Running on Fumes

Published on 2021, May 3

Not sure I can call it a post-mortem if I’m not the one who died.


2017

2017 was a good year for me. A really, unconditionally, good year. I loved my job. I delivered code to NASA! I got to (try to) operate a satellite! I loved my scout troop and living in Utah and my parents were planning to move out west with me and everything looked like the start of a bright future. I got closer to my best friend. Two of my favorite artists dropped new albums. I started growing a Twitter presence and making friends online.

I’m glad I got to experience it. It was a non-stop highlight. It was an excellent recovery from university and my prior relationship.

And in 2018 I got the Albuquerque assignment.

2018

Albuquerque itself is not a bad city. I am not knocking it in any way. But what started as a work trip to support a program on Kirtland for two weeks became a month-long trip, then a month of there-and-back bouncing between Salt Lake and Albuquerque for a week at a time, then two.

Then my dad got cancer.

Then I lived out of a hotel for seven weeks.

Then I gave up and moved.

I stopped going outside, I stopped cooking, I put on fifty pounds of weight (150 to 200 in six months).

Then he died.

2019

In 2019 the satellite for which I moved to Albuquerque tidied up its ops room enough to barely need me anymore. Then the satellite I got put on to replace my time launched and work didn’t really know what to do with me.

I didn’t know it at the time, because I didn’t really feel it, but I was beginning a burnout. And I think I’m still in it.

It started with my relationship. I ran out of patience and capability to provide emotional presence and I asked to break up. My request was not accepted and I, for some reason, …went along with that? I’ve unilaterally bailed on relationships before I know that’s an option but I didn’t this time and I can’t really explain why. We stayed together through 2020 May.

This was my first exhaustion. I ran out of energy, or willingness, or ability, or desire, to talk to her, but I kept doing it, and I lost the part of my mind that kept me in love with her, and then it just. Never came back. Even while we were living together after that. And she knew it, for a year, and it really fucked her up too, which I regret a lot, and I can definitely promise you that knowing this has only been compounding the exhaustion and frustration and sometimes fury, at myself, at her, at circumstance. Not, you know, helping.

My performance at work started slipping in October.

2020

In January my friend sent me a job posting that looked tailor-made for me specifically. I mulled it for a week and decided that, yeah, I was continuing to slide at SDL. I loved SDL. I loved what I was doing, I loved with and for whom I was doing it. But I didn’t love Albuquerque. The city was tangled up with my depression and my dad’s too-slow, too-fast, dying. So I interviewed, and I got it, and I asked to start in September so I could wrap up at work and maybe run a scout camp waterfront again.

Plague year.

My grandma got the virus. Infection day zero. Intubation day seven. Death day fourteen. Clockwork. My mom got the virus. Two weeks bedridden. Recovered. Fine now.

We started working from home on March 13th and I’ll be honest I was phoning it in for the first thirty days. My grandma died on April 14th and I took my three days bereavement. Then I took sick leave. Then I took vacation. Then I resigned.

I didn’t really do anything else in April or May either. I tried writing. I tried working on bitvec. I just couldn’t concentrate.

So I lived with mom and spent June helping her around the house and started the new job in July, since summer camp was, of course, called off. It was okay for a few months, then mom’s cats died one after the other, then I got sick two weeks after scouting Arlington for a house (the symptoms didn’t match coronavirus, and I was negative after returning, but I never got tested for antibodies because I lived with my contaminated mother so what would be the point) and then my work collapsed.

And it’s, well. Stayed collapsed. So that’s the second exhaustion.

Now

I feel hollow. I feel disconnected from my job and my friends and my life. I’ve been really lucky in that I’ve been able to see my family and seven of my friends in person since the plague. I’m alive and healthy and employed and objectively I know things are good and I just need to keep abreast and I’ll be fine.

I’ve been running lately. I’m unhappy with the way 2018 depression and 2020 isolation have left me slightly less physically attractive than I was at camp in 2015 so I’m trying to get in shape again. It’s nice to have something to do that forces me to be aware of and present in my body.

My stamina’s a lot worse than it was last year. I can run about a mile and change at a steady 8:37 before I walk. Today, as I write this, I made it two miles before I dropped pace. Last year I ran a 3x8:03 without walking, then I stopped moving for eight months because I hurt my ankle and then I moved.

