Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Employment and Disability: How Religion Keeps Me Sane.

I have blogged on the problems of employment as it relates to disability before. But, this time, I got to stroll down my own employment/self-image/disability nightmare. Going out of the gate, I have some serious problems with out-of-control pride trying to hide the shame of being disabled. I used to hide behind money, but I recently attempted to build another Castle in the air around employment.

I truly enjoy dog and cat sitting. As a job it is almost immoral to be paid to do almost nothing, other then live in someone,s home, while using their computer to study and work almost as though I were at my house. I guess all the actual "pet" duties take up a whole thirty minutes. And that is stretching it! So, when I'm offered a small per/day rate, it makes sense to me. I was starting to feel real good inside about finally landing another part-time job.

The last job I attempted to land was a volunteer stint at a school for handicapped children. I managed to get "fired" from a volunteer position! Oh, how I wept over that one. Actually, there was a major fight in progress between my room supervisor and her boss, which I was unaware of. I became an unwilling ball in a truly ugly game of office politics. Even though I know these things to be facts. I was shattered in terms of looking for further work. When you can't even give it away...

The first real crushing piece of reality arrived when I put together my twenty plus years of housekeeping experience on a resume. Now, normally, that is some serious employment power. Not when you legally qualify to carry a white cane, but use a walker because your balance is worse then your poor vision. My landlord told me that it would cost him $10,000 to put me on his building insurance because I'm a tenant in the building I want to be hired to clean! Personally it sounds like a lie, but who knows?

Left that shocking interview in tears. The same old story, twenty years of any experience for the able-bodied is usually a ticket to success, but for the disabled, we are treated like you treat your four-year-old child. A child who presents you with a drawing of a car. It is cute, and you love her. But, in reality it is totally useless to you. I feel that the worst price of disability is never being allowed to truly "grow up". We are always reduced to a "less-then" status.

When you add to this toxic mix of rage and despair the years of knowing there is just something so wrong with you, it is easy to learn to hate yourself. Because there is something so bad that your parents were sad you didn't die at birth. Something so bad that my existence, by itself, was responsible (in their eyes) for destroying my parents lives. You have a very nasty feeling which never really goes away. I have learned to ignore these things pretty well, most of the time.

I can site chapter and verse of why my parents were all screwed-up and how God doesn't make "accidents". But my heart and feelings are still pretty mangled. In my younger, pre-Christian days I tried to make people meet my social needs through brute force, begging or manipulation. Eventually, I just got used to always being alone and realizing I had no clue as to how to deal with people in a successful, "like on TV manner".

Coming to God didn't magically change all of that. Because God is merciful and loving, he didn't immediately demolish my pride-castle-in-the-air. For a long time, it was all I had. I lived most of my life in my mind, daydreaming of the day when all my needs would be met and I'd be loved. That great day when I was popular and no longer poor.

Once firmly committed to serious emotional work, I had enough courage to attempt to deal with my 'reality'. Today God keeps me from getting totally lost in the depression over the conflicts around work, money and self-esteem. When I know I've had it, with the white flag waving and I'm screaming for mercy, God will handle whatever has demolished my adult. When your adult goes away, you are left with your little-kid self. That part of me really can't handle adult situations. God helps that part of my panic also.

A friend innocently asked me about my wages on my cat-sitting job. He implied that perhaps I was being taken advantage of. "Oh, great, another 'pretend' job", I raged. I felt the beginnings of a nasty depression. Being he is a man who strives for justice and has built his own business, he gave me logic, as to why being slow should not prevent someone from making a decent wage. Say, instead of $40,000 a year, maybe only $24,000 a year. I tactlessly informed this babe-in-the-woods when it comes to the disabled (read blind), that the problem is about fear and prejudice, not logic.

Logically, it is stupid to shut out 75% of blind people from productive work. A friend has a degree from a top-flight engineering school. With his 3.9 GPA, he got interviewed by the CIA. For, on paper, he never mentioned this little "problem" of total blindness. He is the only member of his graduating class not to have a full-time job. He was sure that people would not waste his obvious brain power, grit, determination and courage. He never got hired for anything. He eventually gave up. So today, he collects social security, while living with his parents and a guide dog. He spends his days reading. Or rather, listening to whatever catches his fancy. He's grossly overweight and as far as I can see, spinning his 46-year-old-wheels waiting to die. He is still a little boy, playing peacefully in his room, while the world takes "care" of him. What a WASTE!

In Theory a stay-in-the-home pet sitter can get $175 a night! In theory I could get more per hour as a housekeeper. When I explored these possibilities with Maria. She became cold as ice and informed me that to double my wages would cause me to lose my jobs with her and her friend, who I also work for. I had come to her as a friend and my substitute mother. I hurt badly inside. Her solution was to question why I'd let a stranger know anything about my wages. My friend back east is by far no stranger, but she doesn't understand computer relationships.

I also had to face some hard truth about my planned vacation to Boston. Got to postpone it for yet another year. The new computer will be at least $1,400 and possibly as high as $1,900. I'll probably just end up getting the cheapest mac I can buy, if I go new, and just put up with the slowness. I really loathe this state of affairs. I can go with a refurbished mac, but that's a crap-shoot also. The ones that were available on Saturday are all gone now. So, Marie agreed to loan me the extra money for the computer. I only have $1,000 in the bank at the moment. All in all a truly awful day from an emotional perspective.

My friend back east suggested I talk to God. My first response was to sob at God that even though I may be getting screwed, I just can't handle this stuff any more. $250 in my hand is worth a lot more then a theoretical $1,000 out there in the bush. I knew it was time to go to church.

People at church see the problem. Blacks have a whole other spin on life. Having a bad self-image is the norm. Everyone gets it about arriving at the place where I'll take the crumbs, vs having nothing to eat at all. I just have to leave this one alone. I love sleeping with the cat. I realize how lonely I must really be, if having a ball of fur curled up next to me makes me feel physically better. (Oh, yeah, I'd love a cat, but where to I board my cat while I'm taking care of your cat?) So, the job is worth it to me. My depression is still here, but slowly receding.

About the only thing I'm truly thankful for in this current situation, is that in spite of feeling some very uncomfortable feelings, I'm not emotionally out-of-control. There was a time when this kind of emotional turmoil caused me to see and hear things that weren't there. There was a time when I thought suicide was the solution to all my problems.

Today, I want to live to feel and grow for another day. I do respect this part of my very real healing. Dumping my temporarily "unresolvable conflict" unto God helps me move from despair back to hope and a willingness to continue. I truly cannot imagine a life without a God I can talk to, lean on and love. Because God has been so wonderfully gentle with me, it is easier for me to cut others a bit of slack. This is truly a miracle of healing at the deepest level.

1 comment:

Melody said...

Well written article.