Opportunity Comes Knocking… I Think

I have been in a professional wasteland now for two or three years. After my unexpectedly sudden departure from the world of tug boats I actually managed to land on my feet. The tug boat job allowed a lot of freedom in terms of where we lived because I was commuting to work and living on the boat for two or three weeks at a time. Where home was didn’t really matter. We settled in an area close to where we grew up and things were fine until I was thrust back in the job market. Opportunity for a guy with two college degrees and no real ability to build or create things with my hands was nonexistent in this area, but I fell into this sales job that actually paid phenomenal money for such an economically distressed region. Sadly a year so after I took this job a bad economy got much worse. For two years now I have been a salesman trying not to sell. It is an odd position to be in, but I the cold hard truth is my company cant afford to supply me with product to sell so every order becomes a potential customer service nightmare. It is exhausting and it has completely worn me down.

The one upside is that I don’t work a lot of hours in the run of a week, and the flexibility in my schedule has made family life somewhat easier. I have learned to cook and actually quite enjoy it now. I cook the vast majority of the meals we eat. My son is 2 ½ and when problems arise with daycare, illness, doctors, etc., I have had the ability to step in and deal with them. In fact today I am home with my son as a stomach bug has swept through the daycare hitting every child and the sitter with the single exception of my son. During the summer months when economic opportunity blosoms along with the flowers I have been able to earn supplemental income to offset some of what I am losing through lost sales. I get paid  a salary that for this area would be respectable money plus a small commission on business done with all my accounts. Despite losing 20% of my pay over the last two or three years I still make ok money. Its not great, and if it gets to be less we will have a problem, but it would be hard pressed to get much worse. For the hours I work it is still shockingly good pay for this area.

Of course business can’t continue this way. Eventually things will either get better or I will lose my job. The current circumstances cannot remain. I do business over a large area, but the industry remains a small community and the financial woes of the company I work for are becoming less and less a secret. Tuesday a salesman that works for a competing company, but with whom I get along well, called  to tell me he was leaving his job. He works for a significantly more stable company. If they are half as stable as they appear from the outside they will be twice as stable as the company I work for. It is a good opportunity.  I spoke to the owner of the company yesterday afternoon., and after having spoken with this other sales guy again I fully expect to receive a job offer.

So the question in the back of my head is why aren’t I excited about this? I have gotten very little sleep the last two night because of the worry. I was wracked with anxiety last night about jumping into the unknown. I have struggled throughout the day today with what exactly the problem is, and I have come to a couple conclusions. The first is that I am simply comfortable. I have written at length about the challenges my stomach presents to a job on the road. In this slow economy I work so few hours that my real exposure to these on the road issues is limited, and because I am operating out of my house nearly five hours from the nearest boss if I am having a rough go of it I can always cut a day short. I have become comfortable and a little lazy too. The second reason is a misguided sense of loyalty that has gotten me in trouble before. I like the people I work with, and they are a known quantity. Lastly and most importantly is the simple truth that I don’t want to be a goddamned salesman. I don’t really like it, and I am not all that good at it. It is not a great gig for a guy with generalized and social anxiety problems. I am AWFUL at cold call sales. My current job requires none of that. My focus these days is on preserving the customers I have, not trying to expand the group of people I cannot serve. In a more stable company I am going to be expected to grow the client base. For some time now I have been dreaming of my escape from this job into something I actually want to be doing. I never really considered jumping from one sales job to another.

The offer has yet to come through, but in talking with the other sales guy we are probably going to hang up on money. The company I work for currently is headquartered out of state and their pay scale reflects competitive salaries for where they are from not up here. I know the sales guy I would be replacing made $5k – $7K less than I did last year even with my god awful sales. I cant afford a pay cut so if they cant match or beat my current circumstances it leaves me little choice but to stay on this sinking ship.

Time will tell how this opportunity will work out, but it has opened my eyes some. I am way to comfortable wallowing along with my current employer. The customer service challenges created by their financial problems are incredibly stressful, and are starting to reflect on my personal reputation in this business, yet I am having second thoughts about leaving even if they match the money I am making now. Why is that? Even if it has become even clearer that I do not want to be a salesman doesn’t it make sense to jump to a safer job until I can figure out my new path? I really needed my life to stabilize and calm down in the first non Klonopin months. This is not exactly what I had in mind.

