Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Waiting on Hold

English: American Way of life

English: American Way of life (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I was on hold with the Water Department.  I needed to change my billing address because I had moved.  At the time I was renting the house I owned in Philadelphia.  For some reason the water department would not change the bill to my renter’s name so I had to get the bill and add it to the rent every month.  I remember the hold music was cool jazz and was designed to have no beginning or end.  It just seamlessly repeated itself over and over.  I recall listening to an episode of “This American Life” where someone was on hold with similar music.  They posited that the music was designed so that the listener did not experience the passage of time and therefore did not realize how long they had been on hold.

Sometimes I find myself waiting at a red light and it seems like the light has been red too long. I start to wonder if the timing mechanism on the light is broken. After a period of time I have to make a decision whether I should run the red light or to continue waiting.  Running the red light means breaking the rules. Waiting carries with it the possibility that I am being foolish in some way. And so I am left in an unsatisfying limbo.

I just published an e-book. Some friends of mine said they would read it. I have not heard back from them and am left to wonder, did they read it? If so, are they not getting back to me because they did not like it and either do not care or do not want to hurt my feelings. Similarly, I hate sending out an email to someone and they simply do not respond. It makes me feel like I am unimportant. It makes me feel like they think their time is intrinsically more important than my time. Thinking about this makes me angry. It touches my shame and brings up past hurts.

Of course most of this is just my shame ego messing with me. The Water Department is a bureaucracy staffed by government employees punching the clock. I am no more or less important to them than any other caller. The red light is a mindless, mechanical contraption (at least for now) and has no agenda or motivation to shame me. My friends have their own lives and of course their time is more valuable to them than my time is valuable to them. It would be ridiculous to think otherwise. Just as my time is more important to me than their time is important to me. But when there is a lack of information my shame ego fills the vacuum. As will all things connected with my shame ego, awareness of this dynamic is helpful. But awareness does not really erase my impatience. I suppose I must chalk this one up to samsara (life is suffering) and of course I have some nostalgic longing for life not to be like this. As the Buddha said, life is suffering and the cause of suffering is desire. Not that I am a Buddhist but I do think there is some truth to it. Perhaps I am continuously being reincarnated like that hold music the water department plays on the telephone.

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My Experience with Psychics

My high school girl friend’s mother channeled spirits.  The main spirit she channeled was named Myra.  I remember going with my girlfriend into her mother’s bedroom and sitting across from her mother who was sitting on her bed.  She closed her eyes and her face went blank.  She then began to speak in another voice.  I cannot specifically recall what she said.  I remember it being convincing though.  I accepted it as real and took it at face value.

Twenty or so years later after Dechert laid me off in 2009, my wife and I decided to move from Philadelphia to Connecticut.  We put our house in Roxborough on the market.  One weekend I drove down to the house for an appointment and stayed there over the weekend by myself.   On Saturday morning I went down the hill to Manayunk for breakfast.  On Main Street I passed by the Manayunk Psychic’s storefront I had seen many times before.

I think I turn to superstition when my life is not working or are out of my control.  I was feeling very vulnerable at the time being newly unemployed and not having the support of the psychologist I had seen for the past few years.  I was unemployed, my marriage was horrible and my house was not selling.  At the time I saw therapy as something I tried but did not work on me because my problems went too deep. At that point in time the psychic seemed like a viable option.

She gave me a tarot reading.  What she told me seemed spot on.  She suggested that I go through a spiritual cleansing and it would cost around $500.  That seemed like too much to pay at the time although I seriously considered it because I felt so trapped, lost and at the end of my rope at the time.  I did not end up going through with it but it did plant the seed in my head.

When we moved to Connecticut I was so desperate to find a solution to my problem.  I searched for “spiritual cleaner” on the internet.  There happened to be a psychic offering that service in the town where I lived.  So I made an appointment.  She was a blond, Polish woman around thirty years old named Agnes.  Her office had a massage table and a new age altar with crystals.  The room was dimly lit and meditative spa music played in the background.  I told her I was looking for a spiritual cleansing.  She told me to keep three notebooks, one for my dreams, another for positive thoughts and memories, and the third for negative thoughts and memories.  She had me lie down on the table and she gave me a Lomi Lomi massage.  When she got to my legs she pulled the negative energy out through my feet.  At the end of the session she gave me bath salts mixed with essential oils and told me to use them when I got home.

