The benefits of working

Just like our greatest strengths can be weaknesses, some benefits of working were the same as the downfalls. Working for the census was adventurous and exciting yet at the same time anxiety producing. I had fears yet at the same time I had the joy of confronting my fears. I had to go to dangerous neighborhoods, yet at the same time it was sobering to see how other people lived.

There were some things I really liked about working. Working allowed me to get out of the problems of my own life and throw myself into something productive. I got paid well. I was able to contribute a paycheck to help support my family. I was able to set my own hours. I believed in the importance of the work I was doing.

I got some exercise because I did a lot of walking. I explored parts of my state that I’ve never seen before. I became familiar with the neighborhood around me.

As crazy as it sounds, this job also pulled me out of my shell especially in the time of COVID when I had every excuse not to interact with people. I met some really awesome people that I probably would hang out with as friends if we met under different circumstances.

I felt respected by the community in general. People thanked me for my service in counting the people. Other people respected me simply because it was something they could never do.

There were fun times that I just had to laugh at myself like the time I almost got into someone else’s car because I wasn’t paying attention. Then there was the time I came home from work and realized I must’ve stepped in dog crap somewhere along the way.

I met up with a lot of different families. I listened and learned about other people’s lives. I watched and observed how other people lived without judgment. People are very interesting. It was a job I could combine facts with people.

Thankfully the whole time I worked I was able to stay healthy and safe. I think the experience was worthwhile.

The downside of working

Working for the census was downright difficult at times. It wasn’t just the cases themselves. Although I will not downplay the fear of dealing with my anxiety. I did find myself in some really dangerous situations at times. Just doing the job during COVID was scary enough. I had to face the fear of things I could and couldn’t see such as the risk of getting sick. The uncertainty was difficult. I never knew what I was going to be dealing with on a day to day basis.

While I was working, my mom didn’t really want anything to do with me. She viewed me as high risk to getting her sick. My mom is a hypochondriac. Not that I didn’t understand her concerns. But it was still difficult and painful. She is living her last years in utter terror of leaving her house. She will stop by with her mask and sunglasses on wearing gloves or with hands full of handwipes. She won’t even pet my dog because someone infected might have touched him. She is battling crippling anxiety and insomnia. It is difficult.

The night before I had my census training, my husband and I admitted our daughter to the psychiatric hospital for the first time. It was stressful because I knew I couldn’t be there when she got home because I had to work. That is really when I let things start to slide. I allowed Arabella to stay at her friend’s house more than I would’ve liked because I felt she was safer there than home alone.

My husband was working his seasonal business that he started. At times he was gone for several days in a row. We couldn’t deal with a suicidal child at home when we were both working. Then later we struggled to get her back home.

I felt like I needed to work because the investments we were banking on to start our new business didn’t come through with COVID. We were planning on taking a small trip for our anniversary in the middle of summer, but I had to choose between the trip or doing the training for the job. Plus with our daughter, a week of sailing turned to a day or two on the boat. It was just another thing cancelled because of COVID.

I had to deal with a lot of things I was afraid of. I had to interview people in dangerous neighborhoods. Then there were dogs. Some days I had to drive for several hours. I’ve always been a nervous driver and had to face that fear. Again, not to mention COVID when I could hear people coughing. At times I felt like I was putting my life on the line.

As a census worker dealing with colitis, I was fearful when I couldn’t find a bathroom. When I was out in the middle of nowhere a lot of park or public restrooms were closed due to COVID. It was a real nightmare at times.

I had to get over the anxiety of talking to people I didn’t know. I had to overcome this fear of being out of my comfort zone by myself. It was also very intimidating doing things I’ve never done before such as purchasing a ticket for the car ferry. With every adventure comes a little apprehension.

In all of that, I still had to find the energy to go to the grocery store, cook, clean the house, and get the laundry done. It’s a big adjustment to go from not working to working 40+ hours a week.

I have to say though that it was a wonderful experience. I did earn a fair wage for the work I did. My supervisor was awesome along with all the other census workers I ran into along the way. I’m sad I didn’t have the time to write about this while it was happening, but I knew there would be later. Now.

Dangerous addresses, part 4

I found myself asking how much my life was worth.

Sometimes when feeling down I found myself teetering on the fence between life and death. Will I choose hope or despair? There is a reckless courage when you find yourself in that place.

But when pressed, when my life was in danger, it showed me how much I wanted to live. I had to continue on the path to hope, healing, and growth even during the moments I wanted to say screw it all.

