It’s been a year, last Monday, since I lost my job (read about it here and here, if you care). I had worked there, in a Good Job With Good Benefits, and done my best to convince myself it was all for good reason — no matter how much I struggled, how much I hated myself for being where I was at that moment in my life. But what, in the name of Geezus, was I thinking? Oh right, survival. Family. Bills. Mortgage. Car payments. Health care coverage. Responsibility. But seriously, fuck me. It was a trap (cue the collective eye rolling for describing a job as a trap). And like any good trap (see: here), it hurts really bad at first, and is even humiliating, especially when it DOESN’T kill you.
Oh, the perils of a sedentary life spent toiling behind a desk! Oh, the horror, the pain!
But then you get used to the pain, and when additional pain is heaped onto your existing discomfort, you tend to forget how good things used to be and your threshold for such things only strengthens. You can withstand more pain, more discomfort, for longer periods of time. And then, when you have a second to actually think (usually in the waning minutes before your eyes close each night), you remember that it wasn’t always like this, that you used to feel differently, less claustrophobic, less burdened by the weight of the mundane — bills, leaky roofs, taxes, the right school for your child — and you should all get the point by now
In this type of reality, you let more of yourself, your independence, slip into a void. And you always, ALWAYS think you’ll get back to where you used to be. Your pre-adulthood happiness. But then you don’t, and two years turn into five years that turn into a decade, and what have you done? Nothing. Not a single worthwhile thing. At least that’s what you tell yourself, what I tell myself. Everyday. All day. And nobody, besides you, is mourning the loss of your dream — the corruption of the life you WANTED to live, the dissolution of the future you envisioned on those nights so long ago spent lying under a clear black sky in your best friend’s driveway; or in the bed of your first love; or on stage, sweating in front of an amplifier as you went apeshit, jumping up and down, strumming chords to songs that were as intimate as fingerprints, as important as blood.
No matter how connected you are, to any single person in the world, there is no way to transfer the burden of expectation you feel — the harsh and unforgiving way you measure your own self worth. Your wife, son, mother, father, sister, or friends cannot understand — no matter how hard you try to explain, or get anyone to care. No matter how eloquently you convey your point, or how muddled the message becomes through a cloud of tears or choking sobs or exhausted late night rants or crash and burn moments fueled by intoxication. Just like I, in my limited understanding, have no idea of the magnitude of these same struggles that all these people I love are enduring. And this thought, at this moment, makes me feel like we are all terribly alone. That I am alone. There is no way for me to transfer this burden I have created, or assumed. And then this starts to sound like a suicide note. Which I don’t believe it is, not tonight.
This, however, is the shit I think about far too much, everyday of my life, every other minute of every other hour. Nobody I¬† have¬† met, in my 33 years on this planet, ruminates on ideas and regrets as much as I do. A fact that makes me loathe myself. Which reminds me of something, a moment. When I was in Los Angeles, two Novembers ago, on assignment for the same job I would lose so many months later (see above, and follow the links, if you care), I met an old friend. We walked around Venice Beach, bullshitted about our teenage years spent languishing in the suburbs. I took photos, we talked about art, life, and the pursuit of what we hoped was happiness, or would become happiness. Or perhaps more appropriately, truth.
That night we ate dinner, and then I told him, after a couple beers, that I had been seeing a therapist for the first time in so many years (an action brought on by a series of panic attacks in 2007), nearly two decades since being diagnosed with severe clinical depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and that I had recently had a major revelation: I hated myself. It’s a statement that feels like it should be met with a chorus of trumpets. It never is. And I don’t say it lightly. In fact, to the handful of people I have told, I usually say it at a volume one notch above a whisper. I’m afraid those around us will hear, and, for whatever mind-boggling reason, at that moment, I care what those people think. What strangers think. So anyhow, it’s what my therapist said, that I exhibit severe self-loathing behavior — a man who hates himself — and that it was up to me to change the way I viewed myself, but that she would provide the tools. News like that is memorable. Not because it’s so dramatic in nature (although it is), but because it sucks the air out of your lungs.
Driving home that night, after that session with her, I cried as if I was attempting to wring out all the hate from my body, because I didn’t want it contaminating me any longer. Tears streamed down my cheeks and fell onto the Honda logo in the center of the steering wheel. In fact, this became a ritual. My sessions with her nearly brought me to tears each week while I sat across from her, on furniture that looked like it was pulled from the game room of a split-entry ranch in the suburbs. It took all my self control to hold it in until I got to my car. The lump would well up in my throat. My breathing would get faster. And I would pull back the tears. Because I never wanted to cry in front of her, for whatever reason. Then in my car I would let loose. My hatred was the truth that all other truths needed to flow from. I knew if I couldn’t fix this — and in present tense, CAN’T fix this — things would never be right for me.
And to this statement, at dinner, my friend casually replied: “I always thought you hated yourself.”
[This essay was republished on True/Slant]