Unemployment by its nature isn’t a life changing event. It’s upsetting, it’s unsettling and it’s unpleasant at times, but not life changing. In theory. In reality it’s a pause that can make the dedicated employee stop and become painfully aware of their absenteeism in life. Employment can be the daily escape needed for someone so twisted up in the vines of superficiality they neglect and even forget about the poisonous and ugly rot living beneath green cloying tendrils and the brightly perfumed flowers. Before my unemployment my life had been a flurry of activity. The December before this multi-month long unemployment occurred I had planned and executed two Christmas Parties, moved the company office from it’s posh digs on Hamilton in Palo Alto to sharing a vacant corner of another companies offices in Mountain View, walking and completing a marathon and nursing a stress fracture after the event. By the end of December I was feeling a little tired and sick to which my doctor remarked that she was surprised I was still standing upright. The events in my life that either happened or were planned were a convenient fog that allowed me to walk around unaffected by, at this time, were obvious deficiencies in my life. I know now that I needed that pause in my life, I needed to stop and take a good look at my life and make some necessary choices to put myself back on the life path I had chosen when I was twelve; to become a published author. Had it been that simple, as things in life often aren’t, this wouldn’t have been a life changing event.
For a space of this time I was designated the rope in a tug-o-war between members of my family and my life consisted of nothing more than taxiing my sister to work in the wee hours of the morning, waiting a few hours, taxiing my nephew to school, wait a four to six hours, pick the nephew up from school, wait a few hours and then pick my sister up from work and finally in those between hours listening and absorbing all the psychic detritus spewed out by the two warring factions. If I wasn’t listening and consoling the factions I was required to act as the maid and clean up after everyone since I didn’t have anything better to do. Even though I had given myself goals of editing the chapters of my finished novel, I never had the energy to pursue it.
Yet amidst all of this anger and misery I fell in love – with a house. I passed by it every day taking Patrick to school and picking him up, resenting him volunteering me to take his friends home if it meant that I would have to take a different route. It was a blue farm house on Quito at Martha in Saratoga on about two acres of cherry-treed land. It had long since been vacant, fenced off and left fallow for a year or two before my interest in it sparked. It was the bright shining hope in my shrunken and dimming life. I would indulge in elaborate fantasies about the house. I planned to plant lavender, lemon verbena and thyme around the back fence and the back trees, create rock lined paths meandering from tree to tree creating a labyrinth of sorts for the weary to wander and clear their minds. I would host delightful little tea parties under the trees while they were in full bloom, even lending the property for weddings and events. I planned to convert the back building into an office for writing and the work shop into a studio for Patrick to play with his band. Instead of selling cherries each year at the corner I had planned on selling the years yield per tree or part out each tree as a fund raiser for Make-A-Wish® and box up the cherries and deliver them to the participants. This fantasy life was my only heaven from being the monkey-in-the-middle between sibling and parent.
My journal entries of this time were mostly angry rants about how I detested being put in the position of mediator, how I didn’t care about either position but being ‘Christ-like’ I had to put forth the effort. I detested being the maid, the chauffer and the concierge. This anger turned into a deep seated rage that burned white hot in my core. Growing up I have always been prone to what I call “dark moods” where I would find myself, for a day, in an irrational state of anger and hate. These days normally ended with me biting off all my fingernails and getting my hair cut short as an act of pseudo self mutilation. This was exactly like one of those dark moods, but it didn’t end. Every day I would get angrier and angrier and being confined in an unyielding schedule I felt like a rabid animal sequestered for observation in a cage that was two sizes too small.
