Monday, March 31, 2008

Regression Therapy

Today was my first full day back in my apt. since quitting my job last Wed. It was kinda tough, had a little insomnia this morning. I was inexpicably tired last night and again this afternoon and evening. It's gotta be depression. Luckily, I spent the afternoon with Marc & Sadie. Otherwise I woulda been hurtin'. We had lunch at the Uptown Thai Chili (nee Sawatdee) and spent a long time analyzing my issues. They went a little overboard with the pop psychology, but it meant a lot to me that they showed so much interest in my problems. After that session, I had an official round of therapy that flew by ridiculously fast. 50 minutes felt like 15. It was the intro session, so I mostly just ran down my history, or "basketcase file." I felt OK, but what really helped was talkin' to my dad this evening. My mood was anxious and my manner was hesitant, but I guess just letting myself be that way with him calmed me afterward.

For the last few months I've been looking for history books. When I was a kid in elementary school, I read many books on ancient history and the Age of Discovery. Some of them were so dry I probly couldn't even read them now, but back then I loved 'em. I think I might've done more reading on my own during elementary school than I did for my college courses. (The truth is you can get an English degree without doing that much actual reading.) In the last two weeks I've steeped myself in televised sports, my other great childhood pastime (besides playing sports, a reasonably close third).

This may be an attempt to reconnect with my youth and the person I used to be. In early September of '06, I entered a weeks-long period of serenity, when my old anxiety and self-consciousness seemed to fall away like dead skin. The confidence that followed was welcome, but I lost a connection with my old, original self. He no longer seemed relevant. I couldn't relate to his passions and fears. The new Mickey saw nothin' but smooth sailing ahead, except for some troubling new physical symptoms.

Of course, the cruise didn't last. What I have called my "emotional hibernation" was disturbed by a few anxiety attacks and the cyclical return of old anxieties. But I have been able to hold onto some of the improvements that came with the Serenity Period, like being more at ease with people in social situations. And now that I've been fully, rudely awakened from my psychic(?) slumber, hopefully I can mesh the new confidence and openness with the old passion and empathy.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Keeping the Wolves at Bay

I didn't blog yesterday 'cuz I was feeling good. The improvement of Thursday and Friday continued, to the point that Saturday night didn't require me to "keep the wolves at bay," in the words of the Clash. Thursday night through today I watched the NCAA tournament with my dad. It got better each day. We gradually talked more. His mood seemed to improve too.

I was feeling good today, until the end of the last game. I knew I had to leave, to see how I could do on my own in my apartment. Dad asked me uncertainly if I wanted a hug. I immediately said "yes" and we embraced by rote (at least I did). My emotions were being held back by habit (and plenty of other issues I'm sure). I wanted to open up but couldn't.

When I got to my place, the wolves returned. I started putting away stuff that I'd left lying around since I moved in 3 1/2 months ago. I had to stay busy, although I wasn't frantic, which was good. After a while, I eased back into a safe level of comfort. That's where I am now. But it can't last forever.

I'll be hanging out with Sadie tomorrow afternoon. Her and Marc's return to the Twin Cities reinforces my belief in a benevolent higher power. Boy, do I ever need them right now. If I could see Megan this week, that would be perfect. She's like my guardian angel. (God, that sounds corny!)

I'm kinda scared to face this week alone. Hopefully Noah will be around to help me through it. I'm also seeing my counselor (or therapist or whatever) tomorrow, so that should help. If you're one of my friends, drop me a line or call me up. I could really use some company.


Friday, March 28, 2008

The Eye of the Storm

Today has been unusually placid. The morning began with the expected nerves, but those faded by the early afternoon. It isn't an eery calm. However, I'm worried that I'm repressing the anxiety until it boils over in an even more painful eruption.

I didn't do any job searching today. Didn't work out. But it wasn't for a lack of hope. I was just feeling comfortable for the first time in a while and wanted to relax. Hopefully, the comfort won't keep me from doin' stuff, whether it's the job search, writing or gettin' some exercise. I feel languid, which is nice, but I don't want it to hold me back from making progress on my new path.

