A bottle of Scrub’n’Bubbles sits on the floor between my bedroom and the living room. It’s been there since I moved into my new place over a month ago. Many things have moved past it. Everything has been put in its new home… I have walked by it every morning, evening, and uncountable times in between. But that bottle needs to stay there. Why? Because it looks right. It feels like it wants to be there. There is no reason whatsoever for it to stay there; it should be under the sink with its comrades, and yet, it persists. I look at it now and chuckle. It’s taunting me, “don’t even think about it, big guy.” The smiling sponge emblazoned on the label mocks me with every glance.
It’s not one I love– but I have the luxury of losing my mind. But what does it mean to truly lose your mind? Great artists before me have had many throughout the years… so what does it look like? I am not going to stick my head in a oven or sever my ear. What is it supposed to look like?
I have no fucking clue. But I CAN tell you what mine looks like!
I am miserable. I work a job that is unfulfilling– on the surface it would appear that I am happy, joyous and free and my C-suite post (I fake it well), but little does anyone know that I am miserable. Every day. But why when I get to be in a position that helps people? Because I lack the support of my direct colleagues, I don’t get rewarded and (rarely) praised for being on top of my game, and I continuously take on extra work when others (specifically two people) don’t do their jobs. Picking up the slack is something I have done from day 1 at this job. When I started, it was a small organization. Very small. I would answer phones and schedule and bill and run credit cards and set up new systems and work until all hours of the night and weekend to make sure that we were current on whatever was falling behind. In that original position, I burned out SO fast. It took less than a year and I was ready to leave. BUT, they still wanted me. They wanted me in whatever capacity they could have me because they knew they were losing a workforce of many by losing me. By losing 1 person. And so, it’s nice to feel wanted, so I stayed on in a limited capacity.
A couple years and some frustrating conversations happened– but things weren’t going great. So, I took on more again over time and had to develop new processes since the organization was getting some “bad press.” I was saving their face. Again. The new process was implemented, all by me, and still to this day, I am the only one who does it. I could hand it off… but to whom? I have historically been a team of one, and only lately have I been able to get the support of two half-time employees. They’re both great and I can’t tell you enough how wonderful each of them is in their own ways and in their jobs. BUT, as the saying goes… the fish rots from the head. And I am somewhere in the throat of that rotting fish. I am trying, with all my might, to protect those who are working lower in the organization. Being a sounding board, absorbing as much of their grievances as I can. But it’s untenable. I have never in my life, used the work UNTENABLE more than I have in this position. Everything we do as an organization is untenable. We can’t seem to hold on to support staff; there is a level of discontent that is rampant throughout the organization; I continue to cover for my colleagues in meetings that they can’t seem to be bothered to attend; and slowly… I am becoming bitter, jaded, and ineffectual. THAT is untenable.
So, my mental breakdown. I am numb one minute, then angry the next. I am getting worse at covering for people. No longer can I put up with decisions that affect everyone and are made to feel minuscule, thereby gaslighting me into believing that I need to work on myself in order to get better at my job. But here’s the thing, I used to suffer from grave impostor syndrome… but now I can see that I am fucking killing it, while others are not holding up their end. I have filed grievances, first attempting to manage them in-house, and then am told that it shouldn’t need to be handled outside, because after all, “we’re family.” And so I find myself sitting there in my living room, doing nothing but refreshing my email and waiting for answers to questions that I am not empowered to answer, mostly because I was left out of the original conversation when the decisions were made. YET, I am the one asked to clean up the mess. Fix it. Talk to them. “What is happening? Can you find out what we need to do to make this go away?” And then I have to put together a puzzle, only to discover that the people asking me to do it are the ones who originally fucked up, and I am only made aware after going on a hunt to find the answers. This is madness. It’s insanity. And I put up with it. I keep buying in that “it’s going to get better when X, Y, and Z are in place.” But it hasn’t. And it won’t. Because the same two people are making these decisions and they’re not going anywhere. I am left with the decision to leave, abandon my security, find a new source of income… or put up with it. And for years now, I have done the latter. Because working at a terrible job still pays the bills, even if it makes you question every thought that goes through your head.
Is the job THAT terrible? Yes. It’s putting out fires for people who could have done it better, more accurately, thoughtfully the first time. And I am not talking about mistakes. Those happen, and I am way more forgiving of mistakes than I used to be. I am referring to systemic issues where leaders choose not to listen to the input that the experts of those specific things recommend. They’re so stubborn and resistant to streamlining a process for the greater good that you are left with a dozen workarounds for simple tasks. And then I am the one who, at meetings, shows up in order to defend the ideas with which I don’t agree. THAT is untenable.
So, ingredient 1 for my mental breakdown is my job. But wait, there’s more. What’s behind door number 2?!
Door 2 contains that strange feeling of loneliness in a room full of people. I have many friends, many GOOD friends. My friends are the best. Truly. And yet, I am struggling to feel connected to any of them. I feel like the faker in it all. I am there, I am present and yet, I feel an absence of connection. This is not on them, but really on me. And everyone had their own stuff! So, I don’t expect anyone in my life to drop what’s going on because I am having an existential crisis. There are relationships, babies, illness, stress, loss… what have you! All of those things deserve priority over the ramblings of a 40-something, single, privileged cis-white-man. In my 30s I was getting my shit together. It took time, patience, commitment… and now in my 40s, I am feeling it all unravel in front of me. It’s so odd. I never imagined my life would be so day to day when I was younger, but it really is. I am confident that I won’t go back to old ways of imbibing in substances, but I would be lying if I said the thought didn’t exist. It’s not the physical sobriety that feels in question; it’s the balance of living. Money, stability, family. Those feel less guaranteed every day. And the tenuous nature of it all is unsettling and fraught with uncertainty.
And for those reasons, the precariousness of it all, make me feel unstable. And my instability is a huge fucking luxury. Mine is my mind and my heart… not truly there. But it feels so fucking real. Every day. My ability to sit here, write about my feelings, and
cry whine into the internet (I wish I could cry) makes this whole dilemma a huge fucking privilege. If this is my midlife crisis, I should be so lucky. Because that means I just reached the halfway point and there is SO much more to do. To see. To experience.
So, what am I going to do? In a dream world, I would quit my job tomorrow. I would make a big speech or something, stand my ground. I would write every day until my first book was published, the book that has been trying desperately to emerge from my brain. The one that speaks to all the joyous and fucked up things from the last 42 years; the one that I keep getting hit in the face with anytime I try to do something creative. I would start recording a podcast– I wanted to create one for my job… but they don’t deserve that. The podcast is mine and I want the freedom to do what I want with it– not fall in line with the company’s public persona. I would just launch fully into my artistic life. The one I have so long tried to maintain next to being a professional all my adult life– the feeling that being a creative isn’t worthy of a career, so I should put on that uniform, that mask, and play the game. I may be finally in a place to say, with evidence to back it up, I am finally too old for that shit.
Thoughts? Send them my way. I am open to your feedback.