Hitting that Wall

Like many of you, I recently reached my emotional limit. Now what?

In the past two weeks, like just about everyone, I hit my “pandemic wall.” On several days I rode the anxiety/depression rollercoaster at such high speed that at various points I struggled to tell which state I was in. I found myself crying randomly, without knowing exactly what I was crying about. Lord knows there are plenty of good reasons to cry right now, but over the past 14 days, the tears and whimpers and wails just seemed to leak out of me at unpredictable intervals, as if someone else kept opening a release valve without warning.

Lots of other writers posted on social media about how they were now losing it in a way they hadn’t thus far. It makes sense, considering we’re about six weeks away from the anniversary of our first lockdown orders. We’re coming up on having endured a full year of isolation, uncertainty, fear, so many different kinds of loss, and enraging/terrifying political antics that have made it impossible to feel safe and secure—even with that asshole out of office. It’s been hell on our amygdalas and adrenals.

😳 😳 😳

I suspect that for me and a lot of women, reaching our emotional limit wasn’t only about chronology, but also about feeling triggered. A lot came to light about the inequities and abuses women have endured in the workplace and in their private lives—now and before this time—and much of it was followed by grotesque misogynist backlash.

As a DV survivor, I applauded Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for speaking out and detailing her terrifying experience being stalked during the January 6th insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and for acknowledging that she had survived sexual assault. It was hard to hear, but much more disturbing were the lies people on the far right spun, attempting to discredit AOC’s harrowing account. It reminded me of my abuser alternately apologizing for and dismissing what he’d done as no big deal, back and forth, back and forth, then hurting me again, then apologizing, then dismissing. Adding insult to injury, the Golden Globes snubbed Michaela Coel’s brilliant autobiographically-rooted series, I Will Destroy You, in which her character labors to reconstruct the story of her own sexual assault, which occurred after she was roofied.

On the career front, articles noted that women have disproportionately lost more work than men and that in many households, working moms are doing most of the parenting while dads just do their jobs. I don’t have kids, but the latter made me feel enraged for my friends, family, and colleagues who do. (Every time I despair these days I try to remind myself that there are many people suffering more, and in different ways, than I am.)

There were the pieces about women, like former New York Times editor Lauren Wolfe, losing their jobs for things that shouldn’t even be considered infractions, while men at the same institutions are merely reprimanded for much worse. (After much backlash, two of those men at the Times were finally let go this week.)

🤬 🤬 🤬

And then there was one by Jennifer Barnett about being marginalized and hazed by James Bennett to the point that she jumped ship from the Atlantic, while Bennett just kept getting offered plum jobs across the media landscape. That one resonated so precisely I almost couldn’t stand it. It reminded me, painfully, of an experience in the mid-90s I’ve written about here before, in which I was mistreated by a male boss while my male co-worker kept fucking up and getting promoted.

The whole thing became more painful by orders of magnitude after I read ______’s lousy memoir, in which he confesses to framing a hotel housekeeper for stealing drugs he misplaced, and brags about all the shit he got away with at work while actively using, only to keep getting offered even higher posts—all while I was placed on probation for errors I was certain I didn’t make. I quit, then avoided full-time office jobs for decades—afraid of encountering similar work dynamics, afraid employers would find out I was no good. Jennifer Barnett gave up her career as a magazine editor, too. Her hed says it all: “I Left My Career in Prestige Media Because of the Shitty Men in Charge and They Are Still In Charge and Still Fucking Up.”

_______’s book shockingly revealed to me that he either framed me for his mistakes, or let me take the fall when others baselessly assumed I was the one being sloppy…in the very ways he describes being sloppy at subsequent jobs.

Reader, I hope you’re not bored by my revisiting this experience now and then, which I’m inclined to do as new developments come to light. Trust me when I say I’m bored by its persistence in my psyche, and sick and tired of the lasting effects it’s had on my career and self-esteem. I’ve been struggling to integrate recent revelations. It’s an old wound that I’ve wrestled with privately, which had a devastating effect on my life. And now that old wound keeps getting re-opened and deepened. My entire misshapen career path was formed around it. I don’t know how to heal it.

Reading Jennifer Barnett’s Medium post made me feel validated, but it also made me feel hopeless that anything might ever really change for women in media.

🙃 🙃 🙃

Recently I learned that ______ has landed, once again, in a top post. Meanwhile, I’ve spent the last 25 years trying to cobble together a sustainable career, as that old wound has kept undermining my confidence. I guess at least I now know I wasn’t crazy—I really didn’t make those errors I was blamed for—and that there’s no reason for me to think bad of myself.

Right now I’m working on my book, but after that, I have no idea what my work future will look like. I’ll probably spend the rest of my life cobbling together a career from assorted gigs, some more reliable than others.

The one thing I’m fairly certain of: no one is going to offer me any top posts, despite being pretty fucking good at what I do. I’ll try not to cry about it.