Mental Health and the Difficulty of Constant No-Death Runs

So the job search has not been going too well. I may do a post in the near future about the specifics, but this post will be a little different. I’ll be making a fair amount of references to a certain previous post where I talked about why this blog is called what it is called, so if you haven’t read that (or played the game Celeste) then some of this may not make sense (also there are spoilers for the game), but here we go.

In Celeste there are seven chapters (not counting bonus levels). The final chapter, where the protagonist Madeline has to climb an entire mountain, is long, arduous, and difficult, but at this point she has started to work together with that Part of Her who was antagonistic before, and with them supporting each other they succeed in the end and crest the summit of Mt. Celeste.

In some ways I can relate this particular job search (and honestly, probably a lot of life’s issues) to this Chapter 7 story. It might be long, difficult, and overwhelming at first, but if you take it one step at a time, with enough planning, skill, and perseverance, eventually you’ll prevail and accomplish your goals. Inspiring, right?

Except this whole time I haven’t actually been on Chapter 7, ready to tackle that mountain.

I’m on Chapter 6.

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 8: Broad Strokes

In the last post I covered my current job situation (long story short: if I continue doing what I have been doing for nearly the past two years, I will be out of money before the end of August). So it’s time once again to examine my options and forge a path. But before I do, I need to get one thing off my chest: the main reason I’m doing this in a set of public blog posts is because I live alone. There’s not really anyone I can discuss this with privately (such as a spouse or partner) who is invested enough in my success to put in the effort to make sure I can make the best decision, so I’m hoping that, through the Internet hive mind of people who at least mildly or moderately care, I will reach a good path forward. (And if you don’t at least mildly care, there’s probably not a lot for you here. Here, go read that prosaic post I made years ago about religion. People seemed to like that one.)

To begin, I want to lay out what, as far as I see, are my broad choices going forward. Some of these choices are more plausible than others, if you take into account my current trajectory as well as how difficult it is for me to make long-term changes in my life (thanks, autism) and how much effort it will take to make it happen. These aren’t necessarily exclusive either; making a multi-pronged attack plan will probably be necessary.

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 7: Dreams Unclaimed and Unclaimable

Well, here we are again. It’s been nearly two years since my last official post on this subject, and while things have changed quite a bit since then, I’m very nearly back to square one, and it’s once again decision time. In this post and the next one or two (or five; however many it takes) I want to lay out where I’m at career-wise and hopefully come up with a tenable path for the next bit o’ life at least.

Shortly after that last post two years ago I ended up landing a job at a local theater (I’m not going to name it just so Google won’t pick this post up if anyone there searches for it and interprets anything here negatively). I was initially put on the deck crew, but I made it clear then that what I ultimately wanted was a transfer to the audio department. I was told that there were very few openings in that department, but I was free to apply if one ever came up.

At the time I still had a pretty decent nest egg saved up from the unemployment/stimulus packages that had come about thanks to the pandemic, and I figured that with the position at the theater I’d be able to either survive long enough until my previous hotel A/V job opened back up and I could go back there, or I’d get that transfer into the audio department where I wanted to be in the first place. The pay wasn’t great, the work was strictly part-time, and at first I only worked in a swing position (i.e. I filled in for the person working the primary position so they’d have a few shows off per week), but at least it was something related to my field.

And the fact of the matter is that working in live theatrical audio wasn’t just a job, but a fairly ideal career path for me. I’d been doing it off and on ever since fifth grade, when our elementary school did Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and I didn’t want to be an Oompa-Loompa so I passed out microphones instead. It was the degree I was ostensibly pursuing during my time at BYU-Idaho, running a few shows up there and working an internship under Omar Hansen, and the only real reason I didn’t finish that degree is that, well, technically, it didn’t exist (at the time, and possibly still — I haven’t checked — BYU-I only offered theatrical education degrees), and at the time I was still interested in a music degree regardless. I’d also run audio for Hunt Mysteries, Poison Ivy Mysteries, a few various community theatre gigs as well as some light DJ work and probably some other live shows I’ve forgotten about. And that’s not even getting into the studio work I’d done as part of my Media Music/Synthesizer degree and brief stint afterward working at a video marketing group before my sound equipment got stolen.

Plus, you know, nearly ten years of A/V work, specializing as the audio guy in our four-man department at the hotel.

The point is, I think I’ve got a pretty impressive resume when it comes to audio, and I thought that, once they had an opening, I’d be a shoo-in for at least an interview.

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Coming out as Allo-Aro: A Q&A

It's a little odd to make a heart the shape on an aro shirt, but whatever.

It’s Pride Month! Which also means that it’s coming-out time for those who feel comfortable doing so. A few months back I made a post about the start of a journey: discovering I’m on the aromantic spectrum. Since then I’ve been doing research and a whole lot of self-reflection, and while aromantic is certainly a general way to describe me, something more specific and helpful is needed.

Hence, I’d like to declare now that I identify as allo-aro! (Not to be confused with the British sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo!) For those of you who have no idea what the heck that is (the term, not the sitcom) and want to learn more, this post is for you! For those of you who just think it sounds like one of those “woke LGBTQIA+ terms” that mean that it’s OK to discriminate against me or those like me because my morality is different from yours or something, this post is not for you! Go stick your head in a bucket of ice water!

Please note: I will be talking somewhat candidly about my sexuality. There won’t be anything explicit or NSFW, but if the subject alone makes you uncomfortable, or you prefer to think of me as some sort of childlike sexless imp, then maybe you should stop here. No judgment. Just think of me as you always have, with the additional fact that you might see me wearing that shirt up there sometimes.