I saw her a few more times.  She charged me $150 every time.  I felt like I was making progress.  I started taking Epsom salt baths regularly.  She had me praying to angels, asking them to intercede for me.  She described a whole system of angels.  I remember her talking about “runners” who delivered messages.  There were others but I do not remember them anymore.  There was Archangel Michael, whom she said she saw from time to time.  She had me write things down over and over.  She had me draw pictures of what I wanted to be.  At one point she told me to take the notebook of negative memories into the woods, put it in a pot with Epsom salts and light it on fire.  I remember doing that on a rainy day down by the Farmington River.  I remember being so paranoid that someone would walk up on me and ask me what I was doing.

At the time I was still unemployed and went on a lot of walks and bike rides.  I remember praying to the angels that my life would change.  Eventually my wife harassed me about spending money a psychic and shamed me into not seeing her anymore.  It was easier just to stop seeing her than to continue.  I am not entirely sure whether Agnes was scamming me or not.  I am not entirely sure I did not make some kind of progress with her at the time.  Perhaps she served her purpose somehow.  I just don’t know.

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part III

The next therapist I saw was a psychologist I saw for several years while living in Philadelphia.  I went to see him because I was depressed, anxious and generally dissatisfied with life.  Initially my wife and I saw him as a couple’s therapist after friend of mine came to visit.

The three of us went out for drinks.  I remember my wife’s behavior really embarrassed me.  I had just been hired by Dechert and was earning more money than I ever had.  She kept congratulating me and it felt awkward in front of my friend.  I asked her to stop but she kept doing it.  Then we went to a restaurant called Cuba Libre.  There she was involved in some sort of scuffle where some guy picked her up and moved her away from the bar.  She complained to the manager who did nothing.  To me it felt like she was getting drunk and making a scene.  I tried to get her to change the subject but she would not stop talking about what had happened.  Finally I said if she talked about it one more time I was leaving.  She talked about it again and I got up and left.  I waited outside on the street.  She and my friend eventually came out and we took a cab back to our apartment.  She kept yelling at me saying I ruined the night.

The next night my friend was still there.  It felt like things were smoothed over but I wanted to joke with him the way we normally did.  My wife seemed unable to contribute.  It frustrated me.  I felt like I would always have her around so I would never be able to feel free and joke around with my friends. This thought made me feel depressed like I had given up a piece of myself that I could never retrieve.

This was the start of my wife having a problem with my friends.  I remember the psychologist asking me, “why can’t you just let your friend and your wife have that relationship,” meaning (now that I look back on it) why not allow the three of us to interact in the way we did without getting upset that it was not the way I wanted it to go.  It was a valid point but I would not get to that point until much later.

After a few sessions as a couple I continued seeing this psychologist by myself.  Once a week I would leave work at lunchtime and walk across town, past City Hall, to his office.  We talked about a lot of things.  Most of the time I would bring up a subject.  He would take notes and sometimes ask questions but his form of therapy was very client driven.  I cried once or twice.  We talked a lot about my relationship with my father.  We talked about my fascination with “A Christmas Carol,” whether the ghosts were outside entities or creations of Scrooge’s consciousness and about how I burst into tears every time I watched the scene where Fred welcomes Scrooge to dinner (but only when I watched it alone).  He pointed out that even though I was born after my father’s car accident in which my older sister died when she was a baby, that it must have had an impact on me.  That was an idea I had never considered before.  He described me as feeling a “lack of entitlement.”  He told me I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder.

He was definitely compassionate.  He told me I was an interesting case.  I think he liked me on a personal level.  But looking back on it I never really thought the therapy went anywhere.  I think I grew marginally under his care probably because his type of therapy was not well suited for my specific issues.