The only feeling I was capable of was rage and sadly, I realized, it was better than feeling nothing at all. That was my self -diagnosis after finishing the 2000 Honolulu Marathon. I trained for months, I mentally prepared, I ate the right foods and I warmed up and cooled down the correct ways. The fear and trepidation I felt when I first started the training melted into self respect when I finished the 18 mile training event. After that it became a death march to prove to myself that I could endure to the end. I knew I would feel some sort of joy or modicum of pride or something, anything at finishing the marathon, but crossing the finish line I felt nothing. No elation, no joy, no sense of accomplishment. Nothing. It took three months for the reality to set in as to how unique the experience was and I was able to joke about it…”Oh, only fifteen miles? That’s walking distance.” I figured not feeling wasn’t a big deal in life, if anything it protected me from the nips and the swipes the world doled out like methadone to addicts. Rage though, that was one feeling I couldn’t seem to escape
Christmas was right around the corner and I had just dropped the boy off at school and drove by my house. I was feeling a little sick, but I normally did after the Wish Children’s Holiday Party but still pleased that the event was over which effectively meant Christmas was over for me. Well, celebration of the Jolly Ole Fat Man was over and I could focus on the true meaning of Christmas. As I drove by my house, enchanted by how the trees seemed to step aside for me to see the house clearly something dark and vicious rose up from within me and in a moment of pure intelligence I knew that I would never, ever see the inside of my house. It would never be mine. I would never know the joy of obtaining that goal, that love and all my fantasies would never find a footing in reality. I broke.
I can’t say that I mended. A broken spirit or mind doesn’t mend like a bone, yet a bandage fashioned of psychic stands woven like a gossamer web captured all the shattered pieces, cinching it into a semblance of a whole person again. I thought I was good to go, even if not as good as I was, I was functional. Because these pieces were together in one place I was whole like a puzzle sealed in a box is whole, but like the puzzle, having all the pieces doesn’t create the cohesive picture on the cover. I was just functional. And for quite a while, that worked for me. I got a job, I paid my rent, I tried to write, I went to church, I continued my social obligations and charity work, but it wasn’t really me. When I was trapped listening to people or experiences I would imagine taking a serrated blade and sawing, unflinchingly, through my wrist. I would find myself in hyper states of anxiety where it would be so easy to just drive off Highway 1, and make it look like an accident. I’d take my journal with me so no one would know. I can’t say it was the first time I thought about ending my life. Let’s face it, life on earth sucks, not all the time, but more often then not, it sucks. The first time I actually put words to these feelings was one year at my birthday party at Stinson Beach, my niece and nephews and I were all in the water and it occurred to me, all I’d have to do is pick up my feet and let the undertow carry me away and it would all be done. I didn’t. My life preserver at that time was my writing. I was within a stone throw away from completing my first novel; who would finish it if not me? This time in my life was different though, the thoughts were more frequent, and the desire was more tangible and it would be so simple. In my mind, I had nothing holding me here on earth. I had family but in my broken state I really didn’t. They didn’t care about me because they were too engrossed in their own lives and the damage they were doing to each other and themselves. And honestly, I didn’t see how killing myself, the way that I had planned would really impact them. I was taking my only asset with me, they could fight over the books and the afghans. I have one friend that has seen me through all this, and she has been a God-send in letting me rant and rave and be myself when I’m with her. At that time, she was the only person I had that I could talk to. Though, I didn’t talk to her about this, I artfully tap danced around it, but in reality I didn’t talk to anyone. I wrote some really bad cryptic free-form poetry and discussed it at times in my journal but this issue was one that I kept so close to my heart, like a security blanket, that somehow it would become less real and less obtainable if it was brought into the light of day.
At the same time all this was churning inside me I was doing everything I could, everything I thought was right. I was going to church, if for no other reason than to fulfill my calling as the Relief Society music director person. I was going to families homes as a dutiful ward missionary extolling the virtues of sharing the gospel, of opening your mouth and letting the Lord provide the words. I was even being successful in a way at visiting teaching only because my companion did all the work. I was doing, although not feeling, the right things. And in that I was blessed. I don’t remember when it happened, but the memory is intertwined with the temple some how. But again my mind was harrowed up in the idea of driving off PCH when again the voice of pure intelligence welled up in me and I knew that even if I did it I would only compound my problems, not solve them. The explanation was quite clear and simple, we are here to learn certain things in this life and if we don’t we continue learning in the next life, only we don’t have a body. It’s sort of like High School, it sucked too. Just like high school, we had to take courses that would prepare us to take on the requirements of a higher education. Dropping out of this life and moving onto the next stage in my progression would put me behind the learning curve. Being dead doesn’t excuse you from the lessons of earth, I would still have to learn, but trying to learn about all the intricate nuances of pleasure and pain without a body. The reality would be worse than sucking it up and dealing with down here on earth. Suicide no longer was an option and that knowledge was both a comfort and a curse.
