Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Great, Long Difficulty



It's not fun to write about sad things. That's why my journals from 2006 and 2007 have such an empty look to them. I'd go weeks without writing, pop in to say there was nothing worth writing about, and then be absent again for a fortnight or so. Those blank pages bore testament to a lot of pain.

For several reasons this blog will not become like that. I've used it throughout the years to reinvent, reassess, reach out, and help me ground myself. A depressed person's diary is a twisted echo chamber of self-doubt and  suffering. A blog, however, is a sun-lit window. A journal leaves you with your thoughts. An audience shows you things you'd miss on your own.

So I'm here for the long haul, as I've been from the beginning. The comparison between now and 2006 is an apt one, though. After all, I'm currently experiencing my single greatest crisis since the life-defining fire I endured at eighteen.

The two are not equivalent, though. What's happening now is bad, but I doubt I'll ever face the kind of obstacles I faced then. That was back when I was closeted, back when the shield of childhood was first pulled away, back when I was so much sicker than I was able to understand. Right now I'm navigating a difficult economy and a bad home situation. Back then I had to navigate a whole world with a brain uniquely unfitted to grasping essential realities, had to learn basic facts about life in a way that a mentally healthy person would find impossible to comprehend.

It's only in retrospect that I realize how vastly impaired I was. Occasionally this still surfaces. I have never, for example, been able to break myself of constant absentmindedness, and just the other day I forgot that a red stoplight in fact signals one to stop. I mean, why the hell would red mean stop? There's nothing particularly intuitive about that.

So there I was, approaching a red light with no one ahead of me, frantically trying to recall which color allowed me to go and which signified that I definitely shouldn't.

If I stop and I'm not supposed to the guy behind me is going to think I'm insane, I worried. But if I go and I'm not supposed to I'm probably going to get broadsided. 

A moment later and a calm inner voice spoke up.

BB, it said. Red means stop.

The whole episode had lasted only a few seconds and in hindsight was actually kind of funny. But you get the idea. Imagine that ten times worse. Imagine it unchecked, a pervasive confusion that could turn a basic activity like driving into an agonizing ordeal. In looking back I'm constantly surprised that I managed to get to the point where I could function at a typical level.

So I'm not dealing with that again. Nothing will ever match how difficult that was. But what's going on now isn't great, either.

I'm stuck in a home I don't like with two people who treat me badly. I don't have the money to leave, and my unceasing efforts to find work have been incredibly demoralizing. You see, I did everything I was supposed to do. I maintained good academic standing throughout college, worked for the student paper, contributed freelance pieces to real-world publications, and had multiple internships in my field, two of them with well-regarded literary agencies. I have applied natural talent and quite a bit of self-discipline to be highly competent in my field. And I can't find a job.

Looking for work is essential to my longterm wellbeing, but looking for work is a draining exercise. I feel a vague wave of depression when I open my e-mail each morning, have to force myself to send out inquiries that I know will only be responded to with polite notifications that the agencies I'm applying to aren't hiring.

There's a persistent feeling of failure in all this that I can't shake. Sure, it's not my fault. Am I certain, though? No, I didn't make the stock market crash. But what if I'm doing something wrong? What if my work just isn't as good as I thought? What if neurological impairment, that demon from my youth, is clouding my vision in some way I can't even perceive and employers are turning me away because of my evident deficit? Was the idea that I could have a normal life nothing but a hopeful delusion?

These are the thoughts that plague me every day.

And they stain all of my other experiences. I can't feel sexy now. What right have I to feel sexy when I live at home and have no job? What could be less sexy than that? Anyone in that position who thinks anyone else would find them sexy is deluded. And when I go out with my friends? I need that interaction so much, especially as the post-university loneliness kicks in, but whenever we're on the town every dollar I spend is a new weight on my conscience.

I've adjusted in certain ways. I've widened my job search now to include editorial positions rather than just agent jobs and I've also applied for reporter openings with various publications. Nothing yet except very part-time work.

