Tag Archives: leave of absence

The Thirty-First Year of the Jackie

So, it turns out that–despite the existence of alcohol and chocolate–I have made it to my thirty-first birthday. A year ago today, I was in a sort-of-impressive-sounding corporate job with a four-hour round-trip daily commute and an email addiction. I was really depressed, and so, shortly after turning thirty, I took a leave of absence which ultimately led to me quitting my job. It was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life, with the possible exception of going into that super gross hot tub at Myrtle Beach during our senior trip in college (those flesh-eating viruses are NO JOKE).

Now, one year into this journey off the beaten high-achiever path that I’ve dutifully followed for most of my life, I’ve achieved a new milestone: being proud of myself on my birthday.

This may not sound like a big deal, but for me, it really is. Once I was legally able to drink, I stopped enjoying my birthday. Every January 5th brought on a contemplative funk during which I lamented my lack of achievement and progress during the previous year: “Some people my age are olympic medalists! Half my friends have graduate degrees! Look at that guy; he’s only twenty-three and he makes so much more money than I do! Look at that girl; she’s only twenty-five and she’s married with a baby!  What have I done? Look at how worthless I am!”

I once expressed this attitude to one of my coworkers at Google a few years back. She was a pretty cool chick and refreshingly honest, and she was baffled by my view of aging. She’d lost a close family member at a young age and birthdays inspired gratitude in her–she was always happy and relieved to make it another year. I remember nodding and chastising myself internally for not being grateful enough for my birthdays and for not having cancer or losing an arm to that Myrtle beach hot tub, and then going right back to dreading early January and berating myself.

This year, however, is different. When it comes to traditional measures of success, this year certainly hasn’t touched most of those that preceded it. I can’t say that I work at a fancy company. I can’t say my salary is XYZ bucks per week. I can’t talk about awards or kudos or performance scores at work, or drop the name of any executives I work with.

What I can say, however, and what I’m proud of, is that I’ve had the most new experiences in the past year of my life than in the previous eight put together. These experiences ranged from good to bad to everything in between, but they made me think (and blog) about myself and the world deeply, and in different ways than I have before.

I experienced the joy of realizing that I could write, and write well(ish), and write enough words and sentences and paragraphs to make a whole book-type document that people might want to read. I experienced the excitement of getting an agent, and the subsequent anxiety and boredom of submitting to publishers.

I experienced the love of my family, and the grief of saying goodbye to a family member, albeit a furry one. I also experienced the excitement of welcoming a new love into my life, though this created drama with my old love, which was iced coffee (sorry bae).

I experienced the stress and exhilaration of travel, from people-watching the crazy costume-clad nerds of San Diego Comic Con to getting knocked up by food in Florence and trudging through the rain in Paris in super ugly shoes and seeing Britney dance way worse than when I saw her on tour when I was sixteen.

I witnessed two amazing couples get married on opposite-ish sides of the country and cried my eyes out both times because I AM A SAP, OK?

I experienced breakdowns and bad nights, and discovered new coping mechanisms to pick myself up when I fall or when the world seems too much to handle.

In short, I experienced life, and I had the time to really take it in, as opposed to watching it all pass me by. And, for the first time since I was a little kid, I’m proud of myself for that fact alone. I’m proud of myself for trying to live well, and I’m grateful to all those people (both IRL and on this blog) who have come along on the journey with me this year.

So, here’s to the thirty-first year of the Jackie! May the thirty-second be just as interesting, and may you still be interested enough to tune in and read about it once in a while 🙂

Love,

The Birthday Girl

 

 

Dear Personal Demon: I’m leaving my job & it will be OK

Monday, June 1st, is my last day at the only company I’ve ever worked for.  After nearly eight years working in HR for this company, I’ve conducted dozens of exit interviews, collected hundreds of laptops, wished countless people goodbye and good luck, and now Monday is my turn.

As anyone who’s had more than a two-minute conversation with me in the past year can attest, deciding to leave my job has been a long and difficult process, full of many false starts and stops, a leave of absence, and occasional (ok, fine: frequent) hysterical meltdowns.  As a risk-averse person who’s been on the “high achiever” trajectory her entire life, leaving this job at a top company without a definite next step outlined is an enormously emotional and frightening undertaking.  In the last few days, as my leave of absence ends and my official end date approaches, I’ve been berating myself nonstop.  I have a little demon who lives in my head and spends most of his time yelling at me for being stupid, lazy, entitled, weird, awkward, ugly…you get the picture.  Working with my therapist, I actually drew the demon so I could talk to him and get him to chill (IT WORKS, OK?).  Here is what he looks like:

This is my demon.  Just to mock me, he has ripped abs.
This is my demon. Just to mock me, he has ripped abs.

