The series of entries that follows were written previously, shared wi’ family I trusted. I decided to publish them now.
Please read this post first for Content Warnings.
Part 3 of 5; No One Is An Island series
I think I had a mid-life crisis. I’m not sure. I don’t know what would make that so different than having significant moments in your life- complete with the molting, a screwy sense of direction, and doubt before cresting over all the unpleasant crap you wrestled with just to see the horizon. The one that makes it all kind of worth it. I do know that as I eeked by thirty, I was wading almost neck high in a pool of uncertainty. I took stock of my life and did myself the disservice of comparing it to others’ lives. I felt like a failure. I’ve never had a good relationship with failure. It’s taken a long time to make that relationship healthier. I think I’m tired mostly. I just wanted to have a stretch of my life that wasn’t a slow build to an extremely painful life lesson. It’s harder when I knew there was a block of time in my life where I was content, that I could honestly say I wanted for almost nothing. I’ve had time to think about it, and what I take away from it is that this ordeal was needed. Know that I concede that begrudgingly- that the painful things that came of it have taught me a number of things that I had no idea I needed to know. As always, I don’t have to like it to bitty bits. And I don’t. But there you have it.
A problem existed and having never been smacked in the face with a problem like it, I didn’t even know it was there. When I finally saw it, I was a bit mentally paralyzed. I had a hard time fathoming its existence. I like to blame my naiveté, it’s convenient, but it really does fall under the umbrella of a multitude of things that built a damn fine insulator. I wasn’t the only one that had this problem. I won’t be the only one that has this problem (for a long while it would seem). To my knowledge, I didn’t know anyone that was having/had/continues to have this problem. And since it’s taken me about two years to say something outside the confines of confidence I hold with not even a handful of people, I can understand why. As it progressed, I stopped ‘talking’ as much as I used to1. If it wasn’t for a few online places, I think I’d be more of a stranger to my friends. I was depressed (Elsewhere). I knew that much. What I didn’t know was how far its reach permeated. I was actually clinically depressed and had been so for at least three years, dealing with it on my own. I spent the the following year trying not to get sucked back into Elsewhere while learning what it was doing to me and addressing it.
The scariest part is that after a while you become numb to it. It becomes normal to you and what you really fear the most isn’t the suffering inside you, it’s the stigma inside others.2
If any of you have been in the grips of depression, you know well what I mean. For those that don’t, Hyperbole And A Half’s posts about it are on target in regards to what it did to me. This is too, particularly at 5:05. I’m used to temporary bouts of depression when things didn’t necessarily pan out the way I wanted but this was something far more different. In the middle of this, I had taken a new assignment. In retrospect, it was a lot of stress to take on. I thought I was doing OK. Spoiler alert: all things considered it was a good go, but I was not as OK as I thought. This was brought to the forefront by a particular afternoon. One that was marked by a meeting, and it started with, ‘This is going to be a hard conversation.’
That sentence suddenly validated a whole host of things I had a gut feeling about, but dismissed. They were my own observations and I deemed them as overly critical- the result of a hyper-sensitivity that had been cultivated in response to what caused my descent into clinical depression. That in the stead of being cautious, having learned a lesson, I’d be so wont not to make the same mistake, there would be no tempering my observations. I’d over compensate and it would be detrimental. I thought I’d caught that before it could do damage and was actually proud of myself- it was kind of a big deal after years of my head twisting every little thing into failure. Turns out, my gut was right. Gorramed life lessons….
I had little faith I belonged where I started, garnered some confidence that wait, maybe I do have a place there only to allow myself to be pulled into a negative feedback loop that left me questioning my worth not just as an employee but as a person. I didn’t think of myself equal in many senses of the word in spite of it all. Like many that seemed different, I learned early that surviving with my ‘ness’ was by way of non-expression and when silence wasn’t enough- that of mimicry. It took a long time to flip that ideology the bird and not want to send an apology after. What I dealt with is many didn’t see just another potential good brain to throw into the old brainstorming mix. To paraphrase Peggy Carter, I didn’t know my value.