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A Step Forward

I received the following email from the Coast Guard yesterday…

Important information concerning your credential “MMC, Reference Number: 123 and Application ID: XYZ” from the National Maritime Center.

Your application has cleared the safety and suitability vetting and medical screening/evaluation processes and is currently awaiting a professional qualification evaluation.

Sincerely,

National Maritime Center

Apparently I am no longer incompatible with maritime safety. Now after all this I actually get to see if they are going to give me what I asked for in the first place.

Tests and Choices

In my last entry I defended the idea that those that suffer from depression and anxiety are actually much stronger than they feel, and are certainly stronger than the general public gives them credit for. Last week I was challenged to believe all that about myself. It was a long bad week that left little time to do anything but get through it let alone do any writing.

Back in November I took a spill on the walk outside my house landing hard on my right elbow. It hurt like hell at the time and has continued to be painful as the weeks have passed. I finally saw a Doctor about it who thought I should see an orthopedic surgeon. When that appointment came around it was determined that I should have an MRI of the elbow. I wasn’t all that worried about it until I was asked during the registration if I was claustrophobic. I have had a couple encounters with actually being trapped in relatively small spaces that have stuck with me, but I have never considered myself claustrophobic. I am actually quite sure that anybody would have been scared in those previous circumstances. Of course if you ask a guy with an anxiety problem if he is claustrophobic you are going to get their brain moving and that is never a good thing.

I have had a creeping feeling that last couple weeks that I am slipping. I don’t want to face it head on because I have come to believe in self fulfilling prophecies. In my experience if I get worried about how I am going to deal with something the worst case scenario of those worries often ends up being the case. It is probably stupid and maybe even reckless, but I feel that if I admit I am slipping I will fall, and if I ignore it and try to keep on trudging it will go away. To be clear I am talking about anxiety here not depression.  

Back to the MRI story… In the days leading up to the appointment I was feeling generally uneasy about it but I kept telling myself it that it cant be that bad. I figured I would tell the technician about my background and play it by ear. I was sitting in the waiting room when the tech came to get me, and I pulled a typical guy stunt. The tech was young, female, and attractive. Why should this matter? It shouldn’t. I am happily married and well off the market, but I am a guy and pride or ego or whatever stepped in and I suddenly wasn’t so sure about confessing my insecurities. Stupid. Very stupid. She did eventually ask the claustrophobia question, and I muttered something about generalized anxiety.

When we got in the room with the machine I was stunned at the size of it. Turns out upper extremities are about the most

The opening in a GE Signa MRI machine

Image via Wikipedia

difficult part of the body to scan. She lays me on my stomach with my arm out in front of me, and gets me all propped up on pillows. I am laying on the little gurney thing look at the hole thinking that the whole center of the machine is going to slide out as the gurney slides in. I mean it has too right? There is no fucking way my fat ass is going to fit in that little god damned hole. Imagine my surprise when  I was wrong. She tried three times to stuff me in there and it just wasn’t going to work. Now I am overweight, but were not talking obscene. I am 5’11” and weigh in at 250 pounds. I have wide shoulders probably from ten years of competitive swimming. I am big, but I am not out of control. There are plenty of folks fatter, and plenty of guys with bigger shoulders than me, but I was not going to fit head first. Her next attempt was to put me on my back. Of course that puts the bad arm at my waist meaning my waist is going to be in the center of the machine and I will be ALL THE WAY in. I get situated and she says I have to roll up on my side a little and raise my left are over my head.  When I asked why she said it was the only way she could get my shoulders in the machine. At this point I am still playing along, but the anxiety is at a very high level and the associated stomach upset is building. I get my arm over my head and she places a grid over my bad arm and ties it to me, which effectively ties me to the gurney. When it comes to me and small spaces I am fine if I feel like I can get out. It is not so much the tiny space as the feeling of being trapped that bothers me, but here I am getting ready to be wedged back in that tiny hole with one armed up over my head, and the other tied down. She begins to run me in slowly getting my up on my side a little more to squeeze me in. My shoulders are folding up and my head is sliding down the side of the tube. My nose is an inch from the top of the tube, and as I go in it is getting darker as my body mass closes the hole.  I have a sudden image of myself puking in the tube unable to move and I am done. Get me out of this thing!!

