“Brace yourself,” she said.
It seemed like any other Friday morning. I went to the gym, took Dog to the park, made lunch and drove to work. I parked in the same spot. Swiped my security card at the same door and said “Mornin'” like I do every morning.
My co-worker, Carol looked like she had been crying.
Three in my department – 24 overall.
The layoffs and buyouts began at my company about three years ago. The company has offered generous severance packages and had always let us know when layoffs were looming. Not this time. Although they still offered generous severance packages, we had no warning.
Stress and fear are toxic to me and my depression, alcoholism and hypomania. They are extremely hazardous accelerants. In an instant they trigger a chemical chain reaction in my body that could be – if left untreated – fatal. My life has been going so well for so long that I had forgotten how violently my body reacts to stress and fear.
Simultaneously, my trapezius muscles locked up and my chest tightened. I am a single mom. I have no safety net. No parents. A brother and sister I speak with a couple of times a year and cousins I haven’t seen in decades. If I lose my job, I am seriously screwed.
My thoughts raced: “I-will-probably-be-next-I’m-the-oldest-they-could-hire-two-kids-out-of-college-for-what-they-pay-me-they-didn’t-tell-us-there-would-be-more-layoffs-oh-my-God-how-can-I-keep-Kealy-in-college-what-about-my-benefits-I-could-never-afford-my-meds-without-insurance-how-will-I-get-insurance-with-my-mental-health-history….”
My heart raced. I started asking questions of anyone who could hear me. I began freaking out. This can’t be happening again. I know this can easily put me over the edge. This can trigger an insane manic episode. This could lead me to a drink.
I called my boss on his cellphone. He was shocked. He knew nothing. My boss’s boss came out of his office and saw me. His eyes were red, too. He calmed me down. Put a hand on my wrist and said it was over…for today. But the woman who sat across from me, the woman with the screensaver of a kitten pushing its head through a hole in a piece of Wonder Bread, is gone. I miss her and her silly screensaver already.
We learned later that there could be more layoffs next year. The music will start again and we will all begin another round of unemployment musical chairs. We know there are not enough chairs for all of us. I must find a chair.
I said the Serenity Prayer as hard as I could, looked for an errant stick of deodorant in one of my desk drawers and threw myself into my work. Every now and then I came up for air and reminded myself that I have the tools I need to handle this.
I dragged out my toolbox. I know how to use these tools – even if I haven’t used some of them in awhile. I must exercise, eat right, get lots of sleep, go to more meetings, pray and TAKE YOUR MEDS! This doesn’t have to turn into an “episode” as my nurse practitioner calls it when my mania flares.
The stress and fear have subsided but are not gone. The muscles and knot in my chest are still there. It will take a few days for them to thaw. But they will. I fell asleep last night on clean sheets, Dog curled up beside me and silently chanting my resurrected mantra: “You can handle this. You can handle this. You can handle this…”
Photo by Kai Hendry, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
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Last reviewed: 17 Oct 2011