I know that a significant portion of my readers are friends or family members who are LDS. If this applies to you, know that a lot of what I’m going to say does not align with things that that church teaches. Please don’t try to preach to me, or quote scripture or doctrine, or tell me you’ll pray for my soul, or any of that. As I am no longer a member of that faith, it doesn’t apply to me any more, and any attempt to steer the discussion in that direction will be fruitless.

I’m going to be writing this post in a Q&A format. Hopefully this will cover most of the basics, regarding me at least. If you want to know more in general about allo-aros, there are resources online (some of which I’ll be linking to). If you want to know more specifically about my experience, feel free to message me!

This is going to be a long one: I’ve been writing and editing it for basically an entire week! But keep with it; if you read to the end there will be a reward! (No cheating!) So without any further adieu, let’s dive in!

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Autism Acceptance: April 2022 (pt. 3)

The following is part 3 (of 3) of a series of Facebook posts I made in April 2022 (or at least the second half) as part of Autism Acceptance Month; specifically, the #AutisticComicTakeover hashtag that was trending then. While I didn’t create any comics, I posted a bunch that I found and added my own thoughts to them, and I wanted to keep them in an organized place before they were consigned to the depths of Facebook hell. Please click through and read the comics, and support the artists if you like what you see. Enjoy!

April 24, 2022

This comic is about ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy. I’m no psychologist nor teacher, so I don’t have a lot to say about it except that it sounds terrible, and in a way society does this anyway (especially a shame culture like the predominant Utah one), just not to such a formalized degree.

I do want to take this moment, however, to give a shout-out to my wonderful mom, who, despite being frustrated by crazy lil’ Jeff, didn’t ever try to squeeze this out of me, or take me to places like the one this comic describes. The only therapies I even remember from when I was a kid were a speech therapist (because I couldn’t say my R’s right for forever) and a course about improving self-esteem (it had some video series that went along with it that had something to do with freeing the horses? I don’t remember exactly). From her it was almost never “You are wrong and need to change,” it was “You are special; let me help you cope,” which is technically the same idea but phrased in the opposite way. Granted, it did lead to a little bit of toxic positivity (it took me a very long time to realize that, in fact, it was me that needed to change in order to start making friends), but I’d much rather have had that than being shamed or belittled. I got enough of that from virtually everyone else, but never from her.

So thanks Mom! I know Mother’s Day isn’t for a few weeks yet, but have this anyway!

(Note: after I posted this on Facebook, my brother, who has a non-verbal autistic child, commented to say that his experience with ABA has been far more positive. I don’t know whether that’s due to a difference in perspective between an allistic parent putting their child through it vs. actually going through it oneself, or if this particular artist happened to be in an ABA program that was executed incorrectly, but either way go do your own research if you’re considering going down this route for yourself or a loved one, especially seeking out viewpoints from those who’ve gone through it.)

(Also note: according to the Twitter conversation related to this comic, the creator of the ABA method was also the creator of gay conversion therapy, so take that as you will.)


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Autism Acceptance: April 2022 (pt. 2)

The following is part 2 of a series of Facebook posts I made in April 2022 (or at least the second half) as part of Autism Acceptance Month; specifically, the #AutisticComicTakeover hashtag that was trending then. While I didn’t create any comics, I posted a bunch that I found and added my own thoughts to them, and I wanted to keep them in an organized place before they were consigned to the depths of Facebook hell. Please click through and read the comics, and support the artists if you like what you see. Enjoy!

April 17, 2022

Wanna hear something interesting about me? One of my biggest hobbies is explaining things.

Seriously.

I actually think it’s fun.

I love taking an issue and picking it apart, figuring out how it ticks, and then going on and on about it in lengthy, overly wordy explanations. I enjoy it, as much as someone enjoys their own hobbies, like reading books, or traveling, or playing golf or whatever. Sometimes I explain things to myself, often just pacing around my apartment or driving somewhere talking to myself about a particular issue for an hour or more. Anyone who’s ever read my blog probably knows this already.

Thing is, most people don’t really want that. My “having a good time sharing something I’ve been thinking a lot about or know a lot about” turns into “being a know-it-all who wants to lord my knowledge over the ignorant plebs I’m surrounded by.” But this just ain’t true! I don’t find pleasure being better than anyone else; in fact, I would much rather be accepted by people as a voice in the group rather than exalted above it. And so this disconnect between the joy I feel talking about and explaining things I love often gets smothered by people reacting to it as though I just spit on them, and I end up with teasing nicknames about how much I want to win/be right or how competitive I am, when really I just want things to be fair and for everyone to completely understand the situation.

My point is that this particular comic hits home pretty well. People replacing hostility (this includes teasing) with curiosity when dealing with me would go a long way toward making me, and others like me, feel like we’re in a safe space.


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Autism Acceptance: April 2022 (pt. 1)

The following is part 1 of a series of Facebook posts I made in April 2022 (or at least the second half) as part of Autism Acceptance Month; specifically, the #AutisticComicTakeover hashtag that was trending then. While I didn’t create any comics, I posted a bunch that I found and added my own thoughts to them, and I wanted to keep them in an organized place before they were consigned to the depths of Facebook hell. Please click through and read the comics, and support the artists if you like what you see. Enjoy!

