deal, sometimes badly, with Rheumatoid Disease, Fibromyalgia and Depression. Since I have a high tolerance for pain, many people don’t know that. To me, that used to mean that I had succeeded. If I could keep working, keep striving, keep following through with the promises that I had made that I wouldn’t have if I actually faced my health head on and been realistic.
When I was laid off in August of 2012, I fell head on into the depression that I had been denying since an event in 1995. No need to say what, but it was something that needed therapy then. Seventeen years later, I finally gave in. I thought it was the fact that I had lost my job, that I had failed to force our fairly insane customer into sanity, that I had avoided firing two people that I should have let go months before I lost my spot. I know now that I didn’t deal with the pain from big issues in 1995, 1996, 1997, 2008 and the myriad little issues of long commutes for unsatisfying jobs and only decent money, entrepreneurial dreams dashed, etc. Feeling used by this person or that, but putting myself out there anyway because I wanted to find the business partnership that would work. Feeling angry with my body and God as the body seems to be determined to find new ways to collapse in on me.
So I managed the pain. I went to work and excelled. Never a bad review from any manager. The fact that I made someone cry once, was actually physically attacked once, and went head-to-head with senior management in ways no one else would never worried anyone around me.
I look back and realize I was angry more than was necessary. No one cared about the things that set me off. We were government contractors; no one expected professional services contractors to actually make a difference or complete anything; that work is supposed to be open ended and never ending. The whole point of the contracts, for the vendors, is to get the contract renewed. The point for the government is to get the best vendor at the best price. The work is incidental. MIND YOU, the people I worked with were phenomenal and the work we did was incredibly good. But it was never, ever satisfying.
For 26 years.
Then I lost my job. I had two interviews while still with the company that I worked for, but for reasons that I will never quite know, I did not get those positions. I was floored. I was an expert in my field. I probably still know more than many in that industry in terms of government functions for that line of work. I had literally NEVER had an interview that I did not win the position. I have even had the luxury of turning a position down because I had interviewed for and received a better one. I always felt God’s hand in whatever position I went for. That was no longer true.
In fact, I didn’t feel him in any of my attempts or consulting gigs from 2012 to now. I kept hearing “write” and “create”. I am an artist by training – The Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington School of the Arts (first class in 1977) and a BFA from Howard University (1981). I kept saying “make money” and “use my skills”. That just made the pain, physical and mental, worse!
I worked as a consultant in Laurel, MD and in Baltimore and for the same people who forced my layoff. I tried sales, making cold calls and showing up unannounced to businesses. Trust me – that is not an area of strength for me. I signed my new company up as a government contractor, and applied for CATS II in my county. CATS is the way our county buys IT services; a purchasing agreement with the vendors that they chose meant we could bid on any upcoming work. My company, which no longer exists, is on the list! I WRITE great proposals. There was never any work there to be won.
I worked with another person on her dream to create a government-focused IT management company. Two depressed people with major issues. She was also out of work, as was her husband. She was also overqualified for everything she applied for. She was also arguing with God. Together, we were almost Wonder Twins: I’d create and schmooze, she would find the opportunities and bring in the partners. We never won anything, but we had brilliant proposals. Everyone who turned us down said so. And the one thing that we could have won fell apart on our end because we were fighting. The prime contractor won the contract without us.
I finally went to therapy in 2014. She was wonderful, but she wasn’t part of my insurance policy, and that meant I couldn’t afford it. But those three sessions were great, and I thought about it for a while afterward. I then tried another who was on my policy. That ended unceremoniously. She doesn’t read her email. At the time, I was much better dealing with people by text or email. I cancelled my appointment by email and she claimed she never saw it. It cost me $60 for that cancellation. I did not have $60! I hadn’t worked in months. I also didn’t feel that we were getting anywhere; she actually asked me what she could do for me in the last session, as it seemed that I knew what I needed to do. Now I know that proper pain management for me was what I initially had and I will be going back to “Barbara” as soon as I can get ahead of the money. In the meantime, I suck in the pain.
The diseases? I was diagnosed in 2009 with the autoimmune disease Rheumatoid Arthritis. It really isn’t an arthritis; nothing is worn down, it is eaten away by your own body’s misguided inflammation and attacks. Practitioners and patients want to change the accepted name to Rheumatoid Disease. Try using that. It’s better. Fibromyalgia is a description of a nerve issue where even a hug can hurt. However, we all need our hugs, so I collect them with gusto!
You make choices: I drive for Lyft (code: ineedthatbp), and that hurts after a couple of hours. Fortunately, I have been well paid, so my Social Security Disability payments cover our mortgage, home equity line and a couple of other bills. We need the extra money, but the family, as a whole, needs a pleasant and loving wife and mother more. So I drive as much as I can, never ever reaching the $1,090 monthly limit that SSA sets for additional income. I will write about that at another time (If I paid into SSA and qualify for disability, why am I penalized for making money wherever and however I can?)
You make choices to manage the pain. My choice was to finally listen: I write (not enough) and draw whenever it doesn’t hurt. Or the meeting is boring. Or the sermon is dry. Or the drive is long. Or whenever I have pencil/pen in hand.
You make choices to manage, like writing this blog post. So what if it’s too long? Right now, I just needed to get this out so that I don’t feel the need to cover-up and keep a pleasant church lady face. That doesn’t give me permission to burden others with my issues, but it does give me permission to be out of service or rehearsal or whatever without feeling some sort of guilt. I stopped feeling guilty a couple of years ago. I can’t do it. Simple enough.
What is the point of all of this? Manage your pain. All of it! If you are having pain because of something physical, it is interrupting your life. Even if you claim it isn’t, you are making adjustments. I can no longer paint an entire room in an afternoon. Or a day. Or a week. I can, however, decide what I want the room to look like, and save up to hire someone to do it.
Is your pain mental? Get a therapist, or two. I did. IT HELPS! Manage your pain before it gets out of control. Be realistic about what you can and cannot do. Then make the changes necessary to handle things in your life. Be grateful for the quality of life that you have and move on with it. We only have so many days to live this thing out. Do it!
Always Looking Forward!