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On fear and flight.
"Jesus said to him: No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
It’s been a strange, dark year for me so far.
Objectively, my life has been going great. I got married to the most wonderful woman I know last August and we welcomed our first child into the world this June. I also started a new job at a great company that conducts important work which I think brings value to the world.
Subjectively, it has been a nightmare. Fear and anxiety, demons and tempters have savaged me at every turn. All of these beautiful gifts that God has bestowed on me transformed into terrifying objects to run away from. My spiritual life and daily discipline evaporated before my very eyes. I almost killed myself.
The beginning of January found me on the job hunt, as I had become quite dissatisfied with my position at the time. Working at a 4 person startup was too emotionally wracking for me, and I disagreed with some fundamental steps that leadership had taken with respect to the organization's ongoing and future work.
I had already been on the lookout for a new role for a few months at that point. I needed to get health insurance to cover my pregnant wife ahead of the upcoming birth of our daughter. I was also completely off my psych meds, which I had taken for many years to treat anxiety and depression, after weaning off of them under the observation of my psychiatrist over the preceding several months.
I was so ready to get out, and extremely frustrated that another role hadn't materialized already. I almost quit at the end of November and was contemplating doing so again at the beginning of January without another job lined up. How could a company not have already hired me — a talented young hotshot with experience in the wild west of the voluntary carbon markets?
As I continued to interview throughout January and February, I became increasingly stressed. I was starting to lose sleep. My anxiety intensified. Would I ever get out of this job? Would I be able to get out of the world of carbon credits, which I had become thoroughly disillusioned with? Would I get health insurance before the baby came? Would I be able to stop setting up interviews? One Monday towards the end of February I thought it would never end, and could barely muster the energy to get out of bed.
Friday of that same week I received my first job offer, and received a second one the accompanying Sunday. Both of them were great. I put in my two weeks notice and accepted one of the offers on Monday. The company I chose would get me out of nature-based carbon credits and into GHG accounting for hard-to-abate industries, which is a field I believed was underrated and extremely important. I was overjoyed and thanked God for giving me my exit!
The last two weeks at my previous employer were strange. I was iced out of the small team that I had been central to and was whipped back and forth on what role I should or should not play in my transition out of the organization. It was all so perplexing, and disappointing. But nonetheless it made my decision to leave all the more obvious.
I was then off for a week to take a final road trip with my wife before the baby came. We visited some friends in Texas and Arkansas. It should have been a nice, relaxing time, but something felt off. I was still quite anxious, and unnecessary worries raced through my head. What did I have to be afraid of?
I didn't sleep the night before I started the new gig. I was paranoid that I was going to be fired. Since getting married I began living in North Dakota half the year, and thus away from the in-person Houston office. The company had just released a mandatory policy for workers to be in the office three days a week. My fears were irrational, as they knew I was going to be a special case when they hired me, but nonetheless the idea of getting canned terrified me. I barely slept over the next two weeks, and didn't sleep at all for four days in total.
In the meantime, a new neurosis emerged: that I wasn't competent enough to do the work. I was new to the O&G world and funnily enough was particularly scared of the amount of spreadsheet work that would be involved in the role, as it isn't my strong suit. I consider myself to be more of a qualitative analytical thinker, rather than a quant. Was I going to be fired because I'd be out of town and because I was incompetent?
In the meantime, I reached out to the other company that had offered me a job to see if they were still interested in hiring me. Selling carbon credits while working completely remotely? Now that was something I could do! This obsession was ironic given the fact that I was originally so desperate to get out of the industry. I was like a caged animal looking for any way to escape. I called and texted the hiring manager almost every other day. I knew this was wrong, but nonetheless felt compelled to do it. I told my wife about it and she told me to stop, as it was unbecoming which I agreed with in principle. Nonetheless, I persisted.
After these catastrophic first two weeks, I started back on some leftover psychiatric medications I had hanging around to get some amount of sleep and address the overwhelming anxiety I was dealing with. I still wasn't sleeping well during the third and fourth weeks on the job despite the medication. My routine was in disarray, my morning prayers were faltering and my daily walks ceased. I dreaded going into the office every morning. I started having overwhelming suicidal thoughts focused on my being worthless and an abject failure. Nothing seemed real. I didn't seem real.
At the end of the fourth week on the job, in mid-April, my sick dreams had come true — the hiring manager from the other company I was courted by offered me the job again! I had my out! And I took it.
