One of the hardest things about being the project manager of your life—the hardest thing about being the project manager of your life—is that when the project is going off the rails and you’re stressed, exhausted, maybe depressed, definitely a lot mess… the people around you still treat you as the project manager.
The one in charge.
Them: “What’s the solution?”
“What should we do?”
“Tell me if there’s anything you need!”
“How can I support you? Just tell me!”
Project Manager: I need you to stop asking me to find jobs for you—for the love of god, seize some initiative and figure out a way to help and lessen my load on your own, and if you’re not competent enough to do that, just leave me da fuq alone!
Them: She’s having a bad day. It’s probably PMS.
It makes sense, really. If you’re generally a with-it person, in charge of the controllable aspects of your life, with high executive function and all of that, the people in your life get used to you taking initiative. Organizing things, planning things. Seeing shit through. You tell them what to do, where to go, how to contribute, on what timeline, in what order. They do it, shit gets done.
I used to even plan and make all the arrangements for my crashes and breakdowns—okay, Mom can take Ender for a sleepover on Wednesday, maybe I can sell Flora to her friend for the day and even night, Cinder will be okay on his own for a few hours, I’m gonna go scream in the woods for four hours, pick up pizza on the way home, all will be well—I just have to make it through Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning—all will be well, I got this.
It’s when you step out of that role—fall out of it with a loud thunk—that things go sideways. You stop the planning and the managing, your people freak out because that’s not the way this has been working—nobody’s in charge, chaos, help—you get pissed because they’re useless drones who can’t figure out how to do anything without explicit instructions—and, odds are pretty good that after a brief freak out, you take a deep breath and find, somewhere in your heels, just enough juice to project manage them through your crisis… or push your crisis off until next Thursday, when you’ve got some time in the project of your life for it. No? Not next Thursday? Sunday the 24th? Perfect. Let’s do it then…
So you do it. But you hate it and resent it. Worst of all, you learn, over and over again, that when you’re broken, an exhausted mess? You’re still the project manager of your life, and you are in a really dysfunctional, unsupportive organization. There is no CEO or team lead or colleague watching out for you. You can’t count on anyone else to pick up the slack.
Extreme self-reliance, the psychologists say, is a form of trauma response. It’s taught by experience, circumstance. Shit goes down—past experience has taught you that you’re on your own. So, you take a deep breath, and you say, “I got this. I’m gonna get me, us out of this. The rest of you, just don’t get in my way, that’s all.”
I recognize that I do this. Unfortunately, most of you are useless in a crisis—you’re not that useful when things are chill to be frank—but it’s fine. I got this. I’ll get me out of this—while I’m at it, I’ll get you out of this. But, to be clear—I’m gonna resent you the whole time. For fuck’s sake, can’t you do anything to help me, ever?
January blues. Shitty anniversaries. Triggers. The good thing about documenting one’s inner and outer life is that one has a record—of the good and the bad. One is braced for a tough December, a really horrible first week of January. One plans for it, and one survives it. (One talks about oneself in the third person as a dissociative coping strategy—try it—apparently it’s not recommended by neither the positivist psychologists nor the vestigial Freudians—how is Freud still taught as anything other than a historical curiosity?—but it’s damn effective in creating some distance between oneself and unpleasant experiences.)
One doesn’t expect the second week of January curveball and one is hammered by it, but one knows what to do, more or less, sort of.
Them: Write piles of self-indulgent, incomprehensible crap in the gender-neutral third person?
Jane: You smoke weed, I write. Writing is free and doesn’t make my clothes smell like skunk.
Her: And your hair. Your hair stinks.
Them: Why is everyone picking on me?
January blues. I go inward. I will love you, I think, again in February. Well. No. That’s too soon. March. Right now though, I’m a bowl of resentment. Ball of resentment? I like the image of a bowl—a bowl, ceramic, colourful—so pretty—of swirling, surging, black-and-purple resentment that I’m holding tight to my chest. If I eat from the bowl—and I want to—I’ll ingest poison.
I’m on my own, I’m alone, no one can help me.
A few weeks—months—not years, but it feels like it, a friend gave me two bags of Superstore no-name brand frozen Chicken Parmigiana that he thought were, well, too disgusting to eat.
Him: For your kids? Kids like shit like this.
I’m not going to read the ingredient list to you. Maybe, there was chicken.
Flora: Wow, this is crazy. The first bite is really good, but then, as soon as you stop chewing, you feel like you’ve eaten plastic…
Ender loved them. Absolutely loved them.
Jane: What do you want for lunch when you come over tomorrow?
Ender: Chicken pizza!
Ender: You know? Those delicious chicken pockets? Like the chicken with cheese and tomato sauce inside it?
I love my Ender, but God I hate Superstore, and also, Sean needs the car tonight, and also, I have so much work to do today and I’ve lost so much time already and OMG, I’m not going to give my son what he wants for lunch tomorrow, I’m a failure as mother, I might as well just crawl into bed and die, there is no hope, no point, I’m on my own but I can’t actually get enough with it to go to the store to buy Ender lunch, I…
It does not actually have to play out like this.
Jane: Is there any chance you’re going to Superstore tonight?
Him: Yes. What do you need?
I’m pretty sure he was not planning to go to Superstore until I text. But that’s what friends do. They show up…
Jane: That inedible Chicken Parmigiana, you know what I mean?
Him: One pack or two?
Breathe. Not alone. Not unsupported. Still the project manager of my life, cause that’s the way the world goes, but not unsupported. I ask for what I need and it comes to me—I accept it with reverence and gratitude.
Ender gets his Chicken Parmigiana. My Mom shows up the next day with won ton soup, bacon and a bag of frozen seafood—I can put off the Superstore or Costco horror trip for a few more days.
A project manager’s fantasy is, I think, a team member who can read your fucking mind, anticipate what you need—see the gap and fill it. You know. A future project manager in the making, really—the person who’s gonna take your job from you and you can’t wait for them to do it, to be honest, because this job kind of sucks, but also, you’re a control freak, and so you’d only work for a project manager who is more competent than you, and what are the odds of that? Such project managers and such employees are rare, unicorns. (In workplaces, they are, by the way, called office wives. Telling, no?)
A satisfactory team member is one who does what you ask them to do and embraces increased responsibility as you hand it to them.
Sigh. So be it. The team is a collaborative, interdependent unit.
But someone has to be in charge.
And, really. I do want to be in charge of my life. Don’t you?
Today, though, I’m taking a mental health day, going for walk, screaming in the woods.
You: Is there anything I can do to support you in this?
Jane: Stop asking me for shit and get out of my way. I mean—um, no. Thanks. I got this.
I’ll give you further instructions on how to contribute tomorrow.
PS Well, this is weirder than I had planned. Did it upset you? Breathe…