Once the world was your oyster. Light poured through its cracks and flooded even the most squalid corners. Beauty was everywhere, waiting to be reaped. You could step back from every scene you encountered, hold it at arm’s length and admire it for being just that – a scene, one which had a beginning and one that will have an end. You could twirl it around in your fingers and admire all its facets. You could choose what to take in. Your appetite was insatiable, but never glutted.
Filled with light, you moved through the world as a beacon. Others were attracted to you. All you had to do was ask and they would assist you on your way. The troubles of your past had all been put into focus by the glory of the present, its trials revealed as growing pains in becoming the person you were, a person of whom you can be proud. There was nothing you could not overcome and the only way was up.
And then you stumbled across an unexpected protrusion. The force of the fall pulled a giant switch from all the way ‘on’ to all the way ‘off’. You looked up and glanced at the world again. It looked different.
Now it was your prison. Darkness seeped through its pores and pervaded even the brightest of vistas. It was beyond ugly. Every situation you came across began to consume you and become part of one continuous, terrifying reality. Caught in the very centre, once familiar, comfortable shapes mutated into grotesque and colossal forms, entirely out of your control. You could not help but take it all in. The more you inhaled, the deeper in you sank.
You crawled listlessly among the feet of iron giants. You grovelled. Others scorned your existence, or ignored you entirely. The glimmers of hope from the past were revealed as feeble self-deceptions by the terrible truth of the present. You were a fool to think you could delay this realisation, to avoid the truth. The world was a wasteland and you were just another piece of scum. And there was nothing you can do about it.
That little prologue (written by me, addressed to myself) might come across as being a touch too poetic as an evocation of how it feels to be unemployed. A bit melodramatic, a bit angsty. But seeing as how I’ve regressed into the life I led as a seventeen year-old (living at home, carless and waiting for busses at the Bondi Junction depot, relying on pocket money, listening to lots of Gwen Stefani), I think it’s only fitting that I should revert to being as melodramatic and angsty (and precocious) as I was as a teen.
And just as I was back then, I am bipolar. Which is not to say that I have ‘bipolar disorder’, or at least not all the time. Having a constitution that is bipolar does not have to result in disorder if you know how to properly manage it. But the drastic and long-term variations in perception of both self and world that manifest from the ‘condition’ can be a major impediment of one’s ability to construct a stable-self image. How are you supposed to craft an identity when one moment you have an infinite number of enthralling stories to share, a vault full of ebullient memories to draw strength from and a suite of dazzling hopes and dreams to strive towards – and the next minute you’re a blank slate and a dead weight, nothing but bitterness, fear and disappointment. Can a unifying self even exist for an individual whose moods are so extreme and enduring that they taint not only immediate perspective, but are able to reconstruct entire worlds from the inside out? These are not only ontological issues, but can pose real practical difficulties in getting on with the day-to-day of modern living.
Take looking for a job as an example. When the world seems to be an abundant field and you are a giant crop harvester, then any job seems yours for the taking – copywriter, art director, pilot, neuroscientist, prime minister, Lady Gaga. Your main concern is which job would be most fulfilling to you, and in which role would best utilise your myriad natural gifts for the betterment of mankind. When the world is just an expanse of scorched earth and you are a vagrant, then you feel you should just take whatever you can get – lollipop man (I hate children), cashier, chimney sweep, farm animal masturbator, corporate lawyer. Your main concerns are who would be gullible enough to hire you, and in which role you would be less likely to cause widespread misery and destruction.
Nine months ago, when I was still living in Europe, I found myself walking down a street in East Berlin on a perfect summer’s morning that just so happened to be my twenty-sixth birthday. Six friends had joined me from London and one from Sydney for a long weekend of silliness. We had rented a palatial apartment in Friedrichshain, where the others were still groaning under the weight of hideous hangovers. But I hadn’t slept yet, nor did I feel any desire to any time soon. The resplendent effects of the night before were still well-and-truly making themselves felt long into the morning after, and I decided to take a solitary stroll to soak up some rays, bask in the sheer coolness of Berlin and say a silent prayer of gratitude to the universe. Solo is my preferred state when I find myself either sinking towards life’s lowest lows or rising towards its highest highs. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, my feet were on Grünberger Straße but my head was way above the clouds. And so, with my switch flicked up very close to maximum, I decided to resign from my well-paid, highly esteemed and highly secure job.
