It’s been a hell of a year or so. You may have seen me post from time to time on Facebook about some of the crap that’s gone wrong but in case you missed it, there have been major issues pretty much every month or few weeks for 18 months or so both at home and the in-laws house (which I’m responsible for).
- HVAC, dishwasher, disposal, in-wall oven, washer-dryer, refrigerator, water heater, attic fan, and even the countertop microwave we got to temporarily replace the built-in one, all failed.
- Roof leaks, HVAC condensate drain, landscape drainage, failed double-glazed windows, and water heater overflow all led to water damage.
- My truck, wife’s car, daughter’s car, in-laws’ car, motorcycle and even the freaking lawn tractor all needed major unscheduled work.
- Several rounds of trees falling down. Once it was blight. Another time it was insect infestation. The last time we got so much rain the ground softened up and a whole stand of trees keeled over root ball and all and took out part of a neighbor’s fence.
- A variety of illnesses and surgeries in the family. At this age every list of possible causes ends with the words “or it could be cancer.” It hasn’t been cancer in any of the cases but that’s led to some tense weeks waiting out test results.
- Over the last few months I’ve been pretty sick but since I wasn’t running a fever most of that time I didn’t know it until I was so fatigued and anemic that I only got out of bed to do my professional work and that was about it.
Because we humans are hard-wired to misunderstand probability we tend to think of things with astronomical odds as mere thought exercises. Academic scenarios that could never actually happen to us. But if there’s a 1 in 10 trillion chance of something happening, it is equally likely to happen on the first try, the last try, or any iteration in between. Since we don’t understand that, we also tend to attribute a run of bad luck like I’ve had to karma, divine intervention, or other forces directed specifically at us. And that’s my problem lately.
If you’ve read some of my darker blog posts you may also know that in my teens I was full-on paranoid delusional. I could tell everyone else was able to communicate by some means other than by speaking. My autism was undiagnosed so instead of thinking “I really suck at parsing body language” I thought “holy crap, everyone else has mental telepathy!” It explained the non-verbal communication as well as all the physical and mental abuse. I was being singled out but like the hero in any Philip K. Dick novel had no idea why.
Getting past that required giving up on the idea that I’m so special that pretty much the whole world would single me out for abuse. “World” in this case being an entire high school and neighborhood, but in those days that was my world. I still lacked an autism diagnosis at that time but I made peace with the idea that having no rational explanation for my apparent telepathy deficiency was better than paranoid delusions that rendered pretty much my whole life as irrational.
The ability and habit of intercepting my spontaneous reactions for internal processing before expressing them became the foundation skill that allowed me to transcend my autism and the conditioning of my early environment. But to this day when I’m overwhelmed there’s a still twinge of that persecution delusion lurking just below the surface.
After the 18 month run of constant damage control and triage, that delusion wasn’t so much lurking as jumping up and down on my shoulder yelling in my ear. My situation kept deteriorating and then a few months back I got so sick I was reduced to staying up just long enough to do my work, then crashing again in bed or on the couch. As recently as 3 weeks ago I kept wondering “Is it just me or is everyone having the Year From Hell?” Anyone with a similar disorder knows that “just me” and “why me” are reliable red flags but I was too far gone to notice.
Finally after two rounds of antibiotics and some iron supplements I started feeling stronger and told my delusions to go back to wherever it is they’ve been hiding all these years. That run of back luck was improbable but that doesn’t translate to “they” are out to get me. Shit happens.
I had pretty much gotten over my delusions of grandeur a few days ago when my neighbor knocked on the door to tell me another one of my trees is dead. Sure enough, there’s a spiral gouge running from the top of the tree to the bottom. The bark bulges out where the tree sap boiled and exploded. The trunk is split in several places and the tree is teetering.
If it falls, it is in easy reach of my house. And my truck. And my wife’s car. And the neighbor’s driveway. And the street.
My delusion immediately popped back onto my shoulder, now screaming earnestly into my ear:
“What’s it going to take to convince you? The finger of God reached down from the heavens to smite the one tree tall enough and positioned precisely to threaten the most property. The one tree uniquely representative of the greatest financial liability among all trees on your property. A tree that now must be taken down urgently before that potential liability becomes an actual catastrophe. And she signed her name on the tree in lightning so you’d know, without any doubt, she’s personally fucking with you. Yes T.Rob, it is just you. Un-get over yourself, already.”
Somehow I thought I’d put all that behind me. Now more than 35 years out of recovery I realize that delusion is waiting patiently for me to indulge it again. It started out as a side effect of my autism but blossomed into it’s own condition and it’s damned persistent. I’m never tempted to repeat the drug and alcohol abuse of my youth, but the siren call of paranoia beckons even though I know how self-destructive it is. Paranoia renders order out of chaos. It explains why shit happens and in that there is comfort.
Which explains my mixed feelings about the abyss. Yes it’s scary, but in it there is also the confidence of familiar territory. Out here in the world I’m breaking new ground, making things up as I go. It’s all improv and I’m working without a net. Down there everything is crap but I know how it functions and my place in it and if I do fall there’s not far to go. So when I lean far out over the void and look down, my logical brain says this should scare the Hell out of me, but instead I’m thinking “Hey look, I can see my home from here!” and feeling a bit nostalgic about it all. Is this why people go off their meds?
I’m not on any meds so there’s nothing to “go off” of. When I lean far out into the void and look down, my family and my work keep me anchored in the world. Down in the pit there is only The Grind. Out here I have passion and purpose. So out here is where I’ll stay, even though that means I’ll never have a satisfying explanation for the marathon shitstorm of the last 18 months. But thinking back 35 years, that’s the Faustian bargain I made to get out of the pit. That’s the price of living in the real world. I gave up any claim to knowing why shit happens. Now I must content myself only with the knowledge that it does and attempt to bear up under it with grace.
