I posted a picture to Facebook a couple of days ago, of a cyan-tinted, forlorn, Bitstrips version of Stephanie that said, "Stephanie is feeling a blue."
Several friends immediately commented to inquire about what was wrong. Thankfully no one told me to cheer up. The girls reminded me to moving forward. A couple of people who've had their own sadness in recent months offered sympathetic well wishes.
One friend commented, "Just looking from the outside your future looks very bright."
He's right, of course, but that's exactly what has me in such a damn funk: the future.
I am finishing my last six weeks of my last semester at Georgia Piedmont Technical College. I am finishing my last two weeks as an (unpaid) intern with the ACLU of Georgia. I won this huge award and am trying to schedule the visit to pick up my new car, and I'm appearing fairly regularly as an ambassador for GPTC and for the Technical College System of Georgia.
Under all of that, there is a boatload of fear. I've explored the topic of fear—specifically why it's just stupid to let it hold you down—and I know this is one of those times when fear is not healthy. It's not a warning sign that something is about to eat me or that some berry will poison me. There's no imminent danger that demands I fight or flight.
But there is more uncertainty, more unknown. There is the choice to be made in the next few days of which bachelor's program I'll transition into (the private program that's close to home but only requires 42 hours to complete, or the public college that's an hour away and requires 67 hours to complete but at a third of the cost of the private school). There are the looming issues surrounding the still-jointly-held mortgage that has to be refinanced and the post-divorce credit score that's lower than the number we spend on groceries in a month. Credit takes time to rebuild, even without constant additional damage. There is the question of what will happen to my meager health insurance at the end of the year, tied up with political and financial issues that have embroiled Medicaid and the Obamacare that I still wouldn't be able to afford if I had to pay for it.
And all of that is directly impacted by my now two-month-long job search.
I was told by a hiring-type person (though it was an informational meeting, not an interview) that my qualifications are impressive.
"Until there's a job, my qualifications are worth the spare change in my sons' laundry," I retorted.
On paper, it does look impressive. Even I know that. I'm graduating with a 3.95 GPA from one of the only ABA-approved Paralegal Studies programs in Georgia. I'm a member of three honor societies, and I was named the 2015 Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership recipient by the Technical College System of Georgia, making me the top technical education student of 144,000 in the state. I interned with the ACLU of Georgia, having worked on substantive research issues for litigation and having extensively lobbied the Georgia General Assembly. I've had articles published on DivorcedMoms.com, MariaShriver.com, and The Huffington Post.
But there is no job.
Yes, I have applied for them. Yes, I have reached out to my extensive network of contacts to politely ask them to keep me in mind if they hear of possible positions. Yes, I have reached outside my own box, my own comfort zone, and looked beyond what I think I want to do, willing to consider positions that may be only mildly related if they may ultimately open the door to where I want to be.
But consistently, because I don't have my Bachelor's degree and because I don't have 3-5 years' experience as a paralegal, I am shut out of positions. My skills and talents don't matter, my hard work doesn't matter—it's that one piece of paper that holds me back. And because hiring processes are very often automated now, my application is very often automatically kicked out of employment systems for not quite meeting criteria that I know really doesn't impact what I know or how I perform.
So this starts the cycle of self-recrimination:
This is what you get for fucking it up and blowing your scholarship at 18.
But I wasn't ready. I didn't know how to be ready.
If I'd finished then I wouldn't have gotten married and have these boys now.
You promised these boys you'd be home with them in the afternoons.
I was at home with them for twelve years.
They misbehave, because you're not here like you should be to help them.
I'm doing the best I can. I'm showing them how to be adults and step up to their responsibilities, how not to run to the bottom of a bottle just to escape what is hard.
You're fucking up. You fucked up.
This wouldn't have happened if you hadn't fucked up your marriage.
You're a fuck up.
The constant anxiety has reached a frenzied peak, the likes of which I only saw during the worst of my divorce.
And isn't your divorce at the heart of this?
You fucked it all up.
On and on this cycle goes. My head is relentless sometimes. I get agitated and cranky. I do my best to power through and keep working—homework, household chores, job search, more homework—just to have a reprieve from the constantly animosity.
Lately I've not been very pleasant to be around. It's most likely the boys, or especially Rango, who takes the brunt of that.
You're just a fuck up.
You don't deserve him.
This is why DH left, because you're such a fuck up.
I'm sorry. I don't know what I did wrong this time, but I'm sorry.
Right now, it feels like every single nerve ending in me is exposed, peeking beneath the flay that still shimmers with fresh glitter.
I do know that this will pass, in part because I'm writing about it and dealing with it in the most cathartic way I know how. I know that decisions will be made in a matter of days, which will bring some of the uncertainty to an end. I know that this specific cycle will end. After the last five years, I'm pretty sure there will be another one in the not-too-distant future. If there ever comes a time when everything is easy and I'm skating on rainbows, I have to assume it means I'm dead.
What I also know is that I am not alone in my propensity to tear myself down from the inside. I'm not the only maladaptive girl who sometimes clings tightly to the familiar shards of broken glass, simply because that's a pain you know, which feels far more manageable than the overwhelming uncertainty.
I questioned whether I should even post this publicly. I am representing my college and the system for the next ten months, and this is their shiny champion swearing loudly about her problems. But I'm hardly the only single welfare mom who's gone back to college in her 40s to take care of her family. I'm not the only non-traditional student who has to choke down her fear and step into the classroom and just get it done. I'm not the only one who has to keep fighting while backed into a corner.
If you're there, your shoulders pressing against the jagged walls, use it. For just a moment, let the walls support you and take a breath. Breathe past the tears and the fears. One breath. And then another. And then use those walls for leverage and come out kicking if you have to.
It is your fight. No one else can do this for you.
And no one else can do it for me.