Continuing on with the story …
So I had just gotten my first consulting gig. It turned out pretty well – I stayed there for the six months and more, finishing the initial project in less time than I had projected and was taking on a few more with the same firm. In the middle of it, I got a call out of the blue from another guy in the industry … someone I knew in passing as we had only met a couple of times at trade shows. “Jeff, I heard what about what you’re doing for Abe,” and then dead silence. I hadn’t realized anyone else knew. I’ve never been one to “schmooze”, or let people know a lot about my business (even though yes, I’ve started a blog). I hesitated a bit and acknowledged that Abe had asked me to look at what was going on in his business. Almost apologetically, I tried to minimize the whole thing. Quite unexpectedly to me, Sandy then said, “Well, would you be interested in coming over here to Menlo and doing the same thing for me?” And that was my second client!
I had a few more clients here and there for the next year or so. It was tough getting them beyond word of mouth because, like I said, I’m not a schmoozer. I’ve never been comfortable selling myself. But the word of mouth approach was working. I was working full-time and had a six-figure income. This meant I could afford more vacations. More road trips, but they never happened, because my anxiety level wouldn’t let me take them. Since my work was client-based, I was afraid that if I took time off, I’d lose clients … and I couldn’t afford that. Talk about a vicious circle!
Then I picked up a client that was entirely out of the norm for me … a sound production studio. Not the type that records bands – they produced commercials along with scoring corporate video and audio presentations. I wrote a business plan for him, but then decided to get more involved because I saw it as an opportunity to feed my creative side. I had done a lot of writing in the past, but not a lot of it was very creative. Well, it turned out I was pretty good at it! I started writing scripts for promotional videos. Even directed a few. We got involved in developing sound for educational CD-ROMs. I even wrote a rap piece that taught kids the geometry of triangles – I think that was one of my favorites!
I’m a cool little triangle. Hey, take a look at me!
I got three sides, three angles and three vertices.
If I’m right, I’ve got an angle that’s 90 degrees,
and my longest sides a “hypotenuse”. You can find my length with ease.
(say it loud)
A-squared plus B-squared equals C-squared!
If I have two angles that have the same degrees
and two sides that are the same length, I’m called “Isosceles”
(say it again)
Two sides .. the same … ISOSCELES
If I’m equilateral, then all sides are the same
You can find me just ’bout anywhere, but I go by different names
(can you find me?)
Street signs. Airplane Wings. Christ-mas TREES!
I’m a cool little triangle. Cooooool.
There was one problem. We were getting a lot of recognition for our work, but weren’t being monetarily rewarded to the same degree. It was feeding my creative side, but not much else. My income dropped by about 80% and after two years of that, I had to give it up. I went back to working in the accounting stuff and once again was hating what I was doing. Not only that, but I felt like a failure for not being able to make the production studio do better than it did. I finally went to work for one of my new clients, a software development company. Great money, but my anxiety and depression increased by about the same amount as the paycheck. I went back into therapy, but wasn’t getting much benefit from it. I finally had what was essentially a breakdown.
All of this took a tremendous toll on me, my health (I gained about 150 lbs in a very short time) and my marriage to Kacy, which suffered immensely while this was all going on. We divorced, sold the house, and I gave most of the proceeds to my ex, keeping about $20k for myself to live on while I figured out what I was going to do. I knew I couldn’t go back to numbers. Needless to say, I wasn’t taking many road trips. It had been 10 years since that last vacation tour of the western United States.
I moved to a little town on the Pacific coast, Aptos, about an hour’s drive from San Jose. I holed myself up in a little condo. That was my first experience with cutting myself off from everything, something I’ve since discovered is a classic symptom of complex PTSD. I loved the ocean, and despite being only two blocks away, I couldn’t bring myself to open the door and walk down to it! I let things go … didn’t clean the place, only washed dishes when I needed a clean plate, left garbage all over the place and numbed myself out on either TV or the Internet. I have to say that if it weren’t for my buddy Larry (who I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the blog), I don’t know that I would have made it. He had been calling me on the phone and I wasn’t answering, so he took it upon himself to drive down from the San Jose area and knock on the door. I opened it, saw him, and just broke down crying. He took one look at the place, looked at me, and simply said, “Let’s clean up and then let’s go play some cribbage down at the beach.”
Everyone needs a “Larry”. If you have one, you’re lucky. I know I was … and still am!
Larry helped me break the inertia. I wound up going back into therapy … again. It helped me figure out that if I was going to make it, I had to feed the creative side of me. So I went back to school to learn Web programming and was able to get a job with WebMD. My background was ideal because they were looking for someone with programming, creative AND business skills. The job was to sit between the hard-core coders and the design group … someone who would be able to integrate design with programming.