There were a few instances where he got my doctor to prescribe anti-depressants to me.  I was on Paxil for a while.  It seemed to work but had some sexual side effects that I did not like.  Specifically it was difficult to maintain and erection and to have an orgasm.  I was later on Lexapro, which was pretty similar.  He eventually prescribed me Wellbutrin under the influence of which I had a mental breakdown of sorts.  This happened at my parents’ house in Connecticut one weekend we came for a visit.  Both my sisters and my cousin were there. I remember being so angry with my wife (we were not getting along at the time).  I got up from the dinner table, got a beer in the kitchen and ran out on the golf course behind my parents’ house.  I chugged it in the middle of the fairway in the dark.  The rest of the night is hazy to me.  I remember my cousin consoling me in the driveway as they were leaving.  Then I went up to bed.  I stopped seeing the psychologist after that.

I wanted to get off Wellbutrin but I did not want to experience “mind zaps” I had heard about.  I looked up a psychiatrist in the phone book.  I called her and she was willing to see me.  I think her office was in an apartment building in Washington Square.  My concern was that I wanted to get off Wellbutrin because it was making me behave bizarrely but I wanted to do it in a medically supervised way to avoid the side effects I had read about regarding abruptly going off of anti-depressants.  I do not feel like I made a real connection with her and I only saw her for a few times.  I remember she asked me about my first memory and how abnormal it was that it did not involve either one of my parents.  I also remember another interaction where I told her that I was uncomfortable with my drinking.  Her response was, “well there are other things to drink besides alcohol.”  I suppose she was not that well acquainted with the mind of an alcoholic because I remember thinking that there certainly are other things to drink but none of them make me drunk.  That seemed like an important point looking back on it.  I did not express it to her at the time.

Anyway, she guided me through getting off of Wellbutrin.  Part of that involved not drinking for two weeks, which was difficult but I did it.  Once I got off of Wellbutrin I quickly got back on drinking.

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Feeling Like an Outsider

For a few years my wife and I had thought about moving to Connecticut where my parents still lived in the house I grew up.  I was not all that happy with Philadelphia.  I did not like my job and I did not have that many friends.  My wife liked it there but she was willing to make a move.  So for a few years while I worked for Dechert I had been conducting a job search in Connecticut.  I waived into the Connecticut bar (a process which took more than a year of amassing records and dealing with the court system).  I was even approached by The Hartford (an insurance company in Hartford, CT) and interviewed for a position that seemed like it would solve all my problems. I ended up not getting the position.  After that my wife and I decided to stop looking to move to Connecticut and decided to buy a nicer house in Philadelphia in an effort to commit to the area and establish roots.

This issue about establishing roots has its origin in the fact that ever since I graduated from college I never felt like I belonged anywhere. When I was young I felt like I belonged in Connecticut even though I was bullied, picked on and humiliated.  When I went to college in Boston I felt like I belonged there.  I was on the same level with all of my peers who were from various places around the country.  But once I graduated from college and could not find a job I fell off the life track that I was supposed to be on and that I felt all my peers were on and had left me behind.  As such, I was so humiliated and felt like I had to hide from the world because I no longer legitimately held a place there.

This feeling stayed with me.  When I moved to Burlington, VT I felt like an outsider there because I was not hippy enough.  When I moved to Washington, DC I felt like an outsider because I did not have a good enough (i.e., well paying and connected job).  When I moved to New Orleans for law school I felt like I belonged on one level because I was on the same level as all my fellow students.  But deep in my heart I felt like I did not belong because I was not a native to New Orleans.  After New Orleans, I was an outsider in Scranton because I was not born and raised there.  And when we moved to Philadelphia I was an outsider there first because I was not a native to the area but also because the firm I worked for treated me as a second-class citizen.

This feeling like an outsider is a bit of a “chicken and the egg” phenomenon.  On the one hand, did I feel like an outsider because I carried that feeling with me?  In other words would I have felt that way no matter where I went?  Did I attract situations where I would feel like an outsider?  The job a Dechert would seem to support this theory.

