Right now, teachers in public infant care, kindergartens, and after-school programs in Munich are on strike, demanding wage increases. While striking has happened periodically throughout the year, a single day here or there, this strike has now entered its third week, and there is no end in sight. Parent representatives for the Hort (the after school program) have informed us that the strike will go on indefinitely.
On the one hand, I work from home so I have the luxury of being here when my daughter gets out of school. On the other hand I WORK. Most days of the week, school ends at 11:20, which means after getting up and sitting with my daughter while she eats breakfast, then running, showering, and dressing, I am lucky to have 2 hours to do work before it’s time to pick up Emmy. As you can imagine, this puts a serious dent in both the quality and quantity of work I can do on a given day.
I have never been a “I’ll make lemonade from these lemons” kind of gal. No, I’ve always been more of a “This totally sucks” kind of gal. My history is to ruminate and wallow.
But I’m trying to be resilient. I’m trying to learn to accept that life is difficult. Shit happens. Keep moving forward. I’m trying to see silver linings. Really.
One of the first things I did when I heard about the strike was send emails to the moms in Emmy’s class whose daughters are also in Hort. “I can watch your daughters 1 or 2 days this week,” I wrote that first week of the strike. I wasn’t thinking about single parents or parents who have to punch a time card at their job. My motives were purely selfish. I was thinking how much easier it would be for me if Emmy had friends over so I didn’t have to be interrupted every 10 minutes with, “Mom, I’m bored.” Maybe I could get a little work done.
The email resulted in a sequence of events that I came to recognize as a silver lining. For one, I began a daily correspondence with a group of parents who live in our neighborhood. I didn’t know there were families in our immediate vicinity. And, these parents all speak English. The parents agreed to take turns watching the group of girls throughout the week. As a result, I’m meeting new people and Emmy is fostering new friendships.
Yes, the strike goes on, and it will be tough, but it’s also opened up an unexpected opportunity for me and Emmy. Silver lining.
Now this has been a relatively minor inconvenience for me, but in the past I’ve had some really dark clouds in my life. The clouds have come during personal, emotional droughts, times characterized by the absence of security, happiness, abundance, and peace. And I became more insecure, unhappier, and distraught. I withered in response to challenges.
Take my first hospitalization when I was 28. It was the end of summer, and my marriage was falling apart. I had moved in with my mom and started an affair with a much older professor who happened to be the graduate advisor of my PhD program. He was in a position of power over me and wielded his power through emotional manipulation. Then, my stepfather (of 20+ years) died in a freak accident. To top it all off, I was arrested on a felony charge that undermined my self-identification as a good mother. I’m not making up this shit. It all happened in the span of 6 months.
Did I see this as an opportunity for growth? Hell, no. I was too far under, and I ended up attempting suicide and being admitted to a mental hospital.
But, I pulled myself together…mostly. I broke off the unhealthy affair, got divorced, and kept my depression in check.
Over the next ten years, depression still reared its ugly head every 6 months or so but the confluence of circumstances never reached the nadir it had when I was hospitalized. And then I moved to Germany.
Life was okay for the first 18 months or so after the move. I made a handful of friends, including Liz, from California, who had been in Europe a few years. She became my closest friend in Munich, and her daughter became Emmy’s best friend. I found a good job, a career opportunity that seemingly wed two of my passions – science and reading. I learned enough German to get by in daily life. Things were alright.
But then the shit storm started. In May, the legal department of my company called and told me that I was violating terms of my contract. It took several months to resolve but during that time I wasn’t sure that I would even have a job when all was said and done. In October, our apartment was broken into. The burglars stole all my jewelry, including my wedding ring and family heirlooms. Then my friends started moving away. Eventually, every single friend I’d made in Germany, including Liz, left the country.
Emotionally, I knew I was slipping, and I sought help. Getting meds was easy but I had to jump through hoops to get the insurance company to approve therapy. Seriously, it took almost a year, reams of paperwork, and thousands of dollars out of pocket before they did. While all of this was happening, I was under enormous stress – the job, the burglary, the friends leaving. I felt unsupported and hopeless.
I hit rock bottom and winded up back in the hospital again.
When I got out of the hospital, I felt totally alone. If I’d been in Austin when this all happened, I would have had friends and my mom physically around me. I need and want their support, but it’s also like a Band-Aid. It stops the immediate hemorrhage but doesn’t heal me. And in another 6 months, because the underlying damage hadn’t been corrected, I’d probably have another depressive episode. That’s my history.
But, I don’t want to repeat history, not with this sad story anyway. So, I’m (finally) learning from my past, and what I’ve learned is that in order to heal, I have to do the work myself. No amount of outside support, which I love and appreciate greatly, will bring about the change. Only I can change myself. Yes, my mom, my husband, my friends, and my therapist could show me the tools. A book could give me some instructions. But, until I actually started using these tools, picking them up when I needed them, I wouldn’t change. So, being so removed from everything I knew, away from my comfort zone, I got to a place where my options were to keep spiraling down or to try something different. Thankfully, I chose the latter.
In the moment, it often requires extreme optimism or blind hope to see a silver lining. In theory and in hindsight, a difficult experience can have the potential to be transformative, but in the midst of that difficulty, it’s just plain hard. Life is hard.
I’ve come to accept that life is difficult. Shit happens, but I keep moving on. This is resilience.