I am a relentless overachiever. Yeah yeah, I’m blogging on the blog I said I was done blogging on, are you gonna read this or just gripe all day? When I was in school, I shot for the Moon, and made it to Mars. My grades were superlative, my behavior unassailable. I was a Good Boy™ and I knew it. I didn’t flaunt it, much, but I did try to help lift up everyone else around me. Even before I knew what it meant, I have always been a proponent of the aphorism “a rising tide lifts all boats.” It worked, too. My grades, in elementary school, put our (now defunct and demolished) school on the map in our state. I received numerous honors, and awards (including the Presidential Academic Fitness Award signed by Bill Clinton!). I did very well in middle school, and most of high school as well.
I say most of high school because everyone gets a little tired, and in my junior year I was exhausted. Academic excellence is exhausting, and combine that with problems at home, and grades will fall. Oddly enough, when my GPA went from 4.0 to 2.1, you’d have thought someone, like say my guidance counselor or a close teacher, would have pulled me aside and asked me if everything was okay, but they never did. I know why, though.
See, I was a Good Boy™ which translated into being a Good Student™, so no worry was tossed my way. Everyone knew I’d do fine, everyone knew I had things under control, and everyone knew I was an overachiever who would fix his own problems in time, which I did. My senior year I buckled down, and brought my grades up to a respectable 3.5 GPA by the end of the year (thank you, Mrs. Hyatt, for helping me cope with Algebra. You took that ‘F’ and turned it into a ‘B+’ in less than a month, and I am forever grateful for it).
So it was clear that the only scholarship available in the school wasn’t going to me, but I was okay with that (mostly). I was 19, and still firmly believed that I had a strong future ahead of me. Even when I couldn’t attend my college of choice (Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, who accepted me without question) due to financial and logistical reasons, I still believed I had a bright, prosperous future ahead of me.
“John, John, we’ve heard all of this before,” you might say. Yeah, I have mentioned a lot of this before, but I’m building to something, goddammit, so sit down and listen, and get your fucking feet off of the table, that’s where cookies go!
Between my graduation (1999) and 2008, I worked a number of jobs to make money. The problem was that it wasn’t to save up money for school, it was to help our family stay afloat. See, our family has always been, eh, economically disadvantaged (dirt po’), and every penny mattered. Still, even then, even up to 2008, I *still* believed that I could make things work.
Then mom got very sick. I mean, she had been sick when I was in high school (I’ve told this story before, I know), but now we were in a position where dad wasn’t making decent money, and she needed lots of care. Whether by serendipity, or just good timing (at the time), Dell laid all of us off, and so my schedule had become somewhat clear and available. By 2010, though, mom couldn’t walk due to an overextended hospital stay, and inept stewardship at said hospital. She went in walking (albeit with great difficulty), and came out unable to do so.
Since 2010, I have been taking care of her 24/7/365. This means no job, no time for studying, and no time to relax or even live my life by any reasonable standard. Did you go see a movie this past month? Go visit a friend? Have lunch at a cafe? Go on a date? Consider yourself extraordinarily blessed, because I haven’t done any of these things in many years. I live on a constant “ready to act” basis, where I am essentially like a doctor who is on call 24/7, knowing that any moment they must be needed and attend to that need at the drop of a hat. That builds a lot of stress on a person.
“Yes, John, we know. You have mentioned this before, bleh bleh bleh.”
You’re an insensitive asshole, you know that? Anyway, anyone who has dealt with this kind of thing knows the mind numbing effect it has on a person. Your memory starts to go, you find it difficult to process and absorb new information, you find that your focus dissolves. I used to have laser focus. I absorbed information like a sponge. I processed data rapidly and concisely, mentally directing it where it needed to go and making use of that newfound information later when it was called upon.
Now, I’m lucky I remember my keys when I leave the house to go pick up medicine at the pharmacy. This is what happens after years of running on stress and heightened awareness. Being in a state of constant readiness will kill you folks, it will kill you. It will break your mind, immolate your nerves, and make short work of your good humor, good will, and good health. I feel bad for my mom because I’m sure she’s aware what it’s doing to me, and she feels to blame. Well, that’s because her situation is to blame, but it’s not like she can help it. If you can’t walk, you can’t walk. Thanks to a dear, dear friend, I was able to attempt more therapy for her, but it didn’t work. It wasn’t enough, and that was my fault. I grossly underestimated just how much help she needed. I blame that on the residue of optimism that still coats my soul.