I was embarrassed and felt like shit. Many of my troubles mirror those of my mother. She cant even get in an elevator. She has had a couple MRIs but they always involved valium. When I was on my way home and told my wife what had happened her response was “you are your mother’s son” which wasn’t exactly the hug I was looking for. The remainder of the week I suffered through the anxiety hangover. When something like that happens it is not over when it is over. Once those chemicals get flowing in my brain they don’t just stop. I was low, easily angered, my stomach was a mess, and I was always on edge. Other events transpired over the week to reinforce all those feelings. I have been dealing with gradually decreasing levels of anxiety for the last seven or eight days. They are not decreasing fast enough.

The new plan is for me to go check out one of the larger bore MRI machines and see if I can hack being in that one before I make an appointment. Having just been through, and maybe still going through, the Klonopin withdrawal the last thing I want is to be drugged up for this test. It will probably be the end of this week before I can make that happen. I am trying not to schedule it and just do it when time allows to prevent any build up of anxiety.

I am not sure what I am going to do with this increased state of anxiety. I have written before that I feel like I am flying with no net, and that sensation is still strong. The Klonopin was my filter, and to a large extent my safety blanket, but it is gone. With my Coast Guard documents still in limbo I am in a tough spot. I see a few choices but they all blow. The first and most likely course is to hold steady and see what happens. I could always try a little talk therapy to see if it takes the edge of. Another option is to go back to the shrink and say I cant hack it, which will make me feel like a failure, and will likely lead to the loss of my documents. An alternative to this would be to get the medication from a different doctor and keep my mouth shut. The last option would be to go back to the SSRIs and all their associated side effects. The effects of this on my sex life and marriage make it the least likely course even if it is the one that would probably make me feel the best. I have written before about a life filled with unpleasant choices, and if that list doesn’t prove my point I don’t know what does.

I am at least back to believing that if I can go about my day to day life with all the above shit going on that I am actually stronger than people think.

A Day In The Life And Weakness As Strength

I want to start by recapping the highlights of my day yesterday. It was typical of a day in the life. There have been much worse, and there have been much better. My day to day life runs pretty similar to this experience.

I have written of late that my stomach gave me a nearly three week reprieve before letting me down again late last week. It has continued to be unsettled and cause me anxiety, but things have generally been better than that first day last week. I had to leave yesterday for work earlier than normal. It certainly wasn’t early by most standards, even mine, but for this job it was earlier than I typically get on the road. I left the house at seven for a rather remote destination about 2 ½ hours away. About twenty minutes from home I passed through the biggest town I was going to see on the way. My stomach was feeling uneasy, but I felt a little hungry too so I took the chance and swung into a fast food joint. I know this crappy food doesn’t help my stomach, but it doesn’t bother me every time I eat it, and my stomach acts up plenty when I haven’t had any in days.

Thirty minutes or so later it was clear that I was going to pay a price for this. The discomfort was higher in my stomach than normal, of course right? I did just eat, and it felt as if my body may reject the meal from either direction, or maybe both. At this point my mind drifts to the talk I had heard about a stomach bug that has been around lately, and the thought that I may actually be sick creeps into my mind. About thirty minutes from my destination I pass through the last town of any size I will see and strike off down a lonely road towards a place that truly feels like you have reached the end of the earth.

As I travel down this road I feel the anxiety building. My mind starts to race…There are no bathrooms until I get back out to the main road, what if I puke, what if I shit myself, I could turn back, but somebody would have seen me. How do I explain that? Even if I turn back I am 2 ½ hours from home. Other people are expecting me today. They changed plans to meet me. I have to see them to meet deadlines. How will I deal with the new timeline if I cant do it?, and on and on and on… Suddenly I cant sit still in my seat. I feel the urge to move… To flee. I adjust myself in my seat to release some of the tension. I take a deep breath. Slow in. Hold it. Slow out. The urge passes, but the general feeling of unease stays. My stomach is upset still but I carry on.

At my first destination I get out at a guys house, and we do our business. We are outside and it is raining and about 31 degrees. As I begin to get cold my body wants to shiver and some of the physical sensations of fear are replicated by my body’s reaction to being cold. Luckily the business is short and I am back in my vehicle with the heat cranked up to take off the chill. About halfway back to the main road I have to make a second stop. Here I am alone, but again outside in the rain, and the chill triggers the anxiety false alarm again. Again the heat is cranked as I make my way back to the world.

