Grieving At Christmas

Are you grieving at this time of year more than usual and feeling out of sorts as a result? You know, there’s merriment joy all around you whether it’s songs on the radio, Christmas cards that arrive in the post, the humourous social media posts that land on your homepage; and somehow you just don’t feel in sync with all that carefree joy all about you.

You find yourself on this pendulum swinging between moments when you get caught up in those happy moments yourself and then feel pangs of guilt as you recall the loss of someone special in your own life. Your laughter and broad smile disappear from your face replaced with stress lines on your forehead and a sombre look of remembrance. One moment you feel happy, then you’re sad, and then you’re guilty again about bringing everyone around you down in spirit. Oh if you could just get back to feeling, ‘normal’; the normal you used to feel in years past!

Welcome to your new normal. The emotions and feelings you’re experiencing are valid, very real and yours to deal with and process to the extent you are able. While normally in control in most areas of your life, it seems like you haven’t yet mastered this specific one; dealing with the loss of someone significant in your life. Try as you might, you haven’t found a way to – as they say – get over it; deal with it; move on.

The fact that Christmas brings along with it words of good cheer from everyone from family and best friends to work colleagues and strangers is well-meaning but only seems to punctuate the feeling that things aren’t usual. “Usual” means that for the other 11 months of the year people aren’t wishing you happy holidays or merry anything.

Think of that pendulum metaphor again. Your balance point looking back seemed to be when the one you’re grieving now was still around. When they departed, you experienced a shift where sorrow, longing and heartache have moved the pendulum. Then at Christmas we see, hear, smell, taste and feel the good; it’s families gathering around singing carols, over indulging in rich foods, their gifts, bright lights in the night, decorations and traditions deeply steeped in family history brought out and on exhibit 24/7 until Christmas is over. All of this swings the pendulum in the other extreme; where you’d normally be happy to go and make merry of your own accord.

But whatever side that pendulum is on at a given moment, you’re private thoughts can’t seem to be a peace with. You’re feeling guilty when privately grieving and feeling remorseful when you catch yourself humming a Christmas song in your head let alone out loud. So yes, you’re feeling out of sorts all the time. Why can’t everyone around you understand this and give you your own space so you can get the pendulum back to the center?

Of course to others, they see mood swings and may feel they are walking around on eggshells trying not to set you off. They want desperately to be of help and support; they worry don’t they? And you of course are wondering why they themselves are seemingly handling things much better than you are. Don’t they miss the departed? Don’t they care as much as you do?

Everybody experiences loss and everyone processes the feelings that go with loss in a very personal way. The thing is there is no set timeline for doing so. People who experience long grieving periods might worry those who don’t, and those that don’t worry those who do because they may come across as unfeeling, callous, cold and detached.

It’s healthy to accept that we all process loss and figure out how to move ahead on our own at our own pace. We know intellectually that death is inevitable where there is life; the day we get a puppy we know a day at some point will come when the pet will pass away. Does this make it easier? Maybe for some but not for all. And things get magnified for many when the loss isn’t a family pet but a family member such as a mother or father; daughter or son.

So here it comes…Time is the answer. How much time? Who is to say? You can no better predict how long you’ll take to deal with your personal loss than you could predict how long you’ll live yourself.

Now this grieving process of dealing with the loss of someone special is identical to the process of grieving over a family pet for some and yes grieving over the loss of employment. That may seem trivializing your loss of a family member but to some people, the shock, anger, denial, bargaining and eventual acceptance which makes up the grieving process is just as real when losing a job and shouldn’t be dismissed as not just as real.

Give yourself permission to have your moments of pain and don’t apologize for your tears of remembrance. These are your own very personal moments and your thoughts are not to be taken as a weakness of character. You should never expect nor hope I imagine to entirely forget the person gone, the pet gone or the job lost.

You will eventually get to where you will give yourself permission to be happy without feeling conflicted or guilty. Your good mental health will return. Do accept wishes for a merry Christmas as they are intended; with only the best of intentions.