As my time with the census came to an end, they were looking for people willing to travel. I said I would be willing to go to the furthest north woods of Wisconsin. Yes, it could be very dangerous. It was very remote with limited cell phone coverage. Heroin is a big problem in some dead end towns. Wandering into a property illegally growing marijuana. Dangerous. Wild animals. Finding bathrooms. It was an adventure I was up for.

I awaited my instructions to travel, but they never came. Instead, I got a call about travelling to Milwaukee. Now that is a different kind of dangerous. This year alone Milwaukee surpassed the highest annual homicide rate ever recorded. Unfortunately, this year isn’t even over yet.

I turned it down.

My supervisor said that another employee went, an African American woman. She was sent to such a horrible neighborhood that she was utterly terrified and asked if she could come back home. I think I made the right call.

They were looking for census employees to go to Detroit, Kenosha, and Atlanta as well. It takes a special (or should I say crazy) person to do the census especially in dangerous unfamiliar places.

If I had the chance, would I choose to do it all over again? Absolutely! Will I work the 2030 census? Probably not.

Dangerous addresses, part 3

I was walking through a bad neighborhood once again. My car was parked a block away. The road was closed and virtually impassable with huge potholes. It wasn’t like I could easily sneak around the signs although no one was currently working on the street. I knew the limitations of my car.

I passed between a port-a-pot and some teenage girls. My mumbled ‘hi’ was met with disdainful snide sneers. I went to the house on my case list. A woman answered stating that she already completed the census and would not be completing it again.

It happened, sometimes we were sent to the same houses over and over where the respondents said they already completed the questionnaire. There was even one whole new subdivision that got multiple census questionnaires due to a duplicate address error. It was sent twice, once to circ and the other time to cir for a road called Something Circle. After awhile people got angry. They filled out one and still got another. I understood. I listened, figured out the problem, and tried to resolve it for them. But these residents had a valid reason for being upset.

But some people were angry and aggressive for no apparent reason at all. I found I had the most problems with men right around 35 years of age. I couldn’t figure it out. Were they afraid I would ask information about their income?

I had several doors slammed in my face by all men. It was upsetting, but I tried not to take it personally. I even had a guy say ‘don’t know’ with a smirk to every single question to try to get a rise out of me. Later I thought I should’ve asked him if his parents were home. (He was obviously a grown man).

That day after I made my house call on the torn up street I walked past a man standing on his deck. He yelled an aggressive ‘GO!’ as I walked past him. I was instantly in fight mode. I pivoted my body around and glared at him. I gave him a dirty look that said grow up and shut up. He yelled ‘DAMN!’ as I turned and walked away.

After I walked a couple houses, I turned and glanced back to see if I had to make a run for it. But the man was gone. Later I saw that the approximate location where the man yelled at me was listed as a dangerous address. I had to keep that in mind when walking through neighborhoods not just when I visited specific houses.

Later that evening my husband applauded me for standing my ground. He said it was good to show him I wasn’t afraid. My son asked if I wanted to get shot. He thought I was being foolish. I wouldn’t have stood a chance against the man or his gun, but it felt good to do something.

The people I didn’t meet

I think God was watching out for me while I was working the census more than once or twice. If I had gone to the house a week earlier, I would’ve met the tenants. A man answered the door when I arrived. He stated the tenants were evicted the week before. He was hired to clean up the mess they left behind. From what little I could see behind the door, I knew I was lucky to not have met them. They tore up the floors and down the walls.

I asked the neighbors about the people that lived there. A lady said that people were coming and going at all hours of the day and night. There were little kids that lived there. She didn’t know them though.

I always feared I would have to knock on the door of a drug trafficking house or other disreputable location. What if I saw someone commit a crime? What if there were children involved? Nah, I’m sure they were responsible enough to fill out their census.

One day I drove out to a house a ways back from the road. The house looked haunted. Several windows were smashed. I thought maybe someone lived there because there was a trash bin on the side of the road for garbage day. There was something eerie about the place which made me feel fearful. I wanted to get out of there as fast as I could. As I was knocking on the door, a truck pulled into the driveway behind my car rather quickly. I felt rather terrified.

Thankfully, the person who got out of the truck was the owner of the house. He said he had to evict the renter because she was on drugs and almost overdosed several times. It was a really bad situation. When she got evicted she smashed the windows and trashed the place.

I just lucked out that it was garbage day. The owner was slowly starting to fix the place up again. I was able to close out the file on my first visit to that house.

Sometimes I felt thankful for the people I didn’t meet.

The Dobermans

As part of the census training, we learned about the greatest threats to us as census employees.

