Life is full of change. Sometimes this change can be great! Getting married, having a kid, going on a nice vacation; all great things. Sometimes those changes suck. Sometimes they cause a little bit of funk.
I was browsing Twitter and came across this tweet from an independent film maker I follow. In an effort to make myself more transparent, I’m going to write about some of the funk in my life. Everybody has funky days and I think it’s a good exercise to put some things out on the table every once in a while and lean on your friends and colleagues for support.
Below you’ll find a few outlines of how I feel in various parts of my life. I hope they help you as much as writing this will hopefully help me.
My boss doesn’t read my personal blog (if he does, hi Blade!) but even if he did I would still write this stuff.
I’ve personally felt very unchallenged lately. I’ve had talks with my boss about this since we’re a small company and a few weeks ago I honestly didn’t know what to say. I hadn’t thought about it. Now that I’ve given it some thought, one of my biggest disappointments is the lack of variety in my work. Over the past 4 years, while things have only gotten better across the board in terms of pay, project timelines, and workflows; my personal drive for new and exciting doesn’t always line up with the projects on the whiteboard.
Part of this is business oriented. I work for a marketing agency. We build mostly marketing websites. They all follow a similar formula and I think it’s a good thing that they do. It doesn’t make sense to buy a McLaren racecar when the requirements for your daily transportation include a 7 mile commute on 45mph roads in suburban Kansas. Making things more complicated for the sake of complexity to appease my mental boredom is obviously a bad idea.
I would love to build something more complex than marketing sites. However, that responsibility comes with huge risks for my employer and colleagues. Failing a 6 month experimental development project would cost my employer tens of thousands of dollars in salaries as well as the lost revenue from a failed project of that size. We don’t run a VC backed venture. Failure to deliver on that kind of project would be a disaster for all parties involved. Not to mention that our team is currently made up of people who specialize in marketing. Creating bespoke software comes with its own challenges that don’t necessarily make sense when you don’t have cash to burn on the inevitable mistakes.
Part of me thinks that the only solution is to move on, but at this moment I can’t decide if that’s the best course of action. This is one area that definitely needs more thought in the future.
I feel like this is one area I do okay in, where sometimes it seems like others have a harder time. My relationship with my wife is healthy. She’s very adamant about what she wants and that lends itself to good communication. We’ve been happily married for just over 4 years now. The issues mainly stem from things that we’re both not good at.
My apartment is not as clean as I would like. My wife and I both recognize this as a flaw that we share. Dishes piling up for a few days is not uncommon, floors that need to be swept, a load of unfinished laundry, etc. By no means are we living in a hoarders style situation of trash up to the ceiling or toilets that look like they came from an abandoned horror house movie set. Just a little dirtier than we’re both comfortable with paired with some sort of crippling aversion to permanently changing our habits. Often we’ll clean and be really happy with the results only to find that by the next week we’ve neglected to stick with the plan to our own disillusionment.
Part of “home” for me includes personal finances, which are a tough subject for some. I honestly don’t have any issues talking about them in public. If you want more insight feel free to send me a message. Out of respect for my employer, I won’t list them in this post. I’m happy to offer advice or just talk through any numbers with you personally.
Financially, we’re in a decent place for a pair of millennials. We have enough money to pay our bills but that’s pretty much it. My wife and I have over $70,000 in debt, the vast majority of that being student loans. She has a degree in engineering so I’m not terribly worried that we’ll pay it off, but for the next 2-3 years we’re throwing every extra dollar at it.
This kind of penny pinching causes a lot of stress about stupid things. One example is that we’ve been living in apartments for a while now. On paper, we make plenty of money to be able to afford a house, but to responsibly own a house, we would need to spend a lot more of our budget setting money aside for when things inevitably go bad. We live in Texas and when the air conditioner breaks, it’s a literal emergency. Hell, this months electric bill is shaping up to be $200 for a 900 square foot apartment where the unit can’t even keep the temperature under 80 in this extreme heat.
Currently paying rent is cheaper, but that comes with all of the little things that add up when you rent. Plus, it would add years to our plan to pay off our debt. Surprisingly, the impulse to buy big things that all of our friends have (houses, new cars, etc) is one area we both stick to without it feeling like pulling teeth.
An area that is more personal is my physical health. If you’re reading this and have never met me, you wouldn’t know that I’m overweight. Europeans would label me as grossly obese but I’m just normal obese to Americans and that’s plenty to make me feel terrible without adding anyone else’s opinion.
What really frustrates me is that I know it’s a problem. I know what I’m eating isn’t healthy. I vividly remember what it was like to be able to run for a couple of hours at soccer practice and not die and I yearn for that freedom when I think about it. Some days I really want to go out and do something physical, but then after literally two minutes my brain does a 180 and I start to loathe the thought of even stepping outside.