Out Of Work And Feeling Down?

At the moment, I’m facilitating an employment workshop with 10 participants. I’ve had 1:1 conversations, ascertaining the reasons they believe they are unemployed. So here I am, now in possession of information from all of them, though I’d hazard I haven’t got all the barriers, just the ones they are open to sharing with me.

Many of their self-declared problems are shared problems; you know, the kind that one would expect to be associated with being out of work for an extended period. Now I’m not going to share who said what, as that would break confidentiality and trust if they identified themselves after reading this piece. However, if I gave them all slips of paper and asked them to write down their issues which they’d share, many of the participants would look at each other and say, “You too?”

Have you been out of work at some point in your life? Maybe you know some of what they have shared then. Should that unemployment period be protracted and become longer than you’d have hoped or expected, your departure from the world of work would result in additional barriers and problems wouldn’t it?

That’s the point really; what you’re feeling is probably exactly the same thing other people in your situation are feeling. You have a shared experience which is long unemployment, and therefore the feelings that go with that long unemployment are naturally the same for most people. It’s not hard to believe that if you started feeling unsure of yourself, some anxiety when it came to going for a job when you haven’t had an interview in a long time and finally, you were feeling somewhat sad or depressed about your plight, others might feel the same way.

Those general kind of feelings wouldn’t be unique to my 10 people. Those are generalities which are shared by a majority of out-of-work folks. It is comforting to know that because other people in your situation feel like you do, maybe you’re not so odd or broken. That phrase, “What’s wrong with me?”, that so many people end up asking themselves is being asked by an awful lot of people.

So? How does that help get you a job? I didn’t say or claim that it would – but keep reading. The benefit of this is that once you realize that other people also feel much the same as what you are feeling, you have to come to the conclusion that there really isn’t anything wrong with YOU. Those feelings you have are sure unwanted of course – but they are a shared normal experience by people in general in response to unemployment and a desire to be working.

There is a struggle going on inside you between what you want and perceive as normal (getting and holding down a job) and your reality (despite my efforts, I’m out of work). If you choose to look at things differently, that’s actually a good sign. Those feelings expressed as, “What’s wrong with me?”, are really internal signals you are sending to yourself, encouraging you to get back to what you perceive as normal; in this case, working.

Once you stop feeling that internal struggle and the brain ceases to say, “What’s wrong with me (that I can’t get a job)”, it may be because you’ve got a, ‘new normal’ which is unemployment and you are actually okay with that status. If you settle in to unemployment and don’t feel anymore stress or anxiety, that isn’t something I’d suggest is a good thing. Your inner self is struggling to change your present reality and knows that paid work will bring you back into balance; this in turn brings you out of sadness, raises your self-esteem and you say, “There’s nothing wrong with me.”

Work can in fact, resolve many people’s inner imbalances. You’d expect to feel good when you get an employer who calls you up and offers you an interview. Why? Because that call is really validation from someone saying you are wanted and have desirable skills and qualifications sure – but actually it’s because you are hopeful of returning to what you perceive as normal.

Should you actually hear those words, “Welcome to the team, you’re hired”, you’ll feel a weight being lifted. That weight you currently feel is a mixed bag of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, insecurity, financial dependence, constant tension, isolation, etc. So no wonder then that just getting hired brings a smile to your face, your shoulders may physically drop, your forehead stress lines relax, and your self-confidence improves.

All those symptoms and labels we have for what is wrong with us and others is our mind and body’s way of signalling us that something is out of whack. To return to ‘normal’, something needs changing; and in this case it’s unemployment to employed. Okay getting a job doesn’t snap you out of clinical depression overnight anymore than you woke up one morning and went from everything perfect to clinically depressed.

Take faith though; just making an effort to get help with your unemployment is a mental signal which sows the seeds of, “I’m doing something to change my unemployed status and I anticipate success in the near future”. Every bit of improving your resume, cover letter, job searching techniques, interview skills, etc. repairs part of your ‘damaged goods’ mentality and tells you that you are on the road back to ‘normal’. Welcome back.




