Introspection on a Recent Downward Spiral

Alrighty... now that my RSA summary post is out of the way, let's get into a deeply personal post about how absolutely horrible of a week I had at RSA. Actually, that's not fair. The first half of the week was ok, but some truly horrible human beings targeted me (on social media) on Wednesday of that week, and it drove me straight down into a major depressive crash that left me reeling for days (well, frankly, through to today still).

I've written about my struggles with depression in the past, and so in the name of continued transparency and hope that my stories can help others, I wanted to relate this fairly recent tale.

If you can't understand or identify with this story, I'm sorry, but that's on you.

The Holy Trinity: Health, Career, and Relationships

This story really starts before the RSA conference. 2016 was an up-and-down year for a variety of reasons, but overall my health had been ok as I was able to re-establish a regular exercise routine. My weight was higher throughout the year (a negative), in large part to ending 2015 with a major flu bug and sinusitis that lingered for several months. Frankly, even today, I'm worn out and not as resilient as I think I should be.

At any rate, I was doing ok in the health department until November when I traveled to Austin, TX, to speak at a small event. The night before I was supposed to speak I ended up eating something bad (I suspect a pickled jalapeƱo plucked from a jar on the table of a BBQ place) and contracting food poisoning. I got no sleep and was unable to eat all day, so speaking at 4pm after all of that to an audience of 5 (or less) was... not good. This lead into more travel in early December such that by the middle of the month, I was sick. Two weeks of vacation on the road (sick), and suffice to say, by the time 2017 rolled around, I was completely worn out. Once health falls, poor diet routines tend to fall into place as I caffeinate to be functional during the day, which negatively impacts sleep, which negatively impacts weight, which creates the negative, reinforcing cycle around which everything else starts to circle and devolve.

Suffice to say, one of the three pillars had fallen, and as is common for me the past few years (ever since get pneumonia in June 2014), the road back is slow and requires a lot of willpower. From a mental health perspective, once health falls, the danger is real that a depressive episode may approach if anything else takes a hit. Enter the career/work angle...

I'm not going to say a lot about this, but suffice to say, there's been a lot of personal job stress. Such an occurrence has been a trigger for me in the past, because - like so many people - a lot of my personal identity is wrapped around the work that I do. For the rare person reading this post who doesn't know, I work in the cybersecurity space, which is already beset with far above average burnout rates, which means the conditions are already tilted against success, happiness, and mental well-being. Add in my career history that's been so incredibly adverse and challenging, and the picture quickly shapes up that I can very quickly start feeling like I'm nothing more than a waste of space. After all, if work isn't fulfilling, and if I don't feel like I'm doing anything meaningful with my life, then it translates into feeling like I am meaningless. Don't argue, don't comment, don't provide some response about "no, man, you matter." It's not about rationality in this context, it's about how I feel at my core, which tends to be incredibly dark when the wheels fall off and the downward spiral commences.

To sum up, all of this describes the conditions going into RSA week. I was feeling fat, I was feeling tired, I was feeling incredibly undervalued and worthless at work... which set the conditions for what happened next, which was the sense of loss of the third pillar of relationships.

(many) People Suck

I'm not by nature a misanthrope, but I've started to become one over the years, because at the end of the day, I lot of people are miserable, awful, and just downright mean. I unfortunately experienced all of this first-hand during RSA week (all day Wednesday, to be precise - literally starting around midnight, early in the morning). What I found is that there are lots of hateful, evil people in the world who love nothing more than to shit all over everyone; especially people with whom they think they disagree. The best/worst part of this is that they're willing to shit all over people for things you may have never said, but to which statements were (falsely) ascribed.

In the cab home from our company RSA party late Tuesday (aka early Wednesday) I made the mistake of responding to someone's tweet (on the Twitters). A person whom apparently is a major figure in the "women in science" movement (a true dyed-in-the-wool hard core feminist in all the worst connotations) had shared an article about getting more women into science (a worthy goal), but I felt the tone was very anti-male, which I view as being anti-helpful in many ways. So, I replied in what I thought was a very neutral, thoughtful manner, along the lines of "I think this is great, but we need to be mindful not be inclusive via exclusion." I later added "Building one group up by tearing another down is not a net positive." as well as "When the oppressed becomes the oppressor, you still have oppression, which is not truly beneficial to everyone."

