The seven stages

I was walking down the street one day when I heard a loud, sharp noise behind me. I was in the process of turning around to see what it was when I noticed the woman in front of me turning first. The expression on her face was not surprise, or concern — it was anger and, strangely, disgust. The split-second timing of her turn led me to think that she must have been making her way downtown prepared to be offended by something, anything, and the noise was what did it.

I’m like that with bad news. I call myself a cynical optimist, which means, to me, that I hope for the best but I’m never entirely surprised when it turns out to be the worst. Glass half-empty. Always seeing the lead lining. Perfect journalist material, really.

And that’s why I was surprised (and most of the people I know were as well) that I approached the first few weeks of my layoff with such … well… joy. The economists have a term for when the markets rise for no good reason: irrational exuberance. And that’s exactly what I was experiencing, an ecstatic moment completely divorced from logic. People told me not to fight it, and I didn’t, but at the same time I knew it wasn’t natural.

I didn’t start happy — when I heard the news I was being laid off my stomach fell to the floor and my first thought was “Oh my god, my mortgage.” I had just bought a house not a year earlier. My second thought was that this would have been a good time to have a second income in the house. And then I just wanted to cry. And I felt like that all week, going to work in an office where the survival guilt was palpable, where I couldn’t even look at some co-workers without tearing up as we all shared each other’s misery.

But on the last day I walked out of the office having, it seemed, shed my last tear. My mood lifted, my heart sang. Being me, I had to dissect the feeling: part of it was relief at leaving what had become an unfulfilling job, for many reasons. I’ve been having, for years, these circular conversations with friends which start out “If we didn’t do this, what would we do?” and never finding an answer. But this looked like my chance to find an answer, to dip my toes in different pools and see where the water was finest.

A few weeks further on I know that I was deeply in the first stage of grief — shock and denial. That’s not to gainsay my willingness to try new things, that was and is real, but it is mitigated now by the realization that freelancing in this town is a hard, hard slog and I am unlikely to make it pay right away — not enough to live on, in any case.

I think I experienced the second stage first — pain. That first week was horrid.

Anger came the third week when my company laid off more people and made clear its master plan, to get rid of us, expand a centralized location six hours away and then hire back as many of us as it could at lower pay. I’m now I think in the fourth stage, not so much depressed and lonely, though there’s a bit of each, but reflective, about what I want and how I can get it — and what I might have to do in the meantime. I sincerely hope I don’t have to forgo this chance to reinvent myself just to keep me and the cat in kibble.

The silver lining in my lead cloud is that according to the grief literature, the upward turn is next and it’s all roses and sunshine thereafter.

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