Friday, June 24, 2016

Do People Grieve After a Job Loss?

How Some People Experience Job Loss

My husband went through the loss of a job about ten years ago. I remember that he was angry for a couple of days, but then he poured all of his energy into finding another job and the pain of the loss seemed almost forgotten. Throughout this time I watched him, confused.

"Why are you not more upset?" I asked him.

I don't remember his exact response, but it was something like, "I am upset, but there are other jobs out there, so why fret over this one?"

"But this is your job! Your life's work! A fundamental part of who you are! How can you be so blasé about having it taken away from you?"

Being a typical man, he simply shrugged and went on with his job search.

A year later, when I experienced my own job loss, it was quite a different story.

An Event That Many People Would Consider Traumatic

Twelve years ago--three years before my job loss experience--I suffered a miscarriage. I have known women who went through that and never fully recovered from it. I knew one woman who, twenty-five years later, still cried whenever she thought about it. I did cry over my miscarriage, but the tears only lasted a week. Then I moved on.

I think part of it was the circumstances under which it happened. We already had one child. We knew from the start that we wanted more, so we started trying again when our first turned a year old. We got pregnant right away. It wasn't until several days after that stick turned blue that I started to realize, "Holy crap! I'm going to have two children under two years old!" The thought made me nervous, but nevertheless, I wanted another child, so I was excited about the pregnancy. Then the miscarriage came, and because my first child was still so young, I think I just sort of accepted it as something that was meant to be. Then three months later I was pregnant again and all thoughts of that lost baby were banished in the flurry of preparing for the new one.

When I lost my job, however, it was quite a different story.

From the Start No One Understood

I found out I was going to lose my job months before it actually happened. Now, when I was hired the word "interim" was never used, so I naturally assumed this was a long-term decision I was making in accepting their offer. When they let me go, the word "fired" was never used. After all, they let me stay on until a replacement was found, so it wasn't really like being fired, right? I mean, I didn't have to collect my things immediately and be escorted from the building. I still had a job. For several months I still had a job. Basically, when they told my I was being replaced it became an interim position, but from the way they treated it I got the impression that they always thought of my assignment as a temporary one. They seemed to think that letting me go was no big deal. I should have been expecting it.

What I really felt was quite a different story.

The Worst Experience of My Life

I'll never forget the day I found out it was happening. I was at home. The job being part-time, quite often I received communication from the powers that be in the comfort of my home. It was not odd that this particular bit of news found me there.

It was about half an hour before a piano student was due at my house for a lesson, so I was tidying my living room and lighting scented candles and doing all the things I normally did to make the house presentable for my students. And then the news came. You've heard the phrase, "It felt like being punched in the gut"? Well, never was that description more accurate than it was for me in that moment. First there was a sick feeling that crawled up my spine as realization set in. Then I felt like all the air had been sucked from my lungs. Then the tears came. Then the sobbing. You've seen babies cry so hard they forget to breathe? That was me when I found out I was losing my job. I sat on the sofa, in my sweet-smelling, freshly tidied living room, and I struggled to regain control of myself. I literally thought I was going to throw up.

I watched the clock. I knew I had to let the tears come out, but I knew they had to be gone when my student arrived. So I timed myself. About ten minutes before the scheduled lesson time I ran to the bathroom, looked into the mirror, and took slow deep breaths until the tears finally subsided. I cleaned up my face with a tissue and continued staring at my reflection until I thought the redness around my eyes had lessened somewhat. Then I walked back to my living room just in time to welcome my piano student.

I honestly don't know how I made it through that lesson. Have you ever been in a situation where you refused to let yourself cry, but all the same you couldn't stop thinking about the thing you wanted to cry about? That was me. For that entire half hour I smiled and talked cheerily, and guided my student through his songs, but I was thinking about my job. When he finally left, I collapsed against the door and let myself cry again. I kept crying for a very long time.

I won't say that was the worst day of my life. In the coming months there were to be a lot of bad days, and I don't think I could pick one and say, "This one! This was the worst!" But it was bad. I can say that with absolute certainty.

