Hello readers, I have missed you! And I’m not just saying that. I’ve really missed doing my advice column, which ran on Input (RIP) from April 2021 to September of this year, and hearing from all you troubled souls. The good news is that now the column will appear here on BuzzFeed News on a monthly basis. It’s still called Heart in a Blender, which — in case you don’t know — is a reference to my band Eve 6’s big hit from way back in 1998.
I initially proposed the column to my Input editor Mark — who is now editing me here at BuzzFeed News — as a half-joke. He took me up on it, and then *Adam Curtis voice* something interesting happened. I realized that I was kind of good at it and that I really enjoyed getting into your letters and offering advice. People reported back saying they found it entertaining and, dare I say, helpful. Even some of my stalwart haters tweeted the links, saying things like, “This actually isn’t terrible.” Long way of saying: The reviews were in, and they were fire.
This month’s letters are heavy. I want to thank the letter writers, especially the first one, for trusting me with their shit and for being courageous enough to reach out. Now that I’m with a new outlet, I’m going to say this once here, and if anything changes I’ll let you know: I am not a therapist. I am a Twitter-famous guy from a ’90s alternative rock band. Therapy is good, and if you can afford it, I recommend it. This column is no substitute.
Alright, let’s get to those letters!
“My Heart Is Damaged Beyond Repair”
Dear Eve 6 Guy,
When people look at me, I feel like they see someone who has his shit together.
On the surface, I’m a healthy 35-year-old guy, in the best shape of my life thanks to discovering a few years ago that I actually really like the gym. I’m married with no kids and bought a house before the prices went batshit insane. I’m well-educated and have a successful career with lofty prospects. I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in my life, including contributing to my community through volunteer work and teaching.
But on the literal inside, my heart is damaged beyond repair from a genetic condition. Surgical and transplant options are limited and may not even have much effect. I’m likely to die before I hit 50.
Also, my marriage is falling apart because my spouse, who struggles with alcohol addiction and mental illness, physically and emotionally abuses me. She has hit me and my dog on multiple occasions. I ended up rehoming the dog, which broke my heart, but my wife was unfazed, even celebratory, over this turn of events. None of her friends know what she’s really like, and it kills me to see them worship this woman as a benevolent force. She’s nothing like the person I proposed to five years ago.
Meanwhile, the industry I work in is toxic and soulless. My paycheck is made possible largely by CEOs and old-money political players who often have horrific ideologies. I have real talent to effect change in the world, and this is what I use it for?
I truly hate my life, but I don’t know how to do anything about it. I feel powerless.
Even if I brought myself to do something drastic like get a divorce or quit my job, do I even have time to get things right before my heart fails? What does getting it right even look like?
Is it even worth it to change anything, knowing the harm my actions will cause me and possibly others around me? Maybe if I just hang in there a little longer, things will fall into place?
Hi Doom Guy,
I’m going to be more authoritative out the gate here than I normally am: You need to leave your wife.
Now, when I say you need to leave your wife, I don’t mean “begin the process of getting a divorce.” I mean, as soon as you’re done reading this — or before, even — you should grab a suitcase, throw some clothes and necessary items in it, and bail. Once you’re in the car, make a phone call to a friend or family member of your choice and tell them you need a place to stay for a while.
This should be your first step. There is no ambiguity in it. No abstraction. You get up and go. You will experience fear. You will experience sadness. Your mind will probably pump all manner of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings to the fore. Literally take those thoughts and feelings with you.
Your mind likely will also begin to relentlessly produce evidence of the finer aspects of your wife’s character. All the ways in which she can be good, righteous, kind, etc. — and they won’t be lies, because no person is a flat surface. But they may as well be, and here’s why: Violence is the red line. Period. No debate. We do not abide physical harm to ourselves or our animals.
When we appraise “our lives” — a concept that often translates to “our problems” — as a monolith, they can seem impossible to negotiate. Taken one by one, our issues become a bit more manageable. Reducing your focus to the clearest and simplest “next right action” is all you need to do, and that action is extricating yourself from your abusive relationship.