The greatest threat of harm was actually slipping and falling. It is very easy to get distracted especially when you are finishing up cases on your census phone while walking. Whoops! Guilty. Thankfully I didn’t fall but I did almost get into someone else’s car. I’ve also been on enough rickety staircases to last me a lifetime.

The third greatest risk of injury was due to car accidents. I could easily understand how that could happen especially when you have to find an address that is poorly marked at dusk.

Today I want to talk about the second greatest threat of injury, animals. I was more likely to be attacked by an animal than a person. I did worry at times of being assaulted or murdered although the percentage of injuries or deaths were rather small from those threats.

My supervisor told me about an employee who was swarmed by bees after knocking on an unused front door. I did come across nests rather frequently but lucked out in that regard.

I was more wary of dogs. I carried treats in my car. It was always a judgment call. How threatening does this dog appear? How old is the dog? How big is the dog? Are there signs that a dog lives there? Did the beware of dog sign hold any merit?

One day I had to make a house call in the middle of nowhere. The front door appeared to be a sliding door. When I knocked on it two Dobermans answered. They hurled their massive bodies against the sliding door and snarled at me. Next to the sliding door was an open window. It wouldn’t have taken much for the dogs to crash through the screen and maul me to death.

It shook me up a little. What if the dogs were outside when I got there and we didn’t notice each other right away?

I was wary of scary looking dogs. Thankfully most of the time the big scary looking dogs had owners nearby.

Gratitude week 32

  1. Summer! It has been absolutely gorgeous out.
  2. For the time spent visiting with my daughter when she was home last weekend.
  3. Looking forward to my daughter coming home again this weekend.
  4. We were able to take my mom sailing and give her a good birthday.
  5. For the motivation to work 40 hours despite being tired.
  6. Having a husband who is willing to pick up the slack.
  7. Having my last house call be right next to a place selling used books. I was able to get a paper bag full of books for $2. I found some cookbooks and tons of old self-help books. Watch out, by next year I should be new and improved while whipping up some nice dishes.
  8. Conquering fears. As a census worker I never know what kind of situation I will be entering into. It can be intimidating and anxiety producing. So far on my first week I’ve encountered questionable dogs, stormy weather, angry/rude people, abandoned/creepy houses, and being in places were I did not feel a sense of safety. I was sent to the roughest part of town where there have been shootings. I am going door to door in a time of great fear of COVID. But more often than not, during this time I have also witnessed the goodness of strangers.
  9. Feeling efficient and productive. Almost every day I need to ask my supervisor for more work. Sometimes I am so focused I don’t even pay attention to where I am going. The other day I was walking while I was following up with work on my phone and I ended up almost getting into someone else’s car. I went to sit down and wondered why the seats were a different color. My gosh, how embarrassing.
  10. Tomorrow will be my first day off since starting last week. Yeah!!

The ultimatum, part 9

I felt a lot of anxiety leading up to his birthday. He did it, Paul went without drinking for almost 2 months. He said it was a piece of cake.

He said he would try to quit drinking until his birthday.

But then it was his birthday. I was worried. Now what would happen?

That night we had a few friends over. They had pizza and he drank a bottle of wine. I felt a sense of loss. I didn’t belong. I felt like an outsider. I had been dairy free for over a month by that time. As they ate pizza and laughed, I brooded in the corner.

I felt triggered by Paul drinking again. I felt angry and hurt like I did on the night of our anniversary when he drank too much. Paul was in a jovial mood. He drank another bottle of wine out by the campfire while I sat inside.

He wanted me to sing while he played guitar. When he pushed close, I pulled away. He was gone and I felt like I couldn’t trust him anymore.

What was going to happen going forward?

Slowly and steadily he started drinking more but nowhere as close to as much as before.

We got hit pretty hard in the next couple months with bad news about my dad. It will be a long time before I am ready to talk about that. I can tell you this, my dad struggles with addiction. My mom ignored it. She buried her head in the sand. I have to wonder maybe things would’ve turned out differently if she gave him an ultimatum.

I think I did the right thing. I never wanted Paul to stop drinking. I just wanted him to be in control of it instead of it controlling him.

I found myself triggered by so many things, not just Paul drinking. What happened with my dad threw me into a deep depression. I wish I could say that trauma only happens from your parents in childhood. Sometimes it tends to be a lifelong roller coaster ride.

Paul thought he was going to lose me this time. He was so stressed out that he started to drink more which stressed me out more.

Because of the ultimatum, he knew it was a problem he needed to address. In January, he stopped drinking for a few weeks in a time of prayer and self-reflection. Then he came up with a new plan.