April 1, 2022

It’s Day 1 of #AutismAcceptance month! Why Acceptance and not Awareness? Because Autism isn’t a disease like cancer! It’s at worst a disorder, and at best just another way of experiencing the world, and either way is part of our identity. You wouldn’t name a month “Women Awareness Month” without some seeeeriously bad and demeaning implications.

I’m going to try to post some positive resources throughout this month on the subject. It probably won’t be daily, but hopefully it’ll help anyone who’s interested to learn more. Due to the nature of Facebook’s algorithm I’ll probably just be preaching to the choir and/or people who don’t really care, but whatever; it’s worth a shot.

In any case, if you do want to learn more, make sure you’re learning from self-advocacy groups, not groups that mainly consist of non-autistic people “doing what’s best” for autistic people. One such self-advocacy group wrote a book not too long ago that’s free on their website (https://autismacceptance.com/). While it’s a little long, it’s a pretty easy read, and if you’re not autistic, you can at least skip to the chapter on allies if you don’t want to read the rest. It’d be helpful if you ever have to deal with any autistic people in the future. And hey, since you all know me (presumably), I’m at least one autistic person who’d benefit from you knowing more!

Also it’s kind of funny that, despite the book mostly being written in a positive and affirming manner, sometimes it straight up says, “Some people say/believe X about autism. Those people are WRONG!” You could make a drinking game out of it!


April 7, 2022

I haven’t posted much about #AutismAcceptance beyond my original post yet, mostly because I want to help make a difference but I’m far from the expert on the subject; all I can do really is share personal experiences, which is nice and all but not a call to action or helpful for people to understand autism in general. However, there are some activists and community members who are way better at it than I am, so instead of personalizing everything I’m going to share some of their work instead, hoping it will be more effective. This particular artist makes some good comics explaining various aspects in some easy-to-understand ways, I believe.

Or, to explain like a non-autistic person instead of an autistic person: Love this! Sooo relevant! ❤️❤️❤️

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Guys, I’m pretty sure I’m aromantic

This is using a slightly older version of the aromantic flag colors, but c'mon: if you know where this character is from and what they mean to me you know I had to use it.
This is using a slightly older version of the aromantic flag colors, but c’mon: if you know where this character is from and what they mean to me you know I had to use it.

I haven’t written about relationship stuff on this blog in quite some time. Partly because I’ve learned to be a bit more discreet, partly because there hasn’t really been a lot going on in that department recently (well, OK, mostly the latter one). But recently I’ve had cause to reflect on past relationships, and why they just have never worked out, and I ended up diving down a rabbit hole that I think I need to share.

I’m 99.9% sure I’m on the aromantic spectrum.

I’ve literally never had a serious long-term relationship ever, and the relationships that I have had have almost never been fulfilling for me, even in the early days when you’re supposed to be lovestruck and smitten with each other. During my time in the LDS church I thought I was just not trying hard enough or hadn’t met the right girl or, like, I was maybe too much of a sinner or whatever, but even after I left and I’ve been able to explore other options it still never clicked.

It surprised me that in basically every romantic interaction I had since leaving, whether it was dating someone for one night or a few months, I was almost always the one that wasn’t as invested as the other person was. I thought maybe for a while that I was demisexual or somewhere on the asexual spectrum, but that label never quite seemed to fit, as I’m attracted to women all the time without any emotional connection to them.

So what was it? Was it just the “you haven’t met the right girl” narrative? I mean, that’s what all the songs and movies and stories seem to imply: meet the right person and that lightning strikes! Or get to know someone and those feelings will blossom! And that’s always been in the back of my mind, so I kept trying.

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The Bottom Rung

(Note: I’m bringing up some jobs I’ve had here, but this post is not meant to dunk on any particular place I’ve worked in the past, but to point out some trends that have little to do with any particular employer or company. I’m also attempting to be as vague and circumspect as possible when discussing these jobs, just in case they could affect future employment, because capitalism stifles open critique, but that’s a topic for another time.)

A few years ago at a previous job, the department I was working in was offered an incentive by upper management: if we, as a department, met a certain sales quota, a commission would be added to our paychecks. There were four of us in the department at the time, and this offer was extended to 1) our supervisor, 2) the guy who was previously our supervisor but was only a few years away from retirement so was winding back his duties, 3) my co-worker who had been there a year and a half less than me, and…that’s it. I wasn’t offered the chance to make any extra money, no matter how well our department did.

I was obviously confused and a little hurt by this, but determined to be a good employee, so I asked both my supervisor and his boss what I could do to qualify for this program. It obviously wasn’t just a matter of seniority, as my co-worker who had been there for a shorter time was able to take advantage of the program. It wasn’t a matter of sales numbers or similar metrics; our department didn’t measure sales or performance on an individual employee basis (in fact, our department had almost no influence on sales at all, which I’ll come back to in a bit). I asked my bosses if my performance had been unsatisfactory, and no, it hadn’t. I performed my job to the letter, and rarely, if ever, got complaints (certainly none that my bosses could bring up or remember). In fact, many times our department got glowing reviews from clients, as we worked quite well together and were always professional, competent, and friendly. Sometimes the team members were mentioned by name in customer reviews, sometimes it was just the entire team, but either way we almost never got anything negative.

So why then, I asked? Why was I specifically the only person left out of this incentive program, if I had done literally nothing wrong, had done everything I was asked to do, and often more (for example, I volunteered to help with some office work after my old supervisor had his responsibilities scaled back). And more importantly, what, specifically, did I need to do in order to qualify?

