The work life.

I have worked since I was 13. That summer I worked for my father at his building supply. He was an entrepreneur who built a large construction business from nothing.

We moved to Houston from south Georgia when I was a toddler, and he started working first as a carpenter, then as his own boss. Eventually he purchased several dump trucks to create a new revenue stream by doing hauls from other construction sites and to save money by hauling trash from his own sites. Then he opened a building supply through which he got his own products wholesale and sold to other construction businesses at a markup. I took care of phones and filing. Occasionally I wrote up invoices for his clients.

At Christmas, my mother and I would bake large batches of candy, cookies, and fruitcakes for his clients. We would wrap the goodies in decorative foil and ribbons. In my spare time, I drew a variety of pictures and sold them to classmates. I also did crafts and sold those. I was a bit of an entrepreneur myself, I suppose. I watched Dad and thought I would someday do what he did, but cancer stole all that from us. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1975. By 1977, Dad had sold off his business and moved us back to Georgia, where all of our family lived. He had already outlived predictions and wanted to be near his mother. I had thought he would always be able to provide for us, but soon we were living off of Social Security and food stamps. It was humbling. He had no health insurance, so all of the money he got from the sale of the business went straight to paying for surgery, chemo, and radiation. Eventually, he went to the VA for his healthcare when the money ran out.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what Dad went through with his cancer. He was given 6 months to live, and he lived about 7 years. He had a nest egg set aside in lieu of life insurance, but that was gone quickly. Now that I have cancer, I know how lucky I am to have health insurance and life insurance through work. I don’t know what I would do without it.

But work is getting harder for me. I’ve been suffering from near constant migraines, something that didn’t happen often while I was on chemo. The headaches are sometimes debilitating. And yet I work. (Except for today, which I took off.) Other than two brief sick leaves that I took during the worst of the chemo and for recovery from surgery, I have worked.

I find myself wishing I had the entrepreneurial spirit my father had. I think you have to really believe in yourself to do that. In my line of work, it would be extremely stressful to find clients, constantly work in new environments, and always deal with new and changing demands. I don’t have the energy. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had that kind of energy since Stephanie died. Her death took the stuffing out of me. Add cancer to the equation, and you can probably see why I’m not in a place in which I could strike out on my own.

I’m nearly 59 years old and have very little set aside in the way of a nest egg. I have my house, but I also have a lot of debt, having gone back to college as an adult with the help of student loans. This cancer is not likely to kill me (a good thing!) so I need to be able to carry on and live a long time. That means I need to keep working. But I keep finding myself in situations where I don’t feel valued. If I do my usual thing – which is to do my job plus a lot more – it doesn’t go over well. I feel like others think I’m trying to take over or something, when I just want to contribute my skills anywhere I see a need. But I truly find people perplexing. I am “on the spectrum”, as they say, and it makes it really hard for me to read people at times. My eagerness comes across as pushiness maybe? I honestly don’t know. But when I feel misunderstood, I withdraw. It physically hurts me.

Last night I was in bed at 7:00 because of that physical pain. I could not even stand to listen to music. I tried watching a comedy on TV, but I gave up after 15 minutes. I just turned out the light and curled up with my dog. If I had the gumption to work contract again, which I have done before, I could handle the ups and downs. I worked contract for quite a number of years, first as a network engineer, then as a writer. It was easier to let things go at the end of the day. When you have a steady job for one employer, at least for me, it really is upsetting when you think that they are unhappy with you. Are they unhappy? I did not think so until recently. I do not want to go any further into this discussion and possibly make someone angry with me if they read this. I just wish I knew what it was that is making things different at work. (Yes, I have tried talking to the people involved, to no avail.) I am losing my drive. Yesterday, I spent a fair bit of the morning, just staring at the computer and trying to get motivated. I felt that anything I did would draw criticism, so I was paralyzed. Surely enough, I did get criticized before the day was over.

So what do you do when you are getting older, have cancer, and fear change? What do you do when you no longer believe in yourself? Not asking for sympathy here. I just need to dig myself out of this depressing hole I feel myself slipping into, and I am open to suggestions.

I have worked hard to fight cancer. I have done everything the doctors have told me to do, yet I am still not healed enough from surgery to have radiation. I still have an incision that will not close. Tomorrow I will find out if I have to start going to a wound care clinic or if I have to have another surgery. The incision has started to hurt, which it did not previously, and that has me worried. I did not ask to get cancer, obviously, but I find myself wondering if cancer has made things change at work. I try to be positive and upbeat. I will make jokes in Slack sometimes (even when no one laughs). I go with the flow. But when I color outside the lines, or when I try to work on multiple things, I feel the disapproval. I need hard work to keep my mind off of how lousy I feel since cancer treatment started. I now have neuropathy in my feet and hands, which I have never had before. I have restless legs. And now the migraines. The last thing I want to do is lose hope, but I feel like God has dropped a little too much in my lap.

Once upon a time, I knew where my life was going. I had a husband and two beautiful kids. Now I am divorced (twice) and have my one surviving child who will be moving away this year to another state. So work is my life. What will happen if I no longer have that?


2 responses to “The work life.”

  1. I appreciate all you do, Jude!!


  2. Jude,
    If love from a good friend helps, you know you’ve got that. Having worked for one organization for 30+ years I understand that wondering. I’ve been the wunderkind and that low down nasty batch. From do nothing right to do no wrong and everything in between … all I can say is this too shall pass. Things go in cycles. Once in a while, you’re gonna get a flat. It WILL pass and new interesting projects will come along.
    Love you. Z


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