That observation stunned me; it was the kind of observation that became a gateway to my reflecting on a number of things and realize somewhere along the lines, I bought into a narrative that wasn’t of my making. It may also be fair to say that the sum of experience also had a hand in my perspective. When the totality of my situation became clear to me for the first time in years, I was aghast and shocked. I thought I was smarter than that. Smarts had relatively little to do with it. I did the best that I could with the few armaments that I had and the truth of it was, I was woefully ill-equipped. To the point that it was to my detriment.
On top of that, I had no idea what to even begin to do about it. I’d dug myself a deep hole performance wise before I realized how badly this was killing me. That left me cold- this was killing me. It was a nice thought for a split second, that I was actually feeling something. Then something lurched. I think that’s when the familial streak of defiance kicked in because that’s when I got angry. So angry with myself that this…this was killing me threefold. It was a gentle angry. The kind of jolt that thrusts you out of a loop. I had no one I felt l could say this to. I felt like a failure. I’d been cast as somewhat smart and I felt so stupid. I felt the immediate reaction would not be empathy or even a mighty need to help me understand what wasn’t computing in a compassionate manner. I felt alone. And that’s perhaps the most sanctimonious thought because there’s over seven and half billion people on this planet. I could have at least taken some solace, no matter how thick the sliver may have been, that statistically speaking I wasn’t the only one being diminished an atom at a time. And yet, those are the thoughts I had. I felt trapped because I felt if I said something, even hinted at it, the rest of me would be negated. The things I did manage to succeed at would just be as if they were never accomplished and by the time I was catching on to how bad a state I was in, I had yet to grasp that hardly anything positive or uplifting had been getting through the filter that broke me. The thought still makes me angry. The inevitable diminishing that those years weren’t real, that their scars aren’t real, angers me. Because they are very real.
I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand it. I was angry because no, this..whatever this was, it didn’t get to do that to me. And yet, I was honest enough to acquiesce to it. I didn’t understand my head space and I certainly didn’t understand why I couldn’t make things work.
I can trace the foundation of the problem to confidence. Even after repairing myself the first time I ‘broke,’ confidence was still an issue. For a short while I had some and I was content. A part from that, I’ve never had confidence in anything other than I was a fairly quick study. I tended to do decently when I tried things that interested me. I didn’t think and still really can’t zero in on skills that I possess. That may have to do with what I define a skill as. Largely, I was hung up on many outwardly things that I fully believed devalued my contribution. I bought into that. That what I uniquely bring to this world was negated because I didn’t fit a stock, largely accepted, mold. Because I had seen so many debates skew when one debatee, wait for it, was not a shining beacon of perfection. I hadn’t learned I could mine failures and find worthwhile outcomes, that it was OK to garner life experience that way, and if a failure detracted from anything it was the one you learned nothing from.
The first time I wrestled with something that was possibly as close to clinical depression as you could get before crossing that threshold was in college. It started with my academic ego taking a beating heading into my sophomore year. Then the rest of me followed suit and in that haze of despair I realized something: I was broken. I didn’t like it. I didn’t understand it. I was angry because no, this..whatever this was, it didn’t get to do that to me. And yet, I was honest enough to acquiesce to it. I didn’t understand my head space and I certainly didn’t understand why I couldn’t make things work. So I went to talk with someone. Someone I was promised would not cast Judgey McJudgerson eyes at me. And they didn’t. I still felt like I was betraying myself on some level because I decided early on with whom and to what extent I talked openly about how I felt with anyone. A pact that was largely informed when someone wanted to make every life decision I made trace back to my dead father instead of considering that that life event sometimes didn’t factor in to my decisions. That’s when I stopped talking how I was doing on any given day, a part from the non-committal queries that were people making courteous small talk. That would lead to honing the compartmentalization of my feelings. When I went to that counselor I was at my wit’s end trying to fix me. What really happened is that I crumpled beneath the weight of no identity, a hollow shell that morphed to whatever made other people comfortable-it made for the best camouflage. Playing the part took its toll and when I lost someone I had invested so much of myself into, you’d think the realization of no identity would be a no brainer. I had to look into a mirror and hate that I didn’t recognize the reflection to understand how empty I was. There was nothing in there to make me structurally sound. It took two years to put myself together for myself, two years to discover the person I was and begin to actually develop as a person, accepting that from this point forward I would grow, I would blossom, I would likely scar again, but this time, this time I’d be able to see it coming and not be so blindsided. I accepted that there would be resistance and ground out the alarm that would have arisen at the thought of communicating in some fashion that I had no fucks to give if suddenly someone didn’t like the ‘new’ me. There was no ‘new’ only ‘au natural’ and it was perfectly OK for that to be a result. In spite of that, I still felt out of place and unsure. I powered ahead anyway, stupidly convinced that since I headed this way, I had to finish; University became a list with boxes to check versus the actual act to go forth and better myself, then use it to pay it forward into the world. I locked myself into the idea that I couldn’t not finish and that I had to finish by a certain time. Why? Because anything less would be a failure. I couldn’t readjust, it’d be a failure. You sense a theme?