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Autism Issues: Babies I am Told to Eat

(source: https://youtu.be/CYLxg9bqKZY)

It’s been almost a year since my official autism diagnosis (with a side order of social anxiety), and in that time I’ve had the chance to use that diagnosis to more clearly define some of my particular obstacles and difficulties. I’ve come up with three issues that, in particular, have come to dominate my approach to social interactions, and I’d like to get those out here in writing, both so they’re more clearly defined for my own sake, and so those who care to can understand me a bit more, and perhaps make some accommodations that they otherwise wouldn’t think of.

However, before I get into the meat of that exercise, I want to take a moment to address the neurotypicals that might be reading this. I don’t really like the term “neurotypical”, as it basically means “normal person” and normalcy is usually a social construct, but in this case I especially mean to address those who don’t have the same issues I or those similar to me do, and can’t understand why we just can’t get over these things, either by sheer force of will or by the magical “go to therapy” button (therapy is good to build coping skills and form plans to deal with a difficult or hostile social/emotional environment, but it’s rarely a catch-all cure for mental health issues).

It’s difficult to properly convey how debilitating some mental blocks are. When a person with a mental illness says something like, for example, “I literally cannot make this phone call to the bank,” someone without that illness might be like, “Yeah, it sucks. I don’t like talking on the phone either. But man, you gotta call the bank, or your interest rate on your current loan will go up by 30%,” (or whatever; I’m not a banker). However, the first person isn’t saying, “Ugh, I don’t want to do this,” they are saying, “I cannot do this, and if you force me to try then my brain will shut down.” That’s something that is difficult to understand unless you’ve experienced it. But I’m going to try to express it anyway.

I came up with an analogy that is possibly tasteless, shocking, and maybe triggering, but it is the best way I can think of to properly convey the scale of the mental blocks that I have to deal with on a daily basis. This has been your content warning; buckle up!


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Autism and Perfect Pitch: An Analogy

Last December I was finally able to see a professional psychologist and was officially diagnosed with both high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) (not to be confused with Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is also SAD. And also sad.). In addition to being a nightmare to distinguish between if I was also dyslexic (which I’m not), these diagnoses have coalesced a lot of who I am into recognizable patterns. I’ve wanted to write a blog post about it for some time now, but I’ve been a little nervous about it. Now that I’ve got labels for these things I have the responsibility to be a voice for others with the same condition, and I don’t want to accidentally misrepresent or cause difficulties for others due to my interpretation or experience. But, at the same time, I do wish to convey my experiences for those who don’t understand, and commiserate with those who do. So I decided to just kinda wing this post, with the caveat for the reader that ASD is a spectrum, and everything I say could be way off base for others with ASD.

Having these two conditions has been a weird mismash of social awkwardness on both ends of the scale. One of the issues with ASD is that it’s really hard to get outside of one’s own head. A lot of autistic people just assume that everyone sees the world in the same way they do, not because they’re narcissistic or self-focused, but because they’re literally incapable of seeing it otherwise, at least not without a lot of thought and active reminders. Avoiding others is just easier and less stressful, hence the SAD.

Also, one of the symptoms of ASD is the inability to read/predict social cues from others, but one of the symptoms of SAD is the abject fear of crossing social norms. So, in any given social situation, I’m deathly afraid of saying the wrong thing, but I don’t know what the wrong thing is until I can see people’s reactions. About 60% of the time, I say something that’s normal (or normal enough) that the conversation continues just fine. About 30% of the time, I say something that might be a little awkward, earning some mental side-eyes from others (or actual side-eyes), but I don’t realize it until I think about the conversation afterward (something I do constantly about virtually every interaction I have, from those with strangers to those with the closest friends and family members), analyze it from the other viewpoint, and come to the conclusion that it was probably a weird thing to say. And about 10% of the time, I say something so awkward or inappropriate that I get an immediate response from others (usually a big pause with an “Uhhhhh….so anyway”) and then I want to go die in the corner.

You might think that that 10% is the worst part of having these two conditions, and that’s probably true. But the 30% of times when I don’t know whether or not I’ve done something wrong until afterward is probably more agonizing in the long run, because people don’t give feedback on this kind of thing, or at least feedback in a way that would be recognizable to someone with ASD. It’s not that I can’t recognize social cues at all, but more that it takes a more conscious, active effort to do so, and that takes time, like learning any new skill does, only in this case I’m not mentally able to eventually do it subconsciously. It will always be like learning a new skill. This sounds weird, but I’d like to illustrate with an analogy.

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 6: Answers?

I found this on tumblr. I wish I knew the proper creator so I could credit them.

In my last post I talked about the first step in overcoming and/or integrating my weaknesses so that they become strengths. I also promised at the end of that post that I would soon make another one about the next steps, and while the answer is still probably “get a therapist”, since that’s not currently an option, I’ve been doing the best I can otherwise. I’ve been reading up, listening to podcasts and lectures, doing some research (layman research, granted, but still), and listening to feedback on the stuff I’ve written over the past month. And do you know what the true answer I’ve found is?

Nothing.

And I don’t mean nothing like, “I haven’t found it yet,” I think the actual answer isn’t out there. Or at least, it’s not something simple where I can say, “This are the things I need to do to find true happiness, and these are the obstacles in the way, now let’s tackle them all and that’s my life’s work.”

