January 18, 2006

I lost my temper again today. As is always the case, the straw that broke the camel’s back was a minor, insignificant thing. I live in an complex of two story apartment buildings, town homes and duplexes. The local Fire Department has cited the management for allowing us all to have charcoal and gas grills on our patios. When we were first looking at apartments 18 months ago we discovered that there was a regulation prohibiting gas or charcoal grills on the deck of any apartment. Makes sense actually, having a large potential fire source on a wooden deck attached to multi-unit housing is a disaster waiting to happen.

As it turns out using a gas or charcoal grill within ten feet of the building is against city ordinance as well. The city has asked the management here to have us all remove our grills from the patios and store them in our garages. This is the part that I don’t get, and what ultimately set me off this afternoon. I understand perfectly not using the grill within ten feet of the building, but I don’t get why I can’t STORE it outside less than ten feet from the building. My patio isn’t ten feet in any direction so I can’t keep the grill there. I guess it’s a fire hazard that close to the building.

So we’ll keep it INSIDE the building. Yeah. That’ll be better.

There was a message waiting for me on my voice mail when I got home today from one of the new people in the office. (There’s always a new person in the office.) She told me that I had to move my grill before the inspection or I’d be fined $75 by the city. I lost it. I screamed and threw things. I hit the walls and desk. I yelled so long and so loud that my throat is raw even now, hours later. My first reaction was to throw the grill away, or better yet drag to the office and dump it in their doorway. Some shred of calmness took over and I only stuffed it into a corner of the garage. Getting to the passenger side of the car while it is in the garage is no longer possible.

I went so far as to call the non-emergency number for the Fire Department, but they only referred me to the administration office, which naturally had closed ten or fifteen minutes earlier. So I yelled and ranted some more, scaring the cats and generally behaving like a lunatic. Eventually I ran out of expletives and energy. Instead of making dinner (I was in NO mood for cooking) I ordered Chinese take out and ate that instead. In a minor miracle my throat did not seize on me and I was able to eat without difficulty.

Laying in bed just now trying to fall asleep I knew I had to write about this in order to capture it to read later, and also to help me finishing venting. I know my rage this afternoon wasn’t really about the OPFD or the grill or the apartment management. It was about feeling a loss of control. Someone outside of me was telling me what to do and I didn’t like it. You see, Michele, by committing suicide, in effect told me what to do. And she put me in a situation where I frequently feel out of control. Since I haven’t quite forgiven her for that transgression, I can hardly let anyone else off for doing the same.

I think that coming back from the edge of despair is really about regaining control when everything feels beyond your ability to direct. It’s about relearning how the world works and what coping tools you have available to deal with the vagaries of life. Initially your freeboard (the distance between the water line and the edge of the hull on a boat) is greatly diminished by the weight of the grief you are carrying. The slightest upset results in water coming onboard raising the possibility of your sinking beneath the waves. Over time you manage to toss overboard some of the grief, and you gain some more freeboard. Upsets can still happen, and they are all the more scary because shipping more water now takes you back to that precarious time when one more drop would take you down.

Put another, less prosaic way, your greatest danger lies not at rock bottom. At rock bottom you have nothing else to lose. You just exist. But once you start the climb back towards normal, any fall, any slip takes you back to the ultimate place of despair, of which you just clawed your way out. Going back down is scarier than anything else for me. I don’t know if I can climb out again. Having weathered the first three months of this new stage of my life I now have something new to lose, and no way to recover should I get knocked down again. Had my contract not been renewed I don’t think I would have survived. I think I might have tried to follow Michele.

Having dodged that bullet, however, I am now wary of situations that contain in them the potential of great failure or turmoil. I need to have a period of rest and strength building at this first plateau above despair, so that I can climb up to the next, and the next after that. My anger is merely an expression of the fear I have of falling now that I am up from the very depths of hell on earth.

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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.