Living In Fear

I feel as if I’m headed for some kind of breakdown, or blowup.

First, heartfelt thanks to you who noticed my low morale in the previous post, and wrote to help me out. You did help me. Here’s where I’m at these days.

The past few months have been difficult. I’ve lost a couple of old friends. I’ve been living under threat of unemployment for about a year now. These things knocked my usual bubbly personality down a couple of notches, but probably the most intense downer was the sickness.

We had a medical emergency here at revision99, complete with ambulances, paramedics, a near death experience and a week-long hospital stay. For two weeks I had to look hard at the possibility that I was going to spend the rest of my life without Mrs. Jones. The exact medical problem is something that will never go away, and its precise nature is not really important to tell here, but strangely, I wasn’t panicked or overcome. I was sort of numb, waiting to see what would happen. I didn’t have any power to fix the problem, and I was a stranger in the land of hospitals and medicine, so all I could do was wait. I waited for test results, I waited for doctors to show up and tell me what was going on, I waited for a nurse to bring me a tuna sandwich, I waited for prescriptions to be filled, for medicine to take effect.

My wife is fine now. It’s almost as if nothing ever happened. Oh, I still bump into an occasional neighbor who hasn’t yet heard the story of why the ambulance was here (and the fire truck. Why do they always send a fire truck?), and telling the story again makes me revisit the whole thing. Of course, the most insistent reminder comes almost every day in the mailbox. We get bills from eight or nine entities: our gateway doctor, a couple of specialists, a surgeon, the hospital, the emergency room staff, the labs, the fire department, and of course the insurance company, who has already threatened not to cover any of it, pending the submission of various documents, affidavits and appeals.

While this was going on, I was feeling a lot of new pressure at work. I’ve written here before about what I call My Crummy Job and I won’t go again into the awful details. Let’s just say that corporate life is not for me. My mind, heart and soul are opposed to the behavior of my company — and that of all big corporations — and I am tortured to know that I enable their money-grubbing. In recent months, however, they have found new and obnoxious ways to ratchet up the crumminess, and the strain is wearing me out. I have kept this job for a long time, despite mediocre pay and the damage it does to my soul, because it’s been pretty easy, the paydays are regular and I have medical insurance.

But this is the first time it has been made so brutally clear to me that I have to have medical insurance. The six-day hospital stay cost $7,000 a night, and there are also bills from just about everyone we saw during those six days. Seriously, I expect an invoice any day from the janitorial service. So just when I have been feeling totally fed up with the job and ready to blow it off, just at the moment when a younger me would have told his employer to take this job and stick it, I realize that I am trapped in it more than I could have ever anticipated.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I don’t have a solution. I have some slender hope that the government will pass some kind of medical reform pretty soon, and maybe that will give me a little breathing room, but that’s just a technical matter. The real issue for me is what have I done with my life? Or maybe I should ask what has become of my life, because it seems to have slipped away, and I don’t know where it went. The compromises I’ve made have become who I am, and they weren’t supposed to do that. Those compromises were just supposed be temporary adjustments to fleeting situations. They weren’t supposed to encircle me and alter the way the world sees me.

Now I’m trying to figure out who I really am, in the context of this new sense of imminent mortality. The last time I felt this way was when I was in my thirties. Maybe I was being over dramatic then (and maybe now, too), but I had several extremely bad, dangerous habits that I “couldn’t” kick, and I didn’t think I’d live to see forty. I didn’t take any direct action to correct my course. For that, I just needed to grow up, which I finally — and belatedly — did. But I did live each day as if it were my last, because I really thought it might be.

I was a full time musician, record producer and recording engineer in those days. A lot of people didn’t think I was particularly good at any of those jobs, and certainly I didn’t make much money at my endeavors, but at least I was doing what I thought I wanted to do. I felt like an artist, and I was an artist. Things might have been better if I had not been completely out of control, but at least the mess I was making was my own chaos and flames.

Once I got involved in working for a living, I left myself behind, and wore costumes and masks to hide who I really was, the person I felt myself to be. This is surprisingly easy to do, katz and kittenz, because at first you are conscious of doing it, and you tell yourself that it is outward only, a compromise you are making for practical purposes. But if you keep at it the days become weeks, the weeks months, then years, then one day you can’t remember why you are doing anything, why you are getting up every morning, why you are living at all.

