I hardly know where to begin. 2021 was the hardest of my life. Professionally, I was beset by failure after failure after failure.
The seed of my version of Pandemic Fatigue was planted in April 2020, when Covid finally forced furlough from my long-held, well-loved position with Big Brothers Big Sisters. I couldn’t find work for five months, but it was time I was willing to take to find another position in which I felt like an asset to a good team.
I was a terrible assistant teacher.
I moved on to becoming a chef. While I was never very good, I did demystify the kitchen enough to release fear of feeding myself. Perhaps it sounds strange, but my aversion to meal prep exceeded disdain for cooking. It was pathological. Now I’m unafraid to try new recipes and, more importantly, I don’t deflate when a dish doesn’t work out.
When my beloved Chef Mama retired, however, cracks from the top down, that I’d already begun to see, widened and made my kitchen crew less than skeleton. It was a pile of desiccated ash. In an emergency, I worked 15 hours straight, three days in a row. My seniors had to eat! Immediately, the Executive Director expected me to work around the clock, never once working an extra hour himself to cover the shortfall.
I took a pay cut to move to the front desk, where I would interact with my dear residents face to face. While I loved that, I grew increasingly aware of just how poorly the entire operation was managed. It wasn’t. The party line was “We’re working on it.” I looked back in maintenance logs to learn that some issues had been unresolved for years! Serious issues! The building was falling apart. Manager after manager quit during the six months I worked there.
Residents’ concerns were never addressed. Some paid $4000 a month! For a lie! “We’re working on it,” I repeated, knowing that no one in a position to effect change would do so.
It was an interesting juxtaposition between the employees and the Executive Director. The worse his leadership was, the harder we worked to enrich their lives. The Lifestyle & Leisure Manager was imaginative and creative in bringing talent and entertainment to the residents. I often danced with them when a particular group got them up and out of their seats. Everyone working the front desk dropped all the but the essentials just to visit with someone who stopped by wanting to chat. It was lovely. I witnessed and participated in Love In Action every day.
Nonetheless, I grew more and more angry that the Executive Director should let the building fall into such disrepair and leave us to face an increasingly stressed and agitated population of elderly people, who hadn’t the wherewithal to move. All for the lowest wage I’d earned in… I don’t know how long.
I had perceived that my front desk supervisor was “one of us.” She certainly acted buddy buddy. In fact, sometimes I went to work hoping I wouldn’t see her, because she talked FOREVER about video games about elves and trolls and quests and magic. Comradery among colleagues is lovely, but it interfered with my work and kept her from her own much more important work. She picked up most of the Executive Director’s slack, and actually kept things running, if barely.
Nevertheless, I had a skill she didn’t: Brightening someone’s day. Certain of my residents clamored to visit with me, some at great length, and I lived for it. When someone approached the desk, I’d turn to them, expecting my supervisor to pause her narrative, as one does when there’s work to be done, but she kept talking – about wizardry! – until they walked away. Look. I may not do much of anything for my pittance, but my residents look forward to me. They were my job! It was a privilege to bring joy to people needing a vibrant, enthusiastic friend. I loved them.
It was annoying, certainly, but bearable. She craved a sense of belonging, clearly, and who doesn’t? She crossed the line, however, when she complained [more than once] about our Director. I understood, of course, but it put me in a tricky position.
In the end, Covid finally penetrated our Senior Living Center. I was the one to take the initial report. It was Saturday, so no management was on property. I had my resident quarantine in her apartment, and called the Executive Director personally. He promised to come in and administer a rapid results test. Hours later, he sauntered in – At last! – and went straight to his office without a word to me. I called his office, which he didn’t answer, so I went to his office and asked again, “What will we do?”
He promised, again, that he would administer the test.
Half an hour later, he walked through my lobby, looking back at me before exiting the building, and said, “I don’t have time to administer the test. Look in the Emergency Contacts and call her son. Tell him they’ll have to arrange their own test through Salt Lake County on Monday.”
I looked for her Emergency Contact sheet and found none (!!!). I called the Executive Director, again, who passed it off to my supervisor, who didn’t answer. I finally had to call this little old lady in her home and tell her myself that she was S.O.L. til Monday. Predictably, she began to panic. “Why can’t I have the test now? What does my son need to do?” I got his number from her and called, but she was left to agonize for days, when ten minutes of the Director’s time would have answered the question. I was furious that he should leave her to anguish, and I’d been the face of his indifference. I know it felt like I didn’t care. It’s not like I could tell her what actually happened. As far as she knew, I wouldn’t help during a global pandemic. She was scared!
Furthermore, she was a bit naughty. All weekend, she snuck out of her apartment in search of neighbors to hang out with in common areas. When we ushered her back to quarantine, she’d feign innocence. “I don’t have a negative test….”
Well, she would have, that day, if our Head had honored his word and done his job, and we ended up with a small spread, including a death. Yes, he was very old, but he died. I was so angry! He might have had Covid anyway, even if a timely result had kept our Patient Zero in her apartment over the weekend, but my Director’s refusal to give even ten minutes of his time to our exposure made me feel like he’d killed him. I took the initial report, and he walked out the door. I complained to a colleague, who complained to my supervisor, who reprimanded me for denigrating the Director. I owned it. I had. It was inappropriate work behavior, but now I was offended. How could she chastise me without any self-awareness or shame? I was her confidante for warlocks, witches, and bitching about our boss. I didn’t consider her behavior permission for my own. I was wrong, but she was ten times more so and unabashed to scold me, in spite of gross hypocrisy, particularly galling in view of her position over me. It’s objectionable that my team leader should set the very example she later admonished me for. I could have had that place shut down for countless violations. But where would my seniors go?
