On Friday, June 29th at approximately 7:30 in the morning I swung my feet from bed to floor only to find that it was quite possible I no longer exist. A disconcerting sensation no matter which day of the week on which it might occur, but all the stronger for it being close to the weekend. I was not pleased with this turn of events. I like to exist.
Vertigo laced with anxiety made my belly flip a little. I patted the carpet, a high shag affair, with my feet to assure myself that I could indeed stand up. The softly scratchy strands felt good, felt so mundane that I made myself get to my feet. Surely the floor would support me. No embarrassing sinking through the floor to fall to the living room below and then on to the the basement. Why I thought a concrete slab would hold me if carpet and a wood floor would not, I do not know. I stood up. I did not sink into or through the floor, except to the extent my weight caused compression of the carpet. Very reassuring, that.
Sunlight leaking in between the small slats of the blinds caused me to blink. A good sign as well, I told myself. The knot in my belly loosened almost imperceptibly. Air flowed into my lungs with a muffled rasp. The sound inside my head gave me some comfort. It seemed so normal. I think I was just happy to breathe and feel the coursing of air in my chest.
So far, so good. Feet on the floor, air in the lungs, no fainting or disappearing into the woodwork. I felt less dizzy as I quickly scanned my surroundings.
Bedside table with books.
Low hum of fan.
Phone on nightstand.
Heart beating, limbs moving, earth turning. I must be here, I exist...right?
Then why did I feel as if there were no gravity and that my flesh was becoming transparent before my groggy eyes?
I shook it off and made my way to the bathroom for some brief ablutions. Then it was downstairs for tea and breakfast. I don't recall what I made then, it must have been something simple. There were things to do and places to go, and none of them would wait for angst to make itself scarce. I showered and made ready for a road trip, all the while puzzling over my very own 'unbearable lightness of being'. It kept me occupied for quite some time.
Somewhere between lunch and departure it hit me square in the cerebral cortex: I am a salaryman without a salary, and thus a certain way, I do not exist. I don't earn, therefore, I am not. Years of societal and professional conditioning had led me to this identification of self with salary, and that is a dangerous place to hang the hat of one's identity.
The pieces came together. I am approaching nine months without employment, and in this culture of job = money = worth, that nine months is akin to a lifetime. This feeling gripped me hard, this uneasy knowledge that to many employers perhaps I have become invisible. Nothing breeds success like success, and ladies and gentlemen, I have had no success in the time I have been looking. There is some truth to the notion that it is much easier to get a job when you already have a job, and I am without.
Not exactly front page news in architecture, a profession that unfortunately seems to demand experience without necessarily wanting to pay for it. You can imagine how discouraging that feels, having put in a lot of time with no results to show.
I took some cold comfort from having identified the root cause of my anxiety. It is always easier to deal with a known enemy rather than a mystery. I talked it out some with my companion, and was reassured that I do exist, that I live and breathe, and that I am real.
I know I am. I feel the blood in my veins, the air in my lungs, the food in my belly. These are all good. What troubles me is that for a bad moment on an ordinary morning, external ideas of self-worth overrode internal ideas of my identity. Nine months of looking for myself in the wrong mirror came to roost, and it took some heavy mental lifting and a strong dose of love to return the ground to beneath my feet.
Solid ground. I have it. I gained some breathing room for my mind. There will be something out there for me, I have to believe that. It will be something I can do, even if I myself do not know yet what that something is. What I will not do is make the mistake of confusing what I can do for money with what I truly am worth.