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Archive for August 14th, 2023

Genevive Chamblee: End of Summer Blues
Monday, August 14th, 2023

Almost everyone has heard stories of employees gathering around the water cooler or coffee machine to gossip and/or socialize. But not all places of employment have such gathering spots—especially since the pandemic when social gathering was prohibited. Although social distancing and other pandemic precautions have been lifted for most businesses, it still remains in others. I begin this post with a business that has neither a water cooler nor a coffee machine and that still enforces pandemic precautions. I mentioned this because it seems to be relevant to today’s topic.

As August began, parents geared up for back-to-school and the anguish of locating (and paying for) all the items on the dreaded school supply list. It also included the pride of posting first-day photos on social media. Since the people who inspired me to write this post work adhering to previously mentioned guidelines, they rely heavily on social media interactions with each other. In other words, not only are they coworkers, they are on each other’s social media contacts and friends lists. To put it into perspective, since no one is gathering, employees spend their spare minutes or downtime scrolling each other’s social media.

Now one may question why this is a big deal or how it is any different than what anyone else is doing. Well, it comes down to the quantity. Pre-pandemic, a person may show one or two, or even half a dozen photos of a vacation or a newborn on his/her cell phone. But social media allows access to hundreds of photos. Not only that but when gathered to look at photos on a phone, there usually is a time limit. For example, a break may only be five or ten minutes. How many photos can be shared in that time? Furthermore, it’s at work. Thus, the person sharing is present. However, social media transcends work and can be viewed anywhere. Additionally, when gathered in an employee lounge, usually only one or two people have time to share. Yet, on social media, employees have access to everyone they are friends with. This becomes an abundance of material.

In May, a supervisor’s youngest child graduated from high school. For the first time in twenty-four years, she found herself not doing either of these things and felt left out of the “parent club.” (Psst… One never stops being a parent no matter how old the child.) However, she was scrolling through the photos and had nothing to share. You may be wondering, “What about the first day of college?” Well, for her, it was sort of a non-thing for two reasons. First, her son decided not to go away to college. That meant no room to decorate, moving in stories, or real shopping to do. The local joke about this community college is that it is grade thirteen. So many local students go there that literally it is like being in the same high school. Everyone already knows everyone. The campus is small and familiar. Every local school has at least one event at the college per year. And there’s not much to the landscape. Since the campus is condensed, there’s not much greenery—just six or seven buildings for classrooms all stacked atop each other and a few more on the backside that serves as dormitories for out-of-town students.

Second, her son did what a lot of local students do their senior year. I don’t know if it is common across the country or just in this area, but by the time most local students become seniors, they only lack one or two credits from graduating. That means, some of these students only go to class for an hour a day. For others, they take “dual credit” courses in which they receive both high school and college credit. He had done just that. But there’s more. He wasn’t interested in pursuing a college degree but felt pressured by his family to do so. In an effort to dissuade (or persuade depending on how one views it) the family that college wasn’t the right path, he enrolled in summer courses. So, come August, he already had his first semester under his belt. Thus, it genuinely wasn’t a “first” day, although, one could technically argue it was the first day of a new semester. However, the problem with that is that he’d enrolled in online courses. I guess she could have taken a photo of him in his room.

The point of all this was that this saddened her. Additionally, she hadn’t taken a summer vacation and didn’t have anything exciting happening in her life. As she began to reflect on the past months, she felt that she had missed out on summer entirely. And when she decided to try to make late summer plans, she discovered it was harder than she thought. Most places had already stored away summer inventory (e.g., bathing suits, sandals, pool toys, etc.) and stocked the shelves with fall. Summer rentals were booked, and soaring temperatures closed some events prematurely (e.g., the zoo). With each passing hour, she grew more depressed, and it persisted each day. Barely a week into the month, she was sobbing almost consistently at her desk. I knew it had to be more than about not having photos to post on social media. That was just the catalyst that brought the deep-rooted problem to the surface. She was mourning loss—an empty nest that wasn’t really empty.