Justice For The Marginalized

Go back in your memories to your early years when you were in primary school and you might recall the times the bell would ring and you’d run outside for recess. With only 15 minutes or so of this time, you’d quickly run to some pre-determined spot and meet up with your best friends to socialize, play a game of skipping, soccer, or just talk. Whether you remember it or not, I’m guessing there were other kids who loathed that ‘free’ time for mingling because it was a daily reminder that they didn’t fit in with anyone.

Be it our days in High School, College or University, the same kind patterns of inclusiveness or isolation probably occurred. You might invite certain people to your dorm for a party; hang out with the same people on weekends, etc. That to me is just human nature; gravitating to certain people you enjoy being around who enjoy being around you.

The difficulty comes when others get isolated and excluded from social gatherings not based on their personal characteristics but due to their socio-economic status. Some don’t come from old money, some don’t come from money at all, they have to work hard for any break they get, and if they don’t get a break they have to work harder to manufacture their success.

On the fringe of our modern societies, we can easily spot those who are disadvantaged, architects of their own demise, poor decision-makers and the socially isolated. They are outside mainstream or ‘normal’ society, (whatever ‘normal’ infers) and much of the time their hopes and dreams are centered on inclusiveness and acceptance. When they say they want a job, as undefined as that statement is, what they mean by it is to rise to a level of normalcy.

Why do they settle on a job as something desirable often without even defining clearly what that job in fact would be? To them the job itself represents what they consider to be ‘normal’ acceptable behaviour to aspire to. This identification as a worker doing something productive is like punching a ticket and gaining access to a group they want to be part of.

The label of ‘unemployed’, or ‘out of work’ marginalizes them and they know it. We so often ask in conversations what someone does for a living, as our way of both identification and then categorization. We have our tradespeople, our administrative professionals, front-line, middle and upper management types, our decision-makers etc. Each and every time we gather information on what it is someone does for their work, we make a mental file card on the person and file that information in some kind of class and value Rolodex. “Oh you’re a Secretary? How interesting.” How you view that profession will shape where you initially ‘file’ that person based on your value system borne out of many past interactions with Secretaries you’ve encountered.

It’s when someone says, “I’m unemployed at the moment”, “I’m job searching actually”, or “I don’t have a job but I’m hoping to” that many of us immediately make up a mental file card sometimes to the person’s disadvantage. Why is that? Is it because we assume they aren’t people we want to be associated with or know? Do we make a leap in opinion or judgement and assume because they aren’t working they aren’t motivated, they are somehow less valuable as people or maybe even if they are unemployed any relationship we might have with them would be all give on our point and no take in return?

I wonder what might happen if someone with a job – perhaps a very well-respected job, went to a group of people and concealed that fact and introduced her or himself as being unemployed or between jobs at the moment. If they announced this, while they might initially get dismissive looks, I actually suspect their people skills and social skills would save them. They’d likely be able to articulate what they are seeking, and through the choice of words they use and their interpersonal skills would actually become included rather than excluded. They might even generate offers of help and leads in the days to come.

Unfortunately socio-economically marginalized people often present with mental challenges, lower self-esteem, insecurities, poorer interpersonal skills and as a result make some questionable decisions affecting their circumstances both present and future. Just a prolonged job search alone is mentally taxing and assaults one’s self-worth. Without employment, those interpersonal skills get rusty, and all of this impacts on adverse decisions made.

So to justice and the marginalized. Perhaps we ourselves – you and I; we could make the required effort to defer our initial categorization of others, attempt some effort of inclusiveness, and understand someone’s desire for improvement which may have to occur first before the necessary skills are there to support that wish. In short, hold off on adverse judgement of the person and separate them from the circumstances in which they are currently in. See the person in other words.