I loved it! For the first time in my life, I enjoyed what I was doing and I was making great money at the same time! It was feeding my creative side. And I learned that you can be good with figures and do something besides accounting. After all, math and programming are both based on logic and one skill complemented the other. I bought my first “me” car … a 1999 Mustang convertible. And rather than sit in traffic for the 90 minute “rush” hour commute from Aptos to San Jose (why they call it “rush hour” when everyone is just sitting there is something I’ve never understood), I took an old, winding 2-lane mountain road to work. It took about the same amount of time, but it was clear sailing the whole way. My anxiety was dropping and it had been almost two years since Larry had found me a wreck in my condo.
Then came August 28, 2001. It was a Tuesday. Got to work and found I had a calendar item in Outlook that said there was a company-wide meeting at 10:00am. Tried to get in touch with someone in the Atlanta office about a project I was working on, but there was no answer at her phone. When I got to the meeting I discovered why. WebMD had decided to signficantly cut back their Web application work. Along with about 1,200 other people in Santa Clara and Atlanta, I had been laid off! It was the last thing I was thinking would happen.
Earlier in the year, I had started up a long distance relationship with an old high-school friend back in New Jersey. The job market in Silicon Valley wasn’t all that great, so I decided to move back across country. I sold everything off, packed up what little I had left in my Mustang and headed down Interstate 80 for the nearly 3,000 mile drive. It was the first time I had gone back on the road in a long time and the trip was great!
Once in New Jersey, I discovered the job market wasn’t any better than the one I had left in San Jose. It took about 6 months, but I finally found a job with a small network management company that was interested in expanding its web development services. I took almost a $40k cut in salary, but at least I was working. The relationship didn’t however, and I was back to focusing everything on the job. Because of my background, the owner started involving me more in the “business” side of things. It got to the point where I was taken completely out of the web work. Throughout all of it, I was dealing with massive anxiety and a deepening depression.
But at least I was driving! One of my passions is baseball. I started taking long weekends and going to baseball games all around the eastern part of the country. Montreal (before the Expos became the Washington Nationals), Toronto, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore and of course my beloved Fenway Park in Boston. One of my weekend trips involved three cities – I drove to Detroit on Thursday and caught a Tigers game the next night. On Saturday, I saw the Pirates play the Astros in Pittsburgh and then caught a Sunday afternoon game in Philadelphia. It was a great diversion, but it wasn’t much relief from the depression I was suffering from. As an aside, that Mustang had 205,000 miles on it when I sold it to a co-worker. I bought a Hyundai Azera … it’s really comfortable for a big guy like me, but in the eight years I’ve had it, I’ve put less than 80,000 miles on it. That’ll give you an idea as to how far away I’ve been from the road!
I met a woman trough Match.com and we started a relationship, but after the newness of the relationship wore off, my mood was back to where it was. My performance at work was deteriorating and I started experiencing blackouts at my desk. I’d spend days where I would work, but at the end of the day I didn’t know what I had done. It was at this point that I met the therapist who first diagnosed me with complex-PTSD. We worked together for almost two years and while I was making progress, it wasn’t fast enough to save my job or my relationship. When both ended, I left. I couldn’t afford to stay in New Jersey with its high rents, so on a whim, I moved to Charleston, SC. Low rents, plus it was next to the ocean. I started up my consulting again. I was able to get work through a couple of online freelance sites, but each job has been more difficult to complete. I found Frank, at the Hilton Head Humane Society. Frank has been an incredible friend, but he hasn’t been able to lift me out of the pit I find myself back in as I finish this 3-part biography.
I’ve not worked in the last two months except to complete a few projects I’ve had on my plate. I’ve not left the apartment for almost half that time, except for two trips to the grocery store (and to let Frank do his business). I’ve ended a relationship with one of my two regular clients and will be ending the other one shortly. I’ve decided the only way to get myself out of the pit … the “blackness” … is to do something drastic. That’s why I’m going on the road. I have felt my mood lift considerably as I’ve undertaken my planning efforts – funny, I’m not able to work, and yet one of the friends I’ve shared this blog with equated all the planning I’ve been doing to “work”. I don’t see it that way. I see it as a potential for release and my last chance to find peace. I labeled this post “The Second-to-Last Chapter”. The last chapter is going to be my life back on the road with Frank. And I intend to document our travels. Hopefully you’ll get to see a little bit more of the country … maybe some places you wouldn’t have otherwise seen … with my help.
And there you have it. I know the bio’s taken a bit of a dark turn from where it started two days ago (I noticed as I was about to post it that there are no pictures – what kind of pictures could I put on a page like this, right?). But that’s where I am. Once this page is posted, I’m going to refrain from any other ones that are filled with darkness. I have to leave this all behind!