Wherever there is a process, there will eventually be a jam. Such is the nature of life in this fallen world, and I have mostly come to accept it so as to preserve what few full-color strands of hair I have left.
Some jams I am prepared for, because they kind of make sense and are part of my routine – like traffic jams. Most of the time, I know what happened (human error) and whom to blame (all those other pesky humans out there). Certainly, I do plenty of fussing and fuming while weeding my way through the mess, and it may put me in a bad mood for a bit, but I make it through and am able to move on until the next one.
In my job, however, I deal with a much more diabolical form of jam: the paper jam. In this, I know I am wrestling with pure, insensate evil and there is no one to blame. Even the machine seems mystified. Sometimes it can direct me to the general region that is being affected by the jam, but beyond that, all it can do is blink its lights impotently at me and wait for me to set things right.
I can’t begin to tally the number of hours in my life I have lost to paper jams. They come at the worst possible times – usually in a rush of work, and preferably with some one at my desk in need of the finished product (read: a fully charged audience). There I’ll be, flinging and slamming each of the printer’s thousands of important drawers and doors, violently poking around its innards, smearing my face with unset ink and singeing my fingertips on the unresponsive rollers…all the while with an innocent, increasingly uncomfortable bystander to whom I must make encouraging small talk such as “Happens all the time!” or “Almost got it, now!” or “Would you like to go out for many drinks after work today?…Ow!” (jerks and reveals smoking, cartoon-flattened index finger).
No matter how expensive, fancy, or durable the machine, all copiers and printers can get jammed, and usually by the smallest obstacles. They are made to handle big jobs and adverse conditions, yet a shred of paper the size of a pencil eraser can shut them down. Until the offending object is fished out and removed, that sophisticated apparatus – however integral to corporate function – is little better than a doorstop.
It occurred to me while resolving a series of paper jams at work this very day that having depression is a remarkably similar process. Most of the time, through whatever coping mechanisms I have in place, the machine runs at peak performance, functioning and generating projects as needed. But unexpected and seemingly innocuous things can work their way into the cogs and before I know it, production has shut down and my lights are all blinking like the deck of the starship Enterprise.
When that happens, the smart thing to do is to stop, locate the source of the blockage, and carefully address it in order to get things moving again as quickly and healthily as possible. I almost never do the smart thing.
Instead, I keep trying to force paper through the gummed-up works, all to no avail, and ruining whatever hope there was for those projects. Where my body is clearly crying out for adjustment, reflection, and a little TLC, all my mind can see is inefficiency and a need for more power. I ignore the warning signs, fight back tears, and try to muscle through.
Keeping up appearances plays a big part in this approach (a.k.a. denial), especially living in the South. I could probably ask people for more time or even, you know, for help…but I don’t. This is a culture of severe politeness and I do not want to force others to get messy with me. Instead, I put on a chipper face, shoulder-down, and ask them how their day is going.
This isn’t wrong, necessarily; there is honor in serving and being considerate, and none in co-dependency or expecting others to fix me. I wish I could find the balance, though, between being myself and being what I think others can handle / want to see.
Until I find that balance, if I disappear every once in a while, you’ll know why and where to find me: I’m probably at home, nursing my roller burns and fashioning those ink smears on my cheeks into war paint.