Maybe it’s a small thing; this social engagement of people rather than classifying them based on their present circumstances. I’ve met some fantastic individuals who are on social assistance. The struggles they deal with daily and overcome would surprise you, impress you and have you wondering how you yourself might fare if in their shoes. They have great stories of hardship, challenges, failures and victories. But you have to listen to them to hear them.

What Would You Give To Be Normal?

Normal; what’s that? I suppose it might depend on who you asked that question to and what had gone on in that person’s life up until the point you asked them the question. But what I do believe is that whatever a person has been usually experiencing in their life is the norm for them personally, so to want to change and be normal indicates a desire to change what one usually experiences.

When I’m sitting down one on one with some of my clients who tell me they just want to be normal, I usually ask them what they mean by that, or what ‘normal’ would look like on a daily basis for them. Most of the time, they describe waking up feeling rested, having a job to go to, having some extra money each month to buy things and having a good relationship with someone. Not always you understand, and there are variations, but this is ‘normal’ described by most.

Unfortunately, many describe to me years of feeling unappreciated, put down and told over and over again that they won’t amount to much, being a product of a broken home where parents separated, divorced or one just walked away, knowing early on that they were different from other kids. That feeling of being different and somehow not measuring up even as a child somehow seems to have set a pattern in motion where as a young adult, they feel anxiety, know the life they are living isn’t the life they want, and yet for all their trying it just isn’t getting much better.

One of the key things to recognize here is that even when speaking with someone who has the desire for change, the major hurdle to overcome the present and change the future largely depends on two critical skills; the ability to map out a plan and secondly the ability to put that plan into action.

As an Employment Counsellor, I often sit down with people and after discussing their wants, interests, skills and abilities, I will summarize what they’ve been saying and create a step-by-step plan for them which if followed will allow them to reach their goals. To have any chance of success however, this plan has to be their plan, not my plan for them – and there is a huge difference in the two. But in either case, they will nod their head and look very interested so make sure you make it clear this is their plan!

Now the implementation of this plan is the biggest challenge and where things invariably go wrong if go wrong it does. Why is it many seem destined to fail implementing the plan? It’s not for lack of wanting it to succeed but more a case of not having the skills (though no fault of their own) to make it happen.

Take school for an example. Suppose someone wants to head off to College or University and take a course to eventually become a Speech Pathologist. Where to start? Instead of thinking, “what’s my first step?”, work the thing out backwards. Imagine yourself in the job first. Okay so what happened just before you became a Speech Pathologist? You graduated. Great. And before that? You spent 2 – 4 years in school (research will tell you how many). How did you get into school? You enrolled. How did you enrol? You registered and got a student loan. How did you register? You went to the school, met a Guidance Counsellor, got all the required information including deadlines for admissions and applied online. And the funding? You filled out an application for assistance. And before this? You researched program requirements, schools that offered the program and made a decision. And before that? You chose a career. Whew!

If you are a visual person, you could draw up the above plan and stick it on the fridge with check boxes for each step in various colours to grab your attention and mark your progress. If you are a writer, you might prefer to have this plan mapped out in a journal recording your steps along the way and document your feelings as you go.

So is this what normal people do to succeed? And to be ‘normal’ is it what you’d need to do? Maybe. It all depends on how you define normal and what’s right for you personally. It could also be that you just want to sleep uninterrupted, wake up feeling rested and not have bad thoughts assault your brain in the first four seconds. Motivating yourself to get up and get out alone could be two major steps on some days, forgetting all about College or University which might not be right for you.

Some people need smaller steps, a series of small successes which build upon each other and create a new pattern of behaviour. Trying to overcome 20 or 30 years of whatever it is you want to change won’t happen overnight. Give yourself permission to fail and have setbacks. It’s not you who’s failing, it’s the steps that didn’t work out but may work out in the future if you give yourself a chance and make the effort to try again.

Being normal? Normal is experiencing some setbacks but wanting something enough that we work through the setbacks and try again. And hey, you’re worth it; seriously, you’re worth it.

