How can I resist the temptation to despair as I get older and still find myself unable to break consistent patterns of frustration in my work and personal life? (long)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I am 39 years old and have just had the first successful year of my life in terms of career. After struggling for nearly two decades in boring, low-level jobs that didn't pay enough to enable me to move out of the family home, I entered a new field and did a hell of a lot of work with a hell of a lot of objective and measurable output to show for it. I had excellent feedback all year, mostly from my boss, but also from others.
Better still, I had enough pay and financial benefits to support myself into the future and, a couple of weeks ago, I finally paid off the debts I ran up over the two preceding years when I spent more time looking for work than I did actually working (and during which the cost of going to work was only slightly less than I earned).
I was looking forward to building on my successful year career-wise, and storing up some savings. I thought that finally I would be able to afford to go out once a week and maybe, with any luck, eventually meet someone special.
The only problem (as far as I knew) was that the job was very draining and exhausting, largely because of my boss's management style. She does things at the last minute and characteristically leaves us working towards externally imposed hard deadlines (i.e. the team won't get paid if they're not met) with insufficient time to meet them. She is always unresponsive to appeals for better time management and on one occasion I worked myself into exhaustion, such that I passed out and hit my head.
Over the last couple of months I became weepy and had to stay home sick a couple of days because of uncontrollable crying. I also couldn't force myself to work as fast as usual and had to work longer hours to compensate, meaning I got less and less sleep. I attributed this to the feelings stirred up by a colleague who had just moved on to a new job, but not before toying with my emotions quite severely while simultaneously making it clear that he was unavailable. This led to my thinking about what I still longed for in life that I couldn't have.
Not only this, but it was especially painful because I'd had no inkling that he was attracted to me and mutual attraction is something that has never happened before in my entire life. Yes, you read that right - not ever. I'm attracted to very very few people, and that, combined with geographical isolation (for economic reasons) and my ASD has basically meant a lifetime of utter singleness. There are men I could have dated, but they always seemed to me to have something glaringly undesirable about them. I often thought that perhaps I should have forced myself to go out with them even though I wasn't interested in them, but my instincts invariably turned out to be right. So I guess I'm glad I trusted my instincts but still... no relationships for me. (And I'm sure plenty of people will suggest that the unavailability is the attraction, but I have considered that and I'm pretty sure it's not true.)
Anyway, because I wasn't getting any sleep or any exercise and I never knew when I might be called upon to work myself into exhaustion again, my blood pressure went up. I was given 3 months to get it down again or be taken off some medications I rely on to function every day. So I had to tell my boss I needed to exercise every day and get 7 hours' sleep a night.
Unfortunately the moment I had to tell her was immediately after she yelled at me for booking a flight that landed the night before a conference, instead of travelling for a night and a day to get there an hour before the conference, with of course a full day's work on either side. She *said* she was okay with what I needed to do... what else would she say?
Meanwhile I had to accept that my weepiness wasn't going away and I entered treatment for depression and began to improve.
Although I knew my contract could come to an end at any time, my boss always downplayed this possibility and the feedback I got from others was always that she viewed me as someone who would be around for a long time. Besides, I had just interviewed two new recruits. So it came as a big surprise when I went in for my regular weekly meeting, and after talking over "you need to debug this, enhance that, and update the other," I then got, "and by the way I have to give you notice that your contract won't be renewed."
Still I was assured that it was nothing personal, and coworkers reassured me that I was bound to get a glowing reference and that I'd have known it if anything were wrong with the quality of my work.
A couple of days later it was appraisal time. I was shocked by how negative her review was. On the one hand I had glowing emails of appreciation that I got for completing certain projects, and on the other hand, I had low scores and negative remarks for those exact same projects in the appraisal. I got disparagement for doing things that I had on record that she explicitly ordered me to do. I checked my output against the expected norms for someone at my level, over against her criticism that I should have done more. I also contacted ex-coworkers for a reality check. Having gathered the evidence I put my case that her appraisal was inconsistent with both her feedback and my actual achievements, and that if my performance had indeed been as bad as she had presented it, I should reasonably have expected to hear about it a lot sooner. I reviewed my comments for diplomacy with a third party, and hoped for the best.
Her response was a 2-hour blast of negativity with no constructive content at all (honestly - none), accompanied by demands that I delete my comments, accept hers, and sign the document. (And that I was being mean to her.) Finally she agreed that our differing opinions would be recorded.
I felt drained, but glad I had stuck to my guns. So I go in the next morning for my regular weekly meeting, have a brief task review, and then end up trapped in her office for the better part of an hour while she demands that I retract my comments and sign hers and tells me, again, all the reasons why I deserve a bad review. And that I'm being mean to her. And lying. And that I'm just not able to take constructive criticism. And that I should stop wasting time and sign it right now. She wouldn't let me leave.
I still refused to sign it, and I eventually hit on the right combination of words to get me out of her office. I waited a while for my head to stop spinning, then I collected my things and ran home.
When I dared to look in my inbox the next day I found a conciliatory message saying she was sorry the appraisal had been upsetting "for us both". I reviewed her comments and found them acceptable, and agreed to sign off.
I worked from home that day but, when I got in the next morning, the anxiety got too much and I had to go home. I tried to keep working but I got so weepy I had to call the doctor, who signed me off sick until Monday.
So... that was a long story. I'll go in on Monday and do everything possible to keep my cool. I've taken advice and am fully aware of what my rights are. I'll be trying to get home early enough to apply for at least one job per day, as horrified as I am to have to go through all that again. I have ex-coworkers who fully support me and will provide references. Two medical professionals will back me up if necessary.
That's how things are. But this is how it feels:
When my 80-year-old mother dies, that will mean the loss of my one reliable source of companionship and support. She wants to put the Christmas tree up and I can't stand to because it means one more year has gone by and for all my efforts, I have still failed at life in the most basic ways:
- although I have many good friends, I'm so non-fun that I can't get anyone to hang out with me;
- although I have demonstrable talent, all it ever seems to do for me is get me fired;
- I am going to get into debt again and am unable to support myself at the age of nearly 40;
- I will almost certainly never have children;
- although I seem to be regarded as desirable by quite a few people (including the Handsomest Boy In The Village), this doesn't result in my being any less single;
- although the Handsomest Boy In The Village evidently has feelings of some kind for me, he can't or won't act on them.
I am haunted by temptation to reach the following conclusions:
- that I can't stand to live in a world where I will never succeed for failing;
- that I can't stand to live in a world where all love is theoretical;
- that I just can't stand it.
What can I do to stop thinking these thoughts?