The ultimatum, part 8

Paul struggled with what it meant to be a husband and a dad. He never had a dad and barely remembered his mother’s brief marriage when he was 4 to a man that was supposedly abusive towards him.

His only parent was very childlike herself. They were dirt poor. He spent the first half of his childhood in low income housing in the inner city of Chicago. His mother was slow and uneducated. She also struggled with mental health issues that I would guess were trauma related.

Martha’s dad died when she was 12, so Paul didn’t have a grandpa either. He wouldn’t have made a good grandpa anyway. He was known to abuse his children and cheat on his wife. He wouldn’t be my chosen father figure for a future husband.

Martha didn’t always make the best decisions but she was a good mother. She always told Paul he could do anything he put his mind to. She did the best she could with the hand she was given.

Sometimes I feel like Paul was more of a parent to Martha than she was to him. But that could be because I saw him give her advice as an adult. She would argue that credit cards were money. She wasn’t a drinker but I think she was addicted to gambling. I’m sure that is why Paul is obsessed with keeping our finances in order.

Martha also had a really bad temper. She was very reactive and emotional. She often was angry and thought people were out to get her. Or you could be the best thing that ever happened to her. In those times you could do nothing wrong. She was crazy fun, exciting, and impulsive.

After her brief marriage, Martha didn’t have a lot of boyfriends. She worked a lot. Sometimes she lost her jobs due to her chronic tardiness. She married for the 2nd time right before I met Paul. Her husband Darryl is only 15 years older than Paul. He had kids but his ex took off with them and they spent most of their adult life in and out of prison. Maybe if Paul was still a child he would’ve been a good father.

I wish I could say that my own dad was able to take him under his wing. If anything, my dad taught him what not to do as a husband and a father. It seems like we both had to parent our parents more than they parented us. It caused a lot of stress shouldering all of that responsibility.

There was no one, just a big empty void of abandonment. He was expected to be good at something he never learned how to do. He didn’t have a dad to play ball with. No one taught him how to fix things or work on cars. He was never disciplined. He didn’t have a dad to embarrass him or give him advice on girls. Like most things, he just had to figure it out himself.

I tried to gloss it over and glamorize it by saying that at least he could develop his own style. But it wasn’t easy. I think he is a wonderful father and husband despite his insecurities. When he screws up he apologizes and tries harder to be a better person. He is doing a wonderful job and I appreciate his commitment.

He could’ve walked away like his own father did. Instead he was willing to roll up his sleeves and work on himself and our relationship.

The ultimatum, part 7

Paul said he was willing to try to stop drinking until his birthday almost two months later. He wanted to see if he could even do it. It was a step in the right direction.

What did that mean though? Could I still have a few drinks with my friends around him? I was willing to give it up too. His close friends asked if he wanted them to stop drinking around him. Some friends just stopped drinking with him when he stopped. I think everyone was a bit uncomfortable doing this new dance at first.

Paul said he didn’t want everyone to change the way they lived their lives. But they did. I really didn’t realize how much we influence other people with how we live our lives. When he quit drinking quite a few of his friends cut back too.

It changed the dynamics of our relationship big time. I was angry and we argued a lot at first. But after the initial anger wore off, I noticed another change.

His drinking gave me a lot of power and control. I didn’t realize it until it was gone. Don’t get me wrong, I wanted him to stop or at the very least cut back. I nagged and nagged him to stop which didn’t work. It only made things worse.

Every time Paul and I got in an argument I would never look at my own negative behavior. I would throw back in his face that I would talk to him about my issues when he stopped drinking. I held the trump card of remember when you screwed up _____ with your drinking. It gave me a get out of jail free card that I used in almost every argument that wasn’t in my favor.

Now I could no longer avoid talking about some of my issues. Not only that but without drinking he now had the upper hand. He was working through his issues. That meant I had to work through some of mine too. I started seeing a therapist to work through my anxiety and depression.

In some ways I envied Paul. I wanted to leave my issues on a shelf, to not drink of that bottle and then they would be gone. But I’ve learned so much since then. Battling addiction is more than just leaving the bottle on the shelf. It’s the longing to reach for it like the embrace of an old friend in sadness and celebration.

I had to face the fact that my anxiety and depression also scared him. He’s had to reach into the darkness to pull me out many times. I can’t seem to escape the trauma I’ve experienced. At times it still threatens to drown me.

We both had to work on our issues. We were both broken people in need of a fix. It wasn’t just about him and his drinking. It was how we learned to cope with our trauma at our very core. It was exploring every crack and crevice that was tearing down our foundation.

We spent those two months rebuilding our relationship. We got along better than ever before. Then after that things went a little haywire.