Yeah, I’m not an artist, but the point is, he’s been especially loud the past few days.  “Why did you even go to college if you were just going quit this job at thirty?” the demon yells.  “Most people would kill to have your job!  If you leave now, you might as well throw the last decade of your life down the drain!  You have wasted your youth and your energy, AND FOR WHAT, SO YOU CAN TRY TO WRITE?  WHAT ARE YOU THINKING YOU NAIVE TWAT?  I HATE YOU!  ALSO, YOU’RE FAT!”  (Yes, the demon is a fat-shamer, too, just because he has SUCH GREAT ABS.  Well, demon, it’s easy to have great abs when you are a construct of my psyche and don’t need to eat actual food to survive so SHUT UP).

Living with the demon is exhausting, but I know he’s a piece of me, a younger piece, who is just afraid that I won’t be able to take care of myself (and, by extension, of him) without this job.  What the demon doesn’t know, however, is that the past eight years, far from being a waste, have equipped me to be a stronger and happier person.  These are the abilities/qualities/items that the demon doesn’t realize I’ve gained over the past eight years that are going to make the rest of my life better:

  • Actual work skills: Let’s face it, going to college teaches you nothing about how to do things in an actual work environment.  After nearly a decade in tech, I can do real things like productively counsel people on how to deal with their mean boss, help people get better jobs and figure out their own lives, and analyze things IN EXCEL!!!  I also have a bunch of LinkedIn connections so that’s cool.
  • Fake work skills: These are just as important as real work skills, and include stuff like: saying things in meetings that sound impressive but are actually mostly a recitation of acronyms, making useless graphs and putting them in slide decks and pointing to them in said meetings to a round of approving nods, blocking time on calendar marked “meeting with XYZ” where you are actually just hiding from everyone else in the office in a conference room while doing yoga breathing in order to alleviate your ever-present social anxiety.
  • Kind of managing my mental illness: Obviously, this is something that I’ve learned with the help of doctors and therapists, but the high-pressure environment of my job forced me to figure my shit out and prioritize taking care of myself so that anxiety and depression don’t consume me.
  • Being a real adult, mostly: I have a 401K, a savings account, and a rent-controlled apartment!  I also had a wine club membership once, but I canceled it, but I’m counting it as an adult thing because most of my cool, older bosses over the past 8 years have had wine club memberships and I considered them real adults.
  • Amazing life experiences and FRIENDZ: Because of this job, I’ve had the opportunity to live and work in two of the best cities in the world – NYC and San Francisco – and make new friends for life.  I’ve also done some truly ridiculously awesome and random shit, including spending several days in the UK countryside crying in the forest with a group of coworkers and telling a lamb in a rain-soaked pasture that I was going to eat its cousin for dinner (I did).  I regret nothing, except maybe taunting that lamb.  Its cousin was delicious, though.

The point is that I have not wasted my youth or energy or education, and I’m not wasting it now.  I am in charge of my life, and I am more prepared for whatever’s next than my demon thinks I am.  You’ll see, demon: I am leaving my job, and it WILL be ok.

On writing

After years of vaguely dreaming that one day I’d have the time and drive to actually write something real, I’m finally doing it, and it’s been an incredibly eye-opening experience.  I used to write short stories “for fun” in the summers in high school and college, but then I started working and everything else in my life sort of disappeared because capitalism.  Throughout my twenties, I would sometimes come home from work and open a doc on my computer, intending to commit ideas to (virtual) paper that had been floating around in my head for months or even years.  After a sentence or two, or maybe a paragraph, I would stand up, pace around my bedroom/kitchen/living room while silently berating myself for wasting time that could be better spent exercising or sleeping or doing actual work, and then close my computer to go watch the Daily Show before passing out.   This all changed a few weeks ago when I came back to San Francisco after over a month of leave time at home with my family.  After completing the requisite grocery shopping, pharmacy, and laundromat trips, I realized that I had a lot of fucking time on my hands.  I had all sorts of grand plans for how to fill this time: I was going to volunteer, and do yoga seven days a week and get ripped abs, and take a psychology class, and knit, and also perhaps learn hip hop or some shit.  I was ambitious, ok?

Instead, without really planning on doing it, I started writing a novel.  I’ve written 1-3K words per day on average for nearly four weeks.  I think some of it is great, and some of it is awful.  Most of it is ok and can be made good with revisions. When it’s done I will see what I can do with it – if I can sell it, or self e-publish it, or just share it with my friends and family who will tell me IT’S TOTALLY AWESOME no matter how shitty it is.