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Part of Me

After last night’s venting session, I got thinking about the game Celeste, since apparently all my epiphanies come from video games now. In case you don’t know anything about it, Celeste is a platforming game where you play as Madeline, a young woman who has made it a personal goal to climb Mt. Celeste (based on an actual mountain in British Columbia). The difficulty level is stupidly hard (unless you turn on Assist Mode), but the game is always supportive and encouraging, which is a nice breath of fresh air from games that are either too easy, or mock you for not being an expert (for example, one of the loading screens states “Be proud of your death count! The more you die, the more you’re learning. Keep going!”).

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 5: Apathy

Surprise! You thought this series was over until I was gainfully re-employed! Turns out I’ve got more to say!

Job hunting has, of course, been pretty difficult, for many reasons (bad job market thanks to pandemic, lack of currently marketable skillsets, basically everything I’ve already written in this blog series, etc.). But through it all I’ve been grappling with a problem that has increased the difficulty exponentially. I don’t know how widespread this issue is, but it’s one I’ve been dealing with for far longer than just this job search, though its manifestation here makes it more crucial that I push through it. And that issue is this:

I just don’t care.

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 4: Miscellanous Jobs and At Least One Decision

Phew! Job hunting takes a bit o’ effort, in most senses, especially when you didn’t plan on doing it, the market is in such a weird place, and you don’t know whether you’re looking for a quick temp job or a whole new career. I’ve written this series of blog posts partly to answer that question by exploring my different options and finding out which one has the most appeal. We’ve talked about music jobs (not a good money/passion ratio for me), we’ve talked about tech jobs (I have the experience but it may not be the path I want to continue on), and we’ve talked about my actual passion (media analysis apparently). I do want to reiterate that this doesn’t mean all the time I took pursuing music and/or tech ended up being meaningless or pointless. I am proud of the work I’ve done musically, and my technological experience is something I’ve enjoyed building and will continue with regardless of career path.

But now let’s take some time and examine other options that people have brought to me. Would one of them be a better fit?

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 3: Have I Tried Turning My Job Off and On Again?

“Have I tried forcing an unexpected reboot?” Why yes, that’s what these blog posts are!

Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen! In the last post I waxed on about my passion, which is apparently media analysis (who woulda guessed?). I could potentially turn that into a career someday; possibly even before the end of September, though that’s unlikely, as I feel like I’d need to either get more education or know the right people to fully embrace that career path.

So instead, let’s leave that alone and turn to career paths where I do possess a measure of trained skill and expertise: tech! I mentioned in the first post in this series that I had posted on Facebook soliciting career ideas, and while I asked people to try not to suggest tech jobs, a lot of people did so anyway, because hey, that’s what I’m known for (other than music).

Technical stuff isn’t something I necessarily have huge amounts of passion for either, though I do find working with tech enjoyable and am decently good at it.When I was younger a lot of people thought I would grow up to be some sort of computer programmer, because even at a very early age I was making programs on our old Atari 800XL. Truth be told, however, I wasn’t making new programs as much as I was copying programs letter-for-letter out of my dad’s old computer magazines, then adding dumb childhood jokes to them (like the “guess the number I’m thinking of” program that inexplicably gained a 10-year-old’s interpretation of a British accent if you got it right, or the rock-paper-scissors game that was obsessed with talking about math homework). My point is that, like with music, people saw what I was doing and came to inaccurate, though understandable, conclusions about where my real passions lie.

Fortunately, unlike a career in music, you don’t need to be passionate, or devote your entire existence to technology, to get a good job in the industry. As long as you know what you’re doing and you talk to the right person/company you can probably find something that’ll fit you. And tech is something I do have a fair amount of experience in professionally, even though most of that tech lies on the A/V side of things (I have no idea how to, for example, set up an office network, or, like, code anything).

With that said, let’s look at that Facebook thread and discuss some trends. I’m not going to mention anyone by name for privacy’s sake, just in case.

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 2: Passion

Logo from TVTropes.org

Last time I wrote about a potential music career and why that is no longer a good option for me. Long story short: I don’t have the passion for music that one would need to succeed in that business. But before we get to talking more about career options, I want to examine the question: if music isn’t my passion, then what is?

One thing that this pandemic has given me is a lot of free time. Getting furloughed in March, expecting that I would be going back in May (then in the summer, then in September, then probably next year, then who knows?), as well as everyone being cut off socially, and my current single living situation, meant that I had little that I had to do. So I was able to explore the situation that, for most, is hypothetical: given the ability to do whatever you want (time-wise, at least; I couldn’t spend a million dollars or, you know, go anywhere), what do you end up doing?

What do I do all day, when I don’t have to do anything?

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My Career Crossroads: a Pandemic-forced Mid-Life Crisis. Part 1: Introduction and Music

It’s been about a month since I was informed that my furloughed-since-March A/V job was not going to be coming back, at least not anytime soon, and while I was placed in an “on-call” position, it was more to keep me on the books during the pandemic in case I wanted to return afterward; my boss was pessimistic about the amount of work they’d actually need me (or most of the department) for until next year at the earliest. At first I wanted to just hang on until then, drawing unemployment until my job came back, but it has become increasingly clear that that is an untenable option, at least not if I want to keep my current independent living situation.

I’ve had a lot of time to ponder my options since then, both in terms of my career and just my future in general. Getting another job like I currently have (working A/V in a convention/hotel setting) is virtually impossible: the entire industry has been killed by the pandemic. Most other obvious crossover jobs with my skillset (tech theatre, for example) are also dead in the water. So I’ve got to start broadening my sights to discover where I will go next.

