On the eve of Thanksgiving, and another Black Friday (or Black Thursday, such as it’s becoming), I’ve found my way back to the blog to discuss one aspect of this “great American tradition” that hasn’t gotten much attention: gratitude for a job, even if that job requires working on a holiday.
I want to first briefly sum up the last year of my life. Last summer, I was debating whether or not I should discontinue Rebif, the medication I injected three times a week for my MS. Shot days had become unbearable. Each injection unfailingly caused a 24-hour flu – with every symptom present, except vomiting. I was too sick to move off the couch. My hair hurt. I couldn’t read because the movement of my eyes across the page triggered pounding headaches. I was feverish; chilled and sweating. Taking Riley outside became a concentrated effort that took 15 minutes to plan and execute. This inability to care for my own dog was symptomatic of another time in my life: the first month before my official diagnosis and full-blown “relapse.” Somehow, medical professionals felt confident in prescribing a “treatment” that caused me to feel and act virtually identical to my time spent in the deepest parts of my disease. Working was out of the question.
Raise your hand if you’ve been out of work due to a disability, whether it was short or long-term.
Do you remember the unique details of your time off? My hope for you is that your days were spent reading, relaxing, binge-watching Netflix and catching up with friends. That’s what most people envision when they think of people involuntarily unemployed. In my experience, most people imagine this time off as an extended vacation, but I assure you, it is not that.
My days at home were spent injecting and medicating with a prescribed regimen of 800 mg of Ibuprofen every two hours, starting at 8am, and 1,000 mg of Tylenol every two hours, alternately, until 10pm. Then, there was the NYQUIL to sleep. For those counting at home, that’s 3,200 mg of Ibuprofen and at least 3,000 mg of Tylenol daily. Three times a week. For months.
Physically I was beaten down. By the time I started to feel relatively normal at the end of my non-shot days, it was time to do another shot. Get up, sit down. Stand up, fall. But existing in the physical realm was a breeze compared to the hell I inhabited in my head. I’ve had severe depression many times in my life; I’ve been close to the tipping point three times. Last summer was one of those times. My tolerance for every type of pain is exquisitely high – and I’m proud of that, I am. But I am not too proud to say that at my lowest point last summer, while Thommy was at work, in a hazy state of panic, I threw away almost all of my previously prescribed pills because I was sure if they weren’t in the trash, mixed in with used tissues and kitty litter, that I would take them all at once in one last rush to release myself from the prison I had created in my mind. With the pill bottles safely emptied, I picked up the phone and called the number I had been staring at for days. 1-800-273-8255. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline. It was at least ten minutes before I was able to utter a coherent word. Those few delicate moments after the voice on the other end spoke were filled with my own heaving and sobbing, water pooling under my face onto the bathroom floor beneath me: tears, sweat, saliva. After the choking, came the breathing. Then the talking. The first of many conversations as to why I felt so numb and so wounded at the same time. I started to talk about things that many of us feel but never find the words for… this idea that pain can define us, and that temporary circumstances (tragic and debilitating though they may be) can stretch out before us in our mind and paint a picture of destiny. I’ve always struggled with the depression that can come along with thinking that today will look like yesterday, and tomorrow like today, and each day like that, forever. And when each day looks as dark as the last, the only thing that brings relief is to imagine that there will be no more days.
I took baby steps backwards from the brink; I kept taking them until I could turn around and walk steadily in the other direction. I quit the injections. I went to counseling (although that would cause a major relapse, but for a while, it provided a little relief). I was able to get a job, part-time at first, but it eventually led to working 5 days a week, a minimum of 32 hours, with some weeks requiring much – much – more.
And a strange thing has happened. While I’ve never been one to eschew my work responsibilities (hello, 3.94 GPA) or take my physical abilities for granted, this past year has given me a resurgence of gratitude for what my body is capable of, despite the torture I occasionally inflict on it, and in spite of the numerous illnesses that have accompanied me in this life. Having spent last year held back and laid up, I have spent this year pushing past limits and using up every exhaustible bit of energy. It is not a sustainable pace, I know. But right now, I am proving to myself just how capable I am of contributing. There are so many ways we all do this everyday; we parent, we coach, we teach, we manage, we encourage, we participate. Right now, I am WORKING! And it feels so damn good to get up in the morning, shower, get dressed and go stand up for eight hours – interacting with other people who got up, took a shower, and went about their day.
I know that this might not always be the case. There is no way to say if stopping those injections was the right decision. There is no way of knowing whether my future includes canes, walkers or wheelchairs. However, I now feel much more confident in my ability to find ways to contribute, even if the physical capabilities I utilize today are taken away tomorrow.
Right now though, I can’t even entertain the idea of taking those abilities for granted. I weave a fragile web of health as it is, even without the MS. Every day is a deliberate choice to get up and start over. We are all making that decision on some level, with varying degrees of “choice” in the matter. I respect and appreciate the fact that my job is a vehicle I use to move about my day, and not as a means of survival. I am not the bread winner. If I stop working tomorrow, we will still be able to pay the bills. Barely … but still …
I am not responsible for children. I am not solely in charge of keeping a roof over my head. I am charged with contributing, not sustaining. That is a luxury I am afforded and I am grateful. The working poor in this country are not as lucky. Many people, in far worse conditions, work longer and harder than most of us could ever imagine. It is some of these employees, and those working on their behalf, that call for strikes and boycotts of “Black Friday” that each year seeps deeper into Thanksgiving Day. So many workers endure undue hardships and struggles just to survive.
It takes a mind far greater than mine to understand the nuances of labor laws and market trends and retail forecasts. There obviously needs to be much better protection from abuses for disenfranchised workers. I just don’t think much is accomplished from the arguments that arise every “Black Friday” – a day that comes just once a year. For the most part, workers on the overnight shifts are volunteers; those preferring not to work at night are usually allowed to work the day shift on Friday, just like they would on any other Friday. The discussion of fair pay and labor practices needs to be had every day of the year, for any substantial changes to come about.
I can only speak truth to my OWN experience. I don't always love my job, but I love to work. I don't prefer to work at 8pm tomorrow instead of visiting with friends, or home resting, but it beats the alternative. I know the economy is unstable, as are most things these days. The best we can hope for is a little solid ground here and there. A place to go each day, and a regular paycheck provide me a little stability. As hard as work can be, I am grateful for it. Every day. Including holidays.
So protest for better treatment and better pay, in any way you can. If you feel impassioned about it, stay home tomorrow night – or Friday – or both. Just remember that this action can cut both ways; slower sales and a decreased profit for companies amount to fewer benefits and less pay for workers.
And if you do decide to shop tomorrow – above all things, be patient. BE KIND. I’ve had many jobs, but retail is by far the hardest. I have a few tips for those of you who may be venturing out into the malls and stores tomorrow – I’ll post those tomorrow.
Finally, just in case I conveyed the opposite of what I was trying to say, I do not believe our only value is found in a paycheck. To the contrary, I only mean that WE are responsible to giving value to our daily actions. We choose what we want to leave the house for. We can choose to stay inside the home and create responsible, loving children. We can choose to do both. We design our lives and our dreams and we pursue them with a thousand tiny choices, every single day. That is the way we pay ourselves. How much or how little value you give to everything in your life is entirely up to to you.
Happy Thanksgiving <3