It’s impossible to predict the reactions your wife will have, but it is likely that she will employ all manner of tactics to try to get you to rethink your decision. She may lash out in anger or she may try to guilt you into returning. Please ignore these entreaties. From where I sit, the only way you should even consider entertaining the prospect of future reconciliation is if she can get and stay sober and she seeks treatment for her anger issues. These are actions, not words, and you should not cohabitate with her again until you know she is truly working to change her behaviors. This could take six months at the very least.
I’m not advocating for denial. I’m not saying you won’t die young. You might. You could say you have more certainty that you will die young, and that’s fair, but you don’t have total certainty. We can be certain of nothing.
Let’s talk about your job. Again, I’m going to be definitive: You keep your job for now. You keep your job, and let the 60-pound stone of moral perfection roll off your back. There’s no ethical consumption under capitalism. You are not personally responsible for political and economic systems. At least for now, you take their money and enjoy spending it. You can reassess your work life after you’ve achieved a new sense of normalcy living apart from your wife.
You asked about the concept of “getting it right.” Getting it right to most people is, in my opinion, way too wrapped up in results — in what the future looks like or how others may perceive you. The only way to truly “get it right” is to radically accept the total uncertainty of not just your life but everyone else’s and move your attention to the present moment.
You might have a better chance of dying before you hit 50 than me, but who fucking knows, I might predecease you. After all, I smoke cigarettes and haven’t been able to stop. (I’m trying again to switch to vaping — pray for me.) Also, an asteroid could destroy Earth tomorrow. You see where I’m going with this.
Uncertainty is the only certainty there is. My mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and told by doctors she had at most two years to live. Those two years went by, and she lived another eight. You also can’t predict how medicine will advance over the next decade and a half.
I’m not advocating for denial. I’m not saying you won’t die young. You might. You could say you have more certainty that you will die young, and that’s fair, but you don’t have total certainty. We can be certain of nothing. Go toward the uncertainty. Walk into the mouth of it. The real experience of being is in the humility and, dare I say, peace that can come from allowing yourself to embrace the unknown.
Agatha Christie, queen of the murder mystery, has a quote that I like: “To be part of something one doesn't in the least understand is, I think, one of the most intriguing things about life. I like living. I have sometimes been wildly despairing, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”
The sense of “being alive” I believe she is referring to can be noticed if you focus your full attention on the feeling in your right hand right now. That sort of buzzing sensation. This is a meditation prompt I learned from the author Eckhart Tolle. Do it. Notice that sensation. Trip out on it for a moment. You are alive right now. The future and past are relative abstractions. The present moment is timeless. This appreciation of being alive in this moment isn’t contingent upon the circumstances of your life being different. Pleasant emotions aren’t a prerequisite.
Give your friends and family the gift of being able to let you lean on them for strength and support. Be honest with yourself and with them about your marriage.
OK, reel it in, Eve 6 Guy, you may be thinking. Fine, I will. But I know what I’ve said to be true from experience. My ex-wife and I separated three years ago. It was without question the most difficult time in my life. So much shame, guilt, and feelings of personal failure. There were moments when I wasn’t sure I’d survive it. What got me through was friends (literally just a couple really good ones), family, mindfulness meditation, and a conception of God so broad as to probably be laughable to most people. If I had to define it I would probably call it something like A Source of Love That Is Not of This World.
This combination of things allowed me to take my dad’s advice, which in hindsight was super vague but at the time was exactly what I needed to hear: “Just keep the plane in the air.” I took this to mean “don’t drink” — I’m a sober alcoholic — and “don’t aim for a mountain, the turbulence will pass.” And it did. My life resembles very little today what it did three years ago. My ex and I are good friends. We’re both with partners who better suit our dispositions. I can now say what my past self would have thought impossible at the time, which is that I’m grateful for the whole experience.
For now, make yourself comfortable on a friend’s or family member’s sofa. Say a small prayer to a god you may not believe in (it doesn’t matter) for strength, humility, and the ability to see yourself and your situation anew. Radically inhabit the present moment with all its seeming imperfections.