All things considered, this was a perfectly reasonable course of action. To cut a very long story short, the job that I was in wasn’t the right ‘fit’. It didn’t make me happy and in turn I wasn’t performing particularly well at it. This wasn’t wonderful for my self esteem. A normal person, when faced with such a realisation, might start thinking about changing employers, specialties or maybe even starting a new career. But I am not a normal person.
When I first began to not like my job (very soon after its commencement), my big switch headed quickly towards its absolute lowest setting. But the thought that I was unhappy because I was in the wrong job never crossed my mind. The problem wasn’t the job – I was just terrible at it. Because I was terrible at everything. So there was no point thinking about doing anything else because I would be equally terrible at that and would end up back in the same situation. My only choice was to knuckle down as best as I could to protract the eventual realisation by everyone else that, despite the misleading impression I had somehow previously given, I was terrible at what I was doing and just terrible in every way. There was nothing wrong with my superiors or the company or the profession or the corporate world – if they seemed terrible to me at the time, it was because working was terrible because the ‘real world’ was generally terrible and anything that may have seemed not terrible in the past wasn’t actually life but something else.
After loitering in the doldrums for some time, persevering and hiding my terribleness as best as I could, something began to give. I think it must have happened the first time that I left London (just to go to bloody Devon!) which broke a three month cycle of working and hiding. The giant switch began to lift on its own accord. And lift. And lift. And it didn’t just stop at “maybe this isn’t the job for me”. It kept ascending until it reached a final position of “not only am I above this job, I’m above all jobs. What on earth am I doing wasting my time with something as plebeian as employment”. By the time I stepped into my twenty-seventh year, I had come to the conclusion that it would be a crime not only against myself but to humanity at large to waste my life away in an office (or any other room where people do things just because other people pay them to do them). Not only did my epiphany reveal that I was above employment, but I also suddenly became aware that I was above material possessions, friends, family, routine, health insurance – in short, above any restrictions or practical considerations. So not only did I resign, but after the end of my notice period I sold my worldly possessions and fled from a quite settled, otherwise enjoyable existence in what was then the world’s greatest metropolis (this was pe-Brexit) to pursue the romantic ideal of being a solitary artist in a remote village in the wilderness of a ‘forgotten’ far-east former French colony. Of course money wasn’t a concern. I had no concerns. Surely ‘the universe’ would just ‘provide’ if I gave myself away to the pursuit of my destiny. Everything would just work itself out.
Except it didn’t. Gravity eventually once again made its presence felt on that giant switch. Just as it couldn’t stay down forever, neither could it remain up.
So after nineteen months in London and three months in Laos, I came back to humdrum same-same Sydney, with nothing to show for my leap of faith except credit card debts in two different denominations. And instead of feeling above all employment, I once again felt like all employment is above me. Searching through job classifieds filled me only with trepidation and feelings of inadequacy. I tried to look at my CV to inspire some hopefulness. There were some really high numbers and really impressive names, but somehow even the most concrete achievements now seem ill-gotten, like I managed to trick every marker of every exam I’ve ever sat into giving me at least twenty marks more than I deserved. The explanation that I’ve somehow obtained all my achievements through fraud and deception seems far more plausible than that I am in any way competent or have ever worked hard to achieve anything.
The CV felt like an encumbrance. Everything impressive seemed like an affectation liable to put off any prospective employers advertising for the roles I’d actually be capable of performing. I’d considered erasing anything that might give off a misleading impression of competence or accomplishment, but then my resume would read, “D.O.B. 5.6.1990, went to a school in an undisclosed location, completed his School Certificate. May or may not have passed.” In an effort to produce something with a little more bulk, I found a ‘CV hack’ for job-seekers with unrealistically low opinions of their own self-worth. The hack is as follows: you pretend you are writing a CV for someone else who has the exact same credentials as you. I followed this method fastidiously, even changing my imaginary candidate’s gender to more effectively trick myself into believing that the person I was writing about was definitely not me and thus worthy of praise and commendation. I looked over her past achievements and written references, and suddenly was able to draft compelling arguments in covering letters as to why she’d be any employer’s wet dream. Only once I was completely satisfied that that I had painted a perfect image of employability did I change the name back to my own and send out the application, with a kiss and a prayer. At least I hope I remembered to complete this last step. Or perhaps the reason I haven’t received any responses to my applications is that I applied on behalf of Louise Pepperton of 54 Street Road, Placeville. If so, I’m sure she’ll get the job – she’s perfect for it.