So before I have a breakdown, or a blowup, I have to figure out the answer. Why am I living? It’s certainly not to shuffle papers in my corporate office. Really, is anybody living for that? But let me just say it out loud for once: The bush around which I’m beating here is that I want to get back to making music. I mean writing and recording my own songs, and maybe even finding some place to perform them live. I’m a grownup now and I don’t have the luxury of living in a hovel, eating only potatoes and split peas and driving a dilapidated VW bus to my gigs, my only health insurance a box of bandaids. (Funny how that life looks like a luxury to me now.) Of course, I play part time in a cover band, sort of a living juke box, but that is another compromise, and I no longer have time to burn on such projects.

Writing this has made me feel a little better, probably because it’s a start toward admitting the embarrassing reality that I just want to rock, a foolish and extravagant dream for a man of my age. But even in making this admission I feel myself hiding stuff. I’ve pushed a lot of things to the back of the emotional closet over the years, and I guess it’s time for a housecleaning.

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10 Replies to “Living In Fear”

  1. Larry, I get what you’re saying. I bailed on organized employment a long time ago (several deecades) – still, there’s need for medical insurance, steady pay, etc. and thankfully, someone else in our house has that.

    Bottom line – We go through life once and then it’s over. We can’t back up and redo anything and there’s no time machine for taking trips back to better times or lost opportunites.

    Do what you must, right now is all there ever is.

    Hope your wife finds and maintains good health.

  2. Your spirit touches others, Larry. Your unique outlook brushes through our lives, brings us a smile, perhaps gives us pause and helps us to think from a new angle. These things, in and of themselves, make your life important, even if you can’t see it yourself. I think we all have trouble with that.

    You’re creative. An artist. You love music, creating it, performing it, living it. And yet you’re pragmatic. In this particular place on Earth, in this time, to survive you have to conform. That’s deadening. But the fact that even now, after years of conforming, you’re still longing for your art, to be creative, to soar, means that you’re all right after all.

    I believe this.

    I also believe that sometimes we need a good shaking up to see the beauty that surrounds us. For all the bad people, there are so many good ones, and some of them love us and we love them. Keep your eyes open. You’ll find your answers.

    When I start getting stressed over the troubles life is tossing at me, I try (I don’t always succeed, but trying is what’s important) to read a few passages of the Tao. It helps me find my balance and calms my mind. Maybe it can help you, too.

    Wishing you peace, my friend.

  3. I suspect it’s not a bad thing to have a Mrs. Jones to worry about. I expect that it’s bad for everyone to peer into the maw of mortality, but I hope you survive it. I hope you can get back to your Art. Too bad it’s hard to do both (art and work).

  4. Larry:
    Congratulations on writing a significant short piece of literature. This is your story and I hope things get better for you and your missus.

    It is also OUR story, as aging boomers who find themselves facing old age like walking a tightrope without a net.

  5. Ah, thinking of you, Larry. Life’s been crazy here, I’ve lately been trying to keep up with everyone, hoping they know I’m here even though I have no time to comment. (I’m secretly facing a few of the issues you are, but it’s a secret.)

    I’m glad Mrs. Larry is doing ok, give her a hug from me. Give yourself one too. I’ll e-mail you asap.


  6. Wren – Thanks! I don’t know about touching others. It’s been so long since I’ve explored what’s inside my own self that I think I should look in there. It’s what I plan to do, anyway.

    kStyle – I looked up “qi,” and I still don’t understand it, but you’re right: good qi sounds like something I need. And I’ll be rockin’, as soon as I get tuned to the right qi.

    Ron – Art and work. Seems like they should be one and the same. Now that would be cool! (And no, you don’t need a password here.)

    John – Thanks for the kind words. I’m terribly confused about what I’m doing and where I’m going, and maybe there never has been a net, but I didn’t notice before because I didn’t look down.

    Gnightgirl – I know what you’re going through. You keep your secrets pretty well, though. I’ve decided that I can’t carry my own secrets alone any more, so I’m going to write them on my blog. (PS: I read your blog all the time.)

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