TV is more appealing today, as is lying around doing nothing. Not exactly how I wanted to feel, but still a marked improvement over the last few days. I drove around Uptown and the 'burbs. Thought about gettin' out and walkin' around Uptown, but decided there'd be plenty of time for that and looked for a nice, walkable district in the 'burbs. I never found one. By that time it was late afternoon and my enthusiasm for even mild exercise was waning.

I should enjoy this vacation from stress, but the guilt of unemployment is slinking back in. I need to let myself relax and enjoy the weekend. There'll be plenty of time to worry in the coming weeks.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Day After

Today has gone much better than expected. I woke up a few times last night, but only for a few minutes, so it looks like I dodged the insomnia bullet, which is a huge relief. (Three years ago, during my last breakdown, I experienced 7 months of severe insomnia, causing near-constant exhaustion, followed by about 7 months of just being really tired.) I got up shortly after 9, made myself some Malt-O-Meal (Yum!) and watched Democracy Now! on a community-access station.

The reason I was able to watch a cable channel was because I'm at my parents' house. I drove here last night after eating dinner and watching a little TV with a creeping sense of dread, until I realized I could just mosey on up to New Brighton and, hopefully, get a lot of emotional support. When I arrived at the empty house, I took a bath. My dad got home while I was still in the tub. He knocked on the door to see if it was me and asked how I was. "Not so great" was my typically understated reply. When I was done, I went to the kitchen and told him I'd quit. He was pretty relaxed and understanding. That helped a lot, because disappointing him might be my biggest fear.

I watched Everybody Loves Raymond, because I was emotionally fragile. It's the kind of inoffensive, but still amusing sitcom that comes in handy at those times. I went to bed at 10, same time as he did. The first time I woke up in the night I was afraid the insomnia had survived, but I quickly fell back to sleep and slept for probly 10 hours (not unusual for me the last few months), briefly waking twice more.

After Democracy Now!, I checked out some grad school info and job leads online, while listening to pop hits of the '50s and early '60s. (I've been jonesin' for that stuff lately. But I can't think of a good name for that musical era. I thought the "Innocent Rock" era was too condescending.) For lunch I had Cream of Mushroom soup, but it was low sodium, so it'd been watered down. I also had some Orange Milano cookies, which were pretty good. (I apologize for the excruciating detail. This must be part of the "healing process.")

Then I drove to Uptown and worked out at the YWCA. My usual 45-minute stairmaster regimen was a little easier than I'd anticipated. I picked up some stuff at my apartment and drove back to the 'burbs, feeling almost shockingly good. I was listening to a song by Seal I hadn't heard before and thinking, "Augh! Why do I like this?!" There's just somethin' about him that I can't quite resist, even though his accompaniment sounds slick and not very well-crafted.

The dread that had been lingering in the background relented, and I was able to relax. The music on the radio sounded really good, the passing scenery looked really cool. The long shadows around the Uptown Theater reminded me of '70s movies and TV shows. It seems like back then they fell in love with the fading sunlight of the late afternoon and early evening, especially when it was suffused with the clay dust of a baseball field. Truly, it was a simpler, more graceful time.

So that's where I am right now, emotionally speaking. (That's seems to be the only manner in which I speak these days.) I just hope this isn't the top of the roller coaster. The last two weeks have been wearyingly unpredictable. I'd like to believe this is a sign of things to come.

Note to Michael: Thank you for your kind message. You said exactly what I needed to hear. I'd love to hang out with you soon. Maybe next week? Drop me an e-mail.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Die is Cast

I quit my job this afternoon. No turnin' back now. I left work (Downtown) at 2:30 and got home (Uptown) about 4. I was carrying a box of binders that Joan the office manager said I could have a few months ago. I had my backpack and parka on, but I got sweaty, so I took off my parka and wrapped it around my waist in classic recess sports style. It kept slipping over my ass, though, and the Loring Greenway had a chilly wind tunnel effect goin' on, so I put the parka back on, still unzipped. It musta gotten up into the 50's today. I was comfy for a while in my short-sleeved shirt.

I walked home to process this major life transition. I remained cautiously optimistic with wolves of despair creeping in the shadows. As the shadows lengthen and drown the sun (or "when night falls"), the wolves will get bolder. That seems to be my routine lately. I do pretty well until the evening. Then it can get scary.

