I’m revisiting an old post from another blog and updating it for this blog. I realize that I really don’t talk much about the work I used to do, and how important it used to be to me. In addition, the holiday season is not really a happy time for me, so I thought I’d explain why. Oh, yeah, advance apologies for typos. My brain isn’t working so well today. I’ll edit when I’m feeling better.
A metamorphic process has been underway in me. It’s something that began 8 years ago…when I stepped out of the treadmill of full-time employment.
I had been engaged in some online conversation about finding meaningful work when you have many gifts/talents to explore. Among the helpful feedback I received was:
“stop doing insignificant work in the world”.
I agree, wholeheartedly. I do feel I was doing some significant work when I was in the clinical laboratory. I wasn’t feeding the machine of consumerism, at least. I spent 12 years in the clinical biotechnology field.
During my junior year of college, I obtained my first laboratory job, in kind of an unexpected way.
My family’s dysfunction was high. My mothers’ narcissism coupled with my stepfather’s drinking was a bad combination.
I was putting myself through college with some small scholarships and working part time for my mother, who was a caterer. She discouraged me from getting a job somewhere – anywhere – else.
My mother wasn’t happy unless she was fighting with someone. Usually my step-dad, or me.
Life was hell at home.
She would fight with me at home and fight with me at work. One day, I just got fed up with the verbal abuse. She hated my current boyfriend and would criticize him to me all the time. I exploded and walked out of her business and made plans to move out that night.
I was 21 at the time and needed a place to go, so when my boyfriend talked to his mother and got her consent, I packed up my sisters car and moved in with his family while he was away in the marines. I wasn’t sure I was going to stay in school, but I was really wondering how I was going to make it work. I needed to be able to support myself financially and I didn’t want to live in his family’s home for long.
After consulting with my college advisor, I was told about a food microbiology lab that hired college students. I applied, interviewed and was hired and I worked 16-20 hours a week while I took a full course-load at school (in biotechnology). Within 2 months, I realized my living arrangements were becoming intolerable. My boyfriend’s father lost his job and he coped with midnight wine guzzling sessions. I knew this because I often had insomnia, and I walked out of the bedroom and talked with him on a few nights. It became clear he was struggling with life. I decided I preferred to deal with the devil I knew than the devil I didn’t know, so I came back home, broke up with my boyfriend, and kept my job.
That first opportunity resulted in 3 years of experience testing food products for microbiological contamination to ensure the safety of manufactured food products. I tested things like drink powders (like instant coffees and diet shakes), pastas and chocolates and flavorings and breads and other things for yeast and mold and salmonella and listeria and occasionally had to test for food poisoning outbreaks like hemmorrhagic E.Coli (O157:H7). In two years, I worked my way up from the bench, to quality assurance technician for the laboratory. I have to say I had little idea what I was doing, but I learned a lot. Within six months of that position, I was being courted for the corporate HQ to be a quality assurance assistant to the new QA manager.
At the time, I was working concurrently on a master’s degree in analytical chemistry and so I interviewed for the microbiology QA assistant and and they ended up hiring me to be both the microbiology department AND the chemistry department QA assistant. I was given a short month-long wet chemistry lab training (which was fun) and a workshop in statistical process control. I already taught myself Excel and had to learn Minitab in order to track performance of our 10 nationwide laboratories’ proficiency exam program. I also helped troubleshoot laboratory problems and write standard operating procedures and their corresponding documentation worksheets. In time, I’ve no doubt I would have been groomed to take over the role of the QA Manager.
I was doing that for six months, though after month three, I realized my growing discontent and boredom with being a number cruncher and SOP writer in a cubical hell. At the sixth month mark, I gave notice that my 15 month, four-phase application process for a crime lab position finally resulted in a formal job offer. Plan A was to keep my current QA position and finish my master’s degree. Plan B was to jump into the world of forensics. I chose plan B. I said I’d stay where I was if they could afford a pay raise. They could only give me a nominal one. So I quit and began a new adventure.
I moved 3 hours away from my crazy family. I was 25 at the time and it was the first time I ever spent more than a couple of months away from home. It was wonderful to be away from the family chaos, but it was lonely and boring at times, at least when I wasn’t immersed in studying for exams. By then, I was also long-distance dating my now husband, and missed him terribly. Before I left, I bought myself a computer so that we could keep in touch via email. And we did. I printed out all our letters and kept them.
I was trained for 18 months in DNA analysis on criminal cases – sexual assaults and homicides. After my training period, I relocated back home and I worked an additional 3.5 years on criminal cases.
It was fascinating, but utterly stressful work. I started having anxiety problems. On my own dime, I tried going to professional development workshops on time management and productivity. But while it seems positive, it didn’t really help. The mountain of cases kept piling higher and I kept getting flooded with stress. Just as soon as one case was complete, there were 15 more just like it waiting for me on my desk that were “urgent”, and about 10 more, not so urgent.
I started having panic attacks. I needed out.
