Updates and musings on the year that’s been

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Above:  Trail along Sawtooth Lake, Idaho

It’s been a hell of a rough year for me.  I’ve shared some of it here on the blog, and some of it I’ve kept to myself.  I’ve had highs, lows, and some in-betweens. I’ve been confused, let down, beat down, disappointed, and exhausted.  I’ve had career goals I’ve chased for the better part of a decade vanish into the mist after seeming within reach.  I’ve had a few personal victories, but not enough to add up to much of anything.  Ten months after vowing to somehow make a better person of myself, I struggle to see progress.  Maybe it’s just me and my chronically self-deprecating personality, but maybe it’s not.

When I decided to accept chemical help in my struggle with depression, I had no real idea what would happen.  I hoped I’d be happier, but I dreaded what it might do to me.  I’m not a medicated person – I rarely take anything other than vitamins and over the counter allergy pills.  Initially when I went on “happy pills,” the generic Prozac to be specific, it went well.  My mood was indeed improved.  I was happier, it was easier to laugh, and it was a relief to have that edge of unhappiness taken away when things didn’t go my way.  There were the expected odd side effects while my system adapted to the new chemicals, but nothing that outweighed the benefits, at least initially.  I had found happiness in pill form, and while not wonderful, it allowed me to be hopeful about the future.

Over the course of the summer, a few other side effects began to become noticeable. I became much more susceptible to motion sickness than I ever was before, which is a terrible thing to have happen when you work with helicopters and airplanes.  On a few flights I got airsick for the first time in ten years of working in aviation, which is a confidence killer of pretty large proportions.  When an activity I enjoy, flying, suddenly makes me ill in certain conditions, it’s a tough thing to accept, especially in a work environment where airsickness isn’t just an unpleasant experience, it’s a liability.

I’ve always been a fairly focused individual, able to multitask pretty easily, able to recall even minor details of trivia quickly and easily.  Prozac, while making me happy, also makes me spacey, makes concentrating more difficult, and has absolutely killed my short term memory.  It’s become an incredibly draining task to concentrate on even simple, routine parts of my life and work.  I’ve been able to do it, but it often leaves me fatigued from the effort.   Even on a low dosage of the drug I find myself feeling distant, detached, and distracted, not tracking things like I usually would.  For example, a few months into the experiment, I went out to get groceries, and came out of the store to find that my truck wasn’t where I’d parked it, but rather a few spaces away.  Mightily confused I discovered that somehow I’d been distracted when I parked, and hadn’t set the parking brake, AND I’d left the truck in neutral, allowing it to roll away while I shopped.  Only by the grace of God did it roll into a curb rather than another car.  That was my first wake up call that all was not quite right on happy pills, and I needed to exercise caution in even the most mundane of daily activities.

It’s a tradeoff that I’m not sure I’m comfortable with.  I’m “happier,” but it comes with a catch.  I feel like I’m running at 90% of my mental capacity when I should, and could, be at 100%.  Sometimes it’s great to sit back and enjoy the spaced-out feeling, not letting anything bother me, but it doesn’t feel right, and certainly doesn’t feel healthy.

On other fronts I’ve been moderately more successful.  In my personal life I’ve hit the online dating scene, and been on a fair number of first dates, but nothing that’s gone longer than a few meetings.  Somehow, of the women I’ve met online, none of them have really seemed to click for me.  I have a sneaking suspicion that the type of woman I’m attracted to, and I hope to one day meet and marry, isn’t on a website like eHarmony or Match.com.  Because of my introverted nature, this poses a problem that I have yet to overcome.  There’s also the possibility that while I consider myself a great guy, I’m just not that attractive to the type of women I’m attracted to.  I’m actually a boring person outside of work, and boring just doesn’t seem to cut it with the ladies.  In any event, the search for a soulmate continues, and I’m learning a fair amount about myself while I’m at it.

In the career department, I’ve successfully extracted myself from a toxic work environment that was not good for me to one where there’s more potential for personal growth.  As always, there are costs to go with the benefits, but I hope it’ll prove to be a good move.  I’ve pretty much had to give up working with helicopters, at least for now, and as I’ve done so I’ve discovered that a huge part of my work happiness is tied to working with aviation.  It’s what I love, it’s what I’m good at, and it’s really what drives my professional passions.

At the same time, I’ve had to let go of, or give up on, depending on your perspective, my decade-long goal (a dream if I’m truthful) of moving back to Montana and working for the Forest Service.  After ten years and literally dozens of rejected applications,  being told I was the second choice on several jobs I desperately wanted this year, I’ve had to face the reality that, at least in the near future, I can’t go home.  It’s a soul-crushing realization for me.  An incredibly large part of who I am, my very identity, is tied to being a Montanan, and being close to Missoula.  It’s not just the job – it’s everything else as well.  I don’t feel settled, and I have trouble letting myself become attached to anything or indeed anyone that’s not in Montana.  In the few months since I’ve had to abandon that dream, I’ve struggled mightily with what will replace it.  I’ve spent nearly my entire adult life trying to position myself to get a permanent aviation job (in fire) in Montana, and I’ve failed.  Coming to grips with that failure, and its implications, is difficult.  It appears I’m not good enough to get what I want, so the question becomes what am I good enough for?  The jury is out.

I’ll keep on keeping on, despite the downs that always accompany the holidays for me.  For whatever reason, the holiday season seems to combine with my tendency towards Seasonally Affective Disorder to make me more pessimistic than normal for a few months, and for that I apologize to family, friends, and blog readers.

In life it’s the journey that counts more than the destination, and while my destination is unclear, I’ll still keep walking down the lonesome road that leads forward.  Where it’ll take me next I don’t have a clue, but I suppose that’s half the fun, isn’t it?

Until next time…

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About Justin Vernon

Fire and Aviation Specialist (aka jack of all trades) for the US Forest Service, based in Boise, Idaho. I'm also an amateur photographer, wanna-be writer, tech aficionado, and a classic introvert who values quiet time as much as I do the mountains and people of the Pacific Northwest. All opinions voiced are mine alone and do not represent those of the US Forest Service.
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