That said, set your calendar for New Year’s Day 2018. Because I have my limits and if this shit keeps up for another 18 months I’m going to demand an explanation from somebody and by God I’m gonna get one.
As Morag references and others will tell, things come runs or in 3’s. Not sure I agree with this or if it is just a coping mechanism to have us look for the 3rd to signal it’s over. Mental games help. As most humans are wired to protect and survive, we generally focus on the shit storm that is happening and take the good things as luck and quickly forget that these too come in runs. Just as a structured routine can become a rut (10%) or euphoric success (10%), we end back in the structured routine that keeps us calm 80% of the time. We tend to think that the success comes from a structured routine so we discount the 10% to be 90% structured routine and 10% shit storm. Then we think, well life is a routine or a shit storm and we tend to forget about the euphoria of following our calling and being known around the globe for all the help we provide others. That calling is downplayed to being just my job. So we end up focusing on the shit storm which always last longer than the no longer existent euphoric success.
As I am reading backwards, I do not think people look at your bat wings in revulsion, but more confusion or perplexity as they are not part of their normal everyday routine. As you mention in a future post, you took an amazing success and turned it into a shitstorm. Maybe this is why software security is a calling as well as therapy for you. Just a thought. You have helped many people in the world and folks look up to you with admiration of your dedication and knowledge. (Batwings and all)
Hi Tom, thanks for the read and the considered comments. I also don’t believe that people look at the bat wings in revulsion. In the post I wrote that fat people in revealing clothes get that reaction, and that it is the reaction I would expect if I had revealed my hanging skin folds. There are many people now who have posted their post weight loss photos with hanging excess skin and the comments section on these posts tends to bear that out, sadly. In the case of the bat wing episode my client was so distracted that I had constantly to wave a hand in front of his face to regain his attention. They had to get someone else to work with me until I was able to go buy some long sleeved shirts and I was freaked out thinking I was going to get tossed off the engagement or lose my job, not to mention extremely self conscious.
My response to “you took an amazing success and turned it into a shitstorm” turned into the Surviving massive weight loss post which, I hope, explains that there’s a lot more complexity and depth to the issue than I expect you realize. Hopefully the post lives up to the topic and some will find it helpful.
TRob – Nice post and explanation. Strangely enough “Shit storm” is not in my normal vocabulary, so I am not sure why I brought that out. I am surrounded by depression and anxiety in my married family. While I academically understand it, i have never personally experienced it, hence truly do not understand it. I joke that my biological family did not pass on the empathy gene to me, so this doesn’t help either. I have gone through my fair share of weight losses (100-120lbs), but none of them rapid. The gain back is rapid. I have had the folds, but maybe not to that magnitude. For some reason, I am wired to focus on the accomplishment and ignore the negative feelings, my wife and son are just the opposite. A negative feeling consumes them, no matter how great the accomplishment. I just wanted you to focus on the accomplishment vs the negative aspects and I did this without empathy.
Enjoy the reading.
Thanks for the explanation, Tom. No harm, no foul though. It isn’t that I was offended by the comment so much as it crystallized in my head a bunch of topics I’d been kicking around. I knew I wanted to write more about the dark side of massive weight loss but was having trouble finding the right context. At the same time I’d been trying to articulate what bothers me about online conversations. The intersection of both of these was that everything is over simplified because the Internet is designed for short attention spans. We reduce everything to one or two dimensions. Obesity bad. Weight loss good. You made me stop thinking of it as exposing the dark side and more about saying it has complexity and nuance, and that broke the logjam. So thanks for that!
I have regularly heard the phrase “If he didn’t have bad luck he’d have no luck” attributed to people who have had a run of bad things happen to them. None of the people were you, so I guess you’re not the only one to whom “shit happens”. These sorts of things always seem to come in a run, but I think that’s only because you only notice them when they come in a run. Each one individually, when not part of a run, would not be enough to trigger a thought of bad luck, but when they come together then the sky is falling in. I’ll set my calendar for New Year 2018 because I’m certain that you’ll have forgotten this run of bad luck by then, having fixed everything that could ever need fixed in the next 3 years, during the past 18 months. xx
Thanks for the encouragement, Morag. Many of my essays propose that identity changes over time and I’m not the same person as the young-adult version of me. Between being sick and watching with horror all the negative cultural upheaval of late, I stopped to consider for the first time that perhaps the old me wasn’t cast off like a ratty coat, but merely in storage all these years. Even though I’ve written about the old me being variously homeless, homicidal, suicidal, and delusional, it was a different person and in my past. Pondering whether he could come back and what keeps him from doing so may be the darkest bit of introspection yet.
Not that I’m intentionally trying to take the blog in that direction, it’s just what’s happening. Based on stats this is definitely not what people want to read on my blog, but that doesn’t make it any less therapeutic. More funny stuff on the way soon. I hope.
I enjoy reading what you write whatever topic you need to write about. Of course ‘enjoy’ is probably the wrong word, but I’m there reading regardless. It doesn’t have to be funny, it just has to be you. I can’t easily offer assistance as I’m too far away, but if I can offer encouragement then I will.
Remember you are the sum of all your parts, past and present. The old you has shaped the current you into the man you are. You understand certain things only because of previous experiences you have lived. You can no more go back to being that boy then I can get into clothes I wore when I was 10. You have many more life experiences than that boy did which mean the way you handle things now are not the same as then. The arrow of time can only move forwards.