For nine months I continued working that job while the powers that be looked for my replacement. I could have quit then and there, but I was holding on to this faint hope that if I just worked hard enough, if I could just prove my worth, they might change their minds. They didn't, of course, and nine years later I still can't think of that experience without bringing up all the pain I felt when I was going through it.

When You Think It Can't Get Any Worse

Have you ever been there? Have you ever felt so bad you didn't believe you could feel any worse? That was me during those nine months of waiting for my identity, my dreams, the foundation on which I was building my life to be snatched away. By the end I was so tired of waiting that I almost believed the end would bring relief. Then the end came. And it was worse than anything I ever could have imagined.

I live in a small town. My job was in that small town. My bosses and coworkers and the people with whom I interacted on a day to day basis were all my neighbors. I can't begin to describe what it felt like to walk through the streets of my town in the wake of my shameful dismissal. I looked at the windows of houses and, knowing who lived there, imagined the residents looking back at me and laughing. Thinking to themselves, "There goes Greta. She thought she could be somebody important, but we showed her!"

The Defining Moment of One's Life

Losing that job put my life on a different path than the one I had imagined for myself. I can't say for sure whether this new path has been better or worse than the one I would have followed had I kept that job. To quote Aslan from The Chronicles of Narnia, "No one is ever told what would have happened." So I will never know. I'll never know who I would have been today if I had not endured that one hardship. I do know that part of my life since has been a feeble attempt to reclaim what I had then. I'm like Europe in the Middle Ages, futilely trying to rebuild The Roman Empire. But the Roman Empire was gone and so is the life I would have had. So I have to figure out how to make the most of this new life. The life I never planned on.

In the title of this post I asked if people grieve after a job loss. The answer? I guess it depends on the person. But I know firsthand that some people do grieve, and grieve deeply. This article is for those people, so they will know they are not alone.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Bizarre Things That Happen When You're Becoming Fluent in a Second Language

Beginning to Learn the Language

Learning a second language is more than just acquiring new words. There's a whole new grammar structure to learn as well, and, depending on how closely the new language relates to your native tongue, these grammar rules can prove quite confusing. Nevertheless, a huge part of learning a language is building your vocabulary. After all, what good does knowing the rules do you if you don't actually have anything to say?

Learning new words in your second language is very similar to learning new words in your first. Some will immediately feel easy to use, others will be awkward. If you're just starting out on your journey into the world of the bilingual, you may be surprised to find that sometimes these new words you're studying become as familiar to you as your first language. In fact, some words don't even feel like foreign words anymore. They just feel like words. And you feel tempted to use them in conversation just as you would use your first language.

The first Spanish word, well really I guess it's a phrase, that became as familiar to me as anything I had ever heard, read, or spoken in English was "tal vez", which means "maybe". This happened before I had even been studying Spanish for a year. Someone would ask me a question to which my response would have been "maybe", and "tal vez" would be the first thing to pop into my head. "Maybe" would follow a fraction of a second later, so I never actually got the point where I accidentally said "tal vez" out loud, but I was sorely tempted at times. Why was "tal vez" the first Spanish phrase to find a cozy place in my brain to snuggle up and nestle in for the night? I have no idea, but it was there nonetheless.

When You're Becoming a Little More Comfortable With the Language

After I had been studying for a couple of years, I occasionally found my English speaking brain trying to operate like my Spanish speaking brain. Here's an example:

The verb "to try" in English has quite a few different Spanish translations, depending on what, exactly, you are "trying". One translation is "probar" which can also be translated "to test". It is also the verb you would use if you wanted to say "to taste something" in Spanish. For example:

I want to taste that cake = Quiero probar ese pastel.

This verb gave me a laugh one day. I was at a church supper and I had just finished my plate. There was a delicious-looking chocolate cake over on the dessert table that I was just itching to try. When I turned to tell my husband that I was going to get myself a piece, the sentence that popped into my mind was, "I'm going to go probe that chocolate cake." Um...probe the chocolate cake? No, I most certainly did not want to say that out loud. That would conjure up a terribly inaccurate image of what, precisely, I intended to do with that cake. Luckily I caught myself just in time and was able to say "try" instead of "probe". Whew! Really dodged a bullet on that one.

