This is going to be a long one and will not be the least bit uplifting. I’m sorry about that.
It’s Tuesday morning. I’m sitting here at my desk, having just arrived at work, and I don’t have the foggiest idea how to actually get anything done. My wife and I had a misunderstanding that snowballed last night and was never resolved. I’m upset, nauseated, and unable to think clearly. I’ve had two hours of sleep at most. I went to bed around 3:30, 5:00 AM was the last time I remember seeing on the clock, and my alarm went off at 7. My head aches, and my fasting blood glucose this morning was 400. (100 more and I get a set of steak knives.) No mystery there. I was stress eating all night.
It’s time to admit some stuff. I’ve needed to for a long time, but the idea that people would think of me differently, cease to trust or respect me, think of me as damaged, think of me as a liability, or just politely distance themselves from me (even more than my general personality already causes them to) has kept me quiet. But I can’t stand being quiet anymore, so whatever this costs me, whatever hurt it brings is hurt I already had coming to me. I’m 54 years old in a body that probably won’t make 60. I’ve not much to lose.
I’m depressed and overcome with anxiety. I’ve been that way for a long time. Several months ago, my doctor prescribed some medication that has helped some, made some of the situations more bearable, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the pain and anxiety and self-loathing that brought me to this place are still here. No pill is going to make them go away. At least the pill hasn’t hurt anything, either. So far as I can tell, it’s been beneficial. I don’t feel any dumber or slower or more obtuse than I always have been.
And for the first time in nearly 15 years I have sought individual therapy / counseling. I had my first appointment with my therapist last Monday. The therapist’s schedule was full this week, so I won’t be seen again until next Monday. I don’t know how much it’s going to help, or if it will help at all, but I’m going in with an open mind and trying. I thought it had helped me successfully navigate a situation yesterday, but I was wrong. And today, 8 days after that, I’m really struggling.
Peeling the layers off the onion one by one, one of the things I can’t seem to cope with is loss. My mother passed away in 2002 and there was much unresolved between us. My father passed away more than a decade earlier and I’m not handling that well, either. Both meant a lot to me, but in different ways. My mother understood my emotional nature but was a hardcore bible-thumping conservative. My father understood my technical leanings and the analytical side of my mind but abhorred emotional weakness and thought of me as a crybaby. But what each of them brought to my life, I needed. People who still have both parents well past their forties have no idea how fortunate they are.
I’ve lost friends and those losses haunt me. My friend through high school and middle school, Ron, who even worked with me in radio for years, was taken when we were both in our mid-20s. We were quite close. He even stayed at my house for a month or so once, when his parents were having problems. It never bothered me much when he came out as gay. I never knew or even suspected he was gay, but why would I care? I wasn’t phobic. I wasn’t big on homosexuality, either, but he was my friend and had been for years. What difference did it make? We were even housemates for a while at a time when we both needed cheap housing for a while.
And then he had AIDS, and then he was gone. Just like that. One day I visited him in the hospital, and a few days later I stood at his graveside on a foggy morning wondering why. Why? That was one of the times in my life where the idea that there could possibly be a God was laughable.
In the last four decades I’ve lost five uncles, an aunt, three grandparents, two parents, and so many friends. They’ve all taken part of me with them.
My mentor, Jerry, who meant more to me than even he ever knew, was taken from us a few years ago, while my friend BC and I were in Florida watching the last Space Shuttle launch.
Even the loss of a pet devastates me. Tasha the Kuvasz. dB and Bandit and BB and Tony, my cats. Bam-Bam, the African grey I rescued and nursed to health. Phoenix, my first parrot. Big Bird, the cockatiel I took in from my mother just before she passed away. Penny and Keiko, the dogs Allison had from the time we met. Rainbow, a macaw who wasn’t even ours but was a friend I worked with at a parrot exhibition. They are with me for so brief a time yet leave such huge painful holes in me when they go. I still cry when I think of them.
Another layer of the onion is relationships. I lose a lot of those and as a hardcore, romantic, love-is-supposed-to-conquer-all idealist, such losses devastate me. My first two marriages both ended in betrayal. Yes, that kind. The first marriage, right out of high school, dissolved peacefully, a year after all the crying and shouting was over. I signed some paperwork and it was done. We never saw each other again … though she recently reappeared on Facebook and I’m glad she’s doing well. I’m not angry with her or resentful in any way. We were too young.