The financial drain is getting to me (it's particularly frustrating in light of the fact that I have a really substantial amount of money in trust funds to which I have not yet been granted access) but even worse is the social drain.

Kelly Clarkson, a singer whom I greatly admire, was once asked in an interview what she thought was the worst human emotion.

"Loneliness," she answered without hesitation. "Loneliness is the worst."

It's true.

And going from an environment of near constant social stimulus to one where I am alone in my house almost every day has been very difficult. Occasional outings with friends from Western City (such as the one I will undertake on Wednesday to, of all places, a drag show) and meet-ups with university mates are valuable dribbles of water on my parched lips. But I'm ready for more.

I'm ready to be in a new city in my own apartment, heading into a newsroom or editorial office and making friends in the adult world. I want to pay my own bills. I want to invite work friends to explore downtown. I want to have a career. I don't feel entitled to that, but I do feel that I've done the work I should have done to get there. How much does it take?

This tension has obviously not had a positive impact on my mood. As one would expect of a person in my situation, I'm depressed much of the time, though it's usually dull background noise rather than a roaring current of pain. In other ways, though, my reaction has been more pronounced than the average individual's would be.

I've written about the issues posed by obsessive compulsive disorder before, and the condition, aggravated by stress, is one I'm feeling again in a major way now. As with my other little issue, it's not as bad as it was before. At my symptoms' peak, when I was nineteen and twenty years old and well into the red zone, I crossed campus four times in a snow storm because I believed that if I did not walk from Central Hall to my dormitory with my entire face except my eyes covered I would be murdered. The logic there was a bit hazy, but I didn't question it.

So I trudged through the freezing, ice-caked night from one end of Major University to the other, only to discover upon arrival in my dorm that a single lock of hair had escaped my hood. Back to Central Hall it was.

My diagnosis with severe OCD in May 2008 did a lot to help me. I could recognize when the disorder was influencing my actions and could combat it through coping strategies that allowed me, without recourse to medication, to largely beat down a pretty extreme manifestation of obsessive compulsive disorder.

OCD, along with depression and my other difficulties, will likely never menace me as they did before I took charge. They can still pack a punch, though. Lately I've found myself more and more confronting the grotesque images I struggle so much to erase, consumed by moments of frenzied terror where my body jerks to combat the overpowering fear and I beg God to protect me. If I don't do this thing, then this other thing will happen.

Then there's the mood swings, heightened like everything else by stress. I'm actually not sure what these are from and wish I knew, because identifying my OCD made it a lot easier to fight. My last therapist wondered, too.

"What's really concerning me about some of these extreme highs and lows you're having is that they appear to be cyclical," he'd mused.

Go figure.

I don't think it's bipolar, though. I looked that up, and those mood swings are chemically determined. Mine respond to events. So if, for example, something good or bad happens, I'll have a positive or negative reaction. The reactions are exaggerated, though. The other morning I looked cute and was a vision of confidence and sociability. When I thought my parents were going to evict me, though, I was totally down to kill myself. And then they changed their minds and the fatal mood passed. It doesn't always happen, but boy do I feel it when it comes. Minor setbacks can provoke prolonged periods of anger or depression and equally minor achievements put me on Cloud 9. It's like being on a roller coaster and it's been that way for a very long time.

Now see, this is exactly why I don't discuss these things in real life: this post is reading like a catalogue of psychological disorders. Anyone who knows me in the outside world would tell you I seem perfectly normal (a hard-earned perception, by the way). But in going back and reviewing this even I kind of want to put me in a padded room.

I'd at least be carrying on the family tradition; my birth-mother Anne has been committed something like seventeen times and suffers from, among other things, borderline personality disorder, a serious mental condition "marked by prolonged disturbance of personality function...an unusual degree of instability in mood...marked impulsivity... [and] markedly and persistently unstable sense of self. In extreme cases this disturbance in the sense of self can lead to periods of dissociation."