Coming Back To Normal

Think over your day-to-day existence, and all the things you do on a regular basis. Whether you lead a hectic life or something more sedate and quiet, whatever your normal behaviour is has become your personal ‘normal’. A big part of that normal behaviour may include going to work and spending a considerably large chunk of your day surrounded by co-workers, and then coming home at the end of the working part of your day. When you cease to work, that normal part of your day throws your life out of sync, and you’ve got a large block of time to fill on a daily basis.

Consider someone for example who retires after a long, prosperous working life. For decades the person has gone to work on a daily basis and now  looks forward to  days of less structured time, pursuing other interests. For some of those retirees, things work out well and they quickly substitute work life with golfing, gardening, reading, trips, time with grandkids etc. For others, it isn’t a smooth transition, and they miss the routine of work so much that they start volunteering with organizations to stay busy, or they can experience a mental breakdown because they’ve lost part of their identity and don’t know what to do with their time to feel valuable and fulfilled.

For you the job seeker, it is likely that some of the anxiety you are experiencing comes largely from this loss of identity and purpose. Waking up, you’ve got nowhere to be, no one to produce work for, and you aren’t identified by others in the same way most other people you will meet are; as a working person for some employer. Get a job, and you’ll find that you are once again in sync, much of your day has purpose, and your identity is restored. In short, you’ve swung the pendulum back to a regular rhythm and things are more ordered.

Until that day comes when you are once again employed, there are a number of things you can do that will help with the anxiety you may be experiencing. First of all, try to maintain a somewhat regular schedule of waking up at the same time, and doing a regular routine of hygiene (shower, shave, hair) followed by a healthy breakfast. Give yourself a task list for the day, primarily containing job search activities. This would include applying for jobs, looking at new postings, making phone calls, adjusting resumes and cover letters, updating your social media sites, networking, and following up on past applications.

Somewhere in your day, you might also pay some attention to anything you need to do around the home. Now while I don’t want to seem to contradict earlier blogs where I’ve suggested focusing 100% on your job search, spending a fraction of a day doing some things around the house can make you feel good about getting things done that you’ve been putting off. It can also demonstrate to a spouse who leaves for work that you are paying attention to their needs and wants. Just make sure that you give your job search first priority and don’t get to a point where your job search suffers because of household projects.

A good practice is to make up your list of things needing done around the house and then tackle some of those things in a set block of time, say an afternoon in the middle of the week. This way you don’t get the guilty feeling, things get done, and if for example a job interview is arranged, you defer the household projects until another day.

Being out of work is an emotional rollercoaster, with highs and lows. When there is no regular routine that you can count on your day lacks direction and purpose. Ironically, being out of sync at this point is normal; but not a normal you want to experience any longer than absolutely necessary. This same feeling can happen by the way if you feel trapped in a job you don’t want, doing things you weren’t trained to do, and not living the life you had expected. There is an inner turmoil going on inside with part of you needing whatever job you are doing, and another part that is struggling to point your compass in another direction altogether, and get back in harmony with whatever job you would find most fulfilling. For example if you went to school and got a job in your field of training in another country and then came to Canada only to drive a cab, you would experience this anxiety.

Sometimes what can help is getting out a piece of paper and plotting where you are and where you want/need to eventually be. Now write down what has to be done to move you in that direction. Do you need more schooling, training or volunteer work in that area? Is a physical move required to get closer to the employers you want to work for? What’s blocking your way and setting you back? A pardon? Stable housing? Figure it out and write it down. Now what has to be done to remove those barriers? Of course in the end you have to take action to remove those barriers to the job you really want.

Getting back to whatever is normal for you personally is extremely important. During this time, you might seek the help of a professional who can assist you in plotting out your possible plan of action. If this isn’t your area of expertise and you don’t know how to get started, book an appointment with a Career Advisor or Employment Counsellor. Whether their services are free or you pay them for their time, it will be time well spent because you’ll see a point in your future where your personal balance is restored. That in turn, can give you something to hold on to at a time in your life when you are floundering and have no apparent direction and purpose.

All the very best.