But the weird thing about depression is that it tends to further isolate you from people, thereby making it ever-harder for anyone to bridge the gap…it becomes progressively more difficult to feel that you aren’t alone with your pain, which can make the despair feel permanent and unsolvable.1
When I took my first post-university job, I wondered if I had made a mistake. I wondered if I have done a disservice to the company when I accepted their job offer. I felt like I didn’t belong. Sure, I had the credentials that was my degree, but the doubt was present. How sad is that? I had chosen something that sounded like it’d be interesting and always ask of me to learn. I was so proud of my admission into engineering, I framed the welcome letter. I still have it. It was a lofty goal requirements-wise and yet, there it was, in writing, they wanted me in their program. I hadn’t quite made the SAT score that they’d asked for, I don’t even remember opening the letter, just having it in my hands. I hadn’t applied anywhere else, and many application deadlines were past. God, I was foolish. I should have applied elsewhere, just in case. I don’t even remember if I squealed in delight. I remember declaring the letter was getting framed. Even after breaking part-way through, I kept going, certain that this was for me despite that I felt out of my depth, rationalizing my concerns away because it wasn’t supposed to be easy. I kept going, spending a semester watching my younger sibling wilt away in a hospital room and later our home- because that’s where they wanted to die. I had that multi-thousand dollar piece of paper framed (because dammit I earned it), and yet, I felt like somehow I may have been more heart than skill. And at the time, I didn’t know it was OK to feel that way. I made the leap of telling my then supervisor- about thinking I had made an egregious error and he seemed genuinely shocked. I also told him when it dawned on me that I had taught myself a programming language in my spare time, maybe I was wrong. Was I an artist with code? No. I’m still not. It took knowing that the guru on the other end of the line was confident letting me work on a multi-hundred thousand dollar system without fear of my crashing the whole thing for me to give myself any kind of a break. And all that was was a simple interest in knowing more about something; it interested me, I wanted to be able to do it myself, so I learned. I had a plethora of resources that was strong search skills and the Internet. Thing was, I immediately regretted letting that be part of the conversation with my supervisor and that feeling was based solely on having told someone that I had no certainty of trust. But that was part of what you did, working the way that we did. If I wasn’t the right fit, better to know sooner than later right? When I think about it, I owe that person an apology. They wanted me to remain working for them, but I fought to go in another direction. I can’t help but think perhaps they saw something in me that I’m just figuring out now. As I say, King’s to you, Cosmos.
Fast-forward four years; from day one of being fresh out of school to then, I made decent progression. That was what my evaluations were saying, that’s what my gradual increase in responsibilities were saying. That’s what the kudos the customer gave and the award I got said. I figured I was OK. I was heading in the right direction, I just needed to repair the damage my initial insecurity caused. The next four years were a steady decline and I had no footing. I couldn’t reconcile why I couldn’t keep my head above water. I couldn’t reconcile how I could be so off base with what my then supervisor wanted of me, especially since former supervisors seemed to have been fine with my progress. I have to add for clarification, in the eight years I was with that particular group, our subset had six supervisors, three of them interim until the position was filled. Six was my supervisor for the last four years I worked with that group. I ran out of methods that worked for me to get out of a funk when I fell into one. I knew I could do better, be better, because I had been. I didn’t understand what was happening to me and the devious kicker was it was so different than the last time, I had no indicator I was in serious trouble to help me do something effective about it.
1. John Green. Excerpt of an Answer from the Looking For Alaska FAQ: Q. Does Alaska have a mood disorder?. Questions About Alaska section of the FAQ (about halfway down).
2. Kevin Breel. Confessions of a Depressed Comic. 17 JUNE 2013