Almost everything will come to a head by the end of September: that’s when my rental contract is up (renewal will lock me in for another six months and be increased $20 per month to boot), and is also when my on-call status at my “previous” job will be official, which has the added side effect of kicking me off my health insurance plans (thanks America!…). I could get a low-paying entry-level temporary job just to make ends meet until my old job comes back, but that won’t cover all my bills, it will make me ineligible for unemployment insurance, and plus…I, uh, don’t really want to.

Thing is, though, this may end up being an opportunity disguised as a garbage situation. My original plan was to stay in my A/V job for about five years and then get something more professional and better-paying with that experience under my belt. This never ended up coalescing, though, as I got settled into a bit of a rut, staying there for close to nine years (longer if you count the time I’ve spent furloughed), being able to stay afloat financially but living paycheck-to-paycheck, never being able to save much for the future (I do have some retirement plans, but I’d only been putting in about half the recommended contribution just to be able to cover my current living expenses).

There was a lot about my job that I enjoyed: the ability to make money with a skillset I’d been working on since elementary school (I handled microphones for our school production of Willy Wonka in 5th grade because I didn’t want to be an Oompa-Loompa), the chance to meet a fair amount of famous and influential people, pin microphones on them, and show them how to plug their laptops into our projection systems, and the opportunity to work in a diverse setting (a huge chunk of the employees at the hotel are first-generation immigrants, and as I’m a white cishet male raised in Utah, it helped broaden my perspective beyond my privilege).

But all things considered, this is an unexpected chance to be forced to reinvent myself. There’s nothing tying me to A/V anymore. There’s nothing tying me to, really, anything anymore. I don’t have kids or a spouse. I don’t own a house or any property. Heck, there’s nothing really tying me to Utah. I could move anywhere, do anything. Change is hard, but when it’s forced upon me, I don’t necessarily want to take the first, or easiest, or laziest option so I can work in subpar conditions for another decade. The only limits I have right now are financial (I saved a little bit with the extra $600 unemployment payments that ended in July, but not a whole lot) and situational (the entire economy is suffering under the pandemic, which limits job opportunities in certain areas).

All of that preamble leads me to this: I can do anything, be anything, and now (or at least before the end of September) is the time to make that decision that will shape who I am and what I do, potentially for the rest of my life, or at least until retirement age.

I asked on Facebook for people to throw out career suggestions for me. I stipulated that there were no wrong answers, though I did ask people to limit it to career options instead of unskilled temp work, and that they try not to focus on music or tech, since that’s what had led me to this. Half of the respondents brought up both anyway, which says a lot about how I’m perceived, I believe, and got some of my other, self-analytical gears a-turning.

So in this series of blog posts, I want to look at two things: if these job suggestions are good fits for me, and what people’s various suggestions say about what they know about me and how I’ve presented myself to the world.

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Adulthood

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What does it mean to be an adult?

A discussion I had after my most recent blog post (the latest in my series of “Jeff has an existential crisis every so often but he’s OK after getting it all out” posts) spurred me to think on the topic of adulthood. This is something I’ve often thought about, and as a 37-year-old guy who’s never been married, owned his own property, or had a large amount of disposable income, and spends his free time with hobbies that came from his childhood (such as video games), I might be labeled by some as a manchild who still needs to grow up. On the other hand, I am 37 years old and self-reliant (current pandemic-related work situations notwithstanding), so what more would one need? Let’s look at this a bit more in-depth.

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Hiding in the crack under the railing, to not disturb your nap

I saved a spider today.

I was just about to lie out on a cot I have set up on my apartment balcony. Since I live on the third floor, I almost never get bugs or critters in my actual apartment, and I had swept out and washed the entire balcony near the beginning of summer. But as I prepared to lie down, headphones donned and podcast having already started, I noticed a huge collection of webs in the corner, mere inches from where my feet would’ve been. My first instinct was to abandon the balcony and never return, but, swallowing that fight-or-flight response, I instead calmly headed inside and filled a liquid measuring cup with some water to drown out the webs without hitting it with a broom and making stuff fly everywhere (including whatever spiders and/or prey might be trapped in it). Sure enough, eventually, a spider came scurrying out from the crack underneath my balcony railing where it had been hiding and got washed a few feet into the middle of the balcony, where it eventually came to rest.

I could’ve squashed it easily. I could’ve tagged it with some Raid that I have under the sink, or trapped it under a cup until it died. On the other end of the freakout scale, I could’ve just let it be. Not disturbed its web, or let it run to wherever it would run and build a new web (closing the door so the web wouldn’t be inside my apartment, obviously). But I didn’t want it dead. The poor thing was probably starving, as I didn’t see any bugs caught in its web (like I said, being on the third floor does have its perks when it comes to insect problems), and it wasn’t its fault that a huge creature hundreds of times its size just wanted to listen to a Midwestern sci-fi podcaster talk about the Jurassic Park novel for half an hour while enjoying the summer air. But my fight-or-flight response wouldn’t allow me to relax when a giant spider’s nest was mere inches away from my cot.

So I compromised with it. Using a process involving an overturned cup, several sheets of too-flimsy paper, a discarded frozen dinner box, a pair of dusty work gloves that were mostly for security theater purposes, and a nerve-wracking walk down three flights of stairs with a tight grip, I finally set it free out in the lawn of the apartment complex somewhere, free to do whatever it wanted. Sure, the process ended up taking like fifteen minutes and I had to restart the podcast, but I was finally able to lay down and relax, knowing that the problem had been solved, not only for me, but for the terrifying yet helpless creature I had relocated.