What annoys me is that I’m not dropping pace because I’m in pain, or because I’m exhausted. My ribs and liver hurt a little but no more than the expected amount. I still have energy. It happens at mile one or two, and I push myself for three, then I walk around town, then I run another two miles to get home. I’m not winded; I don’t heave or gasp or wolf down food to recover. I’m not at my body’s limits and I’m not even at my conscious mind’s limits! I know I can go farther, faster, and I want to.

I want to work. I like my assignment. I like my team. I like what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s an ideal job with an ideal role and I should be happy with it. I should be pushing myself professionally as well as physically.

I’ve tried to build up my willpower for a long time. I used to be very bad at it. I’ve aggressively shaped my psychology and my motivations and my work ethic over the last decade but especially in 2017 and 2018. I believe a lot in the capability of the conscious mind to set goals and to push for them.

It’s not working.

I’m shallowly happy with my friends, then it fades the moment we part. I’m shallowly happy when I accomplish something at work or on bitvec or my other projects, then I put it away, and the feeling’s gone. I can’t smell, so even though I’ve been cooking more, I don’t actually like the food. I like making it; I like the concept of putting ingredients together and making something that’s good for me and avoiding 2018 again. But it doesn’t really taste like anything and once it’s done there’s nothing to remember.

But I’m only cooking because I have an app that tells me what to buy and how to assemble it.

I’m only running because my watch makes numbers go up.

I’m only talking to my friends because Twitter and Snapchat make numbers go up.

I’m not feeling persistent joy anymore and it’s not the same absence as when I was actively depressed or suicidal. I’m not sad either. I’m not even stressed. I should be! I wish I were! That would be a motivator! That would be a negative stimulus I could work to flee! I fucking wish I were stressed about this.

What frustrates me and scares me, in a ghostly, intellectual, sense, is that I’m not feeling frustrated or scared or stressed or worried or sad or happy or tired or pained. What concerns me, in a distant, detached, observational way is that I don’t receive these emotional signals in my conscious working mind. I’m still thinking. I set goals. I have wants. I recognize what I want to accomplish and I know how to get there and what I need to do and I want to do it.

But I start running, and I run, and then my body …walks. I don’t ask it to. I don’t want it to. I want to run. I want to hurt and throw up and fall over and twitch. I want my liver to hurt and my diaphragm to cramp and my legs to buckle when I try to stand. I want to be tired. I want to be fast. But I run, and long before I get there, my body walks.

I start working, and I get flowing, and then I drop out. The ideas stop coming. I look at my screen and I know what I have to do and my fingers don’t move. I want them to move. I am in my skull screaming at my muscles to twitch my fingers across my keyboard and to pick up my feet and charge down the road and my body just isn’t doing it.

There’s something broken in me. There’s some supply of capability that I had and now I don’t. It’s supposed to refill, right? I’m supposed to get some capability back every time I go to sleep and I’m supposed to get more of it and get better at using it.

But it’s not there.

It’s not there for my friends.

It’s not there for my job.

It’s not there for me.

I need it back. I need to be good at my job. I want to be good at my job. I need and want to be a good friend. I want to be hot. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to shove the accelerator down to no response. I don’t want to know what to do at work and have something in me, outside my control, prevent me from doing it.

I hate this!

I hate that I have it at all. I hate that it’s so trivial by comparison to so many other people’s situations. I hate that it’s just something in my head. Just some little gap that wasn’t there three years ago. I should be able to get past this. I should be able to think something and have an effect in the world.

But the truth is I’m out of gas. I’m shoving my pedal down but the clutch doesn’t engage. I’m sputtering out. I find dribbles of motivation and ability and drive, but I don’t get more than I use.

Now What

Fuck if I know! Frankly I’m astonished I wrote this! I hope it’s a good sign. I hope the fact that I sat down and wrote two thousand words about myself and my inability to translate desire into action, which is a desire on which I acted, indicates that I’m getting it back. I hope it’s not just one more tank I found and emptied and won’t refill.

But I’m going to hit publish. And I’m going to go to sleep. And tomorrow I’m going to wake up and make eggs and sit at my desk and stare at my work computer and I’m going to know exactly what I need to be doing today.

And I hope to God my fucking fingers will move.