Occasionally Speaking Your Second Language Better Than Your First

I do not yet consider myself completely bilingual. That word implies equal comfort with both languages, and I do not yet have that sort of mastery of Spanish. But sometimes...well, here's a funny story:

I was walking my dog and carrying on a rather lively conversation in my own mind (I'm a writer, so that's okay). I don't remember what I was talking to myself about, but at some point I starting thinking about things that people are not allowed to do. I knew that there was one word that summed up that sentiment, but I was having a hard time thinking of it. Then a word popped into my head. "Probidden." I stopped mid-step, scratched my head, and thought to myself, "probidden?" Somehow that didn't sound right. I knew it wasn't a real word, but I couldn't think what the real word was.

I continued walking, all the while racking my brain to figure out this mystery word that was giving me so much trouble. Then I thought, "It has to be 'probidden'. After all, the Spanish word is 'prohibido'. How else would I translate that to English?" Suddenly I remembered that "prohibited" was an English word that meant the same thing as "prohibido", but still it didn't sound right. I distinctly remembered a word that ended in "bidden". What was it? I just didn't know.

I walked for a good ten minutes, puzzling over this mystery, when finally it hit me. "Forbidden!" Yes! That was the word I had been trying think of. That was the word that meant "prohibido" but was not "prohibited". Once I thought of it, it was so obvious I felt instantly foolish, but that's what happens when your brain tries to think in two languages at the same time.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Surprising Benefit of Learning Ballet

Not Really a Surprise

Okay, the idea that engaging in one form of physical activity improves your performance in another is nothing new. It's called cross-training, and people have been doing it for years. I guess what surprised me is exactly how much my performance improved, especially considering that I've been pretty physically active for a long time now. I did not expect just adding ballet to my regimen to have such an impact, but it did.

I Love Exercise

I love exercise. I joined a gym for the first time ten years ago, and ever since then I haven't been able to stay away. I teach yoga and Pilates. I've been to zumba classes, step classes, boot camp classes, and kickboxing classes. I've spent huge amounts of time on the treadmill and the elliptical. I take my dog on long walks. I swim laps whenever I go to the pool. And I love riding my bike on the country roads that surround my hometown.

Heaven and Hell on Two Wheels

I would describe cycling as both the most pleasant and most grueling form of exercise I've ever done. I love getting out in the morning, when the sun is low in the sky and everything is bright and golden, and just exploring. My eyes love it and my soul loves it. My legs, on the other hand, do not always have such a great experience. Last year I really got into this cycling thing. I would go out a couple of times a week, in addition to all the other exercising that I was doing. I should have gotten into better shape after a while. I should have reached a point where getting out on the road and pedaling for half an hour or more became easier, but you know what? It never did. It was always difficult. My legs would get so tired I would wonder if I would be able to make it home. Often I would cut my ride short because I just didn't want to go any farther. And it never got better. Never.

Until...

Along Comes Ballet

I started taking ballet classes about a year ago. I knew I was getting a leg workout. I could feel the fatigue after just a few minutes at the barre. I knew I was building strength in those muscles, but I didn't know just how strong I was becoming until this morning. You see, I haven't been taking regular bike rides lately. Through the winter it was just too miserable to get outside and do it, and in the spring I didn't think about it. But now it's summer and I want to ride again, so I decided to start this morning.

I was nervous. After all, I haven't been on a long ride in quite a few months. A route that was difficult last year should be darn near impossible after so much time off. But do you know I found? It wasn't impossible. In fact it was almost easy. Yes, my legs were tired, but not to point that I wanted to toss my bicycle in a ditch and curl up on the side of the road for a nap. Hills that I hated a year ago were suddenly easy. Even fun.

I know that this improvement is due to my ballet class because that's literally the only thing I've added to my exercise routine since the last time I attempted a bike ride. In fact I've backed off on some of the other leg exercises, like squats and lunges, that I was doing last year. I thought my legs would be weaker because of that, but apparently the ballet more than makes up for it. My legs are stronger than they've ever been.

No, ballet is not the solution to all of your fitness problems. In fact, I know I lack upper body strength because I don't spend enough time working those muscles. But if we're just talking legs, ballet really can do some amazing things for your body.