*So what better topic for Hump Day Hmmm this week, eh? Tell us about your comfort zone, outside your comfort zone, and share a journey you took outside your comfort zone…what happened? I think reading each of these stories will pull each of us beyond our own existing horizon, so I really hope for a lot of participation. Let’s even beat last week, which had over a dozen submissions! (I was ecstatic!)
To motivate you even more, I’ll put a prize on the table again: a Morgan Spurlock book or DVD. Choose among his Super Size Me, Don’t Eat This Book, or Season 1 of 30 Days.”
I was pushed out of my comfort zone by my health. I spent most of my childhood and adult life in a working class type of environment. In the US, the working class, if they get a little beyond that, think that they did it all on their own. We are all rugged individualists, we can do anything. We know this.
And so I grew up, and got a little beyond my parents in that I actually graduated from college (my father’s education came to a screeching halt with WWII). Later on, I went back to college and earned a Master’s degree. I was getting up there, but I always tried to empathize with the working class who worked under me. I would often take their part against management, and thought I was doing well.
This world started crumbling in 1999. I had moved to Seattle, where I planned to further my career. I had moved in with a man that I loved. We were both doing well financially, and I thought soon I would realize my dreams of travel and luxury. It was not to be.
I started having health problems. Specifically, I was falling asleep at work, even after a full night’s sleep. I was exhausted all the time. The job didn’t make it any easier because it was a management job where sixty hours a week was pretty standard. In addition, this job was in healthcare, where they seem to think that part of management’s job is to substitute for any worker who calls in sick, thus saving money on overtime and agency fees. So I would go to work in the morning, and not know when I would get home. Sometimes it would be after midnight, if someone on the afternoon shift called in sick. Only to have to turn around and come back in the morning. This can be exhausting for someone who isn’t exhausted in the first place. And I definitely felt taken advantage of. Well, I was.
I had been consulting doctors during this time period, of course. They thought I had obstructive sleep apnea. However, it took me two months to get into the pulmonologist, and a further two months to get the sleep test scheduled. And I was so exhausted I was falling asleep driving to work. But I went every day.
Long story short, I quit the job after Christmas and before the sleep test when they wanted me to come in when I was not only exhausted, but puking and having diarrhea from the stomach flu. It took me a while to find another job, and then it was on nights. I decided to get out of nursing. I found another job at a call center, but was still having health problems, and was bored silly. Went back to nursing, but then my knees started being very painful. I guess waiting for the bus outside for twenty minutes without a bench in the winter is not a good thing. And I got myself fired from that job for mouthing off.
By this time my boyfriend was getting exasperated with me. And he saw things more clearly than I did. I was depressed by all of this. He decided to separate from me, but not until our lease was up several months later. He took me to apply for public housing. Surely I would never need public housing!!! But I did apply anyway. I fell and broke my arm, requiring surgery to put plates and screws in it to fix it. I got so depressed that I ended up on a psych ward for ten days. And at the end of the lease, I had no job, little income from unemployment, and was basically homeless. Quite a comedown from three years previously when I was going to set the world on fire.
I, by the grace of the universe, ended up in a transitional housing center, which required us to save for housing. I lived there six months, trying to get another job. No go. Nobody wants someone over fifty with health problems. The public housing thing came in handy, as my name came up for a unit just as my time in the transitional housing was up. And suddenly I was plunged into a world of poverty. Real poverty. For three years I lived on $339/month from the state and $150 in food stamps while I applied for Social Security Disability Income.
I realized suddenly, that we are not all rugged individualists. We need each other. We need to care for all the people in the country. Because of my pain from my osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, I am probably more empathetic with people than I ever was as a nurse. And I am ashamed of the lack of empathy I displayed when I was working.
I am not the only nurse who lacks empathy. A while back a nurse wrote a letter to the editor decrying how people were getting on SSDI for “a little back pain.” Obviously, she has no concept of the struggle it is to get SSDI, and how you have to debase yourself and open your life to scrutiny to apply for it. Nobody gets it for “a little back pain.” If I ruled the world, I’d yank her license. Good thing someone like me didn’t rule the world way back when. Someone else wrote a piece bitching because a woman on a disability scooter was always on his bus on the way home, taking up several seats while he had to stand. Hello, if she’s always on your bus on the way home, she probably works, too, and whatever it is that requires her to use a scooter to get around probably has fatigue as a symptom. She’s tired, too, probably way more tired than you are. Get a life.
Because I am out of my middle-class life, I see a lot more different people than my siblings do. I actually know some Muslims, my pharmacist is a Muslim. I can’t lump them all with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Most of them are just people trying to get by, like we are. I know some illegal immigrants, I can’t call them “wetbacks” anymore. I live with African-Americans, Asians, and white people. All the people in my building are here because they are elderly or disabled. And impoverished. I can’t think that it is imposing on people when the bus has to take a little while to load me because I need the lift, or I need to park my scooter. By golly, under the ADA I can boldly go where every one else has gone before. And I understand why my grandmother rarely dusted or swept. She didn’t have the energy, either.
So, I’m out of my old comfort zone, and into a new one. I am busting out of that comfort zone by telling my story. And now for some comfort food. Homemade pizza, anyone? I can’t afford the frozen ones, much less the ones the two pizza parlors around the corner from me sell.