Routine as a Drug

December 13, 2004

Michele and I find ourselves in a pressure cooker these days. Staring in March 2004 when I lost my contract with the State, and continuing through today it seems like every time we turn around there is a new, seemingly out-of-control event impacting our lives. A quick chronology will bring you up to date on our trials and tribulations.

March 2004 Mark loses his contract and we are thrown into the unemployment whirlpool once again.

April 2004 Attempts at finding jobs for both of us in North Carolina fall short of success.

May 2004 Many, many resumes sent out, little or no positive return. Late in the month Mark get a call concerning work in Kansas City. Kansas City?

June 2004 Frantic efforts by myself and recruiters fail to produce work in Illinois, so at the last possible moment we move to Kansas.

July 2004 After setting up housekeeping in an apartment (yuck) we start to recover a bit from the turmoil of the previous 100 days. Michele starts applying for work in the metro area, and we join a statehouse campaign. Mark's father is having great difficulties breathing as a result of a change in his heart medication.

August 2004 In the middle of the month, two men who started on contract the same week as Mark are let go. Fear and uncertainty are once again the order of the day. Mark is contacted about a position in Springfield less than 5 minutes from our house (which isn't selling) there. Michele gets a job as adjunct instructor in Social Sciences at a local community college.

September 2004 Anticipation of a possible return to Illinois has us up in the air about everything. Neither of us is sleeping well, and neither of us knows what to do about staying or returning. Michele starts a certification process to be an online instructor for the community college.

October 2004 No progress on the position in Springfield continues to keep us on pins and needles. Our realtor insists that we can't sell the house for what we wanted, but rather have to settle for $25000 less. We will have to borrow $10 - 15000 to close at this new price level. Late in the month Michele's dad is killed in an automobile accident. A lack of communication from his second family and her brother prevent her from being able to attend his funeral.

November 2004 The continued lack of progress regarding the position in Illinois turns out to be the result of seemingly insurmountable political in-fighting at the client company. While it's just as well for me not to enter into that kind of environment, not getting a job there proves to be a tough pill to swallow. Mark starts two other job initiatives, hoping that one of them will pan out. We feel the financially smart thing is to move back and keep the house rather then sell at a huge loss. Michele completes her certification and is now able to teach online, from home. Around Thanksgiving Michele's mom, who had been suffering from an undiagnosed bleeding ulcer, collapses and is taken to the hospital. Our statehouse candidate is slaughtered in the November 2nd election.

December 2004 Michele struggles to put services and insurance into place for her mom, while fending off the crazy over-reactions of her mom's sisters. Mark's mom suddenly develops shortness of breath that is unexplained. The first of Mark's two new attempts at central Illinois employment fails. The second is still pending, but looks like it could have a happen ending.

After all of this we are still deeply connected to each other, and totally committed to our relationship. That we haven't started blaming each other or taking out our frustrations on each other reaffirms our love and respect for each other. However, the unrelenting chaos has taken a huge toll on both of us. Two weeks ago my neck locked up and it was days before I could move it without pain. Michele has suffered through a severe psoriasis outbreak. Neither of us has slept well in months. We know we are depressed, and our reserves are spent. The only thing getting us through the days anymore, outside of contact with each other, is routine.

Mind-numbing routine is the drug that is saving us. Knowing that there are ordinary things that need doing gives us focus and purpose at a time when we feel helpless and utterly out of control. Saturday we drove nearly 500 miles in a big circle just to get away from it all. The "routine" of long-distance driving felt better than an unstructured day at home. Sunday we made a cake and cooked dinner together, a long established routine for us. Today we are both into our weekly routines, although Michele's week will be without class to teach for the first time in four months.

I'm not sure how much longer routine can sustain us. I know that the momentum of moving and getting setup in a new city has long since been used. Without routine we'd be dead in the water, figuratively and maybe literally as well. My hope is that my efforts to regain employment in Springfield will return us to a situation that is less stressful, one that is familiar and feels like home to us. My unspoken fear is that no return to that life will be the last straw for us.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.