It was with some relief that I read Time‘s piece entitled, “The 00’s: A Decade from Hell” — all this time I, true to form, thought it was just me having a bad day, over and over.
The parallel is that up until 2000(ish), things were looking pretty good: I was making a good living, I had plans for the future and, in a way, it was like my life was just starting. I’d been struggling for years — in my career and with persistent anxiety that had become a big obstacle — but by the end of the rather banal ’90s it seemed like I’d come out the other side, ready for whatever I thought I’d been preparing for all that time.
Not to minimize the huge impact of the events mentioned in the article, I’ll turn to the events in my own life over the past decade, which have been… unexpected.
- I got married to an Australian girl in 2000. We didn’t know each other for very long, but it just felt right, like the way everyone said it would when you “just knew.”
- I continued to freelance out of my apartment as a graphic designer mostly because I was suffering anxiety and really feared having to go to an office. I was doing pretty well, mainly because to supplement print work I’d learned how to make websites (ooo!) and most of my competitors didn’t. I also started doing 3D modeling and some writing. My dad buys a Mercedes.
- We buy a house — finished attic and basement, corner property, hardwood floors, bay windows, huge garden — in 2001, finally moving out of my apartment where I’d lived for about six years. I had really liked the actual apartment — the first floor and basement of an old house — but the landlord had become intolerable, running his small construction company out of the backyard of the property. Our lawyer said that we couldn’t afford the new house (at the time, my wife hadn’t found a job yet) but we felt differently. In retrospect I realize we were one of those couples who got sucked into an impossible loan from Countrywide.
- Three months after we move in: 9/11. Not much I can add about the sheer horror of watching it all happen live on TV.
- My wife starts working at a small company nearby, and my business begins what will be a long, slow slide into oblivion.
- My grandmother, who is living in a nursing home nearby, begins to mentally deteriorate rapidly. We continue to visit several times a week but she has a hard time recognizing us.
- 2002: My father is diagnosed with skin cancer and advanced prostate cancer. He begins treatment and, after months of therapy, is declared to be cancer-free. In July, my cat, who had been suffering from colon cancer, had to be “put down.” I still think about him. On Sept. 11, 2002, I am watching the memorial on TV when I get a call from the hospital: my grandmother had been admitted with respiratory problems and I had been named secondary contact in the event something happened. They want to know if she should be taken off life support; I say, “No.” Four days later she dies.
- 2003: Money continues to get tight and we refinance. Our bills are huge but our income remains stagnant. My father suddenly seems like a difficult old man, almost overnight. He’s argumentative, takes several mood-altering medications and, thanks to his new Dell, spends way too much time on the Internet. Boxes from Amazon litter the floor of his small office. My parents’ relationship is clearly not good, and the stuff from Amazon isn’t helping.
- 2004: My wife is pregnant. We’re so excited we don’t wait the suggested three months to announce it. In March — three months to the day — I wake up from a dream where a child is walking me through what appears to be a mausoleum. That night, my wife tells me she’s been feeling ill all day and goes upstairs to lie down. By midnight she’s miscarried. A few months later she’s pregnant again but this time we wait. In late July I have dinner with my Dad; he’s almost manic about these new “business ideas” he has — opening a catering business, selling rare books — and wants to know if I’m “in.” A week later we decide to tell my parents about the pregnancy. We agree to meet for ice cream but my mom arrives alone, saying my father didn’t feel well. We tell her anyway. Less than two weeks later my father dies, and less than a month after that my mother and I being to argue bitterly.
- 2005: My mother-in-law flies over from Australia for the birth. My wife is late and is scheduled for an emergency C-section. My daughter is born in March. Work continues to dry up, despite my best efforts and I begin to become very concerned about our financial situation. I feel a partnership would be a good move but am unable to negotiate a good deal. After a few months of serious talking — weighing the pros and cons — we decide to move… to Australia. We put the house up for sale and start making all the arrangements. I realize how much stuff we have accumulated when we start to go through it all and adopt an attitude of letting things go that I’d previously been “attached” to, mostly because I’m a packrat and assign meaning to even the smallest things. We have a buyer and sell the house by November. We move into a rental down by the beach where we will live until February. We decide to spend those last three months revisiting all our favorite places and saying goodbye. Although many people ask why we’re moving, not one says, “stay.” Including my mother. I have the worst Christmas ever.
- 2006: My daughter is 10 months old. We fly to LA, then on to Sydney. Shock sets in within days. We live with her parents and plan on moving into the nearby apartment she’s owned and rented out since the mid-90s. Within months we’ve blown through nearly all the money we had left from the sale of the house in NY — used car, immigration, storage, much-needed renovations. My wife becomes pregnant again. We move into the apartment and I start looking for work. And look. And look. (Note: I’ve rehashed this saga so many times that even I’m tired of it, so I’ll refrain from regurgitating all of it here. Suffice it to say that I was rejected 100% of the time for any and every reason.) I being a rapid decent into depression. I turn 40.
- 2007: My son is born and I reconcile with my mother over the phone. Depression smothers me.
- 2008: I finally find work. My mom and sister, much to everyone’s surprise, come to visit for a month. After they leave, and days after my birthday, part of my company is sold and I’m downsized as a result. A week later, Lehman Brothers fails. I spend the remainder of the year looking for a job — any job — and reading about the growing financial meltdown.
- 2009: Depression has completely consumed me. I seek help and begin meditating regularly. I have sent over 150 resumes but have not been able to find anything. We are scraping the bottom and are panicked. I feel like I’m slowly drowning. In April I answer an ad that says, among other things, that I should “be warned” because they “only consider the very best.” I assume it will be a few weeks before I get the usual, “Sorry, your application was unsuccessful…” Instead, I get a call the next day to come in for an interview. A few days later I’m informed that I’m hired and the salary is more than I’ve ever made in my life. Things begin to turn around, in many ways. I’m finally adjusting to being here. I’m in a routine and relatively indifferent to many of the things that had previously been gnawing at me for so long. Medication or meditation? Maybe a little of both. I am up at 5 am for exercise and meditation, off to work (on two trains!) for the rest of the day, and spend the last few hours of the evening with my kids. I read a lot, I write a little and I think about what I’d like to do next.