2018 should’ve marked my 18th year as a professional in the Information Technology industry. I also would’ve celebrated my 15th year of marriage to a woman I loved. I’m supposed to be entering the reliable phase of my life when expertise and experience create a steady trajectory for the next couple of decades.
Instead, 2018 will mark 6 years after cancer shook my soul like an Etch A Sketch and I’ll celebrate 3 years of escape from both the burnout of IT and a relationship which had sadly turned toxic. This is far from where I expected to be at this point of my life.
No one can avoid ALL the bumps along the road, so eventually you catch a bad break and have to recoup. I’ve started from scratch several times in my life: moving to Charlotte for Microsoft, moving to the UK for what I thought was the start of an overseas adventure, and then retreating to the West Coast when that endeavor spectacularly fell apart. This doesn’t include the lesser, but still brutal, hiccups mixed into the bunch: Chicago, Aventura, and Northern Virginia. I’ve become a goddamn expert in picking up the pieces after all these years. Yet even with those hard won lessons under my belt I was still blindsided by fucking cancer.
These days I’m dealing with my second full-scale reboot since being visited by the big C. It’s exhausting. Support systems have dwindled. Resources are taxed well beyond their limits. I called in all the favors I had, scrounged for a few more, and am still nowhere near to getting back onto my feet. This is fucking ridiculous. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been knocked down, but more like knocked out.
Then there are people in my life yelling at me to just man up and get my shit together. Really helpful nuggets of wisdom. You can practically taste the toxic masculinity. It doesn’t matter that I’ve switched careers or am building a business from scratch. That’s obviously not good enough. I need to do things on their terms in the ways that worked for them because, of course, that’s the ONLY way you can succeed. More pearls.
The aforementioned advice I received opened my eyes to the rarity of someone having suffered through real physical vulnerability. To have their body betray them, repeatedly, and subject them to the horrors of a rampaging disease. Financial and professional hardships are a fucking cakewalk compared to having your sense of self ripped away by debilitating pain, potent drugs, and the constant specter of death. Lying awake in the darkness, listening to the beeps of machines that keep you alive, with no control over your own destiny is pure vulnerability. Many people don’t understand what it takes to come back from the brink of such an ordeal.
I’m square in the middle of that resurrection journey. The boring middle with nothing but slog ahead of me and slog behind me. It’s a desert of tough choices and zero guarantees. I have no idea what I’ll look like at the end of this phase in my life. I’ve burned away so much inessential bullshit that I know it’ll be a streamlined version of myself, but what remains of me is still a work in progress inching slowly towards a more authentic self, one that won’t allow the chaos to infiltrate.
We don’t talk about the need for continuous reinventions as much as we should. If it’s an underdog tale that fits the socially acceptable narrative then we’ll see TED talks and all sorts of inspirational videos culled from the experience. Otherwise, we repeat survivors of life’s little catastrophes, are pushed to the side and told to keep quiet. We don’t fit the common narrative. We can’t be whittled down to a simple adage that looks good on a t-shirt.
Fuck it. I’ll keep yelling my story from the tops of buildings. Maybe someone else dragging themselves to the reboot button for the umpteenth time wondering if they’ll ever get back to stability will hear my shouts and know that they’re not alone.
It takes longer than anyone expects to get back on your feet. It may even take multiple attempts, but we’re strong motherfuckers who refuse to give up despite the kicks to the teeth. We’ll do it the way that works for us and give a one-finger salute to anyone who tells us we can’t.
It’s not exactly a war cry, but it’s a start.
Photo © Gabriel Novo