Give your friends and family the gift of being able to let you lean on them for strength and support. Be honest with yourself and with them about your marriage. I predict that you will feel a small, maybe even barely perceptible but nevertheless there, feeling of relief when you stop participating in the lie that “everything is fine.”
Be honest with them too about your heart condition, your fears, your dread, your despair. This isn’t being “a burden”; it is being a human being in need of help, and it is a gift for them to help someone they love. Take life one tiny moment at a time. Do this, and you will realize you are not just going to be OK, but that you already are.
The Eve 6 Guy
“My Job Is My Entire Personality”
Dear Eve 6 Guy,
I’m currently a PhD student. I’m considering quitting, partly due to burnout. I feel like my program is preparing me for only one career track — staying in academia — and I’m not sure if I want that anymore.
I think there may be a similarity in our fields, although I’ve never been a musician of any kind. It feels like to be successful in my field, my job has to be my entire personality. Have you felt that, or am I just projecting based on media portrayals of the music industry? It seems like musicians also work ridiculous hours, go out of their way for opportunities, and have friends mostly within the industry. Those are all things I’m experiencing now and are among the reasons I don’t want to stay in academia.
Here’s the quick rundown of pros and cons. Pros: I only have two years left, I like my research, and I (sometimes) like teaching and mentoring students. Cons: The pay is bad, my university is in a shitty town in the Midwest, I (sometimes) hate teaching, and I’m very socially and professionally isolated. It’s also worth noting that transferring to a different school is not an option.
I’m definitely depressed overall — not just about my job. I’m not sure how to disentangle the job sadness from the life sadness. That’s probably partly because I have terrible work-life balance, but so does everyone else in academia! If it’s always going to be like this, why would I want to stay?
I’m trying to do things to mitigate my depression. I just started medication and I’m going to begin with a new therapist soon. I’m reaching out to geographically distant friends. I’m trying really hard to get back on track with my job, but I’m so far behind. I’m burned out, and the spark isn’t coming back despite the things I’m trying.
I’m not asking you straight up if I should quit or not. But…how do I decide? I have no real backup plan here. I have very little savings; I can’t afford to quit without a plan. But if I want out, how do I make that exit plan? Frankly, if I leave my PhD program, I want to switch career fields entirely. (Partly because I’d find it embarrassing to explain that I couldn’t hack it.) But how does that work? I have 10 years of experience in a niche field, where experiences don’t directly translate to other fields. I’m not a natural at spinning things or selling myself. All this might be more than one problem!
—Burned to a Crisp
Hi Burned to a Crisp,
You’ve quite charitably attempted to compare the rigors of being a PhD student to those of being an aging alternative rocker. Without taking too much away from my vocation, it’s important to point out that it’s really a hobby. Now you might say, “Eve 6 Guy, rambling down the road in a steel horse, saving lives with three chords and the truth is work too,” to which I would say: Sort of.
The truth is, there was a time when my job felt like work. During the first two record cycles, many moons ago, when our CDs were flying off the shelves and we were compelled by powers greater than ourselves — money, our record company, etc. — to stay on the road for years at a time and do every goddamn radio interview and in-store performance, that felt like work. The years afterward, which were spent trying to climb that hill again after precipitously tumbling down it, also felt like work.
I can’t point to an exact spot on the trail of indignities suffered by a band that was once pretty big trying to be big again where my ego became sufficiently smashed to allow a different outlook to creep in. But at some juncture, I realized that I was being spiritually ruled by the assumed perspective of others. When you’re a self-centered teenager in a rock band in 1998, you think, When people hear my songs, I will finally receive my due, which is to be universally accepted, understood, and adored.
I ran on grandiosity. Without it, I wouldn’t have had the audacity to feel like I belonged on a stage. You could not have convinced 17-year-old me that having a hit record wouldn’t solve all my “problems.” In truth, it’s where a lot of my problems began. It’s difficult to appraise that time of my life without bumping into a bunch of contradictions or, even worse, sounding ungrateful. But I’m grateful for all of it.