What made up my mind was experiencing a bad dose of insomnia last night. I'd had a really good talk with my dad and felt good enough to give my job another shot, but waking up at 3:30 am and finding it impossible to balance my body temperature between uncomfortably warm and uncomfortably cold proved to me that I couldn't ride the corporate merry-go-round anymore. The insomnia was clearly a sign of repressed anxiety, and if I had to repress that much just to go to work for one day, it was surely time to move on.

Mary (my boss) asked me how I was doing soon after I got in. I told her about the insomnia and my pessimism about continuing. She understood and just asked me to let her know when I decided what I wanted to do. I felt fine early on, but I knew that wouldn't last. The anxiety spiked over lunch. (Eating tends to do that.) My daily post-lunch filing session was irritatingly exhausting. After that was (mostly) done, and the clocks had inaudibly clicked two, I decided to bite the bullet.

I went into Mary's office and said I needed to quit. She asked (supportively) what made me so uncomfortable. I vaguely pointed to my current emotional "rough patch" and she accepted it. We hugged a few times. She said I was an "awesome employee." I said she was an "awesome boss." (She is. Too bad I unconsciously wanted her to be my mom.) Her eyes got kinda moist. I took down my Pissarro calendar, packed my office shoes (which I would leave in a plastic bag in a drawer at the end of each day), a crappy spare pair of ear buds, a discman instruction manual, my Toshiba Gigabeat mp3 player, the nice iPod ear buds that I use and that was it. (I forgot my Seventh Generation kleenex box.)

That was the mark I made on Corporate America after 5 years nestled in its bubonic bosom. I threw on my parka and backpack, grabbed the box of binders and split. I wasn't in too big of a hurry to leave, although I was a little wary of getting dragged into a tearful vortex by some co-workers. (I doubt they would've initiated the waterworks, but if I had started it, they certainly would've escalated.)

I'm still kinda dazed, trying to hold back the tidal wave of despair that seems poised to overwhelm me. I know most pain comes from resisting feelings, rather than from the feelings themselves. But right now there seems to be a monstrous depression piling fear on top of fear up to alpine heights, lying in wait just over the horizon. I was hoping that leaving the job would make it easier to give in to the despair and deal with it, but my anxiety about being unemployed is making it hard to let down my defenses. Now I seem to be relaxing slightly, as I wrap up my blog at Caffetto's. Hopefully this is a sign of growing comfort with my new situation.

Please keep me in your thoughts.


Note to Uptown Coffeehouses: Soft music is MUCH better than loud music. Right now I'm listening to jazz at Caffetto, which is perfect because it's quiet but it doesn't put you to sleep. Bob's Java Hut had an annoying playlist yesterday. New Wave hits of the '80s is not appropriate coffeehouse music. I love Gary Numan as much as the next guy, but there's a time and a place for his eccentric, alienated synth-pop.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Retail Shock Therapy

(This is a continuation of "Poised on the Precipice" that picks up where that post left off. But, if you wanna skip my personal drama, you should start here.)

After some wishy-washy lollygagging, I decided to drive to the Mall of America. (My mom and sister are on vacation in China, so my dad let me borrow one of their two cars.) I like to visit the Mall on a randomly annual basis. I find it oddly comforting, like some kind of dystopian Twin Cities town square where overconsumption and boredom are the lingua francas. I parked in P4 East, a.k.a. Florida, with a picture of a gator to help me remember. (Ironically, I think it worked.) Looking at the triple-decker skyways connecting the huge parking ramp to that side of the window-less Mall reinforced my sense of the place as 1984 come to pass.

I entered through Sears and wandered through a food court. Unfortunately, I wasn't hungry. I really dig some of that food and, usually, the only time I want it is when I drop by the Mall. My visits are probably synchronized with the vicissitudes of my appetite. But this time my stomach wouldn't comply, and I had to keep walking through the indifferently ravenous hordes. A few athletic shoe stores, my old standby, provided a pleasant diversion. They have many of my favorite kinds of comfort-food-for-the-eyes: athletic shoes, jerseys, baseball caps and other sports-related apparel. Anything to do with sports can provide me with comfort under the right conditions. (That's probably why I spent last Thursday through Sunday watching all 40+ hours of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.)

