Workshop Hell

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?


Thoughts on Having Kids, Part Two

Photo by David Dodge via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.
Photo by David Dodge via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

This is continued from Thoughts on Having Kids, Part One.

By the time I got married at age 31, I’d been through so many difficult, painful experiences and been hurt and rejected so many times by so many people that I was almost numb. All that “bursting with love” stuff I’d felt when I was younger was gone. I still wished people well and it wasn’t like I was angry or bitter, but I wasn’t exactly bursting with anything anymore, except perhaps exhaustion, both emotional and physical.

Since the onset of puberty, I’d been having problems with my hormones and my menstrual cycle. I had seen a number of doctors over the years but had never received an official diagnosis. However, when I was 17 one doctor told me that women with problems like mine often have trouble conceiving children after the age of 25. I’m sure throughout my late teens and twenties the memory of that conversation gave me an air of desperation that drove men away and made my already awkward ways with men even worse.

Age 25 came and went.

Meanwhile, I never got any better at interacting with kids, despite lots of experience with them and even an attempt at being a Sunday School teacher, which was an absolute nightmare. The children were completely out of control and I was unable to maintain any sort of order whatsoever.

Finally, the man who would become my husband entered my life. I warned him early in our relationship that I might not be able to conceive children, but being the optimist that he is, he just said, “I’m confident that everything will be okay.”

When we were first married, I was trying to get pregnant, thinking if we were going to have children we had to do it as soon as possible. It’s not that I had a strong desire to be a mother at that point, but I did have the awareness that time was ticking and it was now or never.

Conception never happened. And once our first anniversary had passed, I realized that I felt nothing but relief. Our marriage was good and happy, but our circumstances had brought a whole new level of stress into my life, with having to move across country to where my husband had landed a postdoctoral fellowship, with my ongoing illnesses (as well as the hormonal issues, I had asthma, allergies, bronchitis, dental problems, gastrointestinal issues, hypoglycemia, etc.), with not being able to find a family doctor, with the weather being far more extreme than what I was used to, and with my husband (at that time) not being able to drive and me having to drive him everywhere he needed to go. I was so tired and stressed and sick I was barely able to function. I could not envision having a child to look after when I could barely look after myself.

One day my husband and I were in a supermarket and we heard a child screaming and my husband (who is very sensitive to noise) said, “You know what? I’m glad we don’t have kids.” This opened up the topic for conversation, and the more we talked about it, the more we realized we were both content as we were. But I always told him to tell me immediately if he changed his mind, because if he wanted to be a father I didn’t want to deprive him of that, and if we couldn’t have children naturally I would be open to other options for his sake.

By the time I was 34, we had moved to a new city yet again and managed to get a fantastic new family doctor there. After learning my history and making certain observations, she ran a number of tests. She ended up diagnosing me with hypothyroidism and polycystic ovary syndrome. The latter is well known to cause infertility. The former can contribute to infertility if left undiagnosed and untreated for a long time, and in retrospect, I realized I’d had both for many, many years. These diagnoses also at least partially explained my exhaustion.

The doctor told me about my options if I wanted to conceive a child, but upon discussing it with my husband, we came to the conclusion that people should take such measures if they were certain it was something they truly, deeply wanted, but that was not the case for us at that time.

I suppose it didn’t help that we were again living in a rented apartment far from family and friends and that my husband had no job security whatsoever. It would be different if nature had simply taken its course, in which case we would have welcomed a child, been loving parents to him or her, and done our best to provide. But to go to extreme measures to make it happen and bring a child into our insecure situation? That just didn’t feel like the right thing for us or for the (hypothetical) child.

As the years have passed since then, we’ve both become more certain that having children is not for us. I honestly wouldn’t even think about it as a possibility anymore if other people didn’t bring it up. It’s not even something that’s on my radar, so to speak. I don’t feel like anything’s missing. Well, actually, sometimes I do think it would be nice to have an already-grown, adult child at this point (I’m 42), and to have the kind of relationship with someone like the one my parents now have with me. But I could not start with a baby or even an older child now, as could be the case with adoption. My sensory issues are too severe, for one thing, plus I am still so, so tired. And as for a teenager, I’m certain that they would just walk all over me. I simply don’t have an authoritative bone in my body.

Sometimes when I hear the stories of other infertile women, I feel tremendously grateful that I do not suffer emotionally like many of them do. For some women, it’s devastating and a constant source of pain if they can’t conceive. For me, it’s almost a non-issue. I kind of feel like it’s all meant to be. I’m not meant to be a mom, and that’s not only okay, it’s a good thing for me. I’ve also read that some women feel they’re not a real woman if they can’t give birth to children. That’s never even crossed my mind. My identity and self-worth aren’t wrapped up in my gender and I don’t care if I’m a “real woman” or not.

The only hard part about all this is other people’s opinions, which I explain further in my next post.