So why this post? Well, I was just thinking about things today, and why I’m so frustrated and depressed. Obviously, much of it is explained by the helpless situation I feel I’m in, while the other part is that I need to get laid very badly. Oh, you do realize I’m sure that at this point I’ve long since passed giving a fuck about conforming to marked standards of social propriety when expressing my thoughts and opinions. I am polite, respectful, and well-mannered, but I’m also blunt about my own feelings. I know who I am, and don’t apologize for it any longer.
Anyway, a big chunk of why I feel this way is because I am a relentless overachiever, and I am no longer capable of overachieving. It’s like being a visual artist with a keen eye for detail suddenly finding their vision has gone myopic. Certainly, there are ways to go around such issues (in the case of my example, Claude Monet still produced gorgeous works of art even after his eyesight had failed him), but I think there has to be a foundation upon which one is standing in order for that to happen. If your foundation is carefully poured and maintained concrete, and your house is crushed, you simply rebuild it on that firm foundation. If, however, your house was hastily built on shifting sand (because you had neither the time or resources to build your foundation), and it is destroyed, you cannot rebuild it on that sand again, and will never erect a house that way. You are forever doomed to the will of shifting sand, and it is rarely stable or considerate in how it shifts.
Monet had a concrete foundation because he built it while he was young, and had the motivation and energy. Later, when his body began to fail him, he was able to adapt because his foundation was sturdy, and well-built. I have no foundation, because the last time I could excel at anything was in high school, and that was (going on) 17 years ago. That is an entire lifetime when your previous life experience was being in school.
There is a line in Max Erhmann’s Desiderata that reads (and I paraphrase because I can’t be arsed) “do not compare yourself with others, or you may become vain or bitter, for there will always be someone lesser or greater than yourself.”
Aside from the fact that I love that poem, I try to keep it at heart, but I must admit that there are times when mere words simply are not enough. I have lived my whole life with words and dreams, with little action, and have been an observer of life around me, and not a participant. For someone who is an atheist, that is a truly burning, gaping wound, a stabbing pain that simply will not abate, because I am wholly aware that this one life is all I get, and it’s already half over, and what’s worse is that I feel the best and most effective half is the part that has passed, leaving me my remaining years where I should be somewhat stable and productive, but no. I will have to be a 19-20 year old in a 40-50 year old’s body, and will have to make a 30 year career into a 15-20 year career, a whole life into half a life.
Some people say that any life lived is better than none at all, and while I understand the sentiment behind it, I cannot agree. Is a gulp of refreshing water in the desert better than none? You may think so, and certainly the thirsty will think so, but one drink, one gulp, one sip of life before dying is a terrible thing, because then all you realize is what you missed, and your heart dies bitter and alone, and your mind is left to wonder, in its final minutes, what life could have been “if only…”.
Regret is a constant companion of people like myself. I look back on my past and I just want to scream at that boy, and tell him to change his path, but even I realize, as the older fool, that one cannot change the past. It is set in amber: fossilized, easy to see, immune to the effects of a changing future.
I think what saddens me most, though, is the loss of that ability to overachieve. Some folks might tell me I haven’t truly lost the ability to learn and build, but I don’t know. I’m certain those of you also understand that a man who has been in the dark for so long may forget what it is like to live in light, to see light, to feel it and taste it, and yes, light has a taste. It has a presence. Even if you cannot see light, you can feel light, and I can still feel it all around me, even though I can no longer see it as I did when I was younger. It flows, and ebbs, it whips and whirls, but my eyes still only see the blackness (for those who are metaphorically challenged, or just somewhat worried, I am not physically blind. This is a metaphor for my point of view. What’s a metaphor? It’s for cows and horses, silly).
So what does an overachiever do when they can’t go back, and can’t move forward because of their circumstances? How does one deal with that? Some have suggested I simply walk away, but anyone who has been in my position knows the impossibility of that action. It takes someone who can be capable of doing such a thing, and of that I am incapable. Loyalty, my word, these are inherent parts of me that cannot be changed. They are immutable, they are hard wired into my personality. Regardless of the other changes in my life that have occurred, one thing remains the same: I don’t give up on people, and I don’t break my word. We live in an age where someone’s word is only as good as the next convenient opportunity, but I live by my word. Even now, as it drives me damned near insane with exhaustion, boredom, and an intellectual stupor to rival even Poe’s influenced prose, I keep my word.
I guess my overachieving days are truly over, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Being an overachiever, and living like an underachiever sure is hell, though. A great big festering hell.
Until next time,