I don’t really like to talk about it (or admit it), but sometimes I deal with extreme bouts of sadness and uncertainty. I don’t like to call it depression because I’m not depressed. I don’t see the world as an endless sea of hopelessness and I don’t feel like I’ll never shake off the depression. But when I get stuck in these little ruts, it seems hopeless at times.
This week I dealt with a larger than usual dose of sadness and uncertainty. I started a new insanely stressful project this past Monday, then found out on the same day that my wife might have breast cancer.
My new assignment is in Palo Alto, CA- a three hour time difference from Atlanta and 9 hours to get home, if you include the time change. The project is a large desktop migration that went to shit a long time ago and I am the new data guru brought in to hopefully make sense of their logistical woes and save the day. Expectations are high.
My new managers are optimistic about me, but I am scared to death I won’t be able to deliver. My mind was scattered in a thousand places all week. I kept having to ask people to repeat themselves, kept having to be shown things over and over again and all I could think about is my wife dying and my kids asking me night after night where their mommy is. I worried about my two year old not having any memories of her own about her mother later in life, having to rely on old cell phone videos and pictures.
Finally Thursday came along and it was time to go home. I walked in the door about 11pm that evening and my wife looked fine. She was sleepy, but smiling and happy to have me back home. Friday morning I got up and took my daughter to school, but then more work came and I hated it. As my wife rushed off to several doctors’ offices for more urgent tests, I had to sit in front of my little computer cranking away at tasks that seemed so small and meaningless in the grand scheme of things.
By Friday night the stress was getting to me pretty bad and my wife and I ended up getting into a shouting match. I acted childish. At one point she said my job was the only thing important to me and that I didn’t take care of our girls. I went to the bookshelf and started slamming all the thick, heavy, expensive text books that I’d accumulated through my eight years of grueling school on the floor. I shouted at her and threw fits like a toddler, complaining about all the lost nights and weekends I spent studying so I could get a good job, so that she could stay at home with the kids and not have to worry about working. I had a valid point, but it was lost in my storm of misplaced anger, fear, and outrage.
My wife and I weren’t really upset with each other, we were both simply scared and didn’t know what the hell to do with it. What kind of example were we setting for our girls? What were we teaching them? I had once again become the embodiment of weakness, something I loathe to my core.
The next morning I woke up early and hit the gym. I started my weekly ritual that I discovered this past week is more important to me than I ever realized.
I walked into a large group fitness room and set up for a Body Pump class. I grabbed heavier dumbbells and weight this week. I stacked my weights perfectly at the front of the room, just diagonal of the instructor. She is always there to keep my honest. Then I took to the spin bike for half an hour. I put in my ear buds, cranked up the tunes and hit it.
Despite the loud hip-hop thumping in my ears, the world was suddenly, finally quiet. I peddled, I breathed and I sweat. Though I rode in place with my eyes closed, in my mind I was riding down a long stretch of road. I could see mountains in the distance and the crisp morning air made the tops of my ears cold. My best friend Atty was at my back. He wanted to pass me but I wouldn’t let him.
I peddled harder and faster. I had found my challenge. I would not lose this one.
We came round a bend, I could hear him in my left ear, his deep breathing…. his legs thundering… his extreme will to beat me. Today I wouldn’t let him….
We came to the foot of the mountain, my mountain, and I got up out of the saddle.
Suddenly the resistance dialed up to insanity. I pumped, I pushed. I wanted to win. I wanted to be the best just this once, but now we were neck and neck. Would he beat me again today just like he always does? Would this punk own me again? No.
I opened my eyes…. It was time for class to begin. The fictitious race was over. We didn’t get to finish, but I felt better. It doesn’t matter who wins anyway, just so long as you have someone solid to ride with.
I went to my Body Pump class and one of my favorite people in the world had set up beside me. A girl named Tara who is one of my wife’s close confidants. She knew what we were going through. She smiled at me, she knew what my wife was going through but didn’t mention it. Now wasn’t the time for chit chat, now was the time to work, and we did.
When the workout was over, I felt new. I left all the sadness and uncertainty as aching muscles and little puddles of sweat on the gym floor. All the fear about not performing at work, losing my wife, and everything in between was relaxed for a few hours. A brief respite of peace in an otherwise terrifying world.