That’s the takeaway line from supportive types on the Internet, and they’re usually right. Depression makes everything seem worse than it is, like when the house lights come up and you see who you’ve been dirty dancing with all night looks less like Patrick Swayze or Jennifer Grey and more like dear god, what is that thing. Or maybe you check the mirror, and that’s you. Either way, it’s kind of like that.
Except when it isn’t.
Depression is at its worst when it tells the truth. Sure, it does it with as much cruelty and malice as non-sentient emotional states can muster, but it does sometimes tell the truth. And that’s when it really stings.
I’m forty years old. I’ve worked every day of my life since I was 15, not counting days off and sick days or, as companies like to call them in the Orwellian corporatespeak of 2015: “wellness” days. I’ve built computers, sacked groceries, sold software, did work study in college, became a computer tech and a webmaster, jumped into journalism as a web editor, then went back to IT as a system administrator. And I’ve been laid off twice.
The first time, I was hired back six months later after the powers that be realized what a mistake they’d made by hiring robots to curate the news. The second time was a couple of months ago, when Hillbilly Voldemort used the layoffs resulting from my company merging with an outsourcing (or offshoring as they like to call it now) firm in India as a means to purge the roster of any threats to his power. I call him Hillbilly Voldemort because he’s evil and from the deep and scary backwoods of Arkansas, although Voldemort actually had some talent and I feel like it might be giving him a little too much credit. But Hillbilly Hufflepuff doesn’t have the same ring to it, and besides, the Hufflepuff kids were nice. This guy wasn’t.
But my depression isn’t about that; not really. I was already miserable at the job, as Voldemort continued failing upward along the managerial ladder. Once he was moved into my group and began his sycophantic crawl to the top, a great job quickly went down the tubes. Everyone knows the type, so I don’t really need to go into details. In short, he’s a bully, who yells and curses and berates everyone around him into submission, never lifts a finger to help with any actual work, and holds so many meetings to justify his job that you eventually develop an acute phobia toward conference calls. He and I had…Conflicts.
So no, I don’t miss the job. On call 24/7 and endless unpaid overtime are no fun for anyone. (I added it up once, and had accumulated over two months worth of unpaid hours in a six month period. I stopped counting after that.) I don’t even miss the paycheck, as we’re getting by just fine for the time being. I should be happy, really.
But I’m not.
I’m forty years old and work(ed) in a youth-oriented field that is increasingly being outsourced to cheaper countries. Companies don’t want to hire a 40-year-old and pay him a decent salary when they could either hire a kid straight out of college for virtual pennies, or ship the job over to India for actual pennies. Or rupees. Whichever.
Not that I want to go back into IT, mind you. It’s boring. The quality that makes me such a good hire – that I can diagnose and solve problems faster than anyone else I’ve ever worked with – also means I’ve pretty much mastered the trade. There are no new surprises, no interesting puzzles to work out, and nothing rewarding at the end of the day. A career in IT is a lot like housework: you’ve only ever done your job right if no one else realizes it. If nothing breaks, if everything runs smoothly, then that’s because you’re doing it right. And when something does break, well…it’s all your fault, even if you’ve told Susan over in Accounting to stop clicking on that thing a thousand times if you’ve told her once. But nobody cares.
I’m forty years old and I have no idea what I want to do with my life. The thought of jumping back into the corporate world of jellyheaded managers and overworked employees fills me with something like depression, if depression were somehow even more crippling and horrible. Dread, I think maybe fits. DREAD.
I’ve come to the conclusion that far too many people have jobs that don’t actually need to exist, where their contributions to the organization are minimal at best, whose sole purpose in life is to hold team meetings and generate reports all day to look like they’re doing something. These people make the lives of everyone actually trying to get some work done miserable, and they’re everywhere.
Instead of going back to work, I’d really just like to become Independently Wealthy, as I’ve heard good things. However, the closest I’ve ever come to putting my money to work for me was that time I fixed a wobbly chair by folding a $1 bill and sticking it under the too-short leg. It did not produce any additional revenue.
