I played the game
And all I got was this lousy prize
I remember my first "big kid job". It wasn't as a ski instructor. I did that for nine years, but it was like working on a big playground. Too fun to be real.
No, it wasn't working on farms, which I also did for a number of years when there wasn't snow on the ground. The summer breezes, sudden storms sweeping you up, the sun burns - also too meditative and calm to be real.
My first "job" was filing paperwork during the summer at my university. I remember it well, too. The too-white fluorescent lights that buzzed, the smell of the carpet. I was also done filing paper work during the first hour after realizing there was a great way to optimize the process.
So, because I was "on the clock," I read for the rest of the day. I got through all five of the Song of Ice and Fire books in that tiny, over-air-conditioned office.
That was the start of my "true career" — the life of an office worker, the only place (or so I was told) that I could successfully move up the ladder.
And already, after that one summer, I was numbed with boredom after finding there were only so many days in a row I could read for 7 hours straight, listening half-heartedly to gossip, maybe answering phones to help students figure out the labyrinthine website.
It was hell. And I had several decades more to go of this. I remember the faint whine of depression at the back of my skull even then, but I ignored it. Maybe I had to get used to it. Instead, I let anxiety take over, I let the fear of being rejected, of not being enough, of not putting up with enough shit to be worthy of promotion, to fuel me.
I tried my hand at finding other jobs that interested me, but I iteratively got bored of every one of them. It wasn't the content of the job, per se (though that summer job was particularly awful), it was the environment. It was the quality of the time I spent doing something day in and day out in such a structured and monotonous way.
But, the thing is, it is The Way. It is what we all have to do to win, to "chase the dragon" (as King Pellinore would put it). Though, even King Pellinore himself believed the dragon, aka "The Questing Beast", to be fake and simply chased it for the sport, to get out of his castle and fill up his day, to have purpose.
To fill up your day in search of success and purpose - that doesn't seem like that would look the same for everyone. In fact, it kind of feels like a one-size-fits-all solution to the human desire of fulfillment. Economically fueled livelihood isn't everyone's cup of tea, even if the contents of that cup are particularly appetizing: healthcare, PTO, gym perks, not having to worry about putting food on the table.
Maybe that's the point, too. But I don't want to bash everyone over the head with another one of my anticapitalism rants.
Also, spoiler alert, some countries (cough America cough) can't even promise a thriving livelihood to all those who opt for this path.
That anxiety and depression? Well it never left me. It always found a way of coming back. And during the pandemic when all of us had to pretend that 500+ thousand of our people fucking died just so we could keep our company afloat... well, that does something to you. It does something to a whole generation that's been told they're safe and secure, only to realize that the previous generation took hammers to the already shoddy floor and left holes that disappeared into gods-know-where.
A friend of mine told me the other day that we are all only six degrees from homelessness. I see that as 6 inches from one of those holes at any given time.
I remember, even by the end of last year when the pandemic was raging, the screaming of my brain, the heat of my tears, I remember that all ebbing. I became twitchy. Everything made me nervous. But I stayed fast to my computer, knowing that if I clung to this last bit of normalcy, then everything would be fine.
Except, something happened this summer. My brain went eerily quiet. But not the kind of quiet that comes after a storm. It was the kind you hear in graveyards when the wind rustles through the empty branches on an October night.
That's when my body started to go.
It started by feeling tired. I would give myself 10 extra minutes in the morning. And then 20. Everything felt heavy and weak. No matter how much sleep I got.
I struggled opening jars I had closed only weeks before. I didn't want to exercise, but I made myself do so.
I was hungry all the time but couldn't make myself eat, so I snacked on unhealthy foods. Eventually I had to stop stocking them in the apartment.
No matter how much coffee I drank, I still felt like I was stewing in tar and sludge.
During my breaks I wouldn't go on walks, I would go a few steps from my desk and then lie down on the floor and stare at the ceiling. Sometimes my eyes would drift closed and I'd fall asleep.
I felt nothing. Not even love or lust; my already-low libido disappeared entirely.
Nothing made me laugh. I hadn't cried in several months. My period was several weeks late. I wasn't pregnant given the aforementioned lack of libido and thus lack of sex.
It was around then I knew something was wrong.
Only a couple weeks before this epiphany I had gotten blood drawn. The day I went to get the results I had a splitting headache that felt like it was going to cleave my head in two. My doctor pulled out my results and marked three things, though the last was most surprising.
"Your cortisol is less than a third of what it should've been when we took your blood that morning."
I didn't react; I had since stopped reacting to things. But I knew how to pretend. I acted surprised. I was given a regimen to follow in an attempt to "prevent my levels from dropping further" - no mention of getting them back up right now. Who knows how much rest that would take.
Turns out cortisol can stop spiking and reacting when it's presented with too much stress for too long. It's funny. There've been studies saying that stress can kill you. I certainly felt like I was dying.
I went home and promptly spiked a 101.1 degree fever. It wasn't covid according to the testing site. I didn't have any sore throat or stuffy nose. But my body ached. I curled up on the couch and stayed there.
Through my 29th birthday. Through most of the weekend.
The fever is gone but I'm writing you now to let you know that the exhaustion is not gone. It sticks around. I've been trying to work but cannot. It is debilitating. And also, fuck, literally nothing is worth making you feel like this. Nothing. I haven't felt this horrible since I was depressed in high school.
However, then I was crouching from dark thoughts coming from a dark place I've since put a candle in - now I'm just drained. Dried. Wrung out. Not enough to even be a wreck.
I could have money, and be chained to my desk, and pretend like the world isn't on fire, that we haven't lost more to this raging pandemic, but then I'd also have nothing.
Because that's what it feels like my body and mind have become. I hope they haven't wandered too far away from me to get them back. I miss them; and who I was before this set in.
That child on the field, in the snow.
That child. Are they still there, do you think?