The therapy I’ve done that involves understanding how events in my life are connected and the role they play with each other in my mental, emotional and even physical life has been invaluable, but there are still things that are anomalies. This is one such story that I still can’t completely figure out.
This takes place almost immediately after The Suicide Story, but I don’t think there’s any connection. It was the first or second week of 2014 and unbeknownst to me, I was only about 12 weeks away from being arrested and my life forever changing.
Despite the fact that my magazine was falling apart, my addictions were running rampant and I was heavily involved in coordinating the next version of the large film festival I helped create, I decided to take a course at the local college.
The offer was too good to pass up. I was essentially handed a scholarship to take the class and all I had to do was give a speech at a “Return to College” event that was held annually in the area. I’d never finished college – barely got started, actually – and did dream of one day finishing. I figured even if it was only one course, it would put me that much closer to getting a diploma at some point in the far future.
I had a tremendous amount of anxiety walking into that classroom for the first time. I’d quit college three times to that point, although it had been 15 years since my last attempt. I was now one of the older students I always felt bad for in a sea of 19- and 20-year-olds. I liked the idea that these people didn’t run in the same circles as me. I wouldn’t be the magazine guy or the city councilor. I’d just be the old guy (37, but still old comparatively) in class.
It was an ethics class, and after the instructor introduced the idea of ethics vs. morals, she opened things up for discussion. I remember sitting there aghast at the naivete of the students. I knew they were young, but they really had no clue how the world worked. Instead of speaking up, which is my natural reaction, I kept quiet, observing what was going on around me. Later on, we were put into the groups we would be working with toward a massive final project at the end of the semester. They seemed nice enough, but I still felt so out of place.
When the syllabus was handed out, I saw the presentation for projects was to be done the first night of the film festival. I was not going to miss that, but didn’t want to tell the teacher right away for fear I’d be given an ultimatum and she’d get pissy I didn’t pick her course.
The class met once a week and in the six days in between, I didn’t do any of the reading in our textbook. I could make excuses I didn’t have time, but if I had time to cruise chat rooms in the middle of the night, I had time to read a couple chapters about ethics.
The following week, I pulled up to the building, walked in and proceeded to walk right by the classroom. I couldn’t force myself inside. I walked to the end of the hall and sat in a chair in a lounge area to catch my breath. I psyched myself up to enter the room, got out of the chair, walked down that hall and…walked right by the classroom again, out the front door of the building and into my Jeep.
I couldn’t quite explain it, but the anxiety and fear I felt was overwhelming. I decided to go back to the office and try to forget about what happened. On my way to the office, I got nabbed for speeding. I’m not a speeder and in 30 years of driving have only been stopped one other time.
The officer came to the car, asked if I knew why he stopped me and I immediately burst into tears. He knew who I was and wasn’t expecting that response. Looking back, I think it really threw him. He asked what was wrong and I didn’t get into details, but just said my life was falling apart around me and all I could do was watch. I think it was the first time I’d said anything like that out loud to someone. He asked me to gather myself before I kept going and just to drive safely.
I didn’t do any of the reading that week either. I believe I sent the teacher a note with some BS excuse why I didn’t attend class.
I got myself ready for class the following week, spending a little extra time beforehand on the mental side of things. I was going to walk through that door, put last week behind me and become a contributing member of that class.
I couldn’t even get myself out the Jeep. I was sitting in the parking lot, crying as hard as I did when the cop stopped me a week earlier. I probably sat there for 20 minutes before deciding to call it a day and just head home. I didn’t have these outbursts other times during that time period. Just when the cop stopped me and when I was in the school parking lot. A few days later, I called the organization that awarded me the scholarship and told them that my schedule wouldn’t allow me to continue with class and offered to pay them back.
To this day, I still don’t know what happened there. I have a lot of theories:
- Going back to school conjured up memories of never finishing
- I was simply too scared to be in a room where I stuck out like a sore thumb
- My schedule was too full and this was just an involuntary reaction – it was the straw that broke the camel’s back
- I’ve always disliked school and felt vulnerable not being in control of the classroom the way I was in control with my professional endeavors at the time
- I feared it would be all for naught if I wasn’t there to give my final project presentation – I’d fail
- I had some sixth sense that my life was about to come crashing down – in reality I never would have finished the class after my arrest
Truthfully, I have no idea what happened here, but my reaction was way over-the-top considering the situation. Granted, I wasn’t healthy at the time, but I wasn’t having this reaction to everything happening in my life. I don’t know if I threw in the towel before I started, after that first week, when I couldn’t get through the classroom door of the second week or when I couldn’t even get out of the car in week three.
This incident still leaves me scratching my head. I don’t know that it would have any profound effect on my life today figuring it out, but it’s one of those things I’d still like to understand.