Yesterday morning, I woke up at 6 a.m., in an unseasonable 30-degree chill here in Austin, and I ran a half marathon. Here, I have photographic evidence:
Look at that playful smile. That innocent classic NES beanie cap. That excessively celebratory finisher medal. You’d think I’d be pretty proud. And I was. After all, it was my 12th — and coldest — half marathon. Why, I’m an athlete! A go-getter who wakes up early and runs competitive long distances for fun! You know what? I was proud. And within an hour or so, I wasn’t anymore. I’ll tell you why.
Look, this post isn’t about running. Or any of the other cool feathers in my cap that add up to a fairly extraordinary life, although I’m about to list them out. This is a post about what lies beneath. This is the chilling director’s cut — the permafrost in the deepest recesses of my mind and soul that leaves me in a deep freeze on my most depressed days. I don’t want to write about this, either, but I feel compelled to, so that you can see how depression works. So you can see the way the gears turn, and what caused the machine to built that way in the first place. This is the alternate history of John Gorman.
But first, of course, the “narrative.” I am a 36 year-old straight white American man. I grew up working class in Upstate New York. Graduated with high honors, played three sports, and drums in concert band, jazz band and orchestra. Went to college(s). Former server, bartender, weatherman, survey taker, telemarketer, database analyst, traffic manager at an ad agency, sports blogger, marketing director at a publishing company, and I used to have a weekly byline at SI.com.
I moved from Buffalo to Austin on January 1, 2011. And, after losing my job, napalming my credit, going flat broke and accumulating some $50,000 in debt — much of it from toxic payday lenders — I found myself evicted, penniless, without health insurance that makes medication for my severe asthma affordable. From there, I got a job writing pop-up banner ads for a global technology company, jump-started a career as a working singer-songwriter, got a bunch of raises and promotions and picked up a cornucopia of side-hustles.
I’m now one of two senior global brand copywriters at one of the largest companies in the world. I make six figures. I have zero debt. I’m a prolific distance runner, singer-songwriter, conversational in Spanish and Portuguese, secretary of a non-profit school board, copywriter for a history-making congresswoman, podcast host, Egalitarian, activist (I hate using that word, but it applies), influencer (I hate using that word even more, but it also applies), one of the 100 most-followed writers on Medium, a due-paying member of two other non-profits, and someone with great friends and an immediate family who loves me. I’m well-traveled, well-read, well-spoken, well-liked and a notorious romantic. And sober, mostly.
All of that is dope as hell. Each piece of it on its own has a pretty great story attached to it. Each piece on its own is a reason to be happy, to have (or practice?) “gratitude” and “self-love.” All of them together make me what people have termed a “renaissance man,” a “catch,” a “multi-hyphenate,” a “genius,” a “force,” and someone who is “being the change.”
All of that is also, honestly, stuff I don’t think about very much. Not a days like today, when all I feel is cold and grey and dark. Some people call this “burnout.” They’ll say, “You’re doing way too much” or “burning the candle at both ends.” And that would be true, if I felt overworked, but I mostly just feel overwhelmed. Buried. Frozen. I call these days “snow days.”
A “snow day,” in my world, is a day when I accumulate destructive and abusive thoughts, memories and expectations in my head, and I think of every character flaw, every broken promise, every toxic memory and every mistake I’ve yet to forgive myself for. The accumulation buries me, and leaves me unable to complete even the most basic tasks — things like showering, shaving, cleaning, eating, working, leaving the house, or changing into clothes that aren’t basketball shorts and one of those free T-shirts they give you when you pick up your half marathon goodie bag (in other words, the clothes I wear to bed). So what are the things I think about? Well, here’s what’s crossed my mind today. Here’s what’s buried in the tundra.
I am a 36 year-old straight white American man. Because of this, the onus is on me to rectify the oppressive systems of extreme capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy. I feel like I’m not doing enough — never doing enough — and that perpetual feeling of “none of this shit is working and also everything is trash and getting exponentially worse” has left me physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. But that’s not even the half of it, or 10% of it.
I’m also notoriously messy. My place is a sty. My beard is unkempt. I’m fat, and my weight is a constant yo-yo. I’m bald. I’m short. I dress like a kid in his dad’s business casual clothes, or like a 19 year-old skate-punk. I also have an immunodeficiency that led to developing severe asthma, and I wonder if my lungs will ever work better than at half-speed, or if I’m doomed to die of respiratory failure at some early age.
I drive an un-inspected, unregistered car, with a driver’s license that expired in October. I have thousands of dollars in unpaid tolls. I forgot to file taxes in 2018. I have an annual report for that non-profit school I’ve yet to write, and of course I’m not checking emails related to it. I started a social media project where I would mail people Christmas cards if they wanted them, and I wrote them all and mailed them out. They all came back two weeks later. I’d forgotten to put stamps on them. Ashamed at my own foolishness, I’ve yet to re-mail them. I also lost that weekly SI.com byline by tweeting something really stupid, and I secretly fear I’ve been blacklisted by every magazine, newspaper, website and publishing house because of this.
