Sunday, June 20, 2010

Survivor's Guilt

Whether you're a cancer survivor or not, you have probably experienced the feeling known as 'survivor's guilt'. This feeling of overwhelming sadness for another person extends well beyond typical empathy and can be overwhelming. People experience survivor's guilt after living through some catastrophic incident in which others do not survive. By some twist of fate others are left shattered or damaged, while you are fine. I have experienced survivor's guilt in the sense that I have outlived friends who were in remission when I was in treatment, only to relapse and fight all over again while I finished treatment and moved forward with my life. Some of these friends recovered, others did not.

While it's not life or death, employment is livelihood. And for the last several months I have found myself feeling like I'm in a twisted game of 'Survivor' or 'The Weakest Link' everyday at work. Impending cuts made each day feel like a fight to keep employment. But as it turns out, there was no single weakest link, it's more like everyone was voted off the island all at once, although I'm not sure who voted, because it certainly wasn't my peers.

In these tough economic times, companies are laying employees off on a regular basis. I happen to be one of the lucky few who have been able to keep their job. I just survived the most recent round of layoffs. In the aftermath, all but one employee who had equal or less time on the job than me was let go. So here I am, back at the bottom of the totem pole (but still employed!) and feeling an overwhelming sense of guilt. My colleagues are just as good, just as valuable, as I am. So why will they now be collecting unemployment while I am getting a paycheck? I know I should be relieved. After all, I was terrified of losing my job, and with it my insurance. I don't have to worry about this, so why am I feeling so terrible? And more importantly, how do I get past it?

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