#1000Speak: Forgiveness Sucks, So Let’s Try Something Different – Updated

Here I am again, awake. I have what may be the world’s worst insomnia. Tonight I’m not worrying about money or children or husbands, and it’s not noisy people. I was actually asleep, but a bad dream woke me up.

I moved to Seattle to take a job after no luck finding one in my home state of Nevada for a year. It should have been my dream job, stepping up to the big leagues of paralegal-dom after many years working for country, but good, lawyers. It should have been a whole new vista for me, an exciting new professional experience in an exciting new city in beautiful new country.

It was the job from hell. Seriously. In my 40 years in the work force, I could not imagine a more horrific experience. I suspect my boss was a true narcissist, and I’m dead certain she was emotionally and mentally abusive. In current nomenclature, I was bullied mercilessly. The three months I worked at that firm was the longest, most horrific time I can remember aside from one marriage I’ve worked hard to block from recall. It should be noted that the dynamics of an abusive intimate relationship and an abusive employment relationship are extremely similar. That job and that woman damaged me. I needed counseling to get past the worst of it.

I’m still damaged. What woke me up a little while ago was a dream that I was right back there, working for that harridan again. I woke gasping, with the electricity of a panic attack running through my veins.

Great.

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve moved on with living my life, and I’ve accomplished a lot since then. I stayed in counseling for a year and unpacked a lot of things. I made the decision to return to school, excelling at that and enjoying it, and I have another job I more or less enjoy too. It doesn’t challenge me and the pay is middlin’, but I don’t bring any work stress home at night either, and that’s worth a lot. I am the only person in my office; I run the whole damn state for my company and for the most part, I like that solitude and independence just fine. If some jerk brings donuts into the office when I’m cutting out sugar, well, I have no one to blame but myself. To further my healing, I considered writing her a letter but opted instead for scathingly honest review on Glassdoor, and if it saves even one person from what I went through, I’m glad.

And yet, here I am dreaming about that horrid woman, and still losing sleep to her, three years down the road. What gives?

I was lying there, having burned one of my precious few anxiety pills and trying to read a bit of War and Peace in the hopes I could return to sleep, when I realized it.

Forgiveness.

And then: Why should I? That bitch hurt me. She’s hurt lots of people, that I know of; I was far from her first. Why does she deserve anything from me?

And the truth is, she doesn’t.

And I know the platitude, that forgiveness isn’t for the other person, it’s for you, and I kinda believe that, but then again, I don’t believe it at all. To forgive is to absolve the person of what they did, and I’m just not going to do that. She’s accountable, past and future, because I know she’s still doing it to others who were looking forward to a terrific position just as I was. When I was there I saw payroll records for three other legal assistants in the eight months before I arrived. Add me, that’s four in a year. She’s accountable. I might not be willing to confront her any more directly than an anonymous online employment review, probably because I loathe conflict with a flaming purple passion, but it’s what I can do.

No, what popped into my head from the depths of I-don’t-know-how-long-ago was another definition of forgiveness I heard once attributed to Oprah, I think it was, and I’m not a fan of Oprah, but I’m a fan of this definition, because it works:

Forgiveness is giving up the wish that things had been different.

And as I lie there still unable to go back to sleep but also unable to unscramble the letters on the pages of War and Peace, I realized that’s what I need to work with.

I am not making the buckets of money I did, briefly, at that firm. I do not have the nice house, and the nice new car and maybe a truck for the Tominator, and long weekend trips up to Vancouver and Whistler and a canoe for all the lakes around here. I do not have a 401(k) and killer health insurance. I do not have the prestige of high-end law firm experience in a posh downtown office tower. And that’s what I should have had. It’s what I’d worked for, for so long. It’s what I was offered when I left my family behind, left my home with my Mother’s Day rosebushes tended lovingly in the yard, and dragged the Tominator and Dream Girl and my stuff up here, and I should have it. I was robbed.

Yeah, I know. Shit happens and who said life was fair, suck it up buttercup. But underneath it, as superficial as it sounds, I am angry about that. Still. I moved up here for professional and financial advancement but here I am, scraping by from paycheck to paycheck, as I have for most of my life.

But on the other hand, as I struggle through many of my days, one of the first things I count when I’m reminding myself of all I have to be thankful for is that I no longer work for that Medusa. I may not have what I should have had, but I have enough, and I’m away from her, and I’m nowhere near anyone remotely like her, and that should be nothing but good.

I don’t have to absolve that woman of anything, but I can give up my wish that it had worked out. I can do something radical, even, and wish for something good tomorrow instead of in the past.

New entry on tomorrow’s to-do list. Make that today’s to-do list; cruising up on one a.m.

I’m going to try to get some sleep now. And even if I don’t, even if tomorrow – no, today – is another day I have to wade through in a sleep-deprived fugue state, I know one thing I can work on toward my own brand of forgiveness: I can wish forward instead of wishing behind.

It’s a start.

Update: Yesterday I was scrolling through job listings, thinking it might be time to go for an upgrade, and I see this Hagatha is advertising for a new victim paralegal. The ad doesn’t list the firm but I know her writing style, and the location is the same. Oh, God, all I can do is pray for the poor sacrificial virgin new hire. Another one. A therapist can make a career out of this woman’s employees.