I quit. I said simply that, despite the love I bore my colleagues and residents, I could no longer look past issues with the building and leadership. I offered to give a proper two weeks notice, but I was leaving for Chicago the next day anyway with Alan. I could work for two weeks after that if my supervisor would like, but I would be taking the rest of the day off. “I do apologize, but I’m not keen to finish today’s shift.”
I later learned that the Executive Director was fired shortly after I quit, but I’m banned from even entering the building! This supervisor lied to my face when I asked if I could continue with my Astrology parties, which had grown in popularity each month. Why should the residents be denied a fun activity? Why should they pay for her small mind?
I shared tearful good-byes that day with a few residents who saw me leaving. A colleague called later, asking permission to give my number to a resident who’d missed the chance to say farewell, and she called me at home to thank me! I loved my people so much.
On my way out, I received invitations to visit many residents personally. I promised, and looked forward to it! I live half a mile down the street. I would love to hang out with my new senior friends, and come over for a cafeteria dinner every now and then.
NOPE. Persona non grata. I miss them so much.
From there, I went on to work in a decorative paper company. We’re talking hand-made papers from all over the world, with inclusions of tropical flowers or reeking of perfumed, natural dyes. It was so beautiful! It was more money, and it spoke to my strengths. I am exact. Things go how they go and that’s how I do them. I find great satisfaction in doing things right. I half ass nothing and struggle with perfectionism. Finally! A job where that pays off! And it’s so pretty!
Y’all. I was fired! I CAN’T CUT PAPER! I lost a paper cutting job!
It’s not like any failure I’ve known. It’s terrifying. What the hell is happening? It’s not a talent or a technical skill or a type of intelligence. It’s a remedial task. And I couldn’t do it! Scarier still, I had no idea! I was completely unaware. I felt like I was doing all of my obsessive excellence checks – I was doing them – but my own quality control mechanism failed.
The owner had to sit me down and show me sheet after sheet of unsellable artisan paper. The sheer volume of random inconsistencies and gross errors was horrifying, mystifying, humiliating. It’s bad enough that I did it; worse that I didn’t catch it! It rattles my entire sense of self and reality. For all my seeking the elusive calling, I’ve learned that I quite enjoy mundane tasks. I love To Do Lists. I live for minutiae. I’ve been called anal retentive.
“I’m not,” I reply. “I’m precise.” This was in my wheelhouse!
This wasn’t failure to excel or meet my own impossible standards. It was failure to perform simple tasks with competence. This was ineptitude. I can’t trust the ground I walk on. I’m losing my mind. How did this slip past me? How is that I CAN’T CUT PAPER?!?!!
I fuckin’ lost my job! … Paper!… I…I…I.. I don’t understand. I’m terrified. It’s like not being able to tie my shoes. It’s 8.5×11! That big line and that big line, and cut. I couldn’t do it!
Luckily, I had therapy the next day. I don’t think I’ve cried that hard that long in a session before, the whole hour. He recommended I see a neurologist, which I will, but I don’t think they’re going to find anything, and I don’t think menopause can explain this.
I describe Fibro fog as thinking through quicksand. It’s definitely frustrating for someone who’s always had a quick, reliable mind. Though I joke that I’m smart enough to know how stupid I am, I’ve been very grateful for my intelligence.
Menopause has made the ever-worsening mental morass more vast. Or at least I’ve blamed menopause, but now I think I’m just declining, period. Ha! Period. What I wouldn’t give for one more. I want my rosy, plumpy youth hormones back.
I WANT MY BRAIN BACK!
This is beyond even that. This is loss of function. I CAN’T CUT PAPER!
I’m flummoxed. Oh god, I’m embarrassed! Wtf? I’m scared.
Five days after losing the pretty paper job, I was hired in specialty cheese at the supermarket, so I start the New Year in dangerous dairy. (Cheese is a better friend than chocolate.) That’ll help the Menopausal Middle. I can’t cut paper but, by god, I can cut the cheese, haha!
It helps to soften the blow of being sacked, not to worry about a money gap, but the black hole of confusion remains. It’s discombobulating. It’s so frightening.
This is first time I’ve encountered failure that I can’t find, appreciate, and be better for one of two things: The learning or the love. There was no point to this. There is no silver lining to this colossal reversal. I don’t know what to do with that. I need it to mean something or teach me something, and it just doesn’t. And I certainly don’t love myself or anyone more for the experience of it. It’s been absolutely devastating, unlike anything I’ve known.
So, that’s a lot of pressure to take into what I meant to make of 2022: MY BEST YEAR!
It’s just begun. I will do it. I have a job. I have the strength to weather hardship. I’m ready for progress and consistency, and I’ll see it. I know I’ll see pain, too, because life is life, and I guess I’m living it. I confess I haven’t committed to life any more than I’ve committed to a job, a relationship, anything. I’ve lived with an escape hatch since I left home.
Next year, I’m 50. Soon, my Penny will pass and I’ll check off my sole bucket list item: Move to Bolivia and master Spanish fluency.
2022 is for getting serious about my health, so I can feel powerful, confident, and clear-for-the-love-of-god-minded. I have a sleep study on Jan. 12th. I see the Ear Nose Throat specialist Jan. 18th. I have yet to hear back from the neurologist, but I’ll keep you posted on what I learn. Cholesterol and diabetes screenings tomorrow, and 40 pounds to lose from my highest weight ever. You’ll never see the Before pics but I’ll share the Brags, er, Afters.
2022 is on! Oh, my beloved 222, don’t let me down!