“When you have insomnia, you’re never really asleep… and you’re never really awake. With insomnia, nothing’s real. Everything’s far away. Everything’s a copy of a copy of a copy.” – The Narrator, Fight Club.
I haven’t slept well since Christmas, maybe before. I honestly can’t remember the last time I slept well consistently. I’m numb. Things look like they’re in grayscale instead of color. I’m beaten down, defeated, apathetic about it all. I can’t give a fuck anymore because it all hurts too goddamn much. The ennui is preferable to the manic anger and persistent frustration.
You know what else is cool about me?
Nothing. Here’s how I know that’s true.
It’s February, a Wednesday, middle of the afternoon. I’m in Houston pulling away from the rental car complex in a Hyundai Accent or some piece of shit. I have a voice message from my boss. I figure it’s regarding a last minute sponsorship we had discussed earlier that morning and I call him back from the car. I toss my usual banter and jackassery at him when he answers the phone. We have an excellent relationship and complement each other’s strengths well. I’ve never enjoyed working for anyone more.
“I turned in my letter of resignation today.”
Fuck you. And more pressingly, fuck me.
I’m upset, but not surprised, considering what I know about the river of shit this company has made him swim through. After getting the details, I hang up, pull into the parking lot of my hotel, and burst into tears. I’m literally petrified about the mountain of work that awaits me, and stepping into my boss’s impressive shoes. Mostly, I’m just sad I don’t get to see him every day anymore.
I get in a light workout, and then proceed to drink my fucking face off on the company tab in the hotel bar that night. Within 24 hours, I come to terms with it and steel myself. I view it as an opportunity for more money, more notoriety, and an increased profile. It’s during this time I fall in love with the song “Learn to Fly” by Foo Fighters.
I have nothing left to give Cru Jones Society.
As an anniversary gift to the readers of my former site (and the first site I ever launched on my own), my writing partner Jason and I decide to go back and do things like we used to do them. We unretire old features, invite reader participation, and, this is the big one, post a new article every day. It’s a shitload of work, and at first, it feels great to be back doing our thing.
But in the middle of the second week, I remember why we had shut down the first time, and why we had run only a limited schedule once we came back. Everything that used to frustrate me about running this site is still there, and I’m now back in the thick of it. Jason feels it too, so we come to the realization that we need to be done with it. For good this time. So we wrap up with our annual Kentucky Derby post, get incredibly drunk, eat roughly 9 zillion calories worth of junk food on the day, and call it a website. In a way, it’s cathartic. Mostly, I’m just depressed I couldn’t get it take off the way I wanted to, and feel the warm waves of failure lap over my entire body. I don’t write again – not an essay, not a Facebook post, not a single word more than I have to until September.
In Colorado Springs for a conference, I have a meeting with my new direct supervisor. I haven’t spoken to him for more than a total of 75 minutes over the last 4 months or so. He gives me an update of how I’m doing (like he even fucking knows), and things do not break well for me. I’m stunned by the feedback he gives me, but considering I live by the philosophy that people are pretty much never wrong about things they see in you – irrespective of your self-perception, there’s clearly something fueling the other person’s perception, and it’s solely incumbent upon you to discover where the disconnect is and change it, if you want to – I take it on the chin and vow to get better. Four months have elapsed, and I still have no direct boss. I redouble my workload and push even harder.
I’m friendly with people at work, but I don’t think I have any real friends here. I don’t see any of them outside the context of this office, nor do I have any real desire to. I’ve always preferred to keep my personal relationships separate from work. I am two strikingly different characters inside the office and out. I don’t know why I do this, but I do.
Monday mornings are excruciating because frequently I’ll have exchanges like this:
Friendly co-worker: How was your weekend?
Me: It was good. Thank you.
Friendly co-worker: What did you do?
Aw Christ, you want actual detail? I thought we were just being polite as per our societal obligations. I have no interest in your weekend, and I certainly don’t have the energy to provide the context for any of my activities, nor should you even give a shit considering we spend roughly 4 minutes per week together total. Can’t we exchange cursory responses to requisite pleasantries and be on our way?
This is clearly a product of resentment and being on the road a lot. I connect with everyone a little bit, and no one a lot. I am basically a department of one in my office, and I see my consultants more than the majority of my co-workers. Everyone knows me, but no one knows me.
