Physician, Heal Thyself

I’m a fixer. I fix things. It’s what I do. I do it all day at my job running all aspects of IT for a wonderful Art museum. I do it at home with my wonderful family too. Computer’s barfed? I can get you working again. You lose something? I can find it. Something’s broken? I can fix it. You’ve got a problem? Tell me about it and I can give you some (mostly) great advice. I’m a fixer and for the most part it’s what I love to do.

I wasn’t always an IT guy. For what it’s worth I don’t love computers. I love what they can do, but to me they’re a tool like anything else. I was an Art student. I still am. Making Art is what I love and I’ve been doing it professionally as a side gig for about 15 years, but it’s a tough slog to manage when you’ve got kids. Especially when you’ve got kids. Plus there are certain (court-ordered) realities in my life that require me to keep a 9-5 with benefits. The gub’ment sho do take a bite, don’t she? I’m ok with that because I’d do anything for my sons. Even work IT for a living.

At any rate it turned out that after some training at my very first tech support gig (which I totally stumbled upon) I was actually good with computers. Given some knowledge and a little time I could figure out the stream of broken operating systems, failing email, mixed-up mice, and hopeless/hopeful users that paraded past me. Then a few months into the job it hit me… It wasn’t that I was good with computers. I was just good at solving problems. My mind could visualize a problem like a puzzle that I could hold in my hand. I’d always been pretty good with puzzles so I guess it followed that I should be good at solving other types of problems as well. I follow the same methodology when I make art. I have a problem in my mind. An image or emotion or idea that I need to translate onto a canvas or paper. To me it’s a puzzle to be solved and I revel in the process. I’m a process painter perhaps more than an actual Artist with a capital “A”.

I love helping people. I do. When someone comes to me with a problem that’s ruining their day or making their life miserable I get a great amount of satisfaction from solving it for them and seeing the relief they feel knowing that they can go forward with a little less stress. There’s a ton of immediate gratification in helping people. I suppose that’s the other appeal aside from just knowing that you’ve solved a puzzle. It’s the ol’ carrot and stick. Problem solved = a little dopamine rush. Feels good, man.

But frankly…. It’s exhausting. The constant train of people with problems to solve day and night saps my strength. Drains my creativity. And sometimes it breaks my heart. I find myself at the end of many days sitting on the couch staring blankly at the TV which is failing to actually hold my interest or at my drawing table/canvas staring blankly at the empty surface which is completely failing to turn into anything interesting. I take finding the solutions or lack thereof personally. Maybe it’s my mental connection between problem solving and my Art. Maybe my dopamine responses are all out of whack. Much of the time I lack the emotional distance the job requires. I don’t transmit that to my clients. Mostly I tend to keep my misgivings and concerns to myself. I guess I swallow a lot of anxiety and to quote John Candy from the movie, Stripes, “a lot of pepperoni pizza” to go with it. It’s 1000 wonders I’m not big as a house. The upside of being me is that when the anxiety fades and the depression sets in I tend to stop eating so I guess it evens out in the end(?).

What’s the “depression” part? I can never seem to solve my own issues. Maybe I use my daily problem-solving to usurp my almost perpetual disappointment at my inability to reason through my own shit. Maybe my abilities are just drained by the end of the day when I finally get some quiet time to examine my own issues. Maybe it’s just the fact that they’re mine and it’s hard to solve a problem from the inside out. I don’t know. Either way it’s frustrating and tends to leave one a little despondent. Moreover I’m loathe to ask anyone for help. I don’t like owing people and when I receive help from others I always feel like I owe them something in return. I’m pretty stalwart about paying my debts. I’m sure that recompense is not always expected, but perception is a hard thing to overcome.

But what do you do? I still look forward to seeing the smiles on the faces of my coworkers when their issues get resolved. I still look forward to seeing the relief in my boys’ faces when I find that thing they’d lost (even tho I might grouse about it a little). I still get that rush of satisfaction. That dopamine hit, BOOM, right to the central nervous system.

Man, that’s good shit.





2 responses to “Physician, Heal Thyself”

  1. Stuart Land Avatar

    Robert, this was so beautiful! You also have a way with words. So many talents, my friend. Depression is a hidden obstacle that rears up unexpectedly. For most, we have to overcome it on our own. But having others help us out can be the angels on our shoulders. I know this since I got cancer this year. I am alone in a foreign country, but friends from past and present have come to my aid in many ways. This has been something I could never do on my own. Let people reach out to you and allow them to get their “dopamine” levels activated.
    All the best to you.

    1. Robert L Reeves Avatar

      Thank you for reading this, my friend. When I heard about your cancer it made me very sad. I hope things are looking up for your health as well as the many other aspects of your life. I hope this message finds you well.

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