Or almost did. I had told my wife that I would stay with the current company on Thursday night, which I knew was probably the right thing to do, but I texted the hiring manager that I would take the job on Friday morning because I wanted to flee. Then I told him I wouldn't when he called a couple of hours later. And only because my wife was in the room to hold me to my word when it happened.
That weekend featured my worst suicidal thoughts to date. I was fixated on the thought of killing myself. I was out of my mind and couldn't think about anything else. I celebrated an early birthday dinner with my family Sunday night but didn't enjoy it.
Monday morning was black. As soon as I stepped to my computer to begin the day, anxiety rushed into my system. It felt like a demonic force had taken control of me. "You should kill yourself, off yourself, end it all," it said. I was terrified of hopping on a call and couldn't bring myself to start working. I would just fail.
I curled up into a ball on the loveseat in my living room, hood fully up, shadows covering my face. My wife left the room to work on something but I continued to lie there, in agony about the thought of speaking to my manager. What could I do or say?
The demon told me to leave. Run and hide. Perhaps jump into traffic. My whole life was one huge terrible mistake. Taking this job was a catastrophic error. I sat outside on the stoop and looked out at the sunny day bitterly. What to do? Walk and leave everything behind. Crack!
I took off my hoodie and walked barefoot down the street. No phone, no keys, no wallet. Just me and the malign spirit sending me forth. I went to towards the bayou and began marching along the bike path. 30 minutes in I went down to the concretized bottom and continued my trek. Maybe I should run into the sewer pipe and stay there. Maybe jump into the stream. I picked up an abandoned water bottle and drank my fill.
After more walking I moved up the side of the bayou and laid down in the unkempt grass, populated by sunflowers, and stared at the sky. I stood up and walked back up to the bike path and found a grove of trees to set up shop in. A homeless man who inhabited the spot gazed at me circumspectly. I sat down next to a tree and observed the intersection in front of me.
Keep walking. I was pushed forward down the path and found a more secluded glen to occupy. I moved in among the thick underbrush and laid down, eyes facing the sky, observing the trees as they swayed in the afternoon sun. I closed my eyes and rested, meditating on the thought of jumping into traffic. I turned my head to from side to side periodically and looked at the insects that called the forest floor home, wishing I was one of them. A squirrel in one of the trees next to me began to chirp at me, telling me to leave.
I continued to lay there. For how long, I do not know. "Get up, go home. Get up, go home. Get up, go home." Eventually, I listened and stood up. Burrs encrusted my shirt and berry juices had stained it. My feet were blistered and thorns penetrated them. What was I doing? How had I gotten here? Do I not have a wife and a child? Why did I leave them?
I walked back home, and carefully avoided getting too close to the street. Who knew what I would do? This was insane, how could I have done this? As I approached the intersection at the entrance to my family's neighborhood, a cop car pulled up in front of me and asked if I was David. I said I was, and he offered to drive me the two blocks back home. I wasn't under arrest; my mom had called and filed a missing persons report. He had just arrived to look for me.
As we pulled up to the house, there were tons of cars around. My family's friends had shown up to support them while I was missing, in total for 6 hours. My mom and dad spoke to me through the barred window of the cop car, and I spoke to my wife on the phone as she was away at her church's small group. The front yard was full of people, some averting their eyes from the dreadful scene. Many tears were shed.
The cop asked me if I had thought about hurting myself. I said that I had been thinking about it a lot. He said he'd have to take me to the psych ward for my safety. So we drove downtown.
I was involuntarily admitted to the psychiatric intake facility at the local public hospital. A psychiatrist interviewed me and diagnosed my situation as a psychotic break induced by major depression. I was then transferred to the county psychiatric ward for treatment until I was deemed not to be a danger to myself or others. My wife was eminently faithful and strong throughout this horrific time, coordinating my insurance, tracking my transfer, and visiting me every day. She truly carried the cross for me, and continues to do so to this day.
The psych ward was an intensely strange place. It seems to act as a para-social welfare system for those most out of their minds, with the approach that pills will solve everyone's problems. I met people who were truly insane there and suffered way more intensely than I do from mental illness. Frankly, it didn't seem like a place were people could get healthy. Random blood draws at 5 AM, rigorously scheduled administration of rapidly prescribed medications, a lot of unhealthy meals, minimal time outside — who could get better in that environment?