Four stories, related:
1. I’m having a meeting with one of our vice presidents. He is a very large man. Nearly 6 ½ feet tall, probably over 350 lbs., size 4XL shirt. You’d never say he’s obese – he’s quite overweight – but mostly just an absolute grizzly of a man. We’re on the phone and waiting for whoever’s on the other end to come back on. Making chit-chat, he asks me what I think of Lance Armstrong’s recent controversy (this was months ago). I give him the standard answer I’ve ripped off from Tommy Craggs and say,
“Well, Lance Armstrong took a lot of unnatural substances and put them in his body. But was that any more unnatural than pedaling a bike very fast up the side of an extremely steep mountain day after day after day?”
He responds, “Yeah, but you and me, we’ll always be a couple of little fat boys and probably can’t relate.”
2. I’m in the fitting room of Banana Republic, makers of clothes I claim were tailor made for my body type. I know enough not to try on pants in fear of totally bumming myself out for the entire day, but they have a nice assortment of sweaters and other casual clothes that look like they would be nice additions to my sartorial arsenal. So I try them on.
Sweaters fit me like Lycra. Button up shirts stretch at my belly area to the point that when I sit down, the space between the buttons flares open and you can see the skin of my fat gut. You can see the fabric straining a bit when I’m merely standing.
I leave everything in the dressing room, sulk out of the store with my wife, and despite not even trying on a pair of pants (imagine if I had…), I end up bumming myself out for the entire day.
3. I have stifling back pain and a knot in my right ass cheek the size of a grapefruit. My back hurts pretty much all the time, and I’m worried I’m going to end up with withering spasms resulting in a need for more Vicodin and physical therapy, like when I was – and yes I realize how strangely coincidental this series of numbers is going to seem – 17, 22, and 27. Vicodin makes me bi-polar, and physical therapy is some of the most excruciating shit you could ever go through.
I decide to see a massage therapist, and as we talk about my pain and my lifestyle and I’m fucking naked under this sheet, she says to me pointing at my bare belly, “Well, the more you lose here, the easier it is in your back. You’re 31? You’re still young, it’s still pretty easy for you to lose weight. You don’t want to look back and think, oh, I should have lost weight while I still could.”
4. CSU played DU at Magness Arena the day before Thanksgiving this season, so a ton of CSU alumni showed up to cheer on the Rams. The new athletic director Jack Graham was there and basically led the entire section in singing the fight song twice with the players. That guy will fire you up. He’s only got like 59 Tweets, but he Tweeted out this picture in appreciation of our vocal enthusiasm during the game:
You can’t see me that well, but I’m in the lower left with my hands in front of my face clapping. I have on a hooded sweatshirt and a backwards white hat. I realize you’re always your own worst critic, but I saw that photo of myself, looked in particular at the girth of that roll of shit underneath my chin and sort of realized what my VP was talking about. I certainly didn’t look like I was in any condition to pedal a bike up any hill (or anywhere for that matter). If you looked at me and had to assign any sport to me at that point, if you said anything other than “pie eating contest,” you’re very polite and I thank you. I had become just another chubby slob, and this photo reminded not only of that, but why I had stopped taking photos of myself.
November 25, four days after that photo is taken, I begin a weight loss plan.
I watch Kristin move through this world, and I’m amazed. After getting laid off by her previous employer, she has, through not much more than gritty determination, a tireless work ethic (four jobs – all of them with some degree of fucked up hours), and a sunny disposition, managed to cobble together enough work to keep her going down a good path. A combination of social media marketing, retail, and teaching opportunities have her positioned for a breakthrough. In what, who knows, but it’s hard to deny momentum when you feel it.
Sure enough, I set her up with one of my consultants to talk about corporate training. The meeting is serendipitous as this company needs her exact skillset at the exact time she’s waltzing into their consciousness. The company is so jazzed about her, they have to have her RIGHT NOW.
She explains to them that she’s happy to come work for them, but they need to understand that in order to have her RIGHT NOW, she’s going to have burn a couple bridges. In her words, “So if you hire me, DON’T FUCK ME.” They agree, and proceed to hire her.
Three months later, they fucked her.
The working world is brutal enough on its own that I’m always happy I have a partner to turn to at the end of the day. I know no matter what else is happening, I have my wife at home and I always look forward to being with her.
When you add the background of trying to conceive a child during what has undoubtedly been the most professionally challenging year of either of your lives culminating in your wife getting laid off by incompetent, needle-dicked shitheads whom you used to do business with, and then failing at that too, it’s almost too much to bear.