It’s one thing to hear a line like “You are not your work” and be like, Yeah, sure, OK, sounds kinda sorta abstractly true. It’s another thing entirely to really, genuinely know it.
The thing I’m most grateful for is that those early years of success, and even the rudderless floundering that followed, are what facilitated (and subsidized) my eventually becoming an artist many years after my band’s commercial success. I still balk at using the term “artist” self-referentially, but here’s what I mean by it. Today, I make songs with my bandmate Jon Siebels without any delusion that they will be commercially successful, simply because I want and need to make rock. The composition is about the transcendent thrill of the moment — nothing more, nothing less. Whether I end up digging the recording a few months later or not doesn’t matter. I don’t identify with it; it’s of a particular moment.
It’s one thing to hear a line like “You are not your work” and be like, Yeah, sure, OK, sounds kinda sorta abstractly true. It’s another thing entirely to really, genuinely know it. In my experience, you can’t just make a decision to assimilate this belief into your consciousness. There’s an old cliché — “You can act yourself into a new way of thinking but you can’t think yourself into a new way of acting.” That said, I’m going to wax philosophical for a moment before I give you a list of actions to take.
Who am I? What really matters to me? I am as I exist in relationship to others. Friends and family. To people I love who love me. Yeah, yeah, I know we live in a society, but for the purposes of this conversation I think it’s OK to be a little reductive. Do I really need people who know me merely by a designation (former sorta rock star) to confirm or deny my feelings about myself? No. Being overly concerned with the way others may or may not perceive you is a great way to become beholden to status and lose your creative true north.
I realized that I could jettison all preconceived notions about myself, my band, my career, and create my own avant-garde world free from the shackles of association.
Well, these days you can’t be a self-help guru without having numbered steps (plus I’m writing for BuzzFeed now, and you guys fucking love lists), so here are Eve 6 ways to shift your perspective through simple, if not always easy, action:
- Call at least one friend or family member per day to check in on how they’re doing. Call, not text.
- Read great fiction. Reading literature will help you get to know yourself. I find truths about the human condition to be best revealed in stories. We also live in a time when the limits of real imagination are felt acutely. Fiction is important.
- Find your “third place”: a destination point that is neither home nor work where you will be tricked into community in spite of yourself. For me, this is the public pool where I swim for miles with other masochists. We check in with each other. We ask each other how quitting smoking is going and stuff. Your third place can be anything from a rec center to a recovery group — it doesn’t matter. Just find a way to see familiar, honest faces and talk to them outside of work.
- I could’ve worked this into step 2 or 3, but there need to be six steps to adhere to the gimmick. Anyway: Host a movie night. This might sound corny, and it probably is, but do it anyway. This is something a friend of mine did when we were in early recovery together, and now my girlfriend and I do it. One or two friends is all you need. Provide refreshments and a Criterion selection. Art and community are the antidote to loneliness and atomization.
- Take the social risks necessary to find your people. What this amounts to really is being willing to say hello and ask people questions about themselves. Don’t throw your work acquaintances out with the bathwater. There may be coworkers whom you have more in common with than you realize. If not, though, that’s OK — just go back to step 3.
- Summon a gentle perspective toward yourself and others. Be quick to catch your mind in its knee-jerk judgments of people you come into contact with on a given day. Cultivating an equanimous view toward others, even those who might annoy you on the surface, is a good way to learn to offer yourself a similar grace. Our egos want to maintain the illusion that we are separate from our fellow human beings. Counter this by choosing to see good in people when you can. Choose to see the good in others, and you will more readily see it in yourself.
I want to commend you for starting to see a therapist and for getting on medication to help with your depression. This is awesome and shows you’re willing to advocate for yourself. As for your studies, I’m not going to tell you whether you should quit, and thankfully you didn’t ask me to. But before you make a final decision in that regard, try going through the steps outlined above to the best of your ability. And please report back to email@example.com in a couple months.
The Eve 6 Guy
Have a question for the Eve 6 Guy? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Your anonymity is guaranteed.) By doing so, you acknowledge and agree that any use and/or reliance on any information obtained through your email is at your own risk.