[I found out since I’d left so long ago, major burnout strikes about the 5 year mark. They’ve had a lot of turnover since I left in the past 13 years.]
On a lark, I applied at a private university. I got hired in their human genetics department, as a senior tech/lab supervisor of a really small lab which had 3 technicians and worked on identifying rare genetic diseases in their clinical laboratory, some of the work involved brain malformations like lissencephaly and polymicrogyria.
That, despite some minor stresses…was a really good fit for me. I worked there for 3.5 years too. I loved the university environment. I loved what I did for a living, loved interacting with intelligent co-workers and brilliant pediatricians and neurologists.
My jobs were interesting and meaningful to me, for a while anyway, and provided a significant (albeit small in the grand scheme of things) contribution to the world at large and a generous dose of intellectual stimulation to me.
Within two months of starting my new job, I got pregnant. In all, I was pregnant 3 times in 2 years. One ended in miscarriage, one just three months later which resulted in a daughter, and then I got pregnant again just 11 months after my first was born.
It soon became evident I was not the superwoman type.
I didn’t want to figure how to handle being gone 11 hours a day and coming home tired and exhausted to take care of two small babies while my husband worked the afternoon/night shift . For me, it was kind of a nightmare. I would fall asleep trying to rock them to bed, then sleep in, then miss the early train, get in trouble with my lab director, and fight like mad to stay awake during work.
I had my last day in April, when my younger daughter was 9 months old.
I realized that I had not much of a break in sixteen years. I didn’t have summers off since junior year of high school. I had a week between my first real job and my second one, and I had a weekend between my second one and my third one. I was ready for one.
The new plan was to come home, take the rest of the spring and summer off, and go back to get my master’s degree n the fall. But, 3 months after I came home, I got pregnant with daughter number three.
My plans for grad school got delayed again.
And instead of determining a new path for myself, I hit a major bump and a long phase of maternal ‘depression’. Not a true clinical depression (but yet, sort of), but a functional depression while I was trying to care for 3 daughters under 3.5. I knew I was in trouble. So I researched a lot about attachment parenting, because I needed help. And it did, for a while.
And then my middle daughter ended up having something called selective mutism due to some sensory processing issues. She wouldn’t speak at preschool, but then would come home and have massive tantrums at home. If you ask me, both were caused by birth trauma. She was my only child who they deemed necessary to give me pitocin for. She was the only one with sensory problems.
Interestingly, when researching selective mutism 6 years ago, it completely surprised me to discover a book called Schuyler’s Monster – the story of a father’s quest to find answers to his daughter’s inability to speak. I was at the bookstore looking for anything I could find in the parenting section for information regarding selective mutism (there weren’t any on the shelves), and came across that book at the bookstore. I sat on the floor and read with wonder and a bit of fear and cried as I read his/his daughter’s story. I was riveted, having some personal knowledge of what it’s like to have a child who didn’t speak. I was aware enough though that my daughter’s problem was most likely transitory and situation dependent, not permanent like his daughter’s polymicrogyria, only to be jarred to my absolute core when I read he got his final diagnosis from the very neurologist I worked with once upon a time.
Though she’s much better now, and my kids are older, I still haven’t returned to full time work. I miss the laboratory a great deal, but I am that person anymore. I’m not quite sure who I am or where I want to go.
I write a great deal, take photographs, make art, and I substitute teach. I hope to take some time in the coming posts to continue thinking about where I would like to go. Christmas time is an incredibly hard season for me, and most people with dysfunctional families.
I feel something essential has been lost to me and I’m struggling to find it again. The holidays have always been phony to me, and if I could skip them, I would. I don’t want to give presents to the people who raised me. I don’t want to pretend I’m happy when I’m not. I don’t want to spend money I don’t have for all the nieces and nephews (11 of them). My husband and I are struggling financially, when once upon a time we were nearly making 6 digits combined.
My brother and sisters all have beautiful homes, they all have solid jobs. Sometimes all I want to do is weep. Comparing yourself to others is hell, but it’s hard not to when you are surrounded by people that have things so much better than you.
I keep trying to tell myself it doesn’t matter. That I’m living a more soulful life. Though it’s hard to believe that sometimes, when I know I’m struggling with the remnants of PTSD from childhood and and adult relationship trauma.
I feel like a failure at life, often.
Christmastime, most of all. Many Christmases past, someone was always having a meltdown or a major argument at Christmastime. Usually, my mother, or my father. Once it was me. It was awful. One year my husband walked home from my mother’s house on a very snowy Christmas Eve because we were having a strong discussion and he wanted to go but I wasn’t ready. I was 8 months pregnant with my firstborn at the time. This time last year, my husband wanted to kill himself.
I always have at least one holiday-related crying jag.
And I feel a depressed mood coming on. That’s pretty typical.
When I consider holidays past, it’s no wonder I’m feeling like a space cadet.
I would rather spend the next three weeks sleeping, quite honestly.
Wish me luck that it will pass quickly.