Nonetheless the anti-anxiety medicines I was given calmed the suicidal thoughts. I felt less over the edge. My wife arranged for my priest to visit and administer me the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, which I was boosted by. I was itching to get out of the ward, as the chaotic living situation was too much for me. How long would I be stuck here against my will?
Soon enough I was released, the in-ward psychiatrist having determined that I had stabilized enough to exit. He told me to avoid getting into this situation again, as the public ward was not a place for a person like me. In total I was in the hospital system for four nights in the middle of April.
It's been about four months since I got out of the ward. I day drank during the first couple of weeks of May, and one day got stupendously drunk for no reason. I ended up throwing up into my own throat while lying on the floor of my house. I haven't drank since.
My daughter was born about a month after that. I started having "intrusive monk thoughts" — visions of running away and becoming a monastic, that I had picked the wrong vocation and should have been a hermit. An evil, false line of thinking that arose in reaction to the fear I was constantly experiencing. Maybe if I had a different life everything would be different! Those thoughts started to go away once parental leave came to an end.
After about a month back into work post parental leave I became so frantic and overloaded with anxiety that I attempted to quit my job in a panic, with no plan, the day after my daughter's initiation into the Catholic Church. It felt somewhat similar to the day I tried to kill myself, like an evil spirit was pushing me to burn my life to the ground. That was a couple of weeks ago.
The company rejected my resignation and had me apply for short-term disability coverage. I'm now on medical leave and am working to get my head straight.
I have no clear learnings to share from what has gone on, no pithy moral to take from this story. I do, however, have some musings.
I am pleased that I still believe in God. I had my most powerful conversion experience back in late 2020, as I was exiting a deep depression induced by the death of my grandmother. The Lord pulled me out of the depths then, and brought me back to the land of the living. Given that I hadn't had serious mental issues since that time, I could see a version of myself that gave up the faith because of my entrance into the pit again. Thankfully, I do not feel that way. I am not so naïve as to believe that the life in Christ is one without suffering. Just look at Jesus on the cross. God has allowed this series of unfortunate events to happen for a reason. All history is controlled by his holy will. I am sure to learn a lot from what has gone on, and become a better Christian, husband, and father for it.
Perhaps the biggest question I've been grappling with in light of the past few months is to what degree I have been responsible for my actions. I have sinned a lot in this time. I've lied, hidden information, and engaged in all sorts of deception in an attempt to hide my utter weakness and keep up a façade of unbreakable strength. I've hurt my wife and family in more ways than I can count. I've let myself engage in despair, and thus to question God's absolute love for me. How much have "external" forces caused me to do these bad things? Is mental illness responsible? How about demons? Or is it just me?
I've honed in on the neurosis that lays at the heart of a lot of my issues: perfectionism. My career and vocation-related anxiety and depression ties back to a sense of shame for not being as excellent at what I do as I believe I should be. I tell myself that I am worthless if I do not meet the high bar that I have set for myself. Historically, when being confronted with the disconnect between the bar and my position with respect to it, the anxiety pushed me to fight, to work harder to make the grade. During these most recent episodes, it has caused me to freeze or to fly, to halt like a deer in the headlights or to give up.
Perfectionism also lies at the heart of my difficulties communicating, what seems to be an almost constitutional inability to open up to other people, even to my closest family and friends. I omit important information in conversation that could allow others to help me, and lie to their faces when confronted with distasteful subjects. I refuse to let my guard down and allow them to see my brokenness, something that I am ashamed of in light of it's inconsistency with the perfect image I want to project. even though they love me and only want to help me. Not to mention, keeping my thoughts to myself only allows the internal darkness to become more powerful.
I've also seen how much of an unwitting careerist I've become. I've nominally espoused the view that work is not the point of life, that God and family are far above any job on the totem pole of my priorities. I've also stated that whatever I do work on, I want it to be impactful and not fake. Yet, here we are. Work almost driving me to suicide, attempting to run away from an impactful job, even wanting to abandon my vocation and family! Somehow, despite resenting the striver mentality so characteristic of my social milieu, in the journey from grad school into the world of startups I've let what I do define who I am. And this ambition has had horrible consequences.
I don't really know how to end this post. Life is a good thing. I love God. I love my family. I'm working on getting better under the guidance of my therapist and psychiatrist, with the support of my family and friends. To those of you who I am close with and haven't told about the events recounted in this post, I apologize for not doing so earlier. I find it hard to discuss such things, as I am ashamed of them. God-willing, I will be well soon.