I started writing today’s blog post with the words ‘on a typical day,’ but I soon came to realize something strange about my life that I had not, before, considered.
I don’t have ‘typical’ days, anymore, and I kind of miss them.
One day is never the same as the last. Each brings new challenges, and with them new potential for joy or heartbreak. None of the above is anything new. That's just life.
What has changed is me.
I am not the same Mike I was before my nervous breakdown, and even if I can get back to being that guy, I don't know that I want to. If I can only find the strength and resolve to accept the challenges of my daily life, I might grow just a bit stronger, and find just a little more to like about the man I am letting myself become. The key word is that I have to ‘accept’ whatever each day brings, and more often than not, lately, I feel like I am failing to rise to the challenge, leaving that day’s potential joys unclaimed.
If you can't tell, as I write this, I am in a bit of a low moment. It happens. The important thing is that it always passes, eventually.
I could hold off on writing my blog post until after I begin climbing out of this low, but I thought it might be more constructive and revelatory to let my blog reflect me as I am at the moment. What is the point of any of this if I am afraid to be honest about how I feel as I am literally writing about my feelings?
Since I started this blog, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of encouragement and support I have received from many of you. The thing is, however, that as I have been eagerly gathering unto myself all your praise and kindness, I began to miss the point of all this. Escaping the Gray isn’t just about all of you.
It is about me. Specifically, it is about my recovery.
Let me clarify; I mean no offense by saying that this isn't about you. I am beyond grateful for all of you, and I wouldn't have shared what I have with any of you if you didn't matter. Perhaps a better way to explaining it is that I am pouring my heart out daily, here, whether it be through a stark examination of my life and my past or the use of artistic license to exorcise myself of the fears, anxieties, sadness and pain I let build and harden within me over the course of my life. I am here, doing this, to help myself heal.
The fact that you are all bearing witness to this, and God willing, gaining something out of it that might help you with your own fears, anxieties, sadness and pain, is a source of surplus relief for me. I'm indebted to you for it, but I need to keep my initial reasons for starting all this in focus. I started this blog as part of a way to save myself. The fact that you are all here, reading my words, sharing your thoughts, and bolstering me is a blessing I hadn’t accounted for, but it is also one I should not let myself count upon.
I appreciate all of you, and I hope you will continue reading what I write and sharing it with others. Even more, I am honored to have heard that some of what I have written may have been helpful to some of you, already. I heard from one person with whom I used to work at the police department that they felt safer knowing I was 'on the desk,' further revealing that they knew that I cared a lot... that it showed every single day I came to work. My recommendation of "The Language of Letting Go" has already helped another reader who I had once worked with, as well. Someone has credited this blog with helping them in parenting their children, which is unbelievably touching to me considering I have none of my own, and never will. I have wanted to have a sense that what I do helps people, and through this blog I believe that is possible.
This is the dream, for me! I want more challenges like that, and much less of the variety I am faced with normally. The daily pressure to be vigilant, prepared to withstand ever-increasing scrutiny, driven to strive for persistent adherence to nebulous standards being written and rewritten sometimes more than once in the same work day... it is all so exhausting. Morale-draining.
It has only been just over a week, but rest assured, I will be doing this blog for a long time. It is one of the few challenges in my life that I truly have accepted, and unburdening myself of what’s been trapped inside my head for so long has filled me with long overdue joy. It makes me feel better about myself, and that, too, is long overdue. I have goals, and this blog is a tantalizing opportunity to stretch out and reach toward them. I want to be a writer, professionally. I want to write books. I have ideas for children's books, self-help style books, fantasy fiction, crime noir, sci-fi, historical studies, biographies... you name it, I probably have a book idea for it.
I have participated in the past in National Novel Writing Month, which occurs every November and requires only that you write a 50,000 word novel. I have done this several times over. I love writing, and I always have, but it is only here and now, through this blog, that I feel my words have real strength. It is here, with all of you, that I can employ words with focus and purpose. I wish, someday, to see a book bearing my name being read by someone I’ve never met. More, I wish that my words would move them to feel better about their lives, to remind them that they matter, and to believe themselves worthy of their own daily challenges and joys.
But that is a wish, and I am realistic.
The odds of finding success as a writer are slim, but only when you measure success by your name on the cover of a book. I find a kind of peace when I write that I do not experience in anything else I do. Being pragmatic, however, means delineating between the joy I feel when I write and the fact that I cannot make a living at it. So it remains just a wish, for me, to be a writer beyond the reach and scope I have somehow, miraculously achieved here.
What I wish pales in comparison to what I need, however. I need to be able to find peace with my lot in life. I need to wake and face each day free from the sense of dread and unease that so often greet me each time my eyes open on new challenges.
Variety is incredible, but it can be exhausting when you are depressed and have anxiety issues. For example, I was pretty low this past Sunday, as well. After I finished writing my blog post for that day, I just went to sleep, halfway through one of my precious ‘days off’ that I so look forward to during my work week. That is one of the things I find myself doing to cope with depression; I sleep with the hope that when my eyes open anew, I might not have such a grim outlook anymore.