We fired Dalton (the name I gave her IUD, after Patrick Swayze’s character in Road House – he protects the lawless Double Deuce, which is what I named her uterus, and roundhouse kicks out unwanted guests – a.k.a. any fetuses we’re not ready for) in February, and we try for the rest of the year. Wanting something that you can’t just have for reasons you don’t understand, and having to experience that disappointment month after month after month after month will take its toll on you mentally and put a strain on any relationship, no matter how strong. I become convinced I can’t do anything right – even the one thing I enjoy probably more than anything else in the world in knocking boots with my wife – and become a total basket case.
My heart pounds all day. I live in a state of constant dread. My breaths become choppy and shallow. I keep tension in my shoulders. I feel like I can break down crying at the drop of a hat, and sometimes do.
You’d think a six-page, single-spaced list of accomplishments ranging from large breakthrough projects the company had never undertaken before to a list of conferences and speaking engagements where the company had no other representation to 50 different charitable organizations we had been involved with would be sufficient material for reward. I initially pleaded my case based on my effort, of which I’d never put more into a job before, but quickly changed to outcomes when my initial approach flopped spectacularly.
We’re all judged on what we produce, I argued, and I challenged them to put my output against any other peer company in our industry. Based on my anecdotal info gathering, I had pushed myself well past my peers and maintained this company’s leadership position.
For all of my efforts, my endless travel, my nights, my weekends, my stepping up into a role and covering the work my boss would have done for 12 months, and a staggering level of output, I was awarded a 2.4% raise, and a flimsy promise to re-evaluate me in 6 months. I asked for a 360 review, was not awarded one, and instead only received a dismissive statement of “We’re pretty confident that everyone feels the way we do about your place here.”
For the first time in my professional career – shit, my life – I felt like I was totally alone and no one had my back. Not my supervisor, not our regional vice president, no one. Everyone knows me here, but no one knows me. I wanted to be royally pissed off at the indignity of it all, and I was, but once that bluster wore off, all that was left was a broken heart.
When you pour yourself completely into something, yes with an eye toward financial reward, but because you believe in it; and you find out those you work for either don’t believe in you, or are too callous or stupid to care, a piece of you dies.
Pain radiated in my bones, and I didn’t want to feel anything anymore. So I shut down.
I’m still in there, of course. I love my wife. I love my goofy cats. I love that we live in a city where new and interesting beer is produced at a constant clip. And I love writing this blog.
But you know what else is cool about me?
Nothing that I can feel anyway. I’m a fat loser who can’t get promoted and can’t get his wife pregnant. That’s how it feels to be me right now. The only thing cool about me is how good I am at driving in the snow, and my supervisor will probably fly in tomorrow and tell me I suck at that too.
I feel like the antithetical version of my confident 18 year-old self. Whereas he had everything going for him, I feel like I fail in every direction. Whereas he was adored by many, I feel like I’m even only marginally tolerated by few. He has confidence coming out of his ass. I have fear, uncertainty, and shame seeping from my pores. He’s off to college, where it only gets better. I’m off to therapy to pick up the fucking pieces and get it back together. But the biggest difference is the one that gives me hope.
He doesn’t know he’s experiencing some of the best days of his life; whereas I’m fully aware I’ve lived through some of my worst.
I know it can’t get much worse from here, and in fact, it’s already gotten better.
We’re going through infertility treatments and I already feel better because SCIENCE. We’re demystifying our own bodies, and that’s always helpful. The weight loss plan is working and I’m down 28 lbs. We’re buying a new home. I am learning not to take my work so personally. I listen to podcasts and continue to get inspired by self-starters. I continue to write.
And that last one is key. As I wrote this, even as my fingers tapped the keys, I was racked with self-doubt. Who’s going to want to read this? Who gives a shit? Why don’t you have a pity party by yourself? Quit your bitching. Why don’t you write something funny for a change?
I realized the longer I kept this inside, the more it poisoned everything I did. This is my life, and I’m privileged to be able to share it with you. Thanks for reading about me, and thanks for listening.
If you see a piece of yourself anywhere in here, then know you’re not alone. If you and I, and you and I alone, connected on something that no one else in the universe could possibly understand, then that’s the greatest thing I can do here.
I haven’t slept well since Christmas, maybe before. I honestly can’t remember the last time I slept well consistently.
But I’ll let you know when I do. Because once I do, then maybe I’ll have a better answer than “nothing” to the question:
You know what else is cool about me?
Thanks for helping me get there.