Sunday, December 5, 2010

Letting Go

Day 5 of Reverb 10 - Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)

Letting go is hard, sometimes impossible. Yet, we do it every day. We let go of a phone, or a fork or even a book. We put clothes away (most of the time) or toys or shut down computers. All of these are acts of letting go and relatively easy.

It's when letting go is emotional that the act becomes difficult. When you have to let go of a loved one or a beloved possession you have become attached to. Or when you are forced into the act without choice. This was my letting go - something I was forced into choosing and it was hard.

Twenty something years ago I was forced into letting something I had become quite attached to go. It was a group I was involved in - those of you who knew me in college will know this story. No, I am not rehashing it. Let's just say I was backed into a corner and instead of continuing to fight as I had for more than a year, I stopped. I quit. I had to let go.

In the long run, I was able to gain that group back and I am much the better for it - and even more involved now than I probably would be if I had gradually let go after graduating from college. You see, I know what it is like to be without this group and I know I am a better person for having it in my life.

Last August - August 2009 - I found myself facing the same situation, but at work. I was being forced to make a choice. Either fight for my rights at work as a disabled America or just let go. For two years I had worked from home, quite successfully I thought, due to fibromyalgia. Lousy illness - I look healthy but hurt over every inch of my body most days. Some days I am lucky and the pain in only in one or two places. I am on medication and am working with chiropractic care to keep my body from completely falling apart, but I have also had to make other concessions. I can't drive more than 20 minutes in any direction, I can't lift my son up in my arms or go for a run or even do as many errands as most moms can. I also can't cook for my family on a regular basis and at times I end up sleeping until the absolute last moment before I have to take my son to school. Then there are the days when I am in bed because I injured myself or the rain/snow/cold have put me there.

But working from home, I could do those things and still feel as though I was contributing. I could do my job from bed if I needed to, as I did for almost 6 months last year recovering from the flu and an ear infection. The job I had required I be able to create Excel spreadsheets, monitor email, attend conference calls and work with a team that was scattered across the US. All of which could be accomplished from home. But then something made them change their minds.

It doesn't matter what caused the shift. I honestly don't even know what did, although I have my suspicions. Whatever the cause, the result was the same. I had to return to the office. For most people that is not a problem. For me the prospect of commuting 1.25 hours in either direction, (a full 27 miles in the DC area) then sitting at a desk for 8-9 hours a day just brought visions of how my legs would cramp and the pain that would shoot through me on a regular basis. My doctors all wrote letters attempting to explain how this change would harm me and I began to speak with attorneys.

The final result was one I heard from more than one attorney. I could sue to maintain my rights under ADA, but it didn't matter. By the time the law suit went through the entire process I would most probably end up having to request disability retirement, not something I wanted to do at the age of 40. Who would want to admit they are unable to support themselves? I certainly didn't. I was willing to give up so many things - being able to stand, to sit without pain, having several people in the house to help with my son, dropping my son off and picking him up from school - but I wasn't willing to give up that one last shred of evidence that I was fighting my illness and trying to be normal.

But I'm not. I have an illness that causes pain. I fight it every day. I also have a son who needs me to be there for him, to be as awake as possible and available to help him fight his fight - the one where he needs to have help with communication and other fine motor skills. I need to be able to mange the house, even though I have a great deal of help and cannot do it all myself. I need to be able to do some of the errands. I need to be here for him and my husband. Working allowed me the illusion of normalcy, but not the reality.

So, what did I let go? I let go that illusion of being someone who can do it all. I let go of my identity of "normal," working mother and am embracing a new identity. I am now a stay at home mom and I love it. I now get to be there for my son, work on my creative pursuits (writing anyone?), volunteer, and strive towards healing so that one day I will again have that choice of working in an office or somewhere else if I wish.

I have a great deal of admiration for stay at home moms, I always did. But I also knew what it was like to be unemployed or underemployed - they were states I enjoyed for most of the 90s and for over a year after 9/11 which is why I was so anxious about giving up my job when I found a way to keep it. I also admire those who continue to work after their children are born. It is hard to do both jobs and I am glad I could while I did, but now it's time to move into a new chapter of my life.

This year I let go of my old identity, the one that no longer fit. I am now growing into my new life and loving every moment of it.

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