I wanted to see a movie, so I went up to the 4th floor and checked the selection. The only appealing offering was Juno, which I'd already seen. I hemmed and hawed and then bought a ticket for a repeat viewing. There was a wall of arcade games on either side of the long concession stand. I wasn't in the mood to shoot or kick people or drive a big rig though. The only game that appealed to me was Galaga, paired with Ms. PacMan in a "20th Reunion" machine that is now 7 years old. I got past the first alien armada, but not much further. Dan, my best friend in high school, loved Galaga, but I always sucked at video games and generally preferred to avoid the embarrassment of repeated failure.

I walked up the corridor leading to the theaters and marveled at the deserted luxury. (I'm using "luxury" in a more liberal sense than we bourgeoisie have become accustomed to.) The soft, burgundy floor and walls climbed gently to a smaller, lighted and abandoned concession stand. I love those empty suburban oases, like dying malls (esp. the late, great Apache) and bowling alleys on weekday afternoons. I like solitude in a place where it isn't supposed to exist. Or perhaps I've always unconsciously reveled in the failures of capitalism.

I opened the door to my screen and walked through a dark hall to an empty theater. I took a seat almost dead-center. After the previews started I was joined by a few other quiet folks. After the credits I learned they were two middle-aged women sitting in a back corner. Juno was pretty good the second time. I picked up on a few clues I'd missed the first time, but some of the overly clever lingo still eluded me. I did cry a little at the end. Again. When she broke the news of her pregnancy and her dad was super-disappointed, that hit me kinda hard after my telephone conversation last night with my dad. All in all, though, it was a pleasant cinematic experience.

On my way out I stopped in a Foot Locker and the main Lids store (as opposed to the many smaller baseball cap-only branches scattered throughout the Mall) for two last tastes of comfort-eye-candy. I'd like to write about all the other distorted simulations of older, functional societies you can find at the Mall, but it feels like this entry is coming to an end and I think I've written enough for today.

As I drove out of the parking garage via one of the ramps leading to or from the Mall (It's more fun if you imagine it's a water slide!), Modest Mouse's "Float On" came on the Current and I hoped it would be prophetic of a personal recovery for me. Even if it wasn't, it's still a great song that I hadn't heard in a while.

Poised on the Precipice

Yesterday was pretty rough for me. The only thing that kept me from telling my boss I was going to quit was her early departure. So last night I was in an emotional pit, unable to continue at my job and terrified of the abyss lying before me. I called my dad because I figured he'd be upset about my decision to quit. Sure enough, I was right. He basically said I was crazy to leave my job without having anything else lined up. He means well, but sometimes he sure knows how to destroy my confidence. After that harangue, I couldn't reach Noah, so I took an emotionally wrenching shower. My alarm was moved back an hour so I could get up just in time to call my boss and give my notice.

Despite some anguished chest pains, I got to sleep and woke up incrementally, per usual, and well-rested. The phone call to my boss came after some gut-checking, but she wasn't there so I left a message, saying I thought I needed to give my notice because just going into work was getting difficult. I ate my normal breakfast of oatmeal with applesauce. (Lame, but nutritious.) I checked the news and weather on my laptop and tried to maintain some semblance of normalcy. It took almost 2 hours for my boss to call me back. She asked me why I felt uncomfortable at work. I told her that I felt guilty about being "disengaged" and listening to my headphones all the time. She had "expressed concern" about my disengagement 2 weeks ago. She does that at least once a year. It hurts for a while, but I eventually get over it. This talk had come at a very bad time, because the night before I'd been in therapy with my parents and some old wounds had been re-opened. She's always been very nice and supportive, but it sucks when you've substituted your boss for your emotionally absent mother. Any criticism from her can be deeply wounding.

I let Mary (my boss) know that she's become a surrogate mom for me. (I'd mentioned this before.) She was very understanding and suggested I come back to avoid layering financial uncertainty on top of my already-full stress plate. I agreed to give it another shot. I hadn't wanted to quit; I just felt forced into an impossible situation because of the emotional duress caused by working through deep-rooted issues with my parents and guilt about my job performance for my surrogate mom-boss. Tomorrow I'll try and drag myself out of bed and get back to work. Doing the job is pretty easy from an emotional standpoint. Getting up before the dawn and getting ready for a pointless, mind-numbing, soul-deadening job in a dark, lonely apartment is tough. (You may not be surprised to learn that I'm beginning to have second thoughts about my decision.)

