Wednesday, October 1, 2014

What Unemployment Taught Me About Forgiveness

In spring of this year, funding was cut to the Brain Sciences Center, and on June 15, 2014, I got cut along with it.

And we're okay. We've had to tighten our belts a bit, and the savings account has taken a hit, but the mortgage and the bills are still getting paid, the dogs and the people aren't missing any meals, and nothing horrifying has happened. Truth be told, leaving the BSC was probably for the best: I went to nursing school to take care of people, not stare at spreadsheets, and the lack of human interaction was starting to wear on me. I have a new job lined up to begin in November working in hospice care - something I've wanted to return to ever since I got my first taste of the field in college. It even pays better. We're okay. We're going to be okay. I know this.

But knowing and feeling are not always the same thing.

The loss of a job is considered a major life event, and now I know first hand why that is so. In spite of the relatively trauma-less nature of my unemployment, I still sometimes feel that I have failed. I thought I would retire at the VA, and I've lost that. Am I still a nurse if I'm not working as one? Am I a bad nurse (just as I've always thought in those secret, dark moments), and everyone can see that, and that's why it took me so long to find a job? The are people and animals who rely on me, how could I have allowed this to happen? (Even though I know there is nothing I could have done to stop it! I know this.)

And so I have gotten in the habit of waking each morning with forgiveness. I was raised to believe that forgiveness was something you had or did not have. You asked people or God for forgiveness, and they gave it or they did not, and the matter was closed. I have come to find, though, that forgiveness is an active noun, like "struggle" or "love." It bears constant repetition. It is not something I have or do not have; it is something I practice. So I wake in the morning and acknowledge my guilt and pain, no matter that I know it is wrong to feel guilty about something I was powerless to change, and then I give myself absolution.

And then I get out of bed.

It's not perfect. Sometimes I have to remind myself throughout the day that it is okay to have flaws. As I have practiced forgiveness, I have gotten better at it, and it becomes easier to let go of what I feel and embrace what I know: that I am good, and strong, and brave, and that this, too, shall pass. And there will be wonderful moments in the future that would not have been possible if I had not become unemployed.

When I first started rolling this blog post around in my head a few months ago, this was as far as I had planned to take it (well, okay, I was going to relate it back to dogs because that's what I do). But with the recent suicides of Robin Williams and Sophia Yin, and as a survivor of depression* myself, I feel that I need to touch on that topic as well. I started graduate school in June (June was a rather intense month), and I'm currently working on a paper about Major Depressive Disorder. At the heart of the paper is the question, "What do we do?" It's fine to be aware of depression and pass around emergency numbers and all that, but what do we do? when confronted with the suffering of others? How do we help when we suspect someone is depressed?


Ask them how they are doing. Let them know you care. Don't ask once - ask a million times, and a million times that, until you are certain they are okay. Depression is a disease of mountains and gorges, and what may be truly well one day may start sliding down the mountain the next. And when the person with depression cries, "I don't know how you can help!" be ready with your awareness and phone numbers - but more likely, be ready to simply sit and be present. We who are depressed are terribly afraid that we will scare people away if they are allowed to see who we feel we are. I believe that many people shy away from those with depression because they do not understand how to help, and they do not see how much just being present, leaning into our pain instead of away, is a great and incredible gift. I don't need anyone to fight my battles or tell me it will be alright - I just need someone to hand me a goddamn stick, and make sure I don't fall off a cliff.

I think that one of the reasons pets are of such comfort to people who are grieving or depressed is that leaning into the pain of others comes naturally to them. At any given moment, I have a six-heartbeat care team literally within arms' reach ready to be with me. Ready to get out of the house with me or make me laugh or simply be still with me. Present. I don't have to worry about them leaving me because I am too imperfect or stupid or hurt or simply too much. They don't need to do anything but be themselves.

Be kind. Everyone is fighting a great battle that you know nothing about. That you will know nothing about, unless you are willing to ask and be present for the answer.

Photo by Sarah T.

*I realize that this post is a little more painful than my usual content, and I just want to mention because I don't want you to worry: I really am okay. What I'm currently feeling isn't anything beyond the normal grief that comes with losing a job. I keep pretty close tabs on myself, and I'm not afraid to use my crisis plan and support network if I need to. I have depression. It does not have me. I'm gonna be alright. But I'm grateful to you for asking. 


  1. I am sending a big-big mental hug to you!

  2. You are so talented. Thank you for yet another great post. Keep on moving forward, it's the right way.

  3. (If this posts twice I apologize)
    As someone who has struggled with mental illness her entire life, thank you for this post. I had no idea about your job, and I'm sorry that you had/have to go through this. But I am excited to follow your next great adventure and I know that only the sky is the limit for you. "But what it takes to cross the great divide, seems more than all the courage I can muster up inside. Although we get to have some answers when we reach the other side,
    the prize is always worth the rocky ride."--Indigo Girls

  4. Thank you for writing this. I have lived with depression for a very long time (I am now 74) and I am still learning about it.

  5. Thanks for this post; it's encouraging to see your struggles on the way to your successes -- helps your readers believe that they, too, will prevail. Glad you have 'the horde' to take point -- Best Buddies Ever!

  6. Forgiving - of others as well as myself - is a struggle I share with you. Thank you for this enlightening post. The difference between knowing and feeling; forgiveness as an active noun; the practice of forgiveness. And how not to shy away from others' pain. Lots to chew on there (and I don't mean rawhide). Thank you for sharing your recent life upheavals too. What a summer! May everything work out better than ever for you!