Though during this time in my life I felt alone and isolated looking back I know now that I was never left alone. Heavenly Father held me in the palm of His hand and had angels attending to me when elements of life would try and pull me into darker corners. An example of this was when I was driving the daily futile and tiresome commute into the industrial section of Menlo Park to work and an advertisement for the Susan G. Korman Three Day Breast Cancer Walk came on the radio. I thought it would be nice if I just got breast cancer and didn’t fight it, how it wouldn’t be suicide and it would still be a noble way to die. I felt the hand of providence pull me back and correct my thinking and align my focus back onto the straight and narrowing path I had chosen for my life. I’m so ashamed of that thought now, but truth rarely reveals the nobility in our lives.
A paradigm shift happened with that gentle adjustment in thought. To absorb the expansion it caused the webbing holding the shards of my reality together causing it to fray and break. Earlier in the year I went to visit a friend of mine in Florida, and though it was good to see Simon and to see the progress he had made in his life and how happy he was, I was numb. I had one of the most spiritually uplifting, soul shining experiences ever in the temple, and once I had imparted that knowledge into my journal I slipped back into the numbness again. When he hugged me at the air port I wanted to beg him to not let me go for fear that if I went back to California the feeling would get worse, and even though I didn’t feel much when I was there, I at least felt something.
All the pieces came crashing down the Sunday I had to teach in Relief Society. It was on member missionary work. I studied my lesson, I provided a fun plot twist and I followed my script and listened to the Spirit and delivered my lesson as per instructed. I also conducted the music, did my music lesson and gave the opening prayer. Though no one believes it to this day, I am by nature introverted and painfully shy. I have been my whole life. I just learned a long, long time ago that hiding behind furniture wasn’t going to get me anywhere in life so, in essence, I coerce myself through a host of prods and carrots to do the things I am terrified of promising myself that things will get easier. They never do, but I do it anyway. However, this was the preverbal straw that broke the last stalwart threads. The pain I felt as these sharp raw shards of all the accumulated pain and anger and self loathing began to rip through the soft flesh of my soul. I don’t know what the soul bleeds, but I hemorrhaged spiritual plasma and I couldn’t staunch it with any of the normal remedies. I tried to chronicle it in my journal, but I couldn’t get the words out. I became flush with rage and frustration and I knew the walls would fall in on me if I stayed home much longer. I got in my car and started to drive. The old feelings and desires came back but I just kept driving. I wanted to go to Highway 1, and I got on 280 South. It wasn’t until I was on 680 did I realize I was heading towards the temple and not PCH.
The temple grounds were still open to visitors and there were still some lookie-loos checking out the terrace gardens but they mostly kept to themselves. It’s not like strangers were going to come up to a woman dressed in a t-shirt and sweats contorting her face into extreme expressions to keep her soul from racking her body in sobs. I must have appeared frightening. I couldn’t bring myself to sit in front of the temple; I sat in the bench off to the side where I could see the white marble hum with the celestial power it contained. I was close to the ledge but I knew I wasn’t up high enough to do the amount of damage I needed and wanted done to make the pain stop if I hurled myself over the edge.
I sat in the cold and I listened. I was told what to do in plain simple English as I stared at the glowing spires in the night sky. I needed to see the Bishop, I needed to get on the medication that was offered to me by my doctor’s months before, and I needed to talk to someone. But mostly I was told that I would be okay, and that I would heal.
How this event changed my life might not be apparent, But by living so much of my life with that security blanket so close to me I stopped living and was impatiently waiting for death. I never had the courage to live outside my predetermined confines. Like a loving parent, Heavenly Father has helped wean me from the notion that ending it all is easier than just living. My mind has become more focused on my goals, my mind and thoughts are quicker and over the last five years the once fallow fields of my imagination have become fertile again and the person I was born to be, the writer and the artist, is starting to blossom under the focused energy of this experience. I have a greater sense of worth, of power, and a voice that is uniquely mine and not a play-doughed version of the current best selling mystery novelist. I’ve found the courage to not only write but to share my writing as well as encourage others in finding their own voice. I am no longer a shadow of a person or the invisible girl. I am alive, and though I might not always act it, I am glad I am here to work through the regret and making up for all the wasted years of wishing I wasn’t. I can’t say that I’m whole yet, but I no longer consider myself broken. I guess that makes me a work in progress.