Of Mice and Men… and Meltdowns

Ms. Smarty Pants had a meltdown in the past week.

I’m not proud of it, but I’m glad for it. We need to be knocked down every once in a while, not so much to keep us grounded, honest or humble… none of that heady shit. I actually like to hit bottom every now and then to remind me that there’s nowhere to go but up.

I cried all week, which is more crying than I’ve done in the past two years. And believe me, I’m a crier. I cry at weddings. I cry at movies, funny ones even (didn’t shed ONE tear at “Titanic” and that’s how we know that movie blows.)

But there’s this thing called “momentum” and I just can’t seem to catch it.

Let’s backtrack a little bit to 2008, most challenging year of my life. I had decided to take on full-time school in addition to working full time. You’re thinking, big deal, a lot of people do this. Of course, that’s true but it was a struggle in my own experience.

Many people make it work for their circumstances as I did for mine. Picture this: waking up at 6, being at work at 7 or 8, leaving work at 4 to spend the next two hours in rush-hour traffic, then spending the next 5-6 hours on your feet sweating in a hot, noisy kitchen, then coming home at midnight, staying up for another hour or two to do homework and check on work e-mail, then getting four hours’ sleep, and doing it all over again the next day. You think you can unwind on Friday? Not really. There’s class at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, followed by lab.

By the time I got home on Saturday nights, I was usually too tired to do anything else, even eat. A cup of dry cereal and then I’m out until Sunday morning, when it was time to do laundry, homework and a little bit of office time to catch up on work work.

And along the way, I had to move residences TWICE (once in January and once in September.) The economy was in a freefall and I saw my backup plan dwindle to 10% of its original value. I lost my job by the end of October. In November, the IRS put a lien on my bank account. This was my own fault: I was so busy that I had forgotten to pay my taxes.

(In the ’90s, I remember reading an interview with Sherry Stringfield, one of the stars of the hit show ‘ER.’ She had talked about how LADWP shut down her electricity because she had forgotten to pay her bill. I couldn’t fathom how someone making millions could possibly have this happen to them until a similar thing happened to me. I still have unopened mail from 2008, tucked in boxes somewhere in my mom’s garage.)

All through that I only cried once. (And only because I was stuck in traffic for THREE HOURS and nothing – NOTHING – sends me into a tailspin quite like LA traffic at a standstill.)

But then I got a job with a boss who was flexible about letting me leave early for school. There was the possibility of scoring an internship at the L.A. Times (didn’t pan out). Things were looking up. One of my favorite teachers had said that I had momentum, and to take special care not to lose it.

After all that work to change careers, I found myself back at the desk job full time a few months later, trying to rebuild what I had lost… savings, 401k, good credit rating, even confidence. It was a temporary but necessary glitch. Then I landed a part-time gig teaching cooking and I got to write reviews for a food review blog/publication. I was getting momentum back.

And then I found myself in the job from hell… which wasn’t the job from hell when I first started. Like most of my relationships that start out so promising and end up in the toilet. Except this job was the worst experience I could ever have gone through. I’ll take a bad breakup over this any day. (And that’s saying something.)

It was stressful and painful and for many reasons lasted longer than it had to (we won’t go into details). The one mitigating factor was that I had gone on a game show and won a lot of money. Insurance in knowing that the nightmare would end soon, but it would be several months before I can breathe easy… that check is no good if the show doesn’t air and it took about six months for that. Add another couple of months to get the check, and I languished in hell for nearly a year.

All the time this was happening, the universe kept sending me signs that it was time to leave all this behind and go full speed on my culinary adventures. I have a culinary memoir to write. And the school that I had dreamt about opening for all these years, the reason I put myself through all that stress just a couple of years back… it could actually happen now. Not to be dramatic, but the stars really were lining up.

And the day came when I triumphantly gave my bitch of a boss the finger. Momentum. I had it again.

But we don’t realize what hell we put ourselves through (ok, maybe just me) until we’re out of it. Instead of go-go-going, I found myself spent. For at least two weeks, I could barely get out of bed. The promise of a “new life” was a bit of a letdown, it was anti-climactic. I thought that I might have been depressed, but after talking it out with several people, we concluded that the job-from-hell had wiped me out mentally, physically and emotionally. And it was imperative that I spent some time healing.

It was all good and necessary, but that meant giving up momentum.

At some point during my respite, a series of fortuitous events led me to find the space for my cooking school, even though I was hoping to wait until the new year to pursue this. I found the right space, the right people to get behind me and things were moving. But there are lots of little things that one has to attend to when setting up a business… some of these administrative and some personal. And each little thing does its share of chipping away at your momentum. They’re like little potholes in the road and after a while, your tires take such a beating that one of them loses air and the whole damn car is stopped.

That’s what the past few months have been for me. I understand perfectly well this is how the journey goes and have been managing it pretty well. And while I have a high tolerance for shit, there comes a point where I’m oversaturated and explode. And that was last week.

The joy of seeing my best friend’s brand new baby was diminished hours later when I rammed my car into a pole. I couldn’t even look at the damage for a couple of days, and then discovered it wasn’t that bad, just a bunch of scratches. And while the business is going, I had also realized that I’m going to have to go back to the dayjob to pay the bills. (The game show money is a nice chunk, but it’s certainly limited when I’m bleeding expenses on the business.) Add to this a bit of anxiety over my upcoming birthday, and being reminded that I’m growing older and not being in a place where I truly feel comfortable, and a slight depression sets in. When you’re in a downswing, each little thing adds up to cause a tailspin and you find yourself out of control.

Found myself breaking down every few hours, frustrated that I can’t seem to get the momentum going. It’s like driving up a hill in a manual car, and just when you think you’ve gotten over the hump, you stall and roll back down. Think of this as a crappy metaphor but if you’ve had problems driving a stick shift, you’ll know it’s frustrating as all get out.

Saturday came the low point but I’m thankful for it. As I said earlier, I like hitting the low point because there’s only one way to go and that’s up. It’s time to reset, re-evaluate the flight plan, get the engines started and get the next climb going. And hope that at some point, sooner rather than later, momentum will actually catch.



Marathoner, culinarian & gourmand, beach bum, poker/trivia enthusiast, Dorothy Parker-worshipping wit and all-around OK gal who likes to travel

One thought on “Of Mice and Men… and Meltdowns

  1. I'm about to dive into school full time, and I'll have to keep working full time while I'm at it. Last time I tried it, I failed miserably. I'd love to pick your brain sometime about how you made it work.

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