I was furloughed from my job (I work in audiovisual doing conventions and parties at a hotel) back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the expectation that I would go back once the virus was under control (the first early estimates were for May, though that quickly got pushed back to September). Since I live alone, this meant losing my only regular means of social contact until then. As an introvert it wasn’t too bad; though the first week was rough because nobody knew what was going to happen and we were all adrift in a sea of uncertainty, due to a combination of timely Zoom meetings and twitch.tv streaming, I was able to connect with some friends and gain at least a measure of relief from the intense cabin fever. And with a combination of judiciously employed vacation time, unemployment insurance with the federal COVID stimulus, and simple financial saving, I was able to establish a plan that would let me ride out the spring and summer months until I was able to return to work in the fall.

However, with things still not under control, that scenario was looking less and less likely, and finally this past week I was contacted by my work to discuss the situation. Long story short: there aren’t enough meetings/conventions/parties/etc. happening at the hotel to sustain even one full-time A/V employee (let alone an entire department) so as of October 1st I will be moving from furloughed status to on-call status. This means they’ll call me if they need me (which, according to my boss, probably won’t be much: the most optimistic estimate he gave me was still a single-digit number of times before the end of the year). This also means that, after September, I will be losing my full-time employee status, which means, among other things, I will no longer qualify for my company’s health insurance (including therapy, which I was finally able to start contemplating financially) or retirement plans.

So, you know, there’s that.

Sure, I was hurt and angry. Sure, I had no idea how to proceed, since my plans had evaporated. I still don’t quite know what I’m going to eventually do to deal with all this. But that’s not what this blog post is about, ultimately.

I reached out to a few people privately to explain the situation before posting anything publicly about it (which I eventually did on Facebook a few days later). As someone whose needs often get misinterpreted, I attempted to also outline what type of attention I wasn’t seeking (money, advice, generic job suggestions) and what I did need (understanding and emotional support). I guess I worded it wrong, though? Because all I ended up getting was acknowledgements that they had received the message, a couple of generic job suggestions (and, to be fair, a specific one that applies to my skillset and was appreciated), and one who told me (paraphrased) that their reaction was “Whoa, Jeff, chill out!” but later apologized by way of telling me that they weren’t all that good at expressing verbal empathy, which, y’know, fair enough, I guess.

This particular situation was nothing new. I’ve found, in the past, that when I express a need for help and support, I often receive it in a way that doesn’t really help or support me in the way I need. When I try to be more specific, however, I end up getting none at all, and it usually amounts to awkward silence on the part of the people I reach out to. I don’t fully understand this, though maybe it’s because, since I rejected their first instincts to be “helpful”, I’m a hopeless case or a masochistic curmudgeon. Or they’ve got other things to worry about than figuring out what I need. Or, like what happened earlier, they’re simply not good at expressing empathy. (That, by the way, was not an insult. Someone who knows themselves well enough to make that statement is showing a remarkable sense of self-awareness, and if everyone were that forthright about what they could and could not do, emotionally and mentally, then we’d probably all be in better places with people who complement us instead of those that just compliment us. Or maybe I just thought of that wordplay halfway through that sentence and wanted to shoehorn it in. You decide!)

It’s probably far more likely, however, that I’m unable to express exactly what I want or need in a way that would make those who are willing to help understand what they can do. This is especially a problem when what I need isn’t the stereotypical solution, or the easiest, or the one that comes to mind immediately. And people get their hackles up really quickly when their intended charity isn’t immediately accepted with tears of gratitude, even when it’s only because they were offering a helping hand to someone who just needed a foot. (Don’t, uh…don’t pick that metaphor apart.)

For example, let’s say somebody lost their job because the economy was in a place where it was virtually obsolete. They’re hurting and they want support. So you have a few people who respond to this. The first expresses sympathy by sending them job offers, or money, or flyers for night classes so they can learn a different profession, or other types of tangible support. Sure, the job offers are for things they aren’t interested in or good at, the night classes are either expensive or also in fields they’re ill-suited for, and the money is temporary at best and possibly creates a power imbalance between the two, but hey, at least they tried. The second simply ignores the problem entirely. Sure, they privately sympathize with the person who is hurting, but they don’t know the exact right solution, so they don’t do much of anything except maybe sending an emoji of a smiley face hugging a heart. They might interact with the person, but they pretend nothing is wrong and that life is grand all around.

Do either of these help? Not really. Though they do assuage the conscience of the giver, happy in the knowledge that they either tried to help or at least did their best. That might be a bit cynical, as often people’s emotional wells are drained doing other things and you can only spread yourself so thin being a caretaker. (This is probably another reason people react poorly to rejected charity: someone offers something they believe is helpful for what they feel are selfless reasons, and when it doesn’t help or is rejected that’s mental and emotional effort down the drain that could’ve been used for somebody who would’ve appreciated it, thank you very much.)

So what does this person need? I don’t know, but if I were to guess, I’d say they need some self-esteem. They need somebody who will validate them, that just because they’re currently unemployed or otherwise underperforming in life, it doesn’t mean they spent their life pursuing something worthless, that their ability to bounce back from their current bad situation is something they’re ultimately capable of doing. And they need to truly believe this, to have it come from a person or source that has credence in their life. Somebody who isn’t just spouting platitudes because they hope it will somehow make the situation better (and make the giver feel like they’re a good person), but who knows the sufferer well enough to read them, to know what’s important to them and why they’re invested in it, and to use that knowledge to draw connections between who they are and who they are capable of becoming. And to do this with enough effort and persistence that it will eventually pay off. If the sufferer doesn’t believe in themselves, then no amount of sympathy, emojis, or job suggestions are going to do any good. But if they believe they can bounce back, and have that belief reinforced by their friends and loved ones in effective ways, then eventually they will.

