You know how life fucks with you and sends you down a rabbit hole?
You don’t get to fall like Alice, though. You hit every root and rock on the way down. You get scratched, torn, and bruised. Sometimes, you get broken.
You climb out of the hole. You might be sore and need to heal, but you are free and stronger.
Then, before you can take a few steps, your clumsy ass trips and you go right back down the hole.
After this happens a few times, you look around the hole and think, “Fuck it. I live here now.”
I’ve been living down in that hole for a long time. I’m not saying I haven’t had glimpses of sunshine, but I’ve been down there a while. For longer than is comfortable to think about.
I had an epiphany today.
Not a huge one, but a good one. I don’t know if this is going to give me an easy escape hatch from the rabbit hole or not, but at the very least it’s convincing me that I can make that climb out again. Even if I need to rest along the way.
The epiphany happened at the end of a long ass day at work. You guys, I was in a meeting all day long. I have to be in a meeting all day tomorrow as well. It’s like torture.
Anyway, my involvement nearly all day was minimal. Answered a few questions, queried some data. Mostly, I just sat there drenched in sweat because the conference room temperature felt like the seventh level of hell. I spent most of the morning surreptitiously checking email on my phone and eating the fun size candy bars that were within arm’s reach.
My friend, Mountain Girl, gave me this advice once: “Always don’t talk.” This advice was given to try to stop me from babbling or saying stupid awkward things. I want to take her advice. It just seems I am incapable of taking her advice.
This part of the story has nothing to do with my epiphany. I just thought it was funny.
Anyway, the whole morning, REM songs were running through my head. Then, I realized why. One of the project consultants looked just like Michael Stipe.
We were pausing for a break and I started to say something to the consultant about who I thought he looked like. At the same moment, the new VP of operations asked the consultant a business related question.
VP: Oh, I’m sorry Michelle. I interrupted you.
Me: No. It’s not important. Please continue.
VP: Seriously, please ask your question.
Me: It wasn’t business related. Not important.
Me: I’m not talking.
Me, turning to the consultant: Fine. Do you ever get told you look like someone famous?
Consultant: Yes. All the time.
Consultant: Anthony Edwards.
Me: Oh. No. I don’t see that. I see Michael Stipe.
A few hours later, my boss who was sitting to my left, asked me why I was keeping hash marks in the margin of my notebook.
Me: Every time someone says something that freaks me the fuck out, I make a hash mark.
Side conversations had been going on and I didn’t mean for anyone else to hear my response but my boss. There was a lull in the conversation. Because there is always a lull in the conversation when I say something that is intended for only one person.
Anyway, the rest of the meeting, people were prefacing their remarks with “I don’t want to give you a hash mark, but…”
So, always don’t talk. I have all day tomorrow to not put myself in an awkward conversation in front of management and strangers. I think I can do it.
My part of the meeting wasn’t until the end of the day. I was tired, bored, and resigned to the fact that I was working over at least an hour past my normal quitting time.
The more I spoke with this consultant, the more I felt my self-confidence swell. I haven’t felt this confident at work in years. Way too many years.
Two jobs ago, 9 years ago, I was the director of IT at a manufacturing company. It’s not like I didn’t scrape my elbows a few times, and in some fairly material ways, I was a terrible manager. But I was good at managing projects, vendors, and negotiating contracts. I was confident in my decisions.
I wasn’t fearless, but I had moments of fearlessness.
I left that job because the company was sold and I could see the neon sign on the wall. We were all going to be out of a job soon.
I left management and went back into programming. I spent seven years working for two bullies and dealing with a douche twizzle, narcissistic bully co-worker.
Being an adult child of a narcissist, it had taken me years to build self confidence. I was in my early 40s when I took over an IT department. It was the first time in my life that I wasn’t tormented with constant self doubt and fear.
It wasn’t long before the misogynistic, toxic environment at that next job chipped away at the confidence I had worked so hard to gain. I spent 7 years at that next job. Then I decided that I wasn’t going to spend another day either being angry or feeling dead inside at work.
My new job is so much not like my last job. The people are nice. My boss is friendly and reasonable. I should have felt the weight of the world lift from my shoulders.
I didn’t, though. My self-confidence had melted away. I found fear my constant companion, once again. Improving my environment was a good decision, but that did not fix the damage.
Then, I sat through this long ass meeting today.
I listened to myself talking with management and consultants about hurdles, ideas, plans, and I was confident in that voice.
I felt good driving home. My end of the day anxiety spiked a few times, but then settled down. I felt light in a way that I haven’t felt for a long time. Years.
I feel sad that I’ve been missing that lightness for so long that I forgot that it missing. I am also hopeful that maybe I’m taking a step forward.
Perhaps, my epiphany isn’t an escape hatch. Perhaps, it’s a foothold in my climb out. Maybe it’s fleeting and won’t live another day.