She's a joy.

But I'm not like her, and that's not wishful thinking talking. Anne is literally psychotic. I am a normal person who's had to deal with some abnormal problems. The fact that I graduated college, lived on my own, and did any of the many other things the doctors said I'd never be able to is testament to that. I can have a real life. I deserve it. I want to believe I'll achieve it.

So that's where I am: in a situation typical of many recent graduates, experiencing the same pitfalls and emotional side-effects they are but having my pain augmented a bit by factors most of them don't have to deal with. I really want to make it through this. I'm not sure I know how.

7 comments:

naturgesetz said...

It might help to realize that you are not alone in your situation. Many recent college graduates are finding it difficult to find adequate employment. IOW, it's not some personal deficiency or condition of yours that is at the root of the problem.

Could someone where you had your internships make some calls for you to help you land a job you want? I seem to recall that one internship ended with you and the person you were working for in conflict. But there's the other one, and maybe there are even people where there was trouble with the boss who could pull a few strings for you in the industry. Connections can be very helpful in putting you ahead of other applicants.

Anonymous said...

Continue to hold on, your time will come. You've paid your dues, it's time for you to reap the benefits. It will happen. It seems now that time is really dragging as you struggle through this period but when you look back on it years from now it will seem just a blink of your eye. The economy will pick up soon I think and your new opportunities will present themselves. Just keep plugging along with your job search, the right one will come along soon.

Arizaphale said...

Yes, the tunnel always seems longest wgen you're in the middle of it. The right job for you is out there and you're moving towards it. I remember when I first moved back to Aus, on my own, with my 8 year old, I had gold edged references and couldn't even get an interview! I got a bit of part time work, made some connections and eventually, after an incredibly long 3 month spell with NOTHING, saw a job advertised...with my name on it. Surely, this was the one! And it was, but I had to live through going onto unemployment benefits for 3 months and being refused credit cards, before the perfect position came up. Hang in there and know that it is out there waiting for you. The time just has to be right. The only other thing I would say is, widen your scope. The perfect job may also be one you have never even considered yet!
And keep writing. I love reading.

laura b. said...

I'm glad you do realize that times are hard for everyone who is job searching right now. I think the issues you've had to deal with and overcome will actually help you in the long run. Can't imagine there are many people your age, in your field, who have had to come up with solutions to problems in quite the creative and work intensive ways that you have. Keep on thinking outside the box about opportunities. Keep on seeking out the human connection.

Anonymously Me said...

Wow. Somewhere at the beginning of this post I thought to myself, "I should tell him that a few days ago I started driving on the left side of the road because I honestly could not figure out which was the correct side to drive on." But then by the time I was done reading the post it seemed dumb to tell you that. But I just did anyway.

jo(e) said...

You definitely aren't alone. Many of my students friend me on facebook so I am able to follow along with their job searches -- and I am seeing all kinds of frustrations. Lots of college graduates are working at fast food places to pay the rent, even though they are trained in specialized fields.

You're so smart that I have no doubt you will find something eventually, but in the meantime, I hope you find ways to take care of yourself.

You know, this could be a good time to seek out a 12-step program such as Al-Anon. Now that you are out of college and no longer have all your college friends so near by, another network of support might be helpful.

Jay M. said...

I first would like to point out that I think this is profound: "A depressed person's diary is a twisted echo chamber of self-doubt and suffering. A blog, however, is a sun-lit window. A journal leaves you with your thoughts. An audience shows you things you'd miss on your own." Oh my, what a wonderful way to look at your blog!

As to all the mental stuff, a good professional, someone you click with, can really help. I urge you to try again.

The job hunt: I can point you to at least 2 other bloggers who have recently graduated, have decent credentials, and are still looking. Hang in there, baby, the job's coming! Network like crazy, look outside the box, and don't limit yourself geographically.

Chin up, BB! Your time will come, sooner, hopefully, but it will come!

Peace <3
Jay