Yes, her child still lived in her home but not as a child. He was now an adult, independent, and capable of residing on his own. Aside from being in college, he’d gotten a job (although it didn’t pay enough to support himself) and spent much of his time away from home. All of her children had been active in sports and activities while in school, and now that was gone. Even in church, her children had been the reason for much of her involvement. And like so many other businesses, the pandemic had affected her church in that many of the events they used to host were indefinitely canceled due to resource shortages. For example, they were unable to obtain the necessary materials to repair their recreational center; therefore, no activities could be held there. She now had spare time and no idea how to fill it.

Her husband’s job (as well as being a part of the Army National Guard Reserves) required him to travel, and sometimes, he was away for months on end. His current full-time job didn’t pay as much as his previous job (he’d quit due to disagreements with his employer), and he worked longer hours to make up for some of the difference. It also should be noted that she married her husband shortly after graduating high school and began having babies two years into the marriage. In short, she has never been on her own. There have always been parents or siblings, or children or her husband filling her space. But now, she was beginning to feel the vacancy.

Her story is not much different from many others and is a sharp reminder to not lose self or one’s identity in life. It is important to carve out a piece of life that is devoted to oneself and that is apart from everything else. Aside from occasionally reading, this supervisor has no hobbies or interests that do not involve her husband or children. She admitted that she was not used to spending prolonged periods alone and felt antsy.

I pondered her dilemma for a good while before posing the question to other friends. How can situations like this be avoided?

  1. The first step (and perhaps the most important) is to acknowledge where the sadness stems from. On the surface, it seemed like the supervisor was merely upset to not have content for social media. However, the problem was rooted much deeper. She was grieving the changes in her life and a loss of feeling purpose.
  2. Recognize that you are not alone. If your sadness is great, consider joining a support group or seeking assistance from a mental health professional. This is 2023, and there’s no disgrace in asking and/or seeking help. Besides, mental health professionals are bound to uphold confidentiality. Thus, no one has to know. Plus, there are many options for therapy, including online counseling. There are also flexible pay scales to fit almost any budget, including some free services and services covered by insurance. Some jobs offer counseling services to employees as a free, confidential services that does not require filing on insurance. Mental well-being is important, and it’s better to begin when issues are small as it’s far better to tend to a scrape before it becomes infected.
  3. As mentioned previously, develop hobbies and interest just for you that doesn’t revolve around or depend on family.
  4. Make friends that do not require you to be coupled off. For example, the supervisor spoke of having many friends. However, the only interaction she had with those friends was with her husband or family. Her only one-on-one interactions with these friends were brief—usually while awaiting their children finishing practice of some sort.
  5. Take a class. One never is too old or too knowledgeable to learn something new. If going to class isn’t your thing or makes you feel uncomfortable, enroll in an online course.
  6. Go for walks and take in nature. It doesn’t have to be long or some treacherous hike—just something to get you out of the house and moving about. Studies have shown that motion increases endorphins which may lessen feelings of sadness.
  7. Get involved with the local theatre. It’s a good way to make new friends and increase social interactions. And speaking of…
  8. Reduce time on social media. While it’s fun and interesting to peep what family and friends are doing, it also can be destructive. The saying “all that glitters isn’t gold” is true. Social media sometimes make ordinary events look more glamorous than they really are. Sure, the designer shoes on your coworker looked amazing, but the photo didn’t indicate how they pinched her toes and or caused blisters. And that fabulous vacation photo wasn’t tagged with how it had maxed out the credit card. Additionally, some photos are 100 and/or photoshopped. Using social media as a reference to other people’s reality is a bad idea.
  9. Revisit the past and reconnect with old friends whom you may have lost touch with. Chances are, they may be experiencing the same feelings as you and would like someone to go out to lunch or have a drink with you.
  10. Create a bucket list of things that you want to do and that make you happy. But don’t just create the list. Do it.

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