I’ve had asthma since I was a young child. Since I’ve become an adult, I’ve used it as an excuse to not work out. While I can’t run safely for more than a few minutes, I’m more than capable of walking as far as I want. I even have an air conditioned gym in my apartment building that seems to be empty whenever I peak inside. There’s nobody there to judge me.
Diet is much the same. When I go to the grocery store, often what I buy is pretty healthy. Since we’re on a budget, the grocery list often includes things like bulk rice and 3-5 pounds of chicken, which is prepared with some vegetables if I’m not too lazy or flavored with a bullion cube. I don’t drink except on rare occasions, and it’s usually in a social setting, so I save a few bucks there!
Then the depression hits.
For no fucking reason other than to screw with itself, my brain decides today isn’t the day to feel good. Probably because I hate healthy the day before. So what do I do the make myself feel better? Double cheeseburger and fries with a large Dr. Pepper please! By that point I’ve already given up on the day being productive and the rest of my meals follow a similar arc. Also, most of the budget for weekly meals was spent at the grocery store, so now I’m dipping into my limited “fun money” allowance to buy food. Now you start to see how this all intertwines.
It’s a self fulfilling prophecy on the worst kind of “positive” feedback loop. Eat shitty, feel shitty, which makes me want to eat shitty so I feel better just long enough to go to sleep where I don’t have to feel shitty until tomorrow. I’m fairly certain I have a caffeine addiction with killer headaches to halt all work until I get a fix. I’m a drug addict, except my drugs are unhealthy food instead of heroin. At least with heroin I might lose a few pounds!
When I write those words, I don’t feel good. I don’t want to be addicted to anything except something cheesy and nice like loving my family. But no matter how many times I try to change it, I fall off the wagon and I’m never sure how to get back on it.
I’ve alluded to it throughout this post. It’s kind of the point of my writing thus far. All of the things I’ve mentioned negatively affect my mental health. There are others things I didn’t mention that don’t have negative effects but this post isn’t about my dog (she’s the best).
Sometimes I just feel shitty. Sometimes I wake up and don’t want to get out of bed. It’s a struggle to move sometimes. Walking to the mailbox feels like pulling teeth. Things that normal people supposedly don’t have issues with.
To be perfectly honest with you, I don’t know if this is normal, because our culture is one such that things of this nature are never discussed. Especially among men. We’re conditioned by society to always “be a man” and to be tough and face all your problems head on. Obviously it doesn’t work like that for everyone. Instead some turn to drugs or alcohol. Some turn to Facebook and Twitter to get away. Some of us turn to food, even if we don’t need it.
Still, I’m not convinced that even if everything I’ve described changed tomorrow, that I would feel any different. Something still tells me that life is always gonna be a little shitty; that you’ll always have a little bit of funk.
The truth is that people are imperfect. Nothing we do will ever be good enough for everyone, and at a certain level we all crave the acceptance of others (obviously some people more than others). I’m having to learn to be okay with who I am as well as start the change to influence parts of myself to change to something I can be okay with.
On a more serious note, I’ve now known two people that were hugely influential in my life that I’ve lost to suicide. While I obviously can’t know exactly what they were thinking, a part of me really wishes I could have done something to help. Every day I spend in depression is another day spent contemplating those tragedies and my role within them, with more thoughts wondering how people would feel if I was the subject of similar tales of terrible news. (Note: I don’t want to kill myself, I promise)
We all have those thoughts though, even if only for a second. Even if we know we won’t ever act on them. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve contemplated what would happen if I swerved into a concrete median on the highway. A Reddit thread from a while back included thousands of people with that exact same thought. It’s human nature to be curious of our own mortality. Some days it just seems harder to ignore those thoughts and focus on the life right in front of you.
Hopefully, this post is a step in the right direction. Maybe it will be the friendly nudge to myself to get my act together. To metaphorically clean my room (and a smidge literal as well). There are so many things that I want to do differently that prioritizing them all at once seems impossible. Just writing this sentence is making me anxious.
Paying it Forward
Despite all the self loathing in this now almost 2,000 word article, I have had some help in the past. My wife has always been incredibly supportive of my healthier habits and leaders in my church have helped walk with me through difficult times in my personal life. Now I want to pay that forward.
If you need to talk to anyone about a shitty situation or just want someone to vent to, I’m here to listen. I am 100% serious. If you want someone to help hold you accountable with your personal goals, I’ll be there to encourage you.
If you want to talk about your day at work or anything under the sun, reach out on Twitter, @DaronSpence, or send me a message here on my personal site and we can start an email conversation. Whatever makes you the most comfortable. You can talk as broadly or a specific as you like. It can be totally anonymous if you want. A throwaway email account only takes a minute to setup.
Everyone deserves someone to talk to. Personally, I could use someone to talk to as well. So do us both a favor and let’s chat. I look forward to hearing from you soon.