I am a validation-seeking missile who chases the temporary dopamine high of achievement, leadership positions, good grades, praise, approval, love, sex, laughter, acclaim, notoriety (but, importantly, not fame), and kind comments on my blog posts. I suffer from anxiety and depression, started taking Lexapro, and found out all it made me was tired and less likely to do anything remotely healthy or productive. I have a negative and abusive internal monologue that constantly tells me I’m not “good enough.” I spend most days laid up on my couch half-watching NFL Network programming and half mindlessly scrolling through my social feeds. I eat more fresh mozzarella and tortilla chips than should be allowable by law. I used to drink 100 drinks a week. I used to smoke a pack a day. I can’t dance. I hate getting my picture taken. I leave professional, lucrative opportunities untouched in areas I’ve dreamed of exploring. I’m bored easily. I don’t respond to texts. I ignore phone calls. I don’t like uncomfortable conversations with people who care about me. I’ve also basically ghosted all my friends in Austin around three years ago, because I retreated into (in some order) writing, alcoholism, depression, shame, guilt, fear, binge-eating, the Internet and darkness.
I’m a terrible dater and an even worse boyfriend. Every woman with whom there is mutual, shared romantic interest is either: slightly too old, slightly too young, already in a committed relationship, very geographically inconvenient, or some combination of all those things. I’m spouse-less and childless, and any woman I’ve come close to marrying, I’ve either run away from because I felt “smothered,” or — in a recent twist unique to my last serious girlfriend — was the one actively doing the smothering. I’m awkward around women — either too forward and therefore creepy, or not forward enough and therefore cowardly. (But I’m friends with so, so many of them!) And, when I gave up getting smashed in bars, the sex — which used to be frequent and satisfying — vanished along with the booze.
I have long-standing, complex relationships with my family. I love them all dearly, and I know three of the four love me. I think about these ties often.
I am an atheist and my dad is a Christian. I feel like my chosen (lack of) faith shames him, and I also feel like he thinks accepting Christ as my Lord and Savior will solve my “problems.” I feel like the fact that I also can’t find lasting love, procreate, or maintain a home shame him, too. (I also objectively know he loves me, and that he will profusely and effusively deny everything I just said.) And so I don’t bother him with too many of my problems, and only call when I have really good news to share.
My mom absolutely adores me, and yet my memories of my mom consist of the countless sleepless nights I spent listening to her yell at my father for being lazy, careless and stupid (similar complaints she would lob in my direction, along with various other micro-aggressions including very often playing the “well, how do you think I feel” card), and slam every door in the house when the (very one-sided) fights would subside. I feel tremendously guilty for every second I don’t spend on the phone with her, or every trip I take that isn’t with her or to see her. She’s a genuinely fun, witty person to be around until the conversation eventually centers upon her — which it often does — and how unloved, unsuccessful, sad and depressed she feels. And so I don’t bother her with too many of my problems, as I feel guilty for even having them and don’t feel better after seeking counsel on the ones I do disclose to her. (I also objectively know she loves me, and that she will text me to say “Was I that horrible?” And the answer is, of course, no.)
My sister also loves me greatly, and yet she’s damaged — broken in mood and spirit by a literal brain injury that went undetected for 30 years. My memories of her are mostly positive, yet I also know she’ll cry at the drop of a hat, snap at you if you say or do something minor she doesn’t enjoy or agree with, take all setbacks as evidence of her tragically flawed and irredeemable character. (Common phrases she utters are: “I fail at everything” and “Nothing ever gets better.”) She’s one of the most riotously funny and relentlessly charming people on planet Earth. She’s also the queen of self-sabotage and impossible to help. And so I don’t bother her with too many of my problems, as she has enough of her own. (I also objectively know she loves me, and she’ll text me to say how badly reading this [her mom will probably tell her I wrote it] hurt her, but I say this not to ridicule.)
My brother hasn’t spoken to me in over five years. I’m not entirely sure why. I imagine I did something horrible, or many horrible things, and yet I can only think of two off the top of my head (both too long to neatly explain here), and neither feel like life sentences. I’m letting that stay dormant because, again, I avoid tough conversations with people I care about.
I bring that up because, perhaps, I need a therapist to “talk through” my problems — but the last few I’ve seen have been underwhelming, and the one I was looking forward to seeing I actually met ahead of time, and we bonded so well on a personal level that we scrapped the healer-healee dynamic entirely. So, writing is therapy for now.
Today is a “snow day” because these are all things I’ve thought about since the moment I got out of bed. That’s where my mind goes. And so I sit, paralyzed, replaying the Untold History of John Gorman in my head, on repeat, at a dizzying pace.
I could have done more work, cleaned up, showered, eaten a healthy meal, went for a “shake-out” run, read a book, went to yoga, meditated, practiced a new foreign language.
I could profess my actual love for someone. I could call or make plans with a friend. I could say hi to my mom, dad or sister. I could try to make up with my brother. I could’ve gone to that event I was invited to. I could finish writing that report. I could write a song or practice guitar. I could make progress on that book that’s finished but not published. I could reply to emails. I could answer the phone.
But that’s not what’s happening today. Not on a “snow day.” Let’s not get it twisted: this isn’t a “mental health” day. I’m doing nothing for my “mental health” except exacerbating existing chronic illnesses. They’re always there, but on snow days I catch a cold on top of it all.
More than a cold, actually, more like a deep freeze. I’m sure the thaw is coming. I suppose I’ll just sit here and wait for it.