My second wife’s idea of honesty, integrity, and (as it turned out) marital fidelity was not getting caught. That one was uglier. Not only did the infidelity gut me, but she had a good lawyer and I couldn’t afford one after buying her a house, even with the help of a loan. I got taken to the proverbial cleaners. She got thousands of dollars, the house, and worst of all, my beautiful and beloved blue and gold macaw, Sammy. He was my best friend through all the horror of the divorce, and then he was gone. Last I heard, she still had him. I hope he’s okay and happy. In his bird mind, he believes I’m dead, and he’s moved on, I hope.
Then there was the who loved me except for just about everything about me. During the time we were together, she changed my diet (she was a nutritionist), my weight, my appearance, my clothes, my sleep schedule, what I ate, what I drank, and where and how I lived. Some of those changes were good, mind you. But the more things she needed to change about me, the more my own stock seemed to go down. I felt devalued because I was no good as I was. I needed to be modified to have any real worth. I was encouraged to join Hair Club for Men, get tens of thousands of dollars worth of cosmetic dentistry, and have cosmetic surgery. And, predictably, when I didn’t do those things, when my weight loss fell short of goals (only 100 pounds the first year), when other men seemed more appealing, closer at hand, and ready-made, I was cast aside. Oh, and I was told every lurid detail of how that went. Brutal honesty. It has its downside.
I was hurting and despondent for a long time. Then I was angry for a long time. Then those fell away and I remembered that the only part of that relationship that ever had any value was the initial friendship. We e-mailed back and forth, sporadically, for a while. Chatted now and then. Pleasantly. The intervals increased, and the friendship sort of died. It’s been well over a year and a half since I heard a word from her.
There was the woman I dated after that, a nurse. She was pleasant to spend time with but very jaded. It didn’t last more than a few weeks.
Then there was the singer. Oh, could she sing. She was young, a preschool teacher, and caught my eye when I was helping a friend bluff his way through a church mixing gig he’d managed to land, right out of audio school. I was so afraid of relationships at that point that it was almost like a high school romance. I was still much thinner and feeling almost attractive after the nutritionist had slimmed me down. But while we worked well as friends, she had a barrier to taking it beyond that … a married man in the church band she was in love with and wanted to pursue.
And now there’s Allison. We’re married, and we love each other, but things are rough. I know I have baggage from past relationships, insecurities, anxiety, a need to feel accepted … I suppose one could be forgiven for saying the problems are all of my making. Maybe they are. But fixing the problem sure beats fixing the blame.
Long, Drawn-Out Story
A year or so ago we were in Jacksonville, NC on a Saturday errand and had a huge argument. She was angry and I was facing the “ride of shame” (totally silent car trip home). I couldn’t stand the idea, just wished the whole argument had never happened, wished there was some way to end it and knew there just wasn’t. It was 4 PM. We’d meant to go shopping but it wasn’t going to happen. I freaked out, crying, and got out of the car, and walked away. I just couldn’t stand it. I started walking toward home and just kept walking. Crying and walking and trying to figure out what to do. I felt a lot like I do now. Confused. Scared. Sad. I had no answers, didn’t even understand the questions. I just knew how to do one thing. Keep walking. One step, then another. Allison kept trying to call my phone. I answered once, but it just felt like an argument again. When she kept calling I just ignored it. Keep walking. I know how to do that. One foot in front of the other.
Then I got a call from a strange number and answered it. Allison had called a cop and had THEM call me. I explained that we’d had a problem, that walking away seemed like the only answer to me, that I was an adult and could take care of myself, and that there was no police matter here. She agreed and hung up. Keep walking.
The road out of Jacksonville gets mighty rural, mighty fast. As the sun set, it got cold. I wasn’t dressed for cold; I was dressed for Sam’s Club. Somewhere in the back of my mind, amid the pain, something said, “Hey, dumbass!” I ignored it and kept walking. It was the one thing that felt like it was controllable when everything else had gone completely off the rails.
At the time I weighed about 320 pounds. I was not and am not physically fit. My feet started to hurt, so I stopped and sat on a guard rail for a while, stuck my hands deep in my pants pockets. Funny how I hadn’t thought about being thirsty. Or this cold. It was too cold to sit still, so I started walking again. I kept passing these animal corpses. Apparently when an animal gets hit on 17, they don’t haul it off. They just pour lime over it and let it decompose right there. I nearly stepped in one such mound. The ground by the roadside was very uneven and it was completely dark now. I started using my flashlight, dimmed down to barely more than moonlight to save the battery.
Somewhere in the wilderness, north of the little park in the forest, I started to come to my senses. The walk, the quiet, the breathing, the pain in my feet, my burning muscles, the cold, they were all starting to override the emotional hurt I felt, and as I recovered I realized what a stupid fix I’d put myself in. I was miles from anywhere, really cold, blood sugar dropping, dehydrated, in the dark, and exhausted. I pulled out my phone — I had to admit I needed help. The second I hit the home button it lit up, showed 1% on the battery meter, then shut down. Dead. Shit. My backpack, batteries, charger, etc. were still in Allison’s car.
So what could I do? I kept walking. I judged I was probably closer to Maysville than Jacksonville. My leg muscles started cramping, but I kept pushing. My feet hurt like hell because I was in loafers, not sneakers. I felt about half frozen. I came upon a church. There were a couple of cars there, so I thought maybe I’d found help.
I walked around the church building and knocked on every door I could find. I needed a phone, or a charger, or even a drink of water. I was getting kind of frightened now. No one was there. The cars must have just been parked overnight.
I threw out my thumb to EVERY passing car. Every. Single. One. And there were DOZENS of cars speeding by on 17, on a Saturday night. I couldn’t believe it. NOBODY would stop. It was then that I thought of myself. A big, fat, rough-looking unattractive man with a scraggly, unkempt beard, standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, hitchhiking. I realized that if the roles were reversed, I might not stop for me. I kept thumbing, but the result was the same.
There were a couple of houses near the side of the road. One, several houses down a side road, had lights on and a car in the driveway. Could I make it down there and ring the doorbell? Then I remembered the cars rolling by. If someone looking like me knocked on my door late on a Saturday night would I be uncomfortable? I honestly worried I might get shot. I could make it to Maysville, I thought. It’s just another couple of miles. There’s a firehouse there, and maybe a payphone somewhere, maybe even a business open. A police station, even. I kind of wished I hadn’t been so smug with that Jacksonville officer hours ago.
I reached a construction zone where they were building another lane of the highway. The shoulder was muddy and rutted and dropped off sharply into a drainage ditch. Footing was bad. I fell twice when my legs cramped but got back up. I started shivering. Now I was really scared. It was another mile or two to Maysville. My legs hurt like crazy, every muscle. My feet felt shredded. My head was pounding, and I felt weak. I felt myself start to fall and grabbed for a nearby speed limit sign. I tried to hold on and get my feet under me but couldn’t. I slid down it and landed on my knees, the shivering now just about uncontrollable.
I tried to turn myself around and lean my back against the sign and almost made it, but then my left hamstring spasmed into the worst muscle cramp I ever felt. It pushed me over onto my side, head toward the road, legs toward the ditch. Several cars had sped right by. I panicked then. I was afraid I was going to die right there. lying on the side of the road, while passing drivers watched. I wondered if they could see me. I wondered if it mattered. I was crying, shivering, panicked, and now losing hope. There was only one thing I could think of to do. A last effort to get someone’s attention.
I got out my flashlight, which was in my pocket nearly underneath me. I forced my hands to twist it around to full brightness and turned it on. It would only last a few minutes that way. And I started shining it right at the windshields of every passing car.
I don’t remember how many cars went by. It was more than 10, less than 30 probably. I can’t really gauge how long I lay there, either. But at one point, I shined the light and just after the car passed me I heard it stop. A young man, a college student, got out and came over to me. I could barely talk through the shivering but somehow I got out “diabetic” and “cold”. Without a second’s hesitation that young man took off his coat, threw it over me, and got down there on the ground and hugged me, trying to warm me up. He called 911, kept talking to me, kept me conscious, kept trying to warm me up until the ambulance arrived. They took me right back to Jacksonville, to Onslow’s ER, warming me up on the way. They called Allison.
The ER checked me out. My feet were a mess and my shoes were full of blood. I was dehydrated and a bit hypothermic. They got my temp up, ran in two liters of fluids wide open, bandaged my feet, and admitted me with rhabdomyolysis. The cramps and exertion had damaged my muscles and they’d released huge amounts of protein into my blood. If this isn’t treated you get to say bye-bye to your kidneys, they told me, so I would need to spend several days in a hospital room on wide-open IVs.
Allison arrived. She was anger personified. Rightly so; I’d put my own life in danger and scared her half to death, kept her up half the night, and now she’d had to drive clear back to Jacksonville. I don’t remember too much of the rest of that night, but I sure felt stupid. There was no way to explain to Allison how much our arguing had freaked me out. But walking off like that, I see now, was not a reasonable, sane thing to do. I knew I needed some help then. I told her I’d get it. She was very unhappy with me for a long time and still is. My intense overreaction was not something she could understand.
Getting therapy now is in part my fulfillment of the promise I made then. That incident will be worked through in therapy for sure. But there are many other things I’ve got to work through also, and there’s only that one hour a week. I’m afraid it won’t be enough.
I’m not sleeping well. My FitBit says my average for the last few weeks is 5 hours a night. I’m not eating well because stress and anxiety make me eat even when I’m not really hungry. I’m not performing well at work.
My alcohol intake has increased. It used to be that I sat down with a glass of good, single-malt Scotch when I wanted to feel very relaxed and savor the experience — the taste of a good, good Scotch is truly wonderful. A bottle would last months. Now, when my heart hurts, sometimes a glass or two is the only way I can sleep, or make the pain and the emotional upset stop. I’m trying to treat the pain. I’m self-medicating.
I think the fact that I’m worried about alcoholism, that I know the signs and I’m watching for them, might be a sign that I’m not in danger of becoming an alcoholic. I hope it’s a sign. Maybe I’m in denial. Considering how addicted I am to food, and the way I turn to it when my coping skills run out, I know I’m vulnerable to addiction. I’ve been conscious of the time, and I’ve never driven with alcohol in my system, or had a drink during daylight hours. I don’t go out to drink. I’ve not turned to any drugs. But I’m still scared. From one or two drinks every couple of weeks, I’m now at one or two drinks two or three times a week. I don’t know enough to know what that means.
I woke up this morning and saw the kind of e-mail I often get on mornings when my wife’s not happy with me, and I can’t bring myself to open it.
I need to go to a rehearsal tonight for a show I’m mixing sound for. It opens next week. I often find myself feeling behind the curve approaching an opening but this time I really, really feel unprepared, ill-equipped, not ready. My life is a crumbling mess, held together with 550 cord and gaffer’s tape, about as organized as Black Friday at Wal-Mart, and I’ve got to somehow find some calm, bring my thoughts into order, and deliver what people expect from me when I feel like I’m going to fall apart at any moment and collapse into a quivering blob of tears and hopelessness.
I don’t know how to cope anymore. I don’t have the skills. I wish I had an appointment with that therapist this week and not next, but even that hour doesn’t sound like something that’s going to get me anywhere near being myself.
I’m depressed. I’m crippled with anxiety. I’m falling short in every imaginable way that someone can fall short. And I don’t know how to fix it. I don’t know if I can, by myself.
Assistant directing RENT at Carteret Community Theatre this summer might have been my last great achievement. I felt successful. I felt loved. I felt I was a part of something far, far larger than my own little world. We reached people. We changed lives. And we made something beautiful together. It was HARD — it strained the relationship between my friend Judy Long and I, it strained my marriage when the pressure was on, and the schedule was absolutely exhausting, but I had a purpose. I had a reason to be. I wasn’t screwing up or falling short or consistently disappointing everyone. What I had, what I knew, and what I could do were a match for what was needed.
But now that’s in the past. I have wonderful memories. I have a picture the cast gave me, signed by everyone. I have a drum head signed by the band. I have a little RENT shrine in my living room. But now I’m just me again. The cast are all moving on to other things. My wife isn’t going to work with me in theatre anymore, at least for a very long while.
A local theatre company, Rivertowne Players, actually hired my friend Judy to direct Chicago, and I was set to do sound for it. They then abruptly fired her for reasons best described as unfortunate and capricious, and I’ve severed ties with that organization. After I sent them a carefully written, well thought-out letter, they completely failed to even acknowledge my communication. I was told that when my letter was read in their meeting, the remarks were that I had no right to a voice. The many years and thousands of dollars worth of work I’ve donated to them are apparently not something that entitles me to an opinion, or even the time of day. Yeah, thanks, Scott, and don’t let the doorknob hit you on the way out.
I got to work on a wonderful project the last couple of weeks. I mixed a demo for a wonderful vocal duo, Lewis & Clark, and spent lots and lots of time delivering to them a finished, mastered product I hope they can be as proud of as I am. For just a little while, I felt good and utile and talented and appreciated and needed.
I’m sitting here at my desk, just trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do now.
I’m an engineer. Engineers fix things. We figure out what’s wrong, find the problem, come up with a solution, try it out and see if it works, and if it doesn’t, we keep trying. I try to turn that part of me off in my personal life. I’ve learned that often when a wife or a girlfriend tells me about a problem, she knows I can’t fix it. I shouldn’t try. I just need to listen. Sympathize. Understand. Support.
But I NEED that part now. I’m broken, and I don’t know how to fix me. I’ve tried coping skills and mental tricks. I’ve tried medication. Now I’m trying therapy. I’m trying to get healthier but I’m at odds with my stress eating and inability to shut my brain off and sleep. The strategy of burying myself in work to get past the rough patches isn’t working because I can’t concentrate on the work anymore. I can’t talk to my wife when the problem is that I don’t know how to talk to my wife without making things worse and screwing things up. An hour a week with a therapist sounds like putting out a fire with an eye dropper.
And I’m SCARED. I have never been so scared in my whole life that everything is going to crumble around me, and that I’m going to be alone, living on the street, drunk in a gutter somewhere or just killing the last years of my life sitting in a chair wallowing in regret. So much of what I used to be is gone. The body is more or less gone now, and the mind’s going to follow, either into an abyss of insanity or an equally deep, dark pit of intractable depression, and I AM SCARED OUT OF MY FUCKING MIND. I have no idea what to do.
Chances are if you’re reading this, you don’t know this part of me. You know the guy who always shows up smiling, always tries to help, always knuckles down and concentrates and delivers the sound you expect from the shows I work, delivers the video and the mixes and the pristine recordings you like, the guy who can carry on a fairly coherent conversation and says he’s doing okay when you ask the obligatory greeting question. The guy who works hard and puts on a good face even when he’s been stepped on, then waits until he’s home or in his car to fall apart when you won’t see it.
I try so hard to be someone people will like in public, and then I come home and drop my facade. I don’t help my wife the way I should. I don’t support her as much as I should. Everyone else gets the happy face and she gets to see the depression and the tears and the mental paralysis and the anxiety and the flat affect and the neediness that no one else sees. Yes, I am the bottomless pit of emotional need at home and nobody should have to try to fill that pit, especially when she’s in her own pit. She’s going through the loss of her parents, something I went through decades ago, and I know it doesn’t stop hurting when the funerals are over. She has a right to be unhappy with me. I don’t mean to be horribly selfish and I tell myself I’m trying to be there for her, but it’s clear I’m failing at that too.
I know I’m just venting now, freewriting, and that this entry has long ago lost any semblance of structure or direction, but it’s helping me to let some of this out, and typing it is, for the moment, keeping the tears at bay. There have only been a few times when I shut my office door and devolved into a sniffling child, and I’d rather not do that today.
Scared. Scared of losing my third and only real marriage because I don’t know how to do what it takes to save it. Scared of losing my mind because I don’t know how to deal with all of the land mines I’ve laid in there. Scared of losing my life because I’m destroying my body to pacify my broken sense of self and self-esteem. Scared of losing control to a substance — I don’t know if that fear is justified or not, but I can still be scared. Scared of losing the people who are in my life now who matter so much to me, because I’ve become an emotional whack-a-mole game. Scared of losing my ability to do one of the only things I’ve ever been able to do as well as the best and better than most anyone — audio — because I can’t concentrate, focus, clear out the static and listen and feel and react and flow. Scared of becoming too hopeless.
I’m just freaking scared. I’ve never been good at asking for help — going to a therapist was one way of doing that, and it took a hell of a long time to get there. I should have done it way back before RENT. But there’s today, and tomorrow, and Thursday, and Friday, and a Halloween party, and a whole weekend between me and that next appointment, and it all looks just like a minefield from here.
Did I mention I’m fucking scared shitless?