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Pauline Lerner

November 10, 2004 at 11:39 PM

Re life in general: I was fired today.

I was nearly killed in a car accident 3 1/2 years ago. I couldn't keep up my attendence at work, so I was forced to leave. This was after 23 years of working hard, days, nights, and weekends, and doing damn good work. Management was quite inhumane. Since I had no income, I had to sell my humble cabin in the woods. It was my spirit place. Then there were tragedies in my personal life. My boyfriend became physically ill, then mentally ill. Our relationship ended abruptly 1 1/2 years ago, when he beat me up, trashed my home, and attempted suicide. I was unemployed for 2 1/2 years. I was very scared and very depressed. I was almost out of money. I have no family, significant other, or good friends to help me. Last December I was very sick and very seriously suicidal.

I got a job and started there June 1. In general, I liked it. People left me alone and let me do my work. My boss was very smart and nice. The work was well beneath my level. I have a Ph.D. and 30 years of postdoctoral experience. I did the same work as a kid just out of college, and he is bored. I took a huge salary cut in this job compared to my previous job. What the hell -- I had health insurance, a 401(k), and there was a gym in the building where I worked.

I have several chronic intermittent health problems, the worst being asthma and migraines. I missed a lot of time from work because of these, but my boss let me work extra hours so I wouldn't have to take leave. I did damn good work and I did it quickly, usually several weeks before the deadline. HR and Management gave me a written warning and put me on probation because of my hours. I spoke honestly to my boss. I told her, "I know you want to get rid of me." She said, "No I don't." I said that I want to leave and told her what I didn't like about the job, and she agreed. I told her that I would look for a job with more flexible hours or telecommuting, better pay, and more stimulating work. She said, "OK. Look for another job, but don't feel you have to hurry. I'll give you a good recommendation." I thanked her for her for being civilized and went back to work. This past weekend I was sick. I had two episodes of food allergy, choking, and acute asthma attack simultaneously. Monday I came in to work two hours late. Tuesday I brought a note from my doctor. Wednesday (today) I was fired.

Of course, I knew this was coming. During my recent, long unemployment, I did a lot of thinking about what makes life worth living. Love and money. I can manage without one for a while, but not without both. I decided that if I became unemployed again, I would not face it alone; I'd opt out of life. This is not a spur of the moment decision made wildly or hysterically when faced with an acute crisis. This is what I'm thinking about for the rest of my life. I went down to the gym, thinking I'd work out, but I crashed in the locker room, just sat and cried. Women came in and asked me what the problem was and I told them. One woman was a lawyer, and I asked her what my legal recourse is. She said that there is none, that in the state of Maryland, you can be fired any time for any reason, and it's not even worth seeing a lawwyer. Another woman was a psychiatric social worker, and she knew how to handle the problem quite well. (Bless her.) One woman gave me a hug (bless her, too). A woman from my office came into the locker room, and I told her to go tell my boss and the woman who is HR that I was suicidal. Of course, people tried to talk me out of suicide. I thought it strange that people wanted to prevent me from killing myself, but no one had helped or would help me to go on living. Someone called the police. They patted me down to check me for weapons, handcuffed me, and took me to the E.R. for a psychiatric workup. It was damn humiliating. They asked whether I wanted to call someone to meet me at the hospital, and I said no, I have no family or friends. I honestly couldn't think of a single person who would leave work or whatever they were doing and come to the hospital to meet me. The E.R. they took me to was the same one that they took my ex to when he attempted suicide. As soon as I could, I walked out. I must have had some survival instinct because, knowing that I couldn't carry my belongings home, I took my comfortable shoes and some clean socks out of my gym bag and left the bag there.

I don't have a car any more, so I walked a mile or two, took a Metro train, and then a bus. I had the strangest combination of feelings. I thought about going home, putting on that pretty black velour dress that I bought and never wore, swallowing a bunch of pills, wrapping myself in my new, warm comforter, and going to sleep for good. Alternately, I felt light hearted, like I wanted to buy myself some ice cream and go to the zoo. I went into Barnes and Noble and blew some money on calendars and a CD. I figured that I would look at all the pictures in the calendars soon, in case I'm not around in 2005. Then I went to Starbucks and blew some more money on coffe and cake. I had not allowed myself to indulge at Starbucks for several years.

I thought some more about my job. Our contract runs out next year and I'd be kicked out then if not before. Four of the people who worked for my boss, including me, have left in the last year or two, and of the four who remain, three are planning to leave. One woman left just a few weeks ago. She got a job that paid a lot more and was more in her area of specialty. She, too, had missed a lot of time because of a long commute and health problems recently. She was my boss's pet, but she still had to leave. She was much luckier than I in that she found another, better job. Also, she's a newly wed, and I'm sure that helps. I plan to speak to her. I think (or hope) my boss is feeling guilty now. I guess I should hit her right away for help finding another job.

Now where am I? Physically, I'm in my home, but metaphysically, where am I? I was completely certain about suicide earlier, but I'm not now. I certainly will not put myself through the shame, fear, pain, and lonelines of chronic unemployment, lack of health insurance, losing all my money, and facing it all alone again. My psychiatrist was a bitch. I won't get any help from her. If I'm going to stick around for a while, I should make some plans. Do I want to see my students for the next couple of days? I should look into unemployment comp. (Last time, I was ineligible.) I should apply for jobs. Maybe I should just decide which organization I want to leave my remaining money to (I wonder whether the ACLU has a death-with-dignity fund), do it, and swallow those pills. I rewrote my will and got it signed this past spring. Honestly, I don't feel like doing anything. I want to talk to a friend and I don't. Writing all this in my blog was a good idea. It is cathartic. I can tell some of my friends to read it if and when I feel like it. I have asked one friend to come over and give me some hugs, and I hope he does.

The many uses of a blog include life (and death) in general.

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