Perfect Life

The best way to talk about anxiety and panic disorder is in the context of experiencing a perfect day without them. In the 35 years since I had my first panic attack, these days are rare. I treasure them.
My son Monster was here this past week. Since I moved from Nevada to Washington, he’s what I miss the most. Several months ago he texted me that one of his favorite musicians, Steven Wilson, would be appearing live in Seattle in June. I got the show tickets and he got a plane ticket.

Life is full of blessings when we open our eyes and hearts to appreciate them, but every now and then, a perfect day stands out above all the others, one of those days that when you’re living it, you find yourself thinking, “I could die right now and not mind at all, because I’ve had this day.” That perfect. I love it when I have the presence of mind to know how perfect things are, without having to look back later in belated realization.
Even though I spent part of the day working, that perfect.
I left work and met Monster downtown, surrounded by strangers, the stuff of which agoraphobic panic attacks are made. Attacks completely absent. We walked around Pike Place Market, looked at souvenirs and jewelry and leatherwork and flowers and gewgaws. We listened to the buskers and ate locally packed huckleberry ice cream. At peace, relaxed. We got hungry, ambled over to Kells in Post Alley. Eating in public, a bugaboo for me. Panic and anxiety absent. We laughed over Irish red ale and I rediscovered Irish soda bread. We were mildly disappointed that the ghost for which Kells is known did not make an appearance. No panic.
You would understand how much this meant if you knew how rare these days are for me.
And then…and then…he got me to go on the Great Wheel, Seattle’s 175-foot high Ferris wheel on the waterfront, extending out over the waters of Elliott Bay. Sure, it took a little bit more alcohol…

…but a cold Alaskan Amber ale is not such a sacrifice on a beautifully hot day on the Puget Sound.
I was calm while we bought the tickets and stood in line. I was calm as we mounted the steps and stepped inside the closed-in Ferris wheel car. I felt calm as the door was sealed shut and we moved up just a little. I marveled a bit at it, that calm.
We moved farther up and then stopped so cars beneath us could be emptied and filled. We were high up now, the city like a toy beneath us. We were locked in a clear bubble suspended from a metal arm. Precarious! My throat seemed to fill and I felt that twinge, that small stab in my gut, the beginning of my panic but then, wonderfully, some hidden Oh-No-You’re-Not-Ruining-This-Good-Time-With-Your-Stupid-Anxiety-Bullshit part of my mind immediately quelled it. (Note to self: strengthen the ONYNRGTWYSAB brain part. It kicks panic attack ass.)
I did not panic. I took pictures, as proof of my accomplishment. I was on a giant Ferris wheel!

I was laughing when we got off again. No panic! No anxiety! No cowering in the corner praying for five whole minutes to go by so I could get off that contraption! But I hadn’t only survived it — I’d enjoyed it!
Almost time for the show, we made our way back up from the waterfront to the historic Moore Theatre, built in 1907, a beautiful building. The line at the door was already around the corner as we joined the end of it. Again, open street, lots of people…still no anxiety. We waited in line for an hour, leaning against the building, sitting right on the sidewalk, people-watching, remembering other shows. No anxiety. The line started to move. Thousands of people milling around inside, but no panic there either. We found what turned out to be excellent seats, and settled in for what turned out to be a decidedly excellent show.

A brief digression, but maybe not so much, because it all ties in for me…one of the inspirations and themes behind Steven Wilson’s latest album, Hand. Cannot. Erase., is the story of Joyce Carol Vincent, the young British woman who had been dead in her flat for three years without any of her numerous friends and family members noticing her absence, her body not found until creditors broke her door in because she was behind on her rent. But it is not just the tragedy of failed connections, but also a celebration of connections that we were made at all, and the knowledge that once we have a moment of joy, that connection can never be lost. That’s just what I think at this point, having listened to it only a dozen times or so. I’m sure there’s more there. If you like art rock and a deeper meaning to the music, go buy this album. Now. It is phenomenal.
And still no panic. It helped that the crowd was largely mature and not so inclined to unruly displays, and that Wilson himself is not a rock star so much as he is a true performing artist, not on stage to posture or whip up a frenzied mob but rather to bring a message through the mediums of exquisitely instrumented sound, simple yet eloquent visual effects, and, more than anything else, ambiance. (I am also partial to the fact that with his hair and glasses he’s got this whole John Lennon thing going on.) At different points people stood up to rock out, at other times they stayed seated. I sat anyway, feet and arthritic knees aching, surrounded by torsos and arms and glowing blue dark, feeling the bass thumping in my chest, closing my eyes to let the music wash over me and pull me under.
Heaven.
No panic at all. Not even on the way home, bus so crowded we had to stand, mild altercation with the self-absorbed jerk who damn near pulled me to the floor as he bulldozed through. The day had been full of too many happy things.
These are the days that make my life shine, a life marked indelibly by 35 years worth of anxiety disorder and panic attacks that could easily have rendered me housebound if I wasn’t so stupid, or stubborn, or both. These are days when I know I am not defeated; that I think that if its only purpose is helping me appreciate all the shining things, then that is a worthy purpose; that it is always worth getting up one more morning in the hopes that this day will be another one of those days that shines a light when my  mind is overtaken by black. I may cover my eyes with my hands in the desolation of depression and panic, but there are things I will always be able to see, no matter how far away they are in time and in space and no matter how tightly I close my fingers.
Because the bad things do not ruin a life. A connection lost in real time doesn’t mean it’s still not there somewhere. That’s the wonder of memory – time is a like a river. We can walk back upstream and step into a shining day from childhood; we can walk downstream and wade into anticipation and dreams for the future.