I slept until dinner was ready, got up, ate with my wife, mother, and sister, and sat down to look over the blog post I had written. I made a few minor edits, and growing happier with the results, I found my joy still there awaiting me with each heavy tap my fingers struck upon my keyboard. The sense of satisfaction I get from writing this blog is beyond my ability to convey with words, ironically. Regardless, I felt restored by my unplanned nap, reinvigorated by my writing, and content for the first time that day.
Considering all the days when contentment seemed like an unfathomable concept, as distant as the stars in the sky, please understand how powerful and moving it is to me that writing has given me such reach!
As I sat there, basking in renewed satisfaction, I received a call from my work’s automated phone call-out system, requesting a dispatcher to fill the overnight work shift. I realized that I had gotten plenty of rest during the day, and further, I have been turning down a lot of overtime ever since I came back to work after my March Meltdown. The holidays are coming up, so the extra money wouldn’t go amiss.
Besides, perhaps with any luck it would be a manageable night, and I would have a chance to jot down some ideas for the blog. When my thoughts return to this open-hearted journal of mine, I feel so much better about myself. The idea that during an overnight shift, I might have a respite within which to collect my thoughts and dedicate a few moments to my newfound joy made accepting that overnight shift all the more tantalizing.
So, I did. I accepted the shift, I let my family know that I was going to head in to work for a little unexpected OT, and I took the opportunity to get a bit more rest.
When I arrived, I found what can politely be referred to as a 'hot mess.' There had been a sudden, violent storm in the area, and due to the nature of my job, I was in for a remarkably busy, rather stressful night. It could have been worse, of course. I had a solid grasp on what was going on by the time I sat down to start working, and I had help, besides. I wasn’t precisely overwhelmed, but I was certainly disappointed in how the night manifested itself.
It was a typical, atypical day.
One frustrating turn of events starts a hectic, stressful avalanche of unanticipated challenges. and more and more I find that I am no longer confident that I am cut out for it, if I ever was. At the very least, I am not eager to face it, but hey... that’s work, though. Right? It’s not supposed to be ‘rewarding,’ or ‘refreshing.’ It is supposed to be challenging, and when you can accept the challenges of your work and find joy in it, you are truly fortunate.
I have it in me to keep doing this work, to accept the unpredictability of it, and I believe I will find my way to being happy in my work, as well.
When I got home that day, I checked the status of my work for this year's National Novel Writing Month. My novel is sitting at 43,330 words, and though it is badly in need of editing and refinement, these are the same kinds of gratifying activities I have been enjoying so much as I write and refine my blog entries.
This is the work that gives me joy. I lament only that this work, enjoyable as it is, won't feed my family, pay our bills, or help secure our future.
I don’t have typical days anymore. Every day brings some unforeseeable frustration that challenges me, and more often than not I find myself settling for surviving each day rather than striving to have a passion for what I do. If I could find a way to adjust and rise to the unpredictable challenges each day brings without flinching, without fear, the way I once did, I might find joy in it, again.
I sit in my truck every day before heading into the building and recite a mantra to myself. It is a tool I learned during therapy. It addresses a few of my more notable triggers, such as a fear of letting my bosses or my co-workers down:
"This is only a job. These are only my co-workers. I am only human. It's only eight hours. I can do this."
It helps me to convince myself that whatever it is I face when I get inside, I can handle it. However, I am not always convinced that is the case.
Am I worthy of the challenge, and is the challenge worthy of me?
I have a job where I am expected to react, at a moment's notice, responding reflexively to whatever curveballs the day will be hurling at me. It is a job that demands an abundance of my attention, requires extreme levels of multi-tasking, and allows very little margin for error. It is not a difficult job, but it is a demanding one.
I am told that I'm good at my job; I am not saying all this because I am trying to excuse my own ineptitude, or because I am afraid to work. I just find it exhausting to have to do so much, so fast, and with so much scrutiny. I have managed to avoid making any mistakes. My bosses have little to say to me that isn't complimentary, and that is not something I take for granted.
In a previous post, I mentioned my time as a police dispatcher. Specifically, I wrote about the day when I was dispatching and my brother had his career-ending accident. I remarked that my job required vigilance, and this is true of my current job, as well. I need to be ready for whatever may come, and despite all evidence to the contrary, I fear that I am not cut out for so much vigilance, anymore.
I think I am just getting tired of having to be 'on' all the time... how thorough and reactive, meticulous and productive, vigilant and prepared for anything, all the time, every hour of every day I sit in that room.
I also think, just maybe, I am placing that pressure on myself, needlessly. Maybe there is some alternative to what I do, or how I do it, that I am missing. I honestly don't know.
Like I said, before, I know that today is a low day for me, and I realize that my perceptions are tainted by my depressed state, so I cannot trust that how I see things here and now are how they really are.
I am good at what I do. My bosses have no reason to tell me so if it wasn't true, so even if I don't feel like I am, I am.
I'm so very fortunate to have this job, too! There are a lot of aspects of it that I am tremendously grateful for. So, even if I have to recite a mantra just to work up the courage to walk in the door each day, I'll do so and feel privileged for it. I do, very much, wish I could write for a living, as I would be making a living doing what I loved.
However. what I need is to accept that doing what I am good at can be just as rewarding.
I pray that, on another day, when I have climbed out of today's low and can see more clearly, I will feel more comfortable in my own skin as I sit there at my job, accepting that my challenges are worthy of me, and confident that I am worthy of them.