Saturday, October 16, 2010

Life On The 'D' List

This is the kind of post best written in retrospect, rather than in the moment. It’s about depression. Hiding from the world: a situationally based despondency that obliterated my motivation, supplanted by inertia and a dark, dank sense of hopelessness.

It’s been more than a year and a half since Billboard decided its bottom line was more propitious than paying experienced journalists. In one tidy sweep over the course of three months, most every veteran, obviously including me amid a 14-year run, was on their ass—including three of the professionals whose work I most admired long before I got my dream gig.

Our layoffs were originally masked under the guise of downsizing, but within six months it became clear that was simply the company line, when a new crew of 20-somethings with little knowledge and half our salaries were hired. Certainly, that has since become the norm for print.

One look at the once-regal Wall Street Journal—now littered with typos on a daily basis—is all the evidence one needs that skill and accuracy have been undermined by cheap, inexperienced labor.

In the summer of 2009, I had the comfort of reaching for my next rung on the career ladder, as I spent three months in the Hamptons working in earnest on a memoir with Liz Derringer. I was convinced our collaboration would propel me to “author,” and I wouldn’t have to return to the mainstream workforce, where I was likely to face job insecurity all over again.

Our timing couldn’t have been worse, as publishing houses downsized, sliced advances and moved toward an eye on celebrity books (teen Justin Bieber’s biography with Harper Collins?!), at the same time that print lost its grip to digital publishing—exactly like the music industry I had just left. Ultimately, despite our literary agent’s best efforts, we got a pass from every major publisher.

I found refuge with the U.S. Census Bureau in February. I developed (or rediscovered) new skills, training large groups, knocking on the doors of hostile people, meeting smart new work allies and discovering Brooklyn block by block—all while earning a weekly paycheck that allowed me to live prudently, but without fear.

And then the bottom dropped out. When that adventure ran its course at the end of August, so did my COBRA. As did my income. Thankfully, I had worked long enough for the Census to qualify for unemployment—again—but that’s hardly a solution or a particular comfort.

Like never before, I began rallying job ads, applying for as many as 17 positions in a weekend. Some were an ideal match: like a newscaster gig at Sirius/XM that required experience interviewing celebrities and writing savvy. For god’s sake, it was for the gay channel. Nope. When salary requirements were mandated, I low-balled. I took the year I graduated from college out of my resume in an effort not to appear dated. I reworked my resume again and again to stress online experience—practically dumbing down the fact that one of my specialties is lengthy enterprise pieces, stressing that I can get to the point with short-form writing. I noted that I have blog experience and know social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, as well as the kids do. I have a smartphone, I text. For god’s sake, I thrive amid today’s technology.

Nobody cares. It’s as if I worked for the ferry after the train has come to town. I feel like an antique. Too old, too expensive—and let’s face it, I’ve already reached the point where I’ve had bosses 10 years younger than me.

Two weeks ago, I simply surrendered emotionally. Despite my best efforts, I missed my beloved bi-weekly happy hour with friends and supporters. I never made it to a birthday dinner. I stopped returning calls and barely left the house. One day I slept for 30 hours, refusing to leave the bed. Faced with a To Do list of household chores and writing projects I intended to ramp up, I simply wasted days, fueling my misery by reading articles online that talked about the end of print journalism as a career, the pathetic job market and inert unemployment. I slumped further, though thankfully avoiding traditional crutches: booze and staying up all night. At least I moped with a semblance of discipline.

For nearly two weeks I remained paralyzed, painfully aware that I was depressed but unable to shake it or figure out how to dig out and reclaim any sense of motivation…

Finally, a deadline for my collaboration with Tinatin’s memoir forced me out of hiding and I found myself at T’s apartment flushing out everything in my head in a flood of emotion. I spilled every variable of what knocked me down—and somehow, seeing the pieces laid out in one messy confessional conversation gave me a modicum of order about restoring stability. I didn’t realize how therapeutic a sympathetic ear could be.

Foremost, I recognized that none of what ails me is life-threatening. All of this has potential to pass. As Tina said, “You need one lucky break to get you back on your feet.”

Oh, I’m still waiting. But the fact that I’ve managed to pull myself out of the hole, avoid hurling myself off the Brooklyn Bridge and recognize that there is so much that could be so much worse is a start. I’ll get there. I don’t know exactly how or when, but once I do, the rewards will feel all the sweeter. Man, it’s good to be part of the world again.