Happy birthday to me

By | 2012/09/26

Tomorrow it’s my birthday. I’ll be 39. My, “I can’t believe I’m not 40” year.

Ageing has always been a funny thing for me – for the most part I’ve ignored it, and usually on any given year I’ve thought I was at least one to two years older than I really was. You could say it’s because I suck at maths, but it’s equally because I’ve always thought getting older is better than the only other biological alternative.

This year has been a little different. My mood leading up to my birthday for the last week has been 50% foul, 50% depressed. I hesitate to use the word “depressed” because it’s a clinical term, but it’s probably been the closest I’ve ever felt to wondering whether I needed to be on anything. So, I’ll step on a few toes and use the word “depressed” rather than “sad”. (Apologies in advance to anyone who gets upset over that.) This has probably summed up my mood all week:

Happy birthday to me

The mood has been for a couple of reasons – fighting imposter syndrome over a personal project hasn’t helped, but it’s also been based on reflecting on what had been long term career goals. You see, by 40 I wanted to either be 100% working in solutions architecture (i.e., outside of day to day implementation work) or in management. At one point, years ago, I was on that path, but then the company I worked for collapsed and I’ve never really been able to gain the momentum since then I needed.

So in something akin to the old “mid life crisis” (so ironic, given how much I used to lambast anyone for using the term, but at 39 it seems most appropriate), I guess this impeding birthday was telling me one thing: I have (as of today, my last day of being 38), 366 days to either achieve those long term career goals, or realign what I get out of my career. It’s like standing naked in front of a mirror in strong white light – you’ll see a lot of things you’re not really happy with.

Wil Wheaton (yes, that Wil Wheaton) tweeted a couple of weeks ago, “depression lies”. That may be just about the most truthful thing I’ve read in years. Not to mention the most succinct.

It’s not quite complete though. So I’ll expand it to:

  1. Depression lies.
  2. Depression is destructive.

For me, at least, the second point is highly true. The worse I’m feeling, the more destructive I feel. Not in terms of doing something bad to myself – it’s honestly something that’s never occurred to me in any form of seriousness; even at my worst, if it pops into my head I get the giggles about it. That’s no judgement on anyone else who has been in that situation, it’s just how my brain seems to be wired. No, my destructiveness comes in the form of tearing down my achievements. So over the last few days I’d been seriously contemplating just going and hitting “delete” on my main, NetWorker blog, and this blog, and just about anything else I’ve done on-line that I’ve got control over.

All because I’ve spent the last week trying to work out whether I’m a failure or not.

Yet, depression lies, and depression is destructive. For me, it’s also neurotic. Imagine throwing one of those super bouncy balls, then just as it hits the ground, surrounding it with a small box. It’s going to beat up against the walls like crazy, and that’s how things work for me – just hurling my mind from one wall of bad thinking to another and not pulling out.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the middle of an argument with Darren when I had to abruptly leave for a chiropractic session. At my chiro, that involves laying face-down on a table for five minutes with heat packs on, then getting ten minutes of massage, then a five more minutes of heat packs, before the adjustment.

When I was seeing my psychologist last year he gave me two critical pieces of advice. The first was easy – when that fight-or-flight sensation develops, start doing deep slow breathing. The body can’t sustain both reactions simultaneously, so you can pull yourself out of fight-or-flight. The second bit of advice was about pulling myself back from stimuli – as he described it, going to sit in a room for half an hour to read a book, but forget the book. I never really believed the second one. The first one was easily demonstrable. The second one, less so – or so I’d thought.

At the chiropractor, having been in the middle of an argument just before, and not being able to do anything for 20 minutes, I finally had that epiphany and believed my psychologist.

And today I repeated it. I managed to pull myself back this afternoon long enough that “depression lies” didn’t just come back into my head, but it came back into my head in such a way that I believed it. It wasn’t a binary switchover; I still needed to talk and vent and let it out, but I could do that. I went over it all one last time in conversation and let it all spool out of me.

For the most part I’d dealt with my anger over-management issues last year. Today I’ve achieved something in dealing with how I resolve that neurotic, destructive sadness and self-doubt when it comes to visit. Not a cure, a first step.

That’s a pretty bloody awesome place to get to, and is a better self-administered birthday present than some bit of retail therapy.

So, happy birthday to me, indeed. I think I deserve it after that.