So my wife and I decided to buy a bigger house during the height of the housing bubble.  We made some money selling our starter house but in order to buy our larger dream house I borrowed some money from my father.  He seemed happy to give me the money at the time but later I felt ashamed for having done that.  Especially after the housing market crashed and I lost my job and we were no longer able to pay the mortgage.  At first we tried to sell our house but there were no takers after the crash.  During this time I burned through my 401K that I accumulated over eight years at Dechert.  Just as that money was about to run out we were able to rent the house.  By this time we were living in Connecticut living with my parents.

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Getting Laid Off After Eight Years of Misery

Trolling does not have the same hold on me now because I have made progress with shame.  To make progress I first had to hit rock bottom, which occurred between 2009 and 2013. In 2009 my marriage was horrible.  My wife and I did not get along at all.  I was stressed out of my mind from my job and my home life.  I remember thinking at the time the best part of my day was the time I spent commuting on from my house to work.  I smoked a cigarette on the way to the bus.  I spent a large part of my workday trolling Sistertrek.  I drank at least five alcoholic drinks practically every night.  I was a mess.

At the time I was working this pharmaceutical document review in a building near Logan Circle in Philadelphia.  This was considered to be a high-end document review with a million different rules that I never fully learned and I do not think most people really understood. I could tell my supervisor thought I did not know what I was doing which made me depressed and anxious.  Looking back on it I could tell I was self-sabotaging.

The building I worked in was near the basilica in Logan Circle.  I went to the basilica during my lunch hour and prayed a novena to St. Jude the patron saint of lost causes that something would happen to change my career and my life.

 St. Jude, glorious apostle, faithful servant and friend of Jesus, the name of the traitor has caused you to be forgotten by many. But the Church honors and invokes you universally as the patron of hopeless cases, and of things despaired of. Pray for me who am so distressed. Make use, I implore you, of that particular privilege accorded you to bring visible and speedy help where help was almost despaired of. Come to my assistance in this great need that I may receive the consolation and succor of Heaven in all my necessities, tribulations and sufferings, particularly, to bring change and progress to my career and my life and that I may bless God with you and all the elect throughout eternity. St. Jude, apostle, martyr, and relative of our Lord Jesus Christ, of Mary, and of Joseph, intercede for us!

On the ninth day of the novena I received a call from human resources to come to the main office building of the firm which at this time was in the Cira Center next to 30th Street Station. I knew why they called me.  People had been laid off in waves for months.  I feared the day but thought I was safe because I actually had work to do and real billable hours.  I figured the people they were letting go could not bill enough to justify their salaries.  At the time Dechert was all about streamlining expenses and cutting perks that made life less miserable for the employees.  After receiving the call I deleted all the personal files on my laptop and walked down JFK Boulevard to the Cira Center.

When I got there I was ushered into a conference room with two human resources people.  They had empathy plastered on their faces.  They seemed surprised when they asked me if I had any questions and I said no.  I am sure they were used to people blowing up at them.  On some basic level I felt relieved.  I had spent eight miserable years working at Dechert and this day would be my last.  Although there was brightness associated with closing this miserable chapter of my life I was about to begin a hellish, four-year period of being unemployed and underemployed.  Everything was about to get worse before it could get better.

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How My Shame Journey Opened the Door to Trolling

One day the partner in charge of the document archive called a meeting of the entire staff in the conference room.  This included the Staff Attorneys, the paralegals and the secretaries.  He announced that the document archive would be closing by the end of the year.  I remember he had a smile on his face perhaps expressing that this burden he had been assigned was finally over.  For the Staff Attorneys this was a chilling message.  We all knew these jobs were not career path jobs and the tobacco litigation would end at some point.  On the other hand we had settled in to our well paid, low stress positions.  Because we had been only performing document review we had no real attorney skills.  So, any attempt to transition into another “real attorney” job at a different firm would be difficult.  The prospect of unemployment scared me.