People tell me I should write full time, which is both cute and obnoxious. If I could make a living by writing, I would. So would most of the other working writers I know. But the sad truth is, work comes sporadically when it comes at all. And when it does, it pays only slightly better than a kid selling Grit. Very few people even want to read anymore and no one wants to have to pay for the privilege. And what would I write, anyway? I’ve no talent for fiction (see?), and no one is exactly beating down my door to give me money for blog posts. There’s no market for me, for what I write.
Depression tells the truth.
And that’s where I’m at. I’m forty years old, with no ambition and no drive, having had every last ounce of motivation and enthusiasm crushed out of me by the corporate grind mill over the past 25 years. I know what I want to do for a living, but there’s no making a living at it. I know what I don’t want to do, but it’s the only thing I have experience in – and nobody’s hiring. Especially not in my little luddite corner of southeast Texas.
I’m no good at anything else. I learn fast enough, and have enough self-confidence to honestly say that I’d probably be good at most any job I tried my hand at, but I only have experience in the career path I chose years ago, which leads inexorably to a dead end. How do you jump into a new career at 40? How do you take an entry-level job for entry-level pay when you have a family to support? You don’t, that’s how.
So I’m stuck. Completely. Even if I could easily change careers, I have no idea what I’d pick. If I could snap my fingers and automatically have years of experience in a field and get hired by a great company, I have no clue what that would be. I feel like my life has become that bit in Say Anything where John Cusack is explaining his career plans to whatsherface’s father. I don’t want to buy anything or sell anything or process anything. Or deal with the computers that do the buying and the selling and the processing these days. I don’t want to deal with office politics. I don’t want, I don’t want, I don’t want.
The problem isn’t knowing what I don’t want to do; it’s finding out what I do want to do, then finding a job that lets me do it. Which is completely unrealistic in today’s world, so I’d settle for something that I can simply tolerate. But I have no idea what that is.
If depression would just lie to me, it’d make me feel better. Instead, it just tells me the truth of what I already know. I know what a great employee I am. I know how my Puritan Work Ethic makes me get more done in less time than other people. I know that I’ve always been the top performer at every job I’ve ever had. I know that going the extra mile and working harder than everyone else isn’t rewarded by the meritocracy that doesn’t exist. I know such effort is always only ever exploited. I know there’s no getting ahead by being honest. I know success isn’t dependent on what you know or even who you know, but by how well you play The Game I’m no good at. I know what I am good at, and I know that I hate it.
But that’s life. At least I got an actual crisis during my mid-life crisis, so my big thrill isn’t buying a penis mobile; it’s just being able to pay the mortgage. For a house I don’t like, in a city I hate, in a state I loathe, in a region of the country I despise. So there’s that.
In an ideal world – the world of the movies or any given sitcom – I’d pack up the family and we’d move across the country for a fresh start. We’d find someplace we love (I’m looking at you, New England), I’d get a job working with great people, and my kid would go to wonderful schools in a terrific community filled with nice people. But that place doesn’t exist.
And I can’t move.
I have a nine-year-old stepson (my reason for living) who needs to be able to see his dad, and moving across the country would make that hard. And it’d involve a fight nobody wants to have, and that I’m not willing to put my kid through regardless. So I’m stuck in a town with no jobs in my career, where people think the Confederate flag really does represent their “culture and heritage” and reading is how the devil gets inside you. It’s always hot, there are always mosquitos, and nothing ever changes. Even when people really, really want it to. (More on that here.)
I wish I could make this blog into a living. Or at least figure out some way to transition it into something that pays a livable wage. But I’m no Jenny Lawson or Allie Brosh or Matthew Inman. I’m just me, and I’ve no talent for marketing myself or even writing well enough to have any sort of broad appeal. It’s just another dead end.
Like my career.
And everything else I’ve ever tried.
But I’ll keep going, because the only thing I’ve ever written that’s worth a damn was this one sentence in a throwaway essay I published on the first anniversary of a divorce that would’ve consumed me if I hadn’t met Brittany and Trey (my wife and stepson, for those new to the party). It’s short and to the point, and it’s worth remembering. Because while depression is a powerful thing, hope and perseverance are stronger. I think.
The only difference between a sad ending and a happy one is where you choose to stop the story.
Keep going, kids.
© 2015 – 2016, Kristian Bland. All rights reserved.