When I get back to the first store I stop and go in to grab a box of Altoids Mints. The strong peppermint sometimes settles my stomach and I eat them three at a time. They actually begin to help some. By now it is ten in the morning and I am two hours into a constant feeling of physical illness and general unease that was punctuated by one pronounced anxiety spike. I make my way to the next stop and am feeling somewhat better when I arrive. Much of the stomach pain has quieted down, but the uneasy feeling won’t go away. At this stop I have much to do. I am making patterns and taking measurements. The process will take about 90 minutes and there is no restroom. About half way through with paper spread all over the place I begin to feel trapped. Not claustrophobic, but it occurs to me that I cant just leave. I have a lot of stuff to pick up and I would take me ten minutes or so to be in a position to leave. Normally this thought would not have entered my head, and if it did it wouldn’t have bothered me, but in the aftershocks of the morning’s anxiety it result in instant stomach cramping. I try to let my body relax and keep working hoping it will pass and it does. They cramping comes and goes one more time while I am there. Throughout the remainder of the day I am plagued with repeated short bouts of stomach cramping. Luckily they are never all that severe and they don’t last all that long before passing, but here is still one more surprise in store for me.

In the late afternoon I am scheduled to see my shrink to update him on the Klonopin situation. This blog post notwithstanding things are going well, and it is time for him to write me a letter and get this process with the Coast Guard moving again. It’s about three in the afternoon, and I have switched from light hearted sports talk radio to an afternoon current events show I enjoy. The show is often funny and a little irreverent so I can get some interesting perspective on the day’s news while still getting the occasional laugh. Of course to get to the show I have to get through the actual newscast. One of their stories talks about seventy some odd people being killed at an Egyptian soccer match when the fans rushed the field. I later discovered that the deaths resulting from actual fighting between fans on the field, but that information was not in this initial broadcast. My mid is flooded with images of people being crushed by a wave of humanity. I am suddenly one of the players seeing the swarm of people and turning to escape only to discover the swarm is coming from every direction. Before I can stop it I am in the crowd. I can feel the pressure of the bodies pushing against one another. I can feel the fear of trying to escape the crowd, but not being able to press through the mass of humanity. I imagine the consequences of falling to the ground. Finally my mind returns and I chastise myself for allowing my brain to go down that road, but it happened so damn quick. It was all over in the time it took to read this, but I cannot allow my mind to do that to me.

The appointment goes well, abd the ride home should take an hour. It has been raining on and off most of the day with temps either side of freezing, but now it is dark and getting colder. As I drive away from the coast the roads go from wet to frozen. There are cars off the road. Traffic is moving at rates from 15 – 25mph. On one hill an eighteen wheel fuel truck is stopped. He cant make the hill because of the ice. I pass a truck who had blown by me just prior to the point where the roads went to shit. He is off in the trees, and the police are already on the scene. Conditions are dangerous and I am tight, but there is no anxiety break through. In fact my biggest anxiety issue is what if my line of traffic gets stopped by an accident and my stomach acts out. The last twenty miles takes nearly and hour. When I get home I pull into my drive which slopes downhill. I put the van in park and let off the brake. As the van rolls into the parking break and is stopped I slide another foot down the driveway. It was a nasty night. My stomach does eventually explode, but thankfully I am home, and it only involves a couple trips up the stairs. The day is done.

So by now if anybody is still reading they are probably wondering what the hell the point is to all of this. It’s simple. Many people who have never lived it or been close to it look at those who suffer from depression or anxiety as weak. It makes no sense to them. Having lived through this I say the opposite. I challenge anybody who thinks folks who suffer from depression and anxiety are weak to live through the day I just described, or any other sufferer’s day, and complete their job. I will freely admit that my job is affected by my condition, but I live through better and worse variations of the day I just described every single day of my life. Despite all of that I function reasonable well. I have heard that those who are anxious can’t be counted on if things get dangerous, but I made that trip on horrible roads with no increased anxiety at the end of a day dominated by anxious thoughts. I am not weak I am strong, and I bet you are too.