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Struggle

24 October, 2009

Cathartic rant to follow.

I’ve now been out of full-time employment for a week now having finished up my arduous 4-week contract in Sydney following on from being made redundant at the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. The reference to “arduous” is three-fold: living away from home for extended periods, stressful work and not coming home in the evenings after work to my own home and my girlfriend. It was hard and it took its toll, but I’m glad I’m through it.

So I’ve been spending the week working on marketing myself as a freelancer, following up various business opportunities, getting involved in Imagine Innovation and catching up on things that have gone unattended for far too long. If I could start billing soon I could get used to this freelancer’s lifestyle – free coffee, relaxing atmosphere, good company (my girlfriend is studying), no crappy office air conditioning and fluoro lights to give me headaches and sinus problems, fresh air, work at my own pace, flexible hours. It’s pretty awesome – but as I said, dependent on actually starting to do some billable work. It’s only a week in – things take time to work through the pipeline.

It’s funny how stressful things can affect you without you even realising it – you can gloss over events or life changes and pretend like nothing has really happened but you can’t fool yourself, drastic change is drastic change and it does raise your anxiety and depress your mood. Like when I had that heart scare ealier this year which turned out to be psychological most likely work stress related. I wouldn’t have accepted that I was suffering from increased stress at work but the hammering palpitations and declining health said otherwise.

While I am reluctant to admit it, the last 18 months have knocked me around a bit, starting with leaving my cult church of 25 years and with it my family and friends, getting into my first-ever relationship, nearly going bankrupt, stress at work and then being made redundant plus many other things I’ve had to deal with. It all adds up.

I push myself hard. There are several reasons for that:

Firstly I have high expectations of myself (and others) simply because that is my genetic nature. I’m a bit of a perfectionist – which is odd, because I’m also not a finisher. The paradox frequently frustrates me, even though it kinda makes sense to me.

Secondly, due to my upbringing in a fundamentalist Christian cult I am used to living by strict laws which covered everything from obsessive worship and church attendance to laws against over-eating, working on Sundays, not making friends with those outside the church etc. I lived in a very small psychological box, which was like trying to stand on top of a 10 foot high, 2 inch wide totem pole. I eventually fell off; the hypocrisy and anti-intuitive nature of the place was too much for me. The fallout of course was months and months of trying to come to terms with my new identity in a post-Christian life and the long tail of guilt and fear. It was a very dramatic change, and even though I downplay the effects of most of the things I’ve been though I will willingly concede that June 18 2008 was the biggest decision, the biggest change in my life. You can read more about this in my upcoming blog and book project.

Thirdly, I need constant stimulation. I find it hard to relax, to let off the throttle just a bit. I’ll do it because my body needs it, because I need space – but it will get to me, pull me down. I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I realise I have a reasonably capable mind and it is always on the go. I have to constantly feed it new information, new ideas, new problems, new challenges … otherwise it starts to overheat and break down. Metaphorically of course. When a plane stalls it stops climbing and starts to plummet. Happens to me too. It is an insatiable beast … and while I hate to feed it the 40-hour-a-week crap that comes with a full-time office job, at least it is something. This week I’ve struggled to stay motivated because there’s a lack of available stimulation needed to motivate me and I can’t get motivated to go find stimulation. I have the brainpower there to develop ideas that I can see on the fringe of my conciousness, I just can’t kick it into gear.

It’s a little frustrating – but the new me (still a work in progress) chooses not to engage with that frustration. I just see it as a signal that something is amiss and I need to address the core issue, not the symptoms. Trying to deal with frustration directly is like trying to wrangle a bull at a rodeo that’s just slurped up an entire trough of black coffee. It’s pretty futile circular reference stuff.

Fourthly, I am continually trying to evolve – both towards something (still trying to figure out whether that future ideal is my invention or the cult’s) but mostly away from something. I need to distance myself from my roots, where I’ve come from, who I was. Apart from other things, I used to be terribly shy – I hated talking to people and was terrified of public speaking. So I threw myself into it, over and over again until I got over it. That’s just one example of how I push myself.

So this week I’ve been surfing above an undercurrent of growing anxiety and malcontent. I can feel its presence, but I’m staying above it because only in this clear headspace can I continue to work through setting up my freelance career, addressing these lifechange issues and stay happy. I know once I solve my mid- to long-term income stream issues and these projects come through then that black undercurrent will dissapate so it’s not like I’m ignoring the issue. I have a solution, and it doesn’t involve tackling the “What if?” stampede of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt head-on.

As always, I am grateful for having a wonderful, caring girlfriend who is also a qualified psychologist. I know that in my selfishness and self-centeredness I often forget to recognise and appreciate her and during my emotional outages I simply forget all that is good in my life. And then I hate myself for that, and the cycle perpetuates, amplifies until … well, I always manage to pull out in time.

So – there you go. I’m not sure if that’s even readable, but I needed to do that. I think I’m trying to acknowledge something, but I can’t appear weak. No, can’t have that! It’s ok – I’m coming to terms with my humanity. Slowly. Continuing to purge the post-zealot brainwashing and reach the centrepoint, the balance, the calm. Swinging like a pendulum through that middle every once in a while is not stability. It’s when the pendulum actually comes to rest in that point. So it’s not a linear path. It’s like when you’re on a swing and you scrub your feet on the ground on every pass to slow yourself down before you’re lifted into the air again, helpless until you gain traction for another brief moment.

Thanks for listening – I feel much better now, even if it doesn’t look like I got anywhere with it. But writing, sharing, reflection … they’re my traction points, they slow me down just that little bit more, bring me closer to that goal. And I will have to do it over and over again just as I did with my personal diary of quarter of a million words which I for the most part abandoned at the commencement of my current relationship last year in favour of from then on sharing with a Real Person™.

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