Bockelman Column: In case you were wondering…
Hello, all. What’s been happening while I’ve been gone?
Well, regarding the last several months, faithful readers may be curious why my byline hasn’t appeared in a single Craig Press story since mid-March.
Some people may know the basics of my absence, others may have assumed there was an extraterrestrial abduction involved, and still others may have been too busy dealing with recent weirdness in their own lives to worry about mine.
If I can be like any overly indulgent writer, I think I can sum it up with a simplistic analogy: my Jenga tower finally collapsed.
I know, that’s hardly any kind of description, but it will become more apparent as we go.
Getting ready for work on March 17, I went through my usual routine of wake up, shower, etc. with one big exception.
I flopped back onto my bed and then couldn’t get back up for hours.
Part of it was general weariness thanks to nary a wink of sleep the night before. With myriad stresses running through my brain, there was no chance of worthwhile slumber.
And yes, I realize we all have those stretches where you can’t turn off your anxiety, but what does one do when this nerve-induced insomnia becomes the unavoidable norm?
I don’t claim to have a harder life than anyone else. Writing for a small-town paper, you can either make a lot of friends or a lot of enemies, and I’ve been lucky enough that I get far more positive feedback than negative.
If anything, the relative ease of my day-to-day has made my mind so fragile that the slightest challenge or change is utterly overwhelming.
In the past two years, you’d think I’d be able to adapt to whatever came my way, given that every few months, things would completely shift, whether it was in job responsibilities, the number of people in my circle, or the pressure to make all content 100% flawless.
That last one was coming from myself more than anybody.
If I can get back to my belabored metaphor, the little wooden Jenga structure kept going higher while at the same time getting shakier as lower blocks were pulled out and recycled on a new level. It felt like every time something new went into my brain, something else in the support system got a little weaker.
In retrospect, I don’t know how well I was coping with every new setback or adjustment, mainly because each one simply led to another. Case in point: the same day I learned the news of my late editor passing away, a few hours later came a car crash on my way home from Denver.
Separately, neither of these were any fun to cope with, but when a pattern of mishaps keeps occurring, you can’t help but feel like there’s a bullseye painted between your shoulder blades.
Going back to March 17, aside from the usual woes that were amplified to deafening decibel levels (at least in my mind) it was around this time that this lovely new nuisance was rearing its head.
Anyone else hear about this COVID-19?
The wobbly wooden tower that was already threatening to fall apart had no chance when that cinder block came crashing down on it.
“Nervous breakdown” is a term that probably means different things to different people based on their psychological expertise, but I don’t think Freud would begrudge me using that cliché to describe how I was feeling that day.
The goal of getting through the day that was more and more daunting every time I awoke was no longer even feasible.
My only thought: I can’t do this.
Eventually I was able to break out of my mental pity party and found out I could take a leave of absence from the job, arguably a step up from how that damn virus has put the hurt on other people in the work world.
A respite from daily communication, expectations and the rest of the laundry list I thought was making me miserable was pleasant at first. However, a mental health vacation only has an effect if you’re truly dealing with your problems.
And, believe it or not, I was doing all I could to not help myself.
Without the distraction of work to take up my time, introspection became a full-time job and more than a few days in the weeks following my breakdown resulted in some very dark nights.
I put off getting therapy longer than I should have, (especially since it might have been effective over a decade ago) yet slowly but surely I started making progress.
Amid that healing was a reluctant camping trip with friends that somehow became an unofficial vision quest, but that’s a whole side story in this saga.
I also won’t bore you with the hastily started and abruptly paused novel and screenplay that both reside on my laptop…
All the while, the thought in the back of my head was that no matter how much better I might feel with my life, it was going to come to a crashing halt once I returned to the grind.
If there’s one kryptonite for writers, it’s a deadline, and I managed to impose not one but two on myself.
I can’t complain about my coworkers putting pressure on me since they didn’t complain once during my absence, and the few people who knew the details surrounding my sudden sabbatical haven’t made any demands of me to “get back to normal.”
If there’s a silver lining to the massive inconvenience that is coronavirus, it’s the realization that clinging to whatever routine you have, whatever comfort zone you’ve formed for yourself, whatever way you define “normal” is inevitably going to be shaken up if not shattered altogether.
And, so, Craig Press patrons, I’m bowing out of the job I’ve held the past seven years. My involvement with Moffat County’s beloved newspaper actually goes back twice that time since I’ve been writing in one capacity or another since 2006.
Now may hardly seem the best time to try and figure out a new life, but I also can’t cling to the familiar in the hopes that things will sort themselves out and I’ll somehow stumble upon mental clarity.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not burning this bridge entirely. You may still see my name attached to articles. Honestly, I haven’t thought too far into the future because I can’t imagine anybody’s plans are concrete as life keeps tearing into whatever foundation you thought you had like a jackhammer of disappointment.
Admittedly not my best bit of imagery, but I’ll go back to a familiar one to wrap things up with some advice.
Don’t let anyone turn a solid tower of blocks into a shaky structure with no base.
Eh, that’s not great either. But give me a break.
I’m still rebuilding.
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