It bothers me that we (in the insurance industry) seem to profit on human misery. But that was never enough to convince me to quit. A much bigger problem seems to be the feeling that I'm letting Mary down. I'm disappointed that a relatively minor personal obstacle like that would force me to put on the brakes, while a huge public moral issue would prove no more than a speed bump. It doesn't seem like an encouraging sign for my moral rectitude.

Writing about that personal emotional stuff can be really difficult for me. Right now is a perfect example. I didn't enjoy it, but hopefully it'll help me deal with this shit. What I really wanted to write about is what I did this afternoon, but I already know it won't be as long and it probably won't be as popular as this emotional post. Oh well. That's just how it goes for us writers sometimes.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Homeland Heebie-Jeebies

I was a political naif when 9/11 happened. My trust in the government was pretty solid, with a few unexplored liberal qualms. But I remember feeling a chill when they announced the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. It was just that word, "Homeland," that creeped me out. Although, at the time, my faith in the Powers That Be didn't allow me to question their actions on a fundamental level.

As I'm sure many of you remember, it seemed like everybody put their faith in the government (esp. in Bush) after 9/11. (In hindsight, it seems completely retarded that Bush's approval rating hit 91% after 9/11. Why would you suddenly trust a president who just let 3,000 people die through either incredible incompetence or complicity? Hint: Read Machiavelli. Not that I have, but I heard he had something to say on the subject.) That may have been the only period when they could've set up the DHS, or started calling America "the Homeland." The fact that they didn't bring back the draft right then is a very good sign for us, I think. Even in that scared-straight atmosphere, the Bushies were afraid of awakening the ghosts of the '60s.

So, getting back to "Homeland," I find it to be a very creepy word. It calls to mind the "Motherland" of the Russian Empire or the "Fatherland" of the German Reichs. The implication of the words is imperial. The DHS protects the Homeland, and the Department of Defense protects the rest of the empire, i.e. the world. Is anybody pickin' up what I'm layin' down? I wonder if y'all agree or if ya think I'm out of my fucking gourd. Holla if ya hear me.

(Author's Note: Mad props to Michael for being my first multi-commentator, in other words, for being the first person to post more than one comment on my blog. Thanx for the encouraging words, man.)

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Limits to Growth

When I see 2.999 on the gas station sign, I can feel the 3-dollar barrier straining against the demands of capitalism. "Grow, grow, grow, you big, beautiful economy! Hang those who speak of less or just maintaining the current GDP!" Do people realize how fucking crazy capitalism is? Do you realize that WE CANNOT STOP GROWING? Do you realize that if we stop growing, the economy dies? How fucking stupid is that? Infinite growth requires infinite natural resources. We're going to discover the limits to growth very soon, and then we'll all have to wake up.

I used to feel guilty for wishing for economic collapse, but I figured out why I'm right to hope for its imminent arrival. It's very simple: The sooner the economy collapses, the sooner we all wake up to reality and get our shit together. And by "get our shit together," I mean re-organizing society in a manner and scale that don't require the massive, concentrated energy provided by fossil fuels. The longer we continue to sleepwalk, the worse the crash will be.

I don't know how many of you are familiar with this enviro-political perspective, but the Malthusian argument is making a big comeback. This is actually the moral of Urinetown, which ends with the cast exclaiming, "Hail, Malthus!" I wish I'd known about that when I saw it 5 years ago on Broadway with my parents. It took me a year-and-a-half to learn that lesson. Only when it was spelled out in stark, apocalyptic terms did the message sink in.

Unfortunately, the revelation was so overwhelming that I collapsed in on myself. I wish I hadn't been carrying so much emotional baggage when I discovered Peak Oil. It probably wouldn't have led to a nervous breakdown. But, as they say, the truth hurts. They also say the truth will set you free, and I've found that to be true as well. I wonder what will happen when the whole world figures this out. I think a lot of people are going to have to sort through their baggage like I have for the past 3 years (and will for a long time to come).