Deep Breath

People don't think the universe be like it is. But it do.

People don’t think the universe be like it is. But it do.

When I left that job, it was just the beginning of a longer path, just the first tentative steps in upending the normalcy I’d meticulously built up over the past twenty years. It’s April now. Time flies when the emotional framework surrounding your time is no longer restricted to the artificial timelines of marketing executives, but instead exists to measure the quality, not quantity, of completed tasks. I built an enormous LEGO AT-AT, one day; I gave my kitchen a deep-cleaning; one day I read two books.

One would have imagined that during such a period of weighty thought, I surely could have said hello to the people to whom I had just announced this enormous change in my life.

Apologies. I’m fine.

When I say to people who know me from work that I’m actually a very introverted, quiet person, the shock that registers is honest each time. There are, decidedly, two outward personalities of Stephen Van Doren, and the one that is shown in public–that is, the one that is more frequently on display at work, that ever-growing eater of public time–is markedly different than the one that is more natural when I’m not earning my keep. This, by itself, is not an interesting story; most people experience some degree of the same thing. Where my story departs is that it is positively exhausting to put on that mask that so many others don so effortlessly.

If I were just a step further introverted, maybe onto that list of keenly-eyed neurological disorders, doubtless I would simply discard the mask, perhaps I wouldn’t draw those useful social connections as well, or I might not be as interested in seeing others smile as a result of my actions. Instead, I’m saddled with just enough social awareness to expend considerable energy working those side quests–Make 5 People Laugh During Morning SCRUM; Convince One Waitress to Take a Photo and then Autograph It–while simultaneously progressing the main quest of generating income for my frivolous hobbies. I’m what the gaming community calls a “completionist” in life. (Oddly, much less-so in games.)

So when I step away, I step away. I had to focus entirely on one quest for a while. My natural state is with a book in my hand, the early morning Spring sun on my face, steaming cup of coffee on the table. Probably NPR on the radio inside.

I’ve finished, though. I’ve decompressed. Time to start integrating back into society.

It’s All Just Chemistry

"It functions to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, to suppress the immune system, and to aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. It also decreases bone formation." Man, what a dick.

“It functions to increase blood sugar through gluconeogenesis, to suppress the immune system, and to aid in the metabolism of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. It also decreases bone formation.” Man, what a dick.

As I mentioned previously, I’m not exactly a stranger to the idea of a long-term sabbatical. I find removing myself from the ceaseless rat race that capitalism foists on as as the only option available to comfortable living to be a welcomed renewal. More people ought to do it, and the over-worked American society would do well to take my example–this is an uphill battle, I realize, as we can barely rationalize even a week’s vacation as a society.

But I may have neglected to fully explain just how married I am to structure, and just how much I end up flailing about when I am outside of its firm embrace–and flailing I have been. Two nights this week I’ve woken up (earlier than even I typically like) in a cold sweat, worried that something or other needs to be done before some other whosit can whatchamacallit before the thing can happen. Gotta send an email to that guy so those other people aren’t waiting for me because everyone depends on everyone else around here, soldier! (Side note: I would’ve flourished in the military. It’s their goddamn loss that they were so fucking hostile to homosexuality up until the very, very recent past. All that structure, all those uniforms?) It’s not been easy.

Over these past few days since taking this path, I’ve had to remind myself on multiple occasions that I’m just fine, I’m not being chased by a tiger. I’ve had to consciously slow my heart-rate, slow my breathing. Let the pause wash over me, rather than knock me down and take me out to sea. Everything’s okay, Steve; just relax. Always easier said than done, but my therapist assures me that the less stress in my life, the less cortisol in my system, the easier things will become. But here I am, apparently going into withdrawal, generating stress out of thin air.

The First Day

This past weekend didn’t really work for me.

After spending many years collecting little packets of straw–a small project here, a small promise there–I finally collected enough on my back to utterly shatter me. It wasn’t that I suddenly realized I wasn’t enjoying life, I wasn’t going in a direction I was particularly fond of, and my health was deteriorating at a pace that made me fear for the inevitable point of no return. There was no eureka moment, no flood of insight. It was merely a casual recognition of just how much hate I was carrying around in my heart every single day, and how very sad that made me. It was the sadness that did the back-breaking.

People who know me know that I’m only a programmer because that’s the easiest way I’ve found to generate the currency required to live a simple life without worrying about bills. The money has been so typically and continually reliable that I’ve been able to take long sabbaticals from work entirely, for months and months at a time, to pursue my own personal enlightenment. I live simply enough that though I don’t have many hundreds of thousands of socked-away dollars, I do have enough that even during those breaks, I don’t worry about bills.

It’s been a good arrangement for me, and one that helps me to balance my feelings of “my worth as a human is directly related to my worth as an employee” with “corporate America remains the number one murderer of Ameircans.” I spend a couple years generating profit for companies, getting angrier and angrier, then I schedule my next sabbatical, give my notice, and spend a year writing a book (but not finishing–no, no, not finishing) or something.

This time the build-up only took 10 months. To be fair, I hadn’t done a very good job of maintaining my last break, which was interrupted by the flames of personal tragedy and self-employment over-promising, and some kindling in the guise of a convenient job offer at the precise moment I needed distraction from ashes of my life. But the embers were fed by that job, and the tiniest lick of flame was fanned by my martyrdom complex into all-consuming flame.

I’m such a drama queen.

I quit my job yesterday. I had a long conversation with my boss, who is a friend, who supports me because he is my friend (for we all want our friends to do well), and because he is my boss (for what kind of a manager values an employee sipping daily from poison and invective?), and we parted from the office on the best of terms.

And when I stepped out of that building? A hundred pounds lighter, all of it from my shoulders. My jaw unclenched without me having to think about it for the first time in months. A deep breath. When I got home, I slept without remorse, without stress, without manufactured issues floating through my mind.

So today is the first day. I don’t know if this is the first of seven or seven hundred, but when your goal is the removal of clutter your mind, counting the days until returning to chaos shouldn’t be your goal.