In other words, they need the impossible.

This type of attention is needed most by the people who look like they deserve it the least. The ones who get mad when they have different ideas of help than you do. The ones who want support but can’t even articulate themselves what kind of support they need without sounding incredibly selfish. They’re just spiders on the balcony, trying to eke out a simple living where there are almost no bugs; certainly not worthy of the time and attention it would take to put on gloves, take terrifying stair-walks, and miss an entire Jurassic Park podcast just to help them into a better situation when it would be so much easier to squash or ignore them.

It also doesn’t have to be anything particularly spectacular or complicated. I went to dinner recently with a friend I hadn’t seen in years (don’t worry: we were outdoors and socially distanced and all that), and the topic of conversation turned briefly to Undertale (because of my necklace). I started talking about it at length but caught myself before going too far (if you want to know just how much I can talk about it, see the previous blog post and the 10-12 hours of Let’s Play videos it links to), even though she at least seemed interested. She remarked that she didn’t know much about Undertale but it was nice to hear me talk about it because my face “lit up” when I started talking about it, and seeing how much passion I had about it and how important it was to me made it interesting to her. That was a statement that was possibly a throwaway one for her, but it stuck with me. That kind of positive reinforcement was one I didn’t even know I was missing until suddenly I had it for a brief moment. And though that dinner was kind of a one-off thing due to circumstances, it was nice to exist there even for a second, and it’s a behavior I want to emulate.

This is a little thing, but it can solve big problems that would fester otherwise into uncontrolled disasters. At the risk of alienating some people, let’s offer one more different solution to the “guy who’s out of a job and down about it scenario.” Sick of hearing about what he needs to do to be better from others not in his situation, receiving no help from those who ignore the problem, and unable to find anyone willing or able to put in the time or effort needed to help him cope and adapt, a fourth voice comes along. A voice that promises that he doesn’t need to worry about adapting or finding a new job. A voice that doesn’t say “I believe in you” but instead says “If you believe in me, I will fix everything for you. I will make the world bend back to where you can go back to the job you love and everything will be perfect again. I know things aren’t great, but it’s not your fault, and you can’t do anything about it, so give me the power and control I need to…let’s say…make it great again?”

Even when this voice offers no evidence that their (OK, “his”, it’s obvious who I’m talking about here*) promises are even possible, let alone that he is able to keep them personally, the prospect is so tantalizing to someone who doesn’t see another way out of their situation that they pledge their loyalty to him and refuse to budge. Belief is such a powerful motivator that it often overrides everything else, whether that’s a belief that an orange man can fix all of their problems, or just a belief that nobody thinks they’re worth the effort to listen to and/or work with so they can get better; that they’re just a weird-looking spider who just wants to eat some bugs and who would apologize profusely for inconveniencing any afternoon naps if they could, but they need to eat still, y’all; sorry if that’s selfish, sorry I’m not cute and cuddly, just don’t squash me and I’ll go back under this crack and starve to death in peace oh crap now I’ve implied that you’re not as generous as I need you to be and you’re frustrated don’t hurt me or leave me.

I don’t know if this whole metaphor makes 100% sense, but the point is still valid. I cannot expect anyone to help me. I have been burned too often in the past hoping that someone will magically appear who has the time and capability to help me with what I actually need emotionally (as opposed to what they think I need, or what they would need in my situation, or what they can spare given that everyone’s life is hard right now), especially since I don’t even know what that is until I suddenly get it (like with that dinner). Maybe therapy would help, but if you wanted that to be an option for me, well, you shoulda voted for Bernie.

And, honestly, maybe the solution would be for me to look outside myself and be the person to others that I want in my life. I do try to do this, with friends or family members that I know well enough to feel like I can make a difference, even if I don’t hear it from them. But I don’t know you, hypothetical reader who needs my help, so you’ll have to tell me what you want or don’t want; otherwise, we’re just looping back to the initial problem with with the roles reversed. And if you don’t know what you need either…then, well, maybe we can just commiserate together. That does help sometimes.

Thanks for making it this far. This was possibly an emotionally exhausting post to read; I know it was to write. These can get pretty raw sometimes. I can’t hope it will change anything, but I hope it will at least help you understand a little better the mind of a socially anxious yet fiercely independent and overanalytical man who spent the last four or five months in near-solitary confinement before basically losing his job. I don’t want to alienate or insult anyone at not doing what I need (not everyone has a cup and paper, after all), so I apologize if I’ve come across as passive-aggressive; I don’t mean to. I don’t know how to be honest without coming across that way. And I know these posts often vacillate between “somebody saaaaaaaaaave meeeeee” like I was the theme song to Smallville, and “I don’t want to make you feel bad for not saaaaaaaaaaaaving me” like how most people feel about Smallville, but that’s the struggle I always have going on in my head.

I’ll be fine. I always am.

Speaking of Smallville, in closing, to lighten the mood slightly, here’s a picture I’ve randomly had on my hard drive for like thirteen years:

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*it’s Trump. I was talking about Trump. I say this because apparently there was some confusion among some readers.