Monday, July 3, 2017

Life, Librarianship, and The Pursuit of Happiness

I got home from an afternoon and evening spent at the beach with friends and felt a pang of guilt that I hadn't written any reviews over the weekend. Yesterday, I worked. Today, I played. It feels strange to play, to actually enjoy life. It shouldn't, but it does.

For a relatively long time, I worked in a toxic job. Looking back, I'm not afraid to call it that. I was conditioned to believe that I was always wrong, always irritating, never Good Enough. I wasn't one of the rockstar librarians (I only meet one of the two requirements: although I am white, I am not male) that could be held up as an example to other staff. I had opinions (how dare I?). I had depression (again, how dare I?). I had anxiety and an eating disorder that I now realize isn't as in remission as I thought it was and I was completely miserable. In fact, "completely miserable" doesn't begin to touch how I really felt.

I'm going to turn thirty in one day. I don't celebrate birthdays (or any holidays), so it's usually not a big deal. Society has made Turning Thirty into somewhat of a Big Deal, though. It's one of those life markers that people use to gauge if you're a success or not. Oddly, I've gotten over most of the angst and the weird mental block that comes with turning thirty as a single lady, and I've reflected on how amazingly terrible my twenties were. You'll see a lot of books about depression, anxiety, and eating disorders reviewed here. I read them because I don't want to feel alone. When I first read It's Kind of A Funny Story, I cried because here was someone who was exactly describing what my brain did. My perseverations and catastrophizing. It was both strange and liberating to see myself reflected in that way. And that was basically the theme of my twenties. I never made a plan, but there were so many times that I just wished I were dead. I thought it would be easier on everyone. My soul hurt too much. And a lot of that pain came from fear generated by work.

Professionally, I love what I do. I love helping people. I love showing them entirely new worlds that they can travel to for free via the printed page or a tablet screen. I love creating safe spaces for teens, because heaven knows they have enough to deal with on a daily basis. But if the place where you do these things is toxic, it doesn't matter how much you love them. You're going to start hating your job. That's what happened to me. And because I hated my job, I started to hate myself, and to believe that I didn't deserve to be happy. The only people I saw experiencing happiness or good fortune were my male coworkers, who were routinely promoted over more qualified women, solely because of their gender. And I know that they also have problems; they probably aren't truly happy. Few people are. But when you're in the constricting, smothering grip of depression, that rational brain has zero effect on how you feel. And I felt hopeless.

But earlier this year, I had a chance to move away for a new job. It wouldn't be working with teens, which is what I was doing, and it would be far away from my family. But I could start over. I sat myself down and told myself that it was entirely possible that New Job would be weird and stressful in many different ways--there is no perfect job. But it would allow me to continue my profession while, hopefully, being able to get out of bed in the morning and not hoping that I would get in a car accident before I got to work, because months in traction sounded infinitely preferable to going to work.

I can't say I got lucky. I don't believe in luck. I believe that God answered the prayers I made with an anguished heart. I don't usually talk about religion here, because this is a book blog, but this is my personal experience. That's all I'll say about it, so if you are not religious, don't worry. I don't Blog for Jesus or anything like that.

And now I am in my New Job, in a new city, in a new state. I have a wide circle of new friends and I often stop during the day to marvel that this is my life. It's not glamorous--I'm poor. It's not what most people dream of--I am an unmarried librarian and therefore both a sort of romantic leper and a punch line. But I'm learning to just not care about it anymore. I deserve this happiness. I didn't have it for so long. The deprivation of happiness is so difficult to bear, and I wanted to write this mostly for myself, to prove to myself that I am growing. But I also hope that if anyone is out there feeling hopeless or beaten down because of the stresses of their job or their profession, that you know you deserve to be happy. Even though the Old White Dudes who founded this country only intended the Declaration of Independence to apply to people just like them (i.e. white and male), Thomas Jefferson got it right when he stated that we all have a universal right to pursue happiness.

Here's the thing: it's a pursuit. That means it's not a one-and-done deal. You have to keep moving and fighting for it. It's not handed to you on a silver salver. For me, I had to start believing that I deserved to be happy. I had to try and believe that people didn't all hate me. I had to have faith that there was a place where I didn't feel afraid being myself. And after a long time, I think I found it. It won't stay that way forever, of course. We change and organizations change and our jobs change. But in this moment, I am happy. This quiet wonder in my heart is strange but utterly welcome. I want to embrace that and leave the other pressures that I placed on myself behind.

So although I like you, readers that I've probably never met, I don't owe you my happiness in exchange for a book review. I should not feel guilty for sitting on the beach as the sun sets and feeling at peace for the first time in so, so long because I could have been using that time to write about books on my laptop. My profession as a librarian does not own my happiness. I'll fight for it, but I refuse to die for it. That's what I was doing--slowly killing myself in a place that made me feel bad about myself. I'll fight for books, but I won't die for books. I've got much bigger plans.


6 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. (Sorry for the deleted comment above. I suddenly realised I made a mistake - because the things I write haunt me long after I've posted them - and wanted to fix it. I'm punctilious like that ;D).

    So you didn'd write a review. You wrote a story. A far better and more moving, poignant and well written story than most of those that see the light of day on books. It hit close to home, too, because - while I don't suffer of depression or an eating disorder - I'm not happy with my job, for more than a reason, and go figure - I have a white, male boss who believes in keeping you humble in case you think you can rear your head too much. Of course, it's not in your face, and probably he doesn't even realise people have to feel they're valued in order to give their best. The way I'm coping is doing as little as I can when I can get away with it, which is a small and petty revenge - or maybe not petty at all, since I'm underpaid on top of everything. To think that it was a dream job, and it has slowly become a burden.
    So...you're absolutely right. One has to keep moving and fighting. But I was never good at it when I was younger, so you can imagine how good I am now at fifty. It's not that I don't believe in me (quite the contrary) or think that I don't deserve my slice of happiness (heck, not at all) - but I've always been afraid to make a move, because in my head I was (and am) constantly painting the worst scenarios I could incur in while making that move.
    But your story was inspiring. We need stories like yours. We need to know that another human being can sit on a beach and feeling at peace and do a job that doesn't make her feel miserable anymore. We need your wit and your honesty and your fire. It doesn't need to be a review :).

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    1. And of course I just noticed a glaring typo, but it's OK ;D.

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    2. Cripes now I'm crying because you are so lovely. Thank you thank you thank you!

      Also subtly sexist bosses are awful.

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    3. Awww.
      "Subtly sexist"! You nailed it.

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  3. I am so glad you found a job you are happy in. You were willing to move a long way from home for it, so you deserve it.

    There was a library technician I worked with for a while. It was only a temporary job, as were all the jobs she had had in recent years. But she kept looking. As I agreed to be her referee, I saw it happening. Finally, she got an ongoing job, but it was a long way off, well outside Melbourne. She had to move. And that was fine with her, she got what she wanted and was happy. I wonder if I would have the guts to do that? I'm not sure I would.

    Be happy! You deserve it.

    Just Finished Reading Ballad For A Mad Girl

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