What’s interesting is that after a decade of intending to write without doing anything about it, now that I’m actually writing it’s not at all what I expected.  Here is what I have learned from nearly a month spent writing:

  • Writing is super easy…when you’re inspired, which happens like for five minutes on average per day.  You’ll be writing one particular piece of dialogue, or a sentence or two of description, and it just flows, man, from your brain, and you’re like, whoa, I am a fucking genius, this is some Charles Dickens-level shit right here!
  • Writing is extremely fucking hard…the vast majority of the time.  And also boring.  You’ll type a sentence, and look at it, and realize you left out four words, and then fix it, and then realize that you used “surprisingly” twice.  And then you’ll fix that, and realize that you just replaced one instance of “surprisingly” with “to my surprise,” which is basically the same fucking thing.  Then you go on thesaurus.com to look up synonyms for “surprisingly,” and the first option is “exceptionally,” and you’re like, why the fuck would I want to use the word exceptionally, I want surprisingly, but I can’t say it twice, jesus why is this so hard I WENT TO COLLEGE! Then you delete the sentence and start again, and this is why writing novels takes longer than like, a week, for most people, Stephen King, you motherfucker.
  • Writing is best done in coffee shops…because if you try to do it at home, you get distracted by things like your refrigerator, which is full of food, and so you eat it, but then you have dirty dishes in the sink, and you know that because it’s San Francisco the fruit flies will be all over that shit, so you wash the dishes, and then it’s been thirty minutes and all you’ve managed to do is look up synonyms for “surprisingly” on thesaurus.com.
  • Writing in coffee shops is a terrible idea…because everyone there is also writing on their laptops, and they look really professional and/or like tortured artists in skinny jeans and flannel and hipster glasses, and you start thinking, well, shit, that bitch over there is probably the next Harper Lee or something and here I am writing some contemporary romance crap, and then you scoot your chair over to get a better look at what that girl is writing, and it turns out she’s just checking Facebook, and then you’re like, HAHA SHE’S SO LAZY WHAT IS SHE EVEN DOING IN THIS COFFEE SHOP WHICH IS FOR ARTISTS ONLY?! And then you realize that you’ve been in the coffee shop for ninety minutes and have written only 200 words, consumed two mochas, and really have to pee, but you don’t want to use the coffee shop bathroom because it’s gross, so you go home to pee, and then are distracted by your refrigerator again and it’s a vicious cycle.
  • The internet is really helpful for writing…because you can do “research” and look up synonyms on thesaurus.com instantaneously, and in the olden days people had to actually own real thesauruses (thesauri?) and dictionaries and if they went somewhere other than their house they had to lug it with them.  Poor Jane Austen.
  • The internet is the worst thing ever in the history of writing…because of literally everything else on the internet that is not thesaurus.com, including wordpress.com.

I’ve probably learned other things in my month of writing, but I can’t remember them right now because I got distracted watching a video of a German Shepherd doing laundry on YouTube. 

Guys, my book is going to be AMAZING.

You CAN go home again

**Trigger Warning – this post discusses suicidal thoughts**

(yeah, I know, I’m that girl with a trigger warning on her blog post lol)

When I started this leave of absence I was really looking forward to going home, and then as soon as I got here I began to regret it.  Not so much because of the cold (and JESUS CHRIST IS IT COLD) or the snow (and JESUS CHRIST THERE IS SO MUCH MOTHERFUCKING SNOW I CAN’T EVEN), but because it didn’t immediately cure the depression I’ve been feeling since early January and, in fact, seemed to make it worse.  When I go home for vacations I generally feel a wave of relief as I lug my suitcase up the stairs and dump its contents on the floor of my childhood bedroom.  I sigh with contentment and prepare to regress into a blob in a sweatshirt who reads a lot of trashy novels and indulges in Starbucks mochas on a daily (or even twice daily!) basis, and I revel in it.

This time is different, though, because I’m not here for a break in between performance management cycles.  I don’t have a return ticket yet.  I’m here to rest, yes, but also to try to figure some things out, and to not be alone in an apartment while I do it, because I’ve been really sad recently and it can be dangerous to be alone and sad.

Last week, instead of dumping my clothes out on my bedroom floor, I emptied out my old chest of drawers for the first time in 15 years (fun fact: apparently I had a fondness in middle school for shorts with stuff written on the ass because I was #sofancy) so I could put my real clothes away.  I spent a day cleaning out my closet and desk so that I have actual adult living space.  I moved in, at least for a little while.