Fortunately the partner who ran the document archive advocated for the Staff Attorneys to other partners at the firm.  One partner for the New York office needed a staff to draft answers for litigation involving a well known pharmaceutical company that had made a drug that allegedly caused heart attacks and strokes.  The New York partner was a bit of a marshmallow in stature from too many years sitting behind a desk and eating at high end restaurants.  His personality, however, was direct and to the point.  There were thousands of plaintiffs filing suit against this pharmaceutical company all across the country and each of these suits required a document called an “Answer” responding to all the points in the “Complaint”.  What this meant for me was not that I would be using my legal skills to draft these answers.  It meant I would be looking at the form answer drafted by one of the associates.  The form answer contained different ways of denying every point on the complaint.  Even simple factual points such as the pharmaceutical company was located in a particular state.  I would be cutting and pasting answers from the form into the new answer I was drafting.

The work was mindless and at a certain point there was not enough work to go around.  I remember billing an entire day to draft an answer that probably took me fifteen minutes to complete.  I did not like being in this situation.  The law firm required me to bill a certain number of hours per year but then did not provide me with enough work to meet that billable requirement.  Nor would they allow me to perform real attorney work because I was a Staff Attorney.  As such, I could be honest, bill a few hours and be fired or I could be dishonest and pad my hours, keep my job but feel guilty about it.  I wanted to work but I wasn’t allowed to.  It was the lawn mower issue all over again.

I became anxious and depressed.  My marriage suffered.  I spent my days arguing with a co-worker through long email chains about whether God was real or not.  I surfed the web.  It was there and then that I discovered a certain website called StarTrek.com.  I start posting on the message board and became a member of the community.  When the members migrated over to another website called SisterTrek.net, I did too.  And so began my foray into the world of internet trolling.  I had a shame-based personality.  I was anxious and depressed because of my job.  I felt overpaid, useless and stuck.  Finally, I had unlimited access to the internet.  That combination of situations made it impossible for me not to troll.

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Conservatives are Shame-Based

I voted for George W. Bush in 2000 because I was turned off by the Clinton administration after the Monica Lewinski Scandal.  I became politically conservative after graduating college in 1993.  At the time I felt very ashamed because I was unable to find the type of job I thought I should have as a college graduate.  I finally settled for a job driving a truck.  Because of my shame, I was easily indoctrinated by Rush Limbaugh who I listened to every day on the road.  What he said made sense to me.  This country is in decline and it is the fault of the over sensitive, politically correct, socialist liberals.  Now I can see how shame-based people are naturally attracted to this type of conservative philosophy.  Shame-based people feel ashamed about their situation.  Because shame feels bad it must be dealt with in some way.  Most shame-based people choose to deal with shame by shaming other people.

This is why the conservatives are so venomous in the way they criticize so-called liberals.  It has nothing to do with the love of freedom although they cloak it in that language.  This, by the way, is another marker of a shame-based person; the need to hide their real motives.  Shame-based people do this because they think if their real motives were viewed by the world they would be judged harshly for them.

On September 11th 2001 I remember waiting for the bus I took to work and hearing someone say that a plane had hit the world trade center.  I did not think it was anything serious.  When I got to work on the 54th floor of the Bell Atlantic Tower a lot of people were watching a TV set up in the conference room. I saw the smoke pouring out of one of the towers.  I remember sitting in my cubicle listening to the Howard Stern Show describe the events unfolding from Manhattan.  By midday people in my office started going home.

I remember the days after 9/11 I felt nervous for George W. Bush when he gave speeches.  It never seemed like he was fully in command of the language.  I felt nervous that he would make a mistake and say the wrong thing.  At the same time I rooted for him.  He was the president I voted for and I identified with him.  He had a successful father who’s name he share and in who’s shadow he stood all his life.  He did not seem as smart, capable or confident as his father but here he was finally put in the spotlight and given an opportunity to prove himself and I wanted him to succeed.  I wanted him to succeed because in him I saw myself.  I had not yet been put in the spotlight but someday I might find myself there.

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