It was appalling the degree and amount of raw, vile vitriol leveled at me for what I had viewed as thoughtful, respectful, constructive comments. Moreover, these comments were spewed at me literally day Wednesday, to the tune of hundreds of tweets attacking me, calling me names and declaring things about me (clearly I'm such a product of "white male privilege," what with having grown up in a predominantly white rural community in a single-income academic household where we typically lived paycheck to paycheck and were consistently among the lowest social ranks). In some ways it was infuriating, but the constant onslaught of negativity and ad hominem attacks also took a severe toll on me in that I was already feeling crappy, and the NOP slide (so to speak) hit hard, driving me straight into the ground.

Even Small Things Amount to Piling-On

For those unfamiliar with the RSA Conference, Wednesday night during RSA week is historically an evening filled with corporate sponsored parties/receptions. As the event has grown, this has quickly become an overloaded evening of frivolity. Except this year I literally received no invitations. It was surreal. When I was with Gartner, it was all I could do to find a free moment. Even post-Gartner, as a buyer, there were myriad invitations. However, this year? Nothing. It was beyond strange, and by the time I realized it, pretty much all the parties were fully booked.

I figured, at worst, I could just tag along with people to a couple events, have a little fun, call it an early night. Sounded ok in theory. Right up until I got ditched twice in 30 minutes (by different people), and the tailspin started. Add onto this that I'd been trying to meet-up with a couple dear friend in particular, to no avail (busy schedules). And, because of work-related issues, I ended up with far too much unscheduled down time during the week (a rant for another day). But, for someone teetering on an emotional collapse, this became a rather big deal.

The biggest disaster of the night was when my phone got smacked out of my hand causing it to fly and smash against something (in the dark). When I retrieved it, I found the screen was now non-functional... which was highly problematic considering it was the only computing device that I'd brought with me for the week. I had no laptop, no back-up phone, nothing. I was terrified! I immediately felt cutoff (from the world abusing me). I was already in emotional freefall, and now was completely offline and unavailable in case anyone did try to reach out. Panic ensued. It was late at night and I had to wait until morning.

All of these things (and many more) piled onto a bad day and rapidly accelerated a downward spiral. By Thursday morning I was exhausted and disconsolate. The only reason I got out of bed was the drive to replace my phone. I dragged myself to the Verizon Wireless store, only to find out they didn't open for another hour. I went to the office, only to find out that we don't actually have *any* phones (not even a polycom!). I was able to use one of the conference room computers to look up info for phone replacement, and then when a coworker arrived in the office, I borrowed her phone to call VzW to get details on my options. I then headed to the store a little before opening time (still ended up 4th in line) and quickly picked up a replacement device (which I subsequently hated and replaced once I got home). A couple hours after that and I finally was back online to an adequate reasonable degree. But... the damage was done... and I was just ready to be done, too...

All of these things might strike you as trivial or insignificant, but you have to understand things in context. Already down due to ongoing health issues. Dragged/driven down even further by work issues. And then to have the social stuff go completely sideways? The spiral into the black hole was a rapid ascent, and the recovery less than trivial. Imagine falling into a hole, and as you try to climb out, the ground falls away and you collapse into a deeper hole. And then everything starts to fall in on you... as you fall deeper into the hole, the darker it gets, but gravity also increases, crushing you, making it harder to breathe, not to mention being buried, buried, buried... you feel like there's no way out... you feel like there's no air to breathe... you feel crushed... that is what it felt like...

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This is my RSA story. It could have been an ok week overall, but the bottom quickly fell out of it. There really were several potential positives (plus a few negatives), but it was hard to recognize them given Wednesday's NOP slide to disaster.

How am I doing today? If I'm being honest, no better than so-so. Including travel, I logged 101 hours Sun-Sat for RSA week. I was exhausted last wk and am simply not recovered. I don't feel like my health or diet are in a good place yet. Work is still very stressful and I'm just not in a good place there. I'm in fact incredibly frustrated with work/career stuff right now. It's hands-down the single most vexing and depressing thing to me (I feel like a failure. I'm literally on my 3rd post-Gartner job in 2 years). It's really hard to bounce back when the pillars continue to remain shattered. Things don't feel right, and that makes everything more difficult.

But... if there's good news, it's that there are positives to be found, if I let myself see them. I do see the patterns, and I recognize changes I need to make to interdict those bad patterns. At least, to do so where I have actual control. But, it's really not an easy thing to do, and it's very difficult not to see and feel the dark cloud as it shrouds everything else. In the meantime, I do my best to soldier on, and try very hard to make better choices, such as around diet and exercise - asserting some degree of conscious choice and control where I can. Really, that's about all that one can do...

Here's to hoping 2017 turns around!

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