Instead of the relief I typically feel when coming home, I was listless and depressed.  My brain was on overdrive, running a loop of self-directed insults about my worthlessness, ugliness, and laziness on repeat.  My mom in particular kept asking me what was wrong.  At dinner on Sunday with my parents and my brother, things got bad.  I don’t remember exactly what was said, but basically my mom got frustrated and fell into the trap (which many family members of depressed people do, it’s common and understandable, if not useful) of trying to get me to “snap out of it” and “appreciate how good” I have it and realize that “other people are a lot worse off.”  I retreated into my room and didn’t come down until past midnight, when everyone else was asleep but her.

For the first time since the night in early January when I called her sobbing, we talked about real things.  Specifically, I explained the full extent of how I’ve been feeling since I turned 30.  I’d never told her all of it.

The Thursday after my 30th birthday, I spent the entire shuttle ride (nearly 2 hours) home sobbing quietly in my seat.  It took me 30 minutes to shuffle the two blocks from the bus stop to my apartment; I kept considering going back and throwing myself into traffic on Stanyan (not a very reliable suicide plan, but whatever).  When I got home I wrote a suicide note.  I thought about going up on the roof and jumping off (not the best plan either, in hindsight; a jump from my roof would likely only have maimed me, albeit badly). And then I called my parents.  I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t, but I think it would have been ok.  I would have called my therapist or the company emergency hotline, I think.

My mom was understandably upset to hear about all of this, but she was also relieved that we were talking about it.  She apologized for what she’d said earlier, and after an hour or so of talking I felt so, so much better, and still do three days later.

One thing we talked about is that a lot of people have suicidal thoughts.  It’s not uncommon, and it’s not something to be ashamed of or something that makes you weak or crazy.  The important thing is to get help and talk to someone, and realize that actions are different from thoughts.  I didn’t act that night, and I’m glad that I instead called my parents and have since discussed that night and how I’ve been feeling with my therapist, doctor, some friends, and now my mom.  So yeah, if you’re going through anything, please check out the many resources that are available and feel free to call a friend or family member to be with you until you feel safe!

Anyways, after having this conversation, I’m finally beginning to feel a little of that relief that I usually feel when coming home.  I don’t feel as lazy or useless and the monologue of insults in my head have quieted (even though I took a long nap today lol).  Part of me thinks that I had to come home just to have that conversation with my mom, if nothing else – to be able to look her in the eye when I told her how I’m feeling and know that, while she doesn’t always understand me, she loves me and will always try to help me no matter what I’m going through.

So yeah, I’m not entirely sure what this post was even about, but at the end of the day I’m glad that I’m here and am able to write this, I guess.  And yeah, if you ever do feel like you’re in so much pain that you would consider hurting yourself, call a friend, family member, or go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 1 (800) 273-8255.

In lighter news, tomorrow my mother and I are going to a Muse Paintbar to paint a picture of a willow tree while drinking wine, so…that should be interesting!  Stay warm, my friends.

Because I’m a glutton for punishment

I’m sitting in Terminal 2 at SFO, waiting to board my flight to Boston to be with my family in New Hampshire.  Of course, it’s going to be 70 degrees and sunny in San Francisco today and I’m voluntarily flying to a region of the country that currently closely resembles Dante’s ninth level of Hell, minus the Devil chewing me for all eternity in his giant maw.  Though given the forecast for tonight is four degrees in NH I might prefer Satan’s mastication.  I’m apparently a glutton for weather-related punishment.

The last few days have been weird.  I’m profoundly relieved not to be working (especially given some of the thoroughly exhausting and annoying problems I’ve been dealing with at work recently that have been chipping away at my capacity not to scream at everyone), but I also didn’t realize how much I depend on work for day-to-day social interaction.  When you live alone and are not going to an office everyday, it’s easy to go forever without speaking to another human being unless you’re buying food or coffee.  Don’t get me wrong, my local barista is awesome and knows my usual order, but we’re not exactly on intimate terms.

So I’m really looking forward to being with my family, and also hopefully spending some time with my friends on the East Coast during the next month and a half.  But I know now that when I do return to SF at the end of March that I really have to plan activities or take classes that put me in regular contact with other people on a daily basis.  As an extreme introvert, it’s too easy for me to be alone.  After a day of solitude, I enter a weird anxiety vortex where I start dreading my next social interaction, even if it’s with a close friend or family member.  I wrap alone-ness around me like a blanket and want to avoid the chilly outside air at all costs and start circling the Netflix drain.

My goal, therefore?  Not to hibernate or to hide for the next three months.  I want this time to be productive and regenerative, not an excuse to indulge some of my more antisocial instincts.  Of course, I might freeze to death in the next three days, but if I do at least know that I intended to better myself.  I’ll write again on the other side of Satan’s jaw!