The last 10 months have been challenging. Challenging enough to cause me to score over 300 on the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, which is the point at which the inventory creators estimate that a person has an 80% chance of having a major health breakdown due to stress.
I haven't broken yet. I'm managing. The major upside is that I've sold a bunch of stories to various anthologies and magazines, and, thanks to friends, I've been able to go on some cool road trips and go to some fun concerts etc. But things could certainly be better.
So, you're probably wondering what happened? Ok, I'll try to sum up.
Back in November, I lost my day job at a local university. I saw this job loss coming from a long way off, but I found myself lacking the motivation to do the things necessary to stop it. Our department had been in turmoil for over a year and we'd been cycled through 6 different supervisors during that time. People were leaving, and management didn't bother to replace them. It seemed pretty clear to me that they wanted to shoo the regular staff away so they could replace most of them with contractors whom they could release on a whim. I'd filed for FMLA for myself and my husband, and you have to re-file that paperwork every year and while I'd been able to renew my husband's paperwork, my doctor had moved to a different city and I hadn't found a new one. I figured that it was enough that I'd re-filed for my husband; I was wrong.
Why were we both on FMLA? My husband has chronic depression, diabetes, a moderately compromised immune system due to having had his spleen removed, and a chronic pain condition (reflex sympathetic dystrophy). He gets sick a lot, and has to see a whole lot of doctors. Because Ohio politicians have decided the best way to handle the opiate addiction crisis is to throw pain patients under the bus, his pain is not well controlled, and being in pain all the time has consequences for me and for him. It is very fucking challenging watching someone you love be in pain all the time and not have any way to help them.
For myself, I also have depression and anxiety and chronic nightmares. I've been diagnosed with PTSD, and as time has gone on I've become pretty firmly convinced that I have inattentive type ADHD as well (getting an actual diagnosis for this is a challenge due to a general lack of mental health care providers in this city; if you want to see a psychiatrist about anything, you've got a 6-month wait if your insurance will even cover it). My suspicion that I have both is not a surprise, because PTSD and ADHD not only share a whole lot of symptoms but are frequently co-morbid. All of these things add up to me not being very good at 9-to-5 jobs. Mornings are fucking challenging when your sleep is constantly messed up -- all the meds I've taken that actually tamp down the nightmares also make me groggy as hell at 8am -- and it just gets worse if you have anxiety about going to work once you're awake. Tedious repetitive work feels like intellectual torture if you have ADHD. My work at the university had become 100% tedious, repetitive stuff, and I was soldiering through, but I was in a set up to fail type situation and knew it and they knew it and how much enthusiasm can you work up in the face of the inevitable? Not enough.
A few weeks after I lost the uni. job, I landed a new work-from-home contractor job as an RFP writer for a local telemedicine firm. I got to set my own hours! I didn't even have to wear pants! The downside? It was pretty high-stress, because the deadlines came fast and furious, and I could count on needing to stay up all night working to meet a deadline. But it paid the bills, and I found the work interesting.
In December, I unexpectedly lost a long-term freelance gig at Horror World: "We are going to suspend paid posts through the end of 2016 and we will assess the site revenue and costs at the beginning of the year." I never got another communication from them, except that in January I discovered my WordPress login no longer worked. Ghosted! I'd been a columnist for that site for a decade.
Also in January, I caught a respiratory virus that made me sick for two solid weeks. This was stressful because I really wasn't able to work and I was afraid I'd lose my new RFP writing gig.
In early April, my husband tried to commit suicide. As mentioned above, his chronic pain had been mis-managed and under-treated for about 6 months. His GP referred him to a pain specialist who kept rescheduling. He finally got to see her. And she told him she couldn't prescribe him anything or do anything for him on the short-term except basically refer him to other providers. I knew at the time that he was distraught -- and very understandably so -- but I didn't realize how upset he was. (Very likely, I was distracted by looming work deadlines and my own situational depression that I was dealing with that day.) A couple of nights later, I went to a concert with friends. While I was gone, my husband tried to hang himself in the garage. This led to him being admitted to the hospital for 9 days.
He's been gradually doing better since then. But he's still depressed, and still has chronic pain, and his good days probably look a lot like most peoples' bad days. There is still really fuck-all I can do for him except make sure he gets to his appointments and make sure he gets whatever inadequate medications the doctors prescribe.
Meanwhile, I am responsible for keeping us financially afloat. I do not have family to turn to if I fail, and neither does my husband. This does not help me sleep better at night.
In May, the telemedicine company did an email migration and since I was a contractor and not a regular employee, I wasn't on any of the distribution lists they'd created to let people know about it. The upshot was that my email quit working for several days before I found that I couldn't log in. And when I discovered that my email wasn't working, my first panicked thought was that I'd been fired and they hadn't bothered to tell me. As it was, I was not fired, but the email malfunction meant that I'd missed emails about an important RFP. It was frustrating and stressful.
I spent most of June traveling, first to Denver to visit friends, then to Wyoming for the Launch Pad Workshop. Then I was busy with the Library track at Origins Game Fair, and then shortly after that I went to the MFA residency at Seton Hill University. Although I was traveling, I gave the RFP job Maximum Effort, Deadpool-style, and met deadlines under difficult circumstances. I had a lot of fun in June, but it was a crazy amount of work.
In early July, I tried logging into my work email but couldn't. I phoned the VP who'd been sending me work to do; he advised me to contact tech support. I logged a trouble ticket, and the next day I got an email from HR: "I saw your email to IT and figured this may be the best way to touch base. Our company has really appreciated your services for us. However, the company is moving in a different direction and is no longer in need of your services for RFPs." I called the VP I'd been working with, and he told me he had no idea they were planning to get rid of me and that he'd been happy with my work, but there was nothing to be done.
I spent the rest of July trying to round up more freelance work of one sort or another (with moderate success!), applying for regular jobs (no luck so far!), and generally despairing about the whole job market situation. It feels like whether I want to teach or write, I'm stuck being contingent, instantly disposable labor. I've been paying my dues for decades now. I have advanced degrees, skills and experience. At what point do I get to make an actual living doing the work I want to do and am demonstrably good at?
In early August, I started a Patreon in the hopes that maybe, eventually, it will enable us to survive this crazy gig economy so many of us are stuck in. I'm treating it like a real job, and I'm trying to provide writing and services that people will value. Please check it out if you're so inclined.