Grief: One Year In

Today was Day 6 of my self-isolation. I’ll be staying inside and removed from other people until I’ve passed the 14-day mark, just to make sure that I’m keeping everyone I love safe. After that, I’ll see my boyfriend, but he’ll be the only person. It’s been so hard to be away from him, but it’s the right thing to do.

Speaking of doing, though, I haven’t been doing much. In the end, I decided that it was healthier to use at least the first week to just relax and take things as they came, instead of rushing myself to plan and be “productive.” It feels like I’ve been doing the right thing for my mental health.

For the first three or four days, I was hovering on the edge of depression, and sleeping a lot. I had a binge eating episode the day before yesterday, too. But I woke up yesterday with more energy, and worked on a project and listened to my favorite podcast. Now I’m relatively calm, albeit bored. It feels like I’ll be in the right frame of mind by tomorrow to start putting together a plan for how I’m going to make it through this.

I’ve obviously had a lot of time to think, but what’s surprising is that I’m just not feeling that much anxiety around the coronavirus. I read all the news stories, tune in to the news at noon each day to see the new death count, and have been washing my hands like crazy. However, for a person who has suffered from extreme anxiety issues in the past, it’s been a little strange to watch my own general sense of collected calm in the face of this unprecedented moment in my life.

I’m beginning to realize that I have my dad to thank for that one, in a roundabout way. I follow a few grief-centric accounts on Instagram, and one of them, Refuge In Grief, posted something today that really resonated with me:

“Yesterday we talked about how many grieving people are feeling even worse right now. There’s a flip side to this that’s also normal. Since the coronavirus outbreak made the whole world turn sideways there are also lots of grieving people reporting that their lives don’t feel different at all. They’ve already experienced the panic they see non-grieving people expressing.” (Click here to see the entire post.)

Up until I read that, I was mystified as to why I was just kind of going about my life in the same way I have been. Literally the only things that I had any energy to think about were if my partner was taking the right steps to keep from getting sick, and if I was going to have enough craft supplies to keep myself occupied. I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the shock to wear away and the horror to arrive. Now I feel like it’s not going to. I just don’t have the energy for that kind of thing. It’s old news. I’ve felt all I can, and I’m going to move forward with living while that choice is still available to me.

As I was writing this last paragraph, I realized that today is the 1-year anniversary of my dad’s death. I talked to my Mum this morning, and we didn’t even discuss it. We talked about safety measures on grocery store runs, and how she was planning her budget carefully to attempt to not have to work for anyone else ever again. She seemed cheerful. I hope that’s true.

Earlier in the year, I was contemplating doing volunteer work at a hospice. I applied for a position, but never got a response. I think after this pandemic has run its course, I’ll apply again. I’m ready to help on that level.

I’ll be back here tomorrow. It’s time to get some steps in writing to keep me occupied until May.

Sleep

Oh how easily depression creeps back in.

Last Friday was my last day on the job. I was furloughed until May 22nd. I don’t have a backup savings to get me through this, but luckily I will receive some disaster pay, some PTO days, and hopefully the government payout that they’ve been fighting over on Capitol Hill for the last week. After all, bills go on, even if work does not. I’m trying not to think about what’s going to happen when I have no more resources, and everyone around me is in the exact same boat.

Though I guess I should be worried, if not about the coronavirus, then about my economic safety, instead, I’m mostly just sleepy and irritated. I find myself going right back to the old staples of my last few years as a single, depressed person – isolation, junk food, television. The only difference is that now, it’s not just me hiding out from the world. Everyone I know is stuck in their houses, which means that every extrovert I know is stuck in their house, which means that my phone is ringing off the hook with bored extroverts aiming to amuse themselves under the guise of “just checking in.”

I try to remain grateful that I have friends who care, but really I just want to be left alone to sleep through this, and every new “DING!” of a text/call/comment has me racing down the tracks towards blowing up relationships just to get a moment’s peace. Tomorrow I’ll find a solution, but for now I’m just putting my phone on silent and ignoring my social media feeds.

For the last two days, I had steady pressure/pain in my lungs (particularly my right lung) but no trouble breathing. Today I have a pounding headache, and am lethargic, at best. I still have my sense of smell, and don’t have a fever, so I’m guessing it’s simply a physical manifestation of my boredom. Still, I don’t feel inclined to fight it off by pretending to be pepped up and positive. I will wallow until I’m done wallowing, and move on at that point.

Last week, I told myself that I could have five days to do whatever the hell I wanted, with no expectations. Right now, that’s what I’m doing. When I feel like getting out of bed, I do. When I feel like sleeping, I do. When I feel like eating, I do. I just really wish that someone would leave a pack of Cadbury Mini Eggs at my door. I’m craving Easter candy like none other, and tbh I’m just not willing to risk my life with a trip to CVS.

My lovely, kind-hearted boyfriend is still struggling to keep his company working through this shutdown. He is beside himself with worry about what will happen to his employees if he can’t afford to pay them. I don’t have any ideas, or suggestions. I’m at a complete loss. It hurts to hear him hurting. I wish that there was something that I could do. Next week I will work on his website and social media, because it’s something I know I can accomplish. But that’s all. It feels flimsy. I feel flimsy.

The world is completely insubstantial right now. There doesn’t seem to be any point in getting out of bed, so I’m going to go back to sleep now.

Silver Lining

Two days ago, I wrote about the doors I felt were closed or closing, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I certainly don’t think that things are going to get any easier out in the world any time soon. However, what transpired over the last two days that I had off from work was something miraculous and good, so I wanted to share that with you, too.

