Monday, December 22, 2008

PTSD and the Working Girl

And most impactfully, I have been and am still training myself to react according to the truth of the moment, rather than to overreact to events that trigger a trauma memory. More on that in another post.

So I started my job last February. It had been a pretty bleak job search. When Dan and I strategized our life together – my moving to Boston because a law degree was more portable than his freelance musician work (not in terms of pulling in a paycheck – Dan always pulls in a paycheck – but in terms of pulling in a steady paycheck, which was important as I had consolidated my education loans to lock in a low rate, which meant there was no grace period after graduation – I had to start paying them off immediately) – I had not factored in the number of good, local law schools that were feeding the area’s legal job openings. And, not being an economist, there was no way for me to have predicted that the country had gone into a recession last November, the month of my admission to the MA Bar. So here I was, very bright and hardworking, graduated from a 4th tier, albeit prestigious public interest law school, not summa cum laude (there was no such thing at my alma mater) but with impressive accomplishments nonetheless, competing for $40,000 a year jobs at Legal Aid (high by Legal Aid standards, but still not enough to cover my expenses, by the way) that were, in the end, being awarded to Harvard graduates. None of my cold-call resumes, of which I mailed out about 200, resulted in an interview. My targeted search resulted likewise. The most exciting position I applied for was as an attorney at the new consumer protection unit at Boston’s Legal Aid (my sources inside Legal Aid had told me the organization was undergoing a renaissance – an unusual surplus of funds – I don’t know if this is continuing). Even though I had an inside connection who allowed me to use her name when I contacted the Consumer Protection manager directly, the best the manager could do for me was to suggest that my chances of be awarded the job would increase substantially if I were to volunteer my time with the unit. That wasn’t possible on a full time basis what with $120,000 in loans immediately due. But I was willing to try to squeeze my work-week around to volunteer at least a couple of days a week – maybe even weekends. But the unit manager wouldn’t return my calls after that first conversation. She was willing to see my resume. But I had to find out well after the fact that the position was filled without my even being called in for an interview. During those uncertain months, I couldn’t even get a contract attorney position even though I was registered with and checking in every day to all the agencies in town – and firms don’t care from where you graduated if all they want you to do is document review. No, during those uncertain months, the only work I could get was administrative work, paying between $8-$15 an hour.

So when my company offered me a paralegal job starting in early February 2008 at a substantial increase from the salary I was last making as a paralegal, I took it. It was at least a law related job, in an industry with which I had experience, and my manager had put the possibility on the table, right up front, of my being promoted into an attorney position somewhere down the road. It was the best offer in a series of non-existent and otherwise terrible offers.

I’m not cocky about too many things, but I am cocky about my ability to bounce back from adversity or change/violence, because it’s been tested so often. I’ve always been resilient – more resilient than most. Which is what my last therapist credits for my survival. And, while I’ve lamented ad nauseum about all the change I’ve been through in the past two years, I don’t think that most of what I went through in the last couple of years was too much for me to handle. It was draining yes, and more so than I expected. So there I was, depleted after the marriage, the move, the graduation, the Bar exams. Depleted, needing rest, and vulnerable. But not so much that a month or three of keeping my head low and getting enough sleep every night couldn’t have healed. What it was, was the grim understanding that I was in the exact same professional circumstances I had been in four years ago. I did not have to spend four years struggling through law school, go into$120,000 of debt (indeed, I’m still paying off a portion of my undergrad loans), and move states in order to be a paralegal doing SEC disclosure work at a large, multi-national life insurance company. The straw that broke the camel’s back (funny, I almost wrote, “the camel that broke the straw’s back,” which somehow, feels even more appropriate), what depleted me in the end, was the enormous amount of energy – because time is energy, money is energy, physical motion is energy – I spent to go absolutely nowhere.

No comments: