Saturday, June 15, 2013

Drugs, Brain Disorders, and Running Around in Circles Until You Vomit

 ***If you have not read the post on Hyperbole and a Half by Allie, you need to read it. She is much funnier, and more brilliant, than I am***

You never really know something is wrong with you until some tells you there is something wrong, or, you have a nervous breakdown. Of course, there are the few lucky ones that get both. That's me. A lucky one. The (short) story goes like this:

I'm 19. Like all good Mormon boys, I'm driving through Nevada on my way to the MTC (Missionary Training Center) with my parents. For the next two years, I'll be in central Mexico teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Last place I ever wanted to go in the world for my mission, but whatever, I made up my mind I was going, so it didn't matter. But already, something is wrong with me. I'm sick. Or I think I'm sick. The whole driver out I'm nauseous. Don't want to eat, don't want to talk, I just want to sleep forever. But, once we're there, and my parents leave, and it's just me and an empty room waiting for my companion and roommates, I'm fine. I can breathe. I want to eat everything that has ever been made, twice. Ever. I feel right.

Skip ahead two months. We're off to Mexico. I'm in charge of the flight group. I have to make sure myself and seven other missionaries make the flight exchanges, blah blah blah, and that we all get there. And I do. We almost miss our flight out of Hermosillo. I'm the last one on the plane. But still, everything is fine. Normal anxiety, nothing I can't handle.

Then, something happened. A shift. The whole world change its axis one percent of one degree, but somehow I missed it. My body didn't adjust. Them, I had my first panic attack (except I don't know that's what it was at the time):

Me and my companion are sitting in a small house, and everyone is speaking Spanish, and try as hard as I do, I can't understand a single thing anyone says here because they all speak so fast, and no one will slow down so I can understand, and I'm too afraid to try and ask for help because they can't understand my terrible gringo accent. So I sit on this couch, and hear them speaking, but I don't listen. My chest hurts. I can't breathe. My face his hot, even in the sweltering humidity, but I don't sweat too much. Not like my companion, the native from Mexico City, who melted all day, every day. I can't look at anyone, and they don't look at me, because I'm silent. Rather, I stare at the floor, at these children's Spanish flash cards. And the one on top: borracho. All I can think about is that word, and the drawing of man slumped against a wall, a bottle with three X's on it, and a hat over his face. I read that word over and over, concentrating on the spelling, the pronunciation, the drunk guy unconscious. I want to run, I should run, I need to run. But I don't. 

After an hour, we leave. And the attack subsides. But I don't know what's wrong. I feel strange. Heavy. Off center.

This happens again. And again. I'm only there for a month, but I have more panic attacks than I can count. I'll spare the details, but after five weeks, I came home. I don't know why or how, I was only told when my flight was leaving.

When I landed (12 hours after departure) in Sacramento, my mother asked if I knew why I was home. I said that I didn't. She told me I was sent me home for depression.


First day in counseling, my counselor tells me I have anxiety. Never heard of it, at least not in the way that I had heard about depression. People get anxious, nervous, social situations can be difficult; people rank public speaking as the second scariest thing in the world, next to death (right?); but I didn't know anything about anxiety. We talk, and little scenes in my life start making sense. Why I've reacted to certain situations the way I have, or do.

But the counseling doesn't help. I'm still getting panic attacks. Still uncomfortable. Still off.

Now, skip ahead nine years. I've been taking medication for the last two years. It keeps me level. I've had friends tell me that anti-depressants make it so they can't feel anything, the whole world is just gray and flat and bland; it's nothing like that. I can think clearer, or I guess more rational, about certain situations. Things still make me uncomfortable, but I can deal. And it's been good. The wife has been happier with me, and I've been happier with. I've just generally been happier.

Until now.

I started this new job. A good job. A job I've been looking for since I graduated. I am a teacher. Now, this is not the ideal teaching job by any means, but it's good. The faculty are nice, and the students (on a whole) are decent. I didn't even have to interview, a good friend who works there referred me to her boss, and I was hired on the spot. Had to prepare to classes over the weekend, but whatever, that's life. Only, now I've been sick (like going to the MTC when I was 19 sick) for the last week. A nausea I can't get rid. Constant. I don't want to eat. I can't sleep. Today my mother pointed out that I don't have dark circles, but black circles under my eyes. And I do. I've tried taking Norco to help me sleep. It's worked before. But this time, nothing. I feel my skin tingle, and I know the medication is in my blood, thinning everything, trying to put me under, but my brain is going through every possible scenario for the next day, and week, writing and rewriting stories, quoting movies to itself, all while playing eight different albums on repeat simultaneously. I can't turn it off.

And here's the best part: when I'm in class, teaching, standing up in front of these students (half of which are older than me) and trying to inspire them with something, I feel fine. No problem. But if I sit down, give them twenty minutes for a quick write or something, the nausea comes back. Prepping for class is impossible. Right now I should be reading the chapters for Monday, but I am too anxious about the class to read. I feel sicker when I prepare a lesson. I have the occasional panic attack, and have to leave the house. But I can't go anywhere, because I have Katherine. I just want to quit, not because it's not a good job, but because my body is destroying itself. Granted, I don't think my lack of eating helps, but I do what I can. Sounds stupid, I know. Believe me, I know. That's what I can't understand. I know logically nothing bad can happen, this is just a job, like any other job. Whatever, no big deal. And yet, my body grabs logic by the throat and squeezes until all that is left a headache.

I don't want people to know how bad this is getting, because I don't want to upset Steph. All she's ever wanted for her life is to be a mother. To stay home, keep house, raise kids, and just be all around amazing. And she is amazing. And she has put up with more from me than most parents will put up with with their kids. I want her to be happy. And that's why I'm still trying. But all I did is bounce around about jobs, I get her hopes up that we are moving forward with our lives, and think I panic, and back down, and the process starts all over again. And, to top it off, I'm getting worse. I don't know what to do. For her. For me. For everyone else. Because being a middle class white Mormon boy, I'm expected to do five things with my life, and nothing else: get married, get a good paying job (either Lawyer, Dentist, Doctor, or Accountant), make some babies, raise my family in the Church, and watch/talk about sports. Everything else is superfluous. Knowing the word superfluous is superfluous. But I'm not that person. Anyone who has ever met me, knows that I am not that person, and no amount of counseling or drugs or unsolicited advice could make me into that person. Square peg, round hole situation.

So. Now I'm here. I want to talk about this, but I don't feel like I'm supposed to. I'm not supposed to have anxiety about this job. I'm not supposed to want to quit. I'm not supposed to be unhappy running in circles for Capitalism on a track build out of the bones of dead children (I get eccentric sometimes, it's fine). I'm not supposed to want to be an artist, doing amazing new creative things to show the people that even though the world is a black hole consuming beauty, there are a few people still out there pouring more wonder into the ethers in hope that something will stick, and a piece of the world will change - if only for a moment - and we'll be better for it. I'm not supposed to yearn for hermitude. I'm not supposed to define technology and encourage people to use pens and pencils, to talk instead of text, to hang out and play games and laugh, rather than watch TV. I'm not supposed to condemn sports as a waste of time. I'm not supposed to love books, and poetry, and art, and beauty, and sex, and everything sensual the world has to offer.

But I am. And I do. And I don't know what to do.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

On Respect, Obligation, Awesome Wives, and Sticking it to the Man

There are certain protocols you're expected to follow when quitting a job. For example: yelling at your supervisor and storming out the doors, expletives littering the air, might feel awesome, but it's super-awesome. Awesome people do awesome things like that. Because this world is too full of idiots running the show, who don't give a flying flip about anyone or anything except their own bank accounts and superiority complexes. I, of course, am not awesome. I did things "the right way."

After a ridiculous Saturday work session, in which I was supposed to work eight hours from home but couldn't log onto the company website because I had not been granted external access, and my supervisor who told me she would be available all day to assist me didn't respond to my texts and emails regarding my inability to log on until noon, and the idiotic conversation that ensued afterward when I told her I could only work four hours now, because I had a life and other plans and better things to do than work from home on a Saturday (again, I'm not awesome, so I didn't say anything as perfectly as that), and her blatantly accusing me of not getting my work done, the wife and I made the decision that I needed to move on. So, I drafted a letter of resignation:

(Supervisor's name),

I, Jon Alston, hereby quit this awful excuse for a job. Suck it. My official last day will be Thursday May 30th, 2013. Have fun under the yellow plane, lady.


Jon Alston

There is this full sized yellow biplane hanging up in the office. True story. Not functional (it had been gutted), but still. The owner has his pilot's license I guess, and he thinks he's hot stuff. Steph, however, being as brilliant as she is, felt that my letter might not be the best way to do things, so she drafted me a letter that I could later edit. This is what she came up with:

To Whom It May Concern;

Due to previous obligations and reasons both personal and familial, this notice is to announce my official resignation from (this awful place) with my final date of employment effective Thursday, May 30th, 2013.
In ending my term of employment, I would also like to acknowledge that over the course of my employment with (this awful place), I have been completely dissatisfied with both the business model and attitudes of supervisory staff and management of said organization. In particular with regards to the suggestion and implications that I would not take my duties as a team member or my personal work with serious thought and dedication, as well as the lack of regard for my family and life outside of the workplace.
Upon accepting employment with (this awful place), time off requests were discussed which I was informed would not be a problem to accommodate. While I completely understand deadlines and teamwork, I had agreed to make up work time prior to the dates in question, and was willing to work on the weekend at home to contribute. After repeatedly attempting to externally log in, and after numerous e-mails and text messages to (my supervisor) (who had informed me that she would be available and willing to help at anytime with any questions) I finally received a response four hours after my shift was to begin. It was indicated by (my supervisor) that I may need to come into the office, and I was asked incredulously why I could not "squeeze in" more hours on my Saturday (to which I had already postponed other plans and had been standing by my computer all morning to attempt and work off these hours that I needed for a pre-planned vacation). It was repeated, again, that I would need to be more diligent in contributing; a goal that I could not work any harder to achieve, and which was placing the blame on me, yet was out of my control. There is a bold line between living to work and working to live. Retail secret shopping should not be at the center of anyone's reason to live.
In addition, the tactless work attitude of the CEO, and his disregard for formality and professionalism in the workplace, is inexcusable. The use and distribution of alcoholic beverages in the office during operational business hours is disrespectful and inappropriate; not to mention the use of foul language and unsuitable humor during a work meeting to help the employees feel "comfortable." I have found the attitudes of the people that are in significant positions at (this awful place) to be condescending and discourteous. It is unbefitting of a company that touts itself so highly.
Thank you for your time. I am grateful for this learning opportunity and will graciously accept my resignation effective upon the date aforementioned.


Jonathan Alston

P.S. Maybe next time the company sets up an email account for an employee, it can actually look at how the employee's name is spelled.

I couldn't find a single thing to change. It was brilliant. It was true. And it was to the point. I assume she learned this talent when working at Suite America, because I have no idea where else she learned it, but she has a gift for calling people extremely stupid without actually saying it. I, on the other hand, am more direct, and tactless. So I went with this letter. (Oh, and yes, my name on my email at work was spelled wrong: John. H. Seriously? You have a copy of my driver's license and social security card. Morons.)

Anyway. I printed it, signed it, had it all ready to go. Then I get a text from Steph right before I go to work: "Use the short version of my draft" (it was something along those lines). I was shocked, and disappointed. She loved her draft. She did the same thing, but only seven pages long and in 10pt font when she quit Suite America. And she felt good for doing it. I wanted to feel good, too. But she was right. I think. I don't know. She said it would be better, less confrontational, which was true. And she knew about quitting and confrontation with a boss. I hate people, and the last thing I wanted to do was talked to these people about anything, especially about how much they sucked. So instead, I gave my supervisor this:

 To Whom It May Concern;

Due to previous obligations and reasons both personal and familial, this notice is to announce my official resignation from (this awful place) with my final date of employment effective Thursday, May 30th, 2013.
Thank you for your time. I am grateful for this learning opportunity and will graciously accept my resignation effective upon the date aforementioned.


Jonathan Alston

Boring. To the point. Harmless. Whatever, I guess. It was respectful; but I hate being forced to respect people who don't deserve. Respect is earned, not demanded because of some meaningless fabricated title you carry like a Purple Heart. Stupid.

But now, it's over, and I can move. To where, and what, that is still yet to be determined. All I know is that I need to sleep for a few days. Maybe then, I'll know what to do next.