At the beginning of the weekend, I was feeling in shock, numb, and pretty much separated from my emotions. I worked a wedding on Saturday night, and on Sunday, I woke up, gathered my things, and went over to my partner’s house, where he had planned a small St. Patrick’s Day get-together. As it turned out, most guests cancelled, so we ate a good meal with a couple of friends, and then when they left, we spent the day being intentional and kind with each other, talking about the future, just working on US as a couple. It was so good for me, and I think for him, too. We needed a chance to just focus on taking care of each other and ourselves, in the midst of all of this uncertainty.

I stayed over that night, then spent the day at his house yesterday. I cleaned the kitchen, did a bunch of laundry, pruned the overgrown rose bushes on the front lawn, planted some herbs, and studiously ignored phone, email, and social media. By the time he returned from work in the evening, I was pleasantly exhausted, and ready to just relax. He made us dinner while I enjoyed a little spa mask time and cuddled with the dogs on the couch. Somewhere in there, I looked across the room, watched him cooking, and my heart burst open with happiness. I am so in love with this man. This is my person. This is the one I’m going to spend my life with.

On Sunday night, while we were talking and cuddling, just holding hands and musing about the world and our place in it, he chuckled and kissed my hand, then smiled and stared into the distance for a second. I asked him what he’d just thought about. He said, “You know, I just realized that I can’t think of another person I’d rather be standing with at the end of the world.”

Same. No matter what tomorrow brings, I know that I have been the luckiest woman on earth to have these simple moments with you, Dan. I wish there were some other word that was bigger than “love” – my body is overflowing with this knowledge of you, of us, of who I am because of you. Thank you, forever, from the bottom of my heart.

Closing Doors

The nature of the beast: uncertainty.

This time last week, I was beginning to bounce back from a mild case of the flu. By Sunday, I was fine, and on Monday I returned to work, thinking only of the crazy month ahead. March in the events world was jam-packed with meetings, parties, and other gatherings. Looking forward, I knew that I’d never make it through my entire to-do list each day. I was exhausted, just thinking about how I was going to manage the workload to come.

On Tuesday, the cancellations began. By Friday, nearly every single group that I had coming between March 16th and May 1st had called to cancel. The city cancelled all large-scale gatherings over 250 people, which means festivals are cancelled and postponed all the way through the summer. This city depends on tourism to survive. I’m a lucky(ish) outlier; now that I work for an international corporation, I have at least the semblance of job security. I’ll probably even be able to work from home, if it comes to that. However, this city is full of service industry professionals, entertainers, and freelancers who are going to be destroyed by these closures, including many of my staff, who only work when we have an event in-house.

Even with my “posh” corporate job (meaning that for the first time in my adult life, I have a steady paycheck that’s enough to pay my bills, including health benefits and retirement), I’m still living paycheck to paycheck. I can only begin to imagine what it’s like right now for people with a service job that gets them $2.13/hour plus tips and only keeps you working shifts when there are tourists in town to feed. Let’s not even imagine the people with kids, who now have to figure out some form of childcare solution in place of now-cancelled school in order to be able to go to their job.

Even with my good job, my hours have still been cut. I’m going to be down to four days a week for now, and that could change at the drop of a hat, to be honest. I worry that as the most junior member of my team, I might be the first person to go if someone has to be furloughed. I’m resourceful, and have always prided myself on being able to find work, but now I’m just not sure what I’d do. I couldn’t even turn to a basic service position; the market will be flooded with desperate waiters and front desk associates.

In the face of this giant problem, I’m finding that my mind is beginning to shut down. It feels a hell of a lot like I did a year ago, when my father died. I am unable to access a portion of myself; the door is firmly shut. I find myself outside, staring in. The emotion is just not there yet. I think I might be in shock.

The worst part of all of this, to be honest, is that my partner really needs me to step up for him now, and I’m finding that I’m feeling emotionally stupid right now. A week ago, life was going pretty good. His new company was firmly off the ground, and work was starting to pick up. Now he’s worried about the state of his company, and if work will dry up. On top of that, his elderly father is under mandatory quarantine at his retirement home, where there have been several confirmed cases in the past couple of days. Luckily, his dad lives in a really nice place, where he has his own apartment and wonderful catered meals daily, but it’s a month shut away from the world, with his neighbors falling ill around him. Isolation is so hard on seniors, and this is an even more stressful situation. My partner is understandably devastated to not be able to see his dad, but it’s in everyone’s best interest.

I’m so numb that I’m having trouble accessing my typically boundless stores of empathy. I could really use a little of my own guidance right now for how to best be of service, but I just can’t see the path ahead. The best I can do is call, ask questions, offer myself up as a sounding board, and let him know that he’s loved and that I’m here to be his safety net. It’s interesting to write this and know without a doubt that I’m capable of that task, but not really feeling confident about how I’m going to take care of myself, mentally, emotionally, even physically.

For the moment, the door to that knowledge is closed. I only have so much energy, and none of it can be devoted to worry or self-pity. There are people to love. Let’s get working on that, and the rest will just have to figure itself out.

Getting Sick

It turns out that I have the flu. At 38, it’s the first time I’ve ever been diagnosed with the flu, but now that I’m experiencing this, I can’t be certain that I’ve never had it before. That’s worrisome, and also a great illustration of how illness spreads so quickly through the crowd. Apparently where I’m concerned, the flu looks almost exactly like seasonal allergies. In fact, I have no fever, coughing, body aches, congestion, trