one appointment with a networking expert.

I had even been honest with the counselor about how overwhelmed I get and told her I can only handle part-time work (if that). She must not have understood what I was getting at. She would not have over-scheduled me if she had.

The workshops have proven to be pretty much useless. I already know how to write a resume. My problems are far more complex than that. What they’re teaching is so basic I think you’d have to be a complete idiot to get much out of it. I’m not saying I learned nothing though. I learned a couple of sneaky, unethical tricks to get my resume seen by potential employers. That’s the kind of stuff they’re teaching people.

There were really only two things I hoped to get out of all this, which have already proven to be complete busts:

  1. I was hoping to get help identifying a new career path that is a better fit for me than office admin. The only thing that’s come out of this in that regard is the advice to “find a way” to make money using my writing skills. No shit. Easier said than done.
  2. I was hoping there would be some kind of government funding for retraining, but my counselor told me on day one that there is nothing like that available.

 

I have ended up extremely overwhelmed and stressed by something that is proving to be of no value or benefit whatsoever. The problem is that I don’t know how to get out of it. It goes against everything in me to just not show up, so I know I need to cancel, but I don’t know how to. I will feel like I need to offer some excuse, but I don’t have one. And I don’t want to piss anyone off in a small town like this. In fact, my counselor even goes to my former church, which I intend to start attending again. If I bail out of all this without a good reason it’s going to be really hard to face her socially.

So I’ve continued to go.

My state of overwhelm finally came to a head today in a workshop on “Finding the Hidden Job Market.” This was the most useless workshop yet. It was basically hours of the instructor saying, “You have to socialize and talk to people to get a job in this town,” in a variety of different ways. I was already well aware of this. There’s no new way anyone can say it to make it any easier for me in practicality. So I was sitting there, feeling physically worn out from the week’s schedule, feeling tired from days of having gotten up earlier than my body can cope with, and with a blinding headache from the fluorescent lights. I was trying to look at the printouts I’d been given and the letters and words just started swimming on the page in pools of bright light, blending together, indistinguishable.

And then things took a bad turn, socially. She was talking about how if you’re new in town, employers are going to love that you’ve moved here, because…. she paused… she then looked at me and for some reason decided to single me out. “Do you and your husband have kids?” she asked me.

“No,” I said.

“But of course you will in the future.” Not a question. A statement.

“No,” I snapped, too loudly. “I’m already 43; if it hasn’t happened yet, it’s probably not going to.”

The room went silent for an awkward moment while everyone stared at me. Or at least I felt like everyone was staring at me. My face started to burn. I had overshared. Typical.

Then she, apparently unfazed, went on to say something… now I will probably not quote this accurately, word for word, because my head was in such a whirl that I’m not sure exactly what she said… but it was something to the effect that if we had kids, we would be seen as more valuable to the community, because our kids would be going to school here and would be involved in things and would be seen as the future of the community.

So, wait. What? She’s telling me I have to procreate to be valuable to the community? That employers would be happy my husband and I have moved here if we had kids? Was she implying they’d be more likely to employ us if we were parents and could contribute to the future population of the town? Is that how people think?! I hope I misunderstood what she was getting at because that is fucked.

I remained silent during this little lecture.

Not long after that, she had each person do a role-playing exercise with her. We were supposed to pretend that she was a potential employer and we were introducing ourselves for the purpose of networking. As she went around the room, getting closer to me, I felt this tightness rise higher and higher up my body. I started wracking my brain trying to think of something to say when she got to me, but my head was in such a fog by that point that I was a complete blank. I could not string a coherent thought together. When I realized that, I started trying to weigh my options for escape. But again, my brain wasn’t really working. My first instinct was to run from the room. But that would attract so much attention. I hate attracting attention. And there was actually someone in a chair blocking the path from my seat to the door. I would have to ask them to move to get out. So that was out of the question.

That was as far as I had gotten in my thought process when she finally came to me. She stuck out her hand and said, in her role as potential employer, “Nice to meet you. What can I do for you today?”

I blurted out, “I’m so sorry, I cannot pull it together to do this right now. I have a blinding headache and am not okay. I don’t want to be difficult but I just can’t.”

“Oh yes, you’re so difficult,” she said jokingly. Then she made some comment about how you shouldn’t be approaching employers if you’re having a bad day anyway and moved on to the next person. Funnily enough, and perhaps fortunately for me, two other people declined after me. One guy said it takes him all day to think of something to say and he can’t handle being put on the spot like that. A fellow Aspie, maybe? I could certainly relate.

As I sat there, I was feeling so awful, physically and emotionally, that I started having — okay, don’t be alarmed here; I’m not suicidal — mental images pop into my head of me shooting myself. I wasn’t actively thinking about suicide, or wanting to do it, or planning it. I don’t even know how to use a gun. It was just these images, unbidden. I used to get them a lot when I was young, but it’s been a very long time since the last time it happened. In fact, it was here, in this town, where I used to have them a lot.

When I got home, I fell asleep for a couple of hours and when I woke up, I didn’t know what day it was. I thought I was waking up the next morning. It took a few minutes to gain my bearings.

I really don’t want to go back to that place. Am I a terrible person if I don’t?

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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.