Leaving my comfort zone?

I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple weeks. Cheryl and I have discussed this at length, but I’ve waited to put this up until after her big day. I didn’t want her dealing with this, any more than she already would have been, when she was already going to be stressed talking to the folks at the home office in Tallahassee.

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It’s easy to see life altering events after they’ve passed. Sometimes we think we can see them coming, but find that foresight isn’t a reliable predictor of a happiness. Such an event may loom in my near future. As if you couldn’t already guess.

Cheryl had a job interview today. It was out of town, in Tallahassee, FL.

How many of you think moving to a new city sounds exciting? There was a time when I did. What’s not to like? New opportunities. New places to see and explore. Expanding horizons a bit further than the daily commute. All of these sound good, so why does it seem I’m wired differently than folks who see these things with an optimist’s eye? I hate myself for being a killjoy.

Let’s start at home. This is home. With a couple interruptions, it has been since 1979. I’ve loved this place with equal measure hate, so it shouldn’t hold me as strong as it does. But home has the capacity to comfort you like no other place when life doesn’t treat you well. I can’t imagine slogging through leukemia, chronic pain and illness, my mother’s mental collapse and long hospitalization, a couple surgeries, and my ongoing struggles with depression – in these last six years – if they happened somewhere else.

So why would we be considering a move to Tallahassee? For those of you not up on your Florida geography, it’s about halfway across the state (lengthwise), yet is far enough to easily get you to another state most other places in this country (outside of Alaska, Texas, California, and Hawaii). Although Tallahassee leans progressive due to two universities and the state capital, it’s in a region (not always) affectionately known as Lower Alabama (the panhandle). Florida is unique in that you have to drive north to go “South,” with the rest of the state made up of first and second generation, midwestern or northeastern transplants.

The short answer: Cheryl works two jobs to cover my medical bills, private school for a child in the autism spectrum, and more private school for another child who we fear would suffer similar problems in our beleaguered public schools. Please note: we don’t blame the schools themselves. They’ve been under siege by a hostile, crazy-conservative state legislature hell bent on removing “public” from any discussion. She has an interview for a job which pays more money, where she wouldn’t have to work two jobs.

“Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it can rent it for a while.” I don’t know who said that, if it was a serious comment, or where I heard it, but I think I understand it. I don’t want Cheryl to feel she has to work two jobs, and this position with the central office in her department could solve this problem. Working night shifts in hospital security has taken a physical and emotional toll, and I feel responsible. Hurting someone you love, however indirectly, is a terrible feeling. So go ahead and add one more thing to my list of suffering a couple paragraphs back: self-pitying anchor.

No matter what I say going forward, no matter how much unsympathetic whining I do, I feel there’s no real choice. I can’t…. I won’t be responsible for my wife’s suffering.

The Problem: I don’t want to move. By this I don’t mean I’d prefer not to move. The idea fills me with anxiety on so many levels I could sit distracted for hours, thinking of nothing but worry. Still, I also can’t be the reason for Cheryl’s misery… resentment… fill in the blank with the help of your trusty thesaurus.

Anxiety’s Root: Well, there’s the obvious answer: brain chemistry/wiring. I can feel o.k. for months, working my way through pressures at work and home with aplomb. It’s almost like I’m a normal person. Then there’s a trigger. There’s no telling what it might be. I could be something as trivial as leaving my phone at home. Then I’m in free-fall and everything feels insurmountable. It can last hours or months, but for years it stayed away… until six years ago.

A few causes are easier to understand. They share elements experienced by many folks first or second hand. For example, I feel marginally employable due to health problems and my attendance record over the last six years. As someone who’s had a hand in hiring for the last fifteen, I know it’s an important consideration. Whether there’s a good reason for absenteeism or not, employers like to have employees who are capable AND who will be there regularly to show off their abilities. I feel lucky to be somewhere NOW, where I’m valued despite my history of health problems. Despite what you may think about working for the government, there’s no guarantee of a job for me in my department just because my wife gets a promotion and/or transfers. I have to be acceptable in the eyes of management where I’d be transferring. Over the last six years, I’m the potential candidate who’s used all of his own leave, used chunks of leave donated by others, and is on his third year under the protection of the Family Medical Leave Act. Tempting, aren’t I?

Plus I really like my job, right where I am. I’ve put the better part of twenty years towards learning most of the nuances of my job, and the somewhat unique version of it which exists in my office. To some this would mark the time to move on to other things. But to me, it creates another opportunity: to help not only our clients but my coworkers. People outside my team (sometimes calling long distance) trust me with an answer, and a sincere thank you often means more to me than money. Folks often complain recognition in government (at least in Florida) rarely involves financial reward, but I’m not one of those people.

Despite more recent health problems, I’ve put many years earning this respect, my friends, and a good reputation. I fear starting over someplace else and losing it all – the things I’ve come to like most about my job. I fear it will be many times harder the second time around – when the 1995 model Me is just words in a file, and the 2013 model is broken.

The circle is complete. None of this changes Cheryl’s problems. I haven’t lived them so I won’t do them the disservice of explaining them poorly, but I understand the toll they’ve taken all too well. The lack of time off, never stopping, and carrying more than her share is wearing her down. I read this post and my guilt leaves the linear track, exploding with exponents. I’m not just an anchor, resisting with equal and opposite force. Most of you remember high school physics, right? I fear I’m an anchor that can’t/won’t see past it’s own fear and pulls back harder.

I don’t think I’m deluding myself when I say I try. The privacy train left the station on this blog years ago, so it’s odd I can’t bring myself to name the ways now. Hell, what’s a little social stigma after this post? I’ll just say I’ve spoken to many people, in many disciplines, at times spending lots of money, over many years, to get a a grip on some of my problems. That should be enough to spark a bit of your imagination, eh?

God help me (yes, I’ve spoken to him too), I don’t want to be a terrible person.


  1. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. I certainly understand your concerns about life in Northern Florida, but it might be okay, right?

    1. Hi Kristina! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      I don’t know about change and rest. I suppose a good change could feel like rest if less stress is a result. I like to think change itself is not what I fear, though I understand many find the uncertainties involved unsettling. I’ve weathered a lot of change in the last two years at work. Although it’s been a challenge, it’s been the good kind. I’ve been able to do a lot of good work and shepherd some folks who couldn’t cope quite as well.

      I think that’s what makes this so frustrating. I feel like I should be able to not only cope, but see the potential benefits.

      Granted, there are a few significant differences: this comes unexpected and is quite a bit bigger.

      Still, there are moments talking to Cheryl when I can reach through the fear to the rational mind, and I know change can be good – even the big ones. I’ve been to Tallahassee many times, both for work and personal reasons. All other things equal, it may be a better place to live than Dunedin – especially if my neck improves enough that I can finally get back on my bike.

      Plus, if I can claw my way through this fear, I know Cheryl’s quality of life will improve drastically. Happiness can be just as infectious as sadness. So, I’m trying to hold on to those moments when the rational mind shines through. I’m trying to remember these episodes of acute anxiety eventually end.

      But you’re right – this could be a good thing. It’s just been a struggle remembering it… and feeling it.

  2. Whew! heavy stuff, your brain must be exhausted. Did getting it all out help at all? No judgment from me, I share many of your issues. And I get it, hope that helps.

    1. Becca – writing it down helped at times, bringing a little order to chaos. Editing it one last time today didn’t help much.

      Thanks for your comment though. It does help a little. It may not be a lot, but I’ll take a little any time.

Give the gift of words.