my random life #2: improbable workaholic

[a lost entry reconstructed]

Reading Lee’s musing about what he learned on vacation triggered a revelation for me. I might be a workaholic! It’s not a hard confession, but it’s just not how I think of myself (self-perception being as influential as it is).

What shook me up about Lee’s musing was that I too don’t know what to do on vacation or when I have too much time on my hands. In fact, what my natural gravity seems to move towards is emotional self-destruction.

For most of my life, I’ve had a sad disposition. To the degree that I think it partly formed my underbite. For the life of me, I could not understand why people would be happy when I didn’t feel happy. It wasn’t that life was hard, growing up we had what we needed. There was no tangible physical suffering or abuse. Though I did feel unloved. The crazy thing about feelings is that it can’t be controlled, it’s just what it is (though feelings can be re-framed, with much help and effort.) I just did not feel that happy feeling, and could not make myself to feel better.

Well into my 20s, towards the end of my seminary life, I finally got the encouragement to go see a counselor. I enjoyed talking with him. But it was a very short stint. The therapist loved movies and recommended many of them. I don’t recall actually getting those movies to see them. I don’t remember much else from those conversations.

Years later, the bottom fell out.

I left the pastorate and wondered about the what’s next. The emotional trauma was more than I could bear on my own, and intensely destructive thoughts bore down on me. Spiritual disciplines were burdensome, not helpful. I desparately needed help.

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. There was no family history of such a thing, and I was able to function “normally” during that year of recovery — I commuted work, did my jobs a-okay, with occasional moments when I needed a break.

I enjoyed talking to my counselor, and he provided the safe place for me to explore some of my deeper longings and yearnings, my pains and dilemmas. If I could afford it, I’d love to have a counselor to talk with all the time. It’s so hard to find such engaging conversation.

One issue we uncovered was my perspective on work. I didn’t really care what I did; I saw my job or career as a means for cash flow. Gotta do something to provide for my livelihood, and now, also for my family’s. I’d switched jobs every 3 years or so, and as the story goes, partly out of boredom from routines, partly out of not finding the kind of work that really got my juices going (still elusive for me).

But it was such a fearful thing for me to be without a job. I did not know what to do with myself, and I felt so badly if I couldn’t work and provide for myself and family. I thought my inability would cause my wife to leave me. It was a crazy conversation. I knew I wasn’t a workaholic, because I wasn’t aggressively climbing a corporate ladder, I don’t have an ounce of competitive juice inside of me, and I don’t take work home with me. I’m very good about leaving work at the office.

The counseling sessions went on for about a year. And we meandered about many issues in my complicated life, my random life. I’d have longer periods of lows and short bursts of highs. Those highs were so good, I’d have great ideas, got by on less sleep, highly productive, and life was incredibly good.

Sessions aside, I learned about taking better care of myself. I was more willing to submit to a daily routine, kept better sleeping habits, eating a little more, not necessarily healthier. Dieting was tried and didn’t do much for me. Exercise was tried and didn’t do much for me.

The breakthrough came when I answered a question for myself: what did I want. It came when I was journaling (on paper) one day. I wanted to have lots of friends and a loving family! For me, that means lots of conversations and hanging out. I don’t get as much as I want given my life circumstances, but to know what I wanted was life-giving. It was getting in touch with my heart, as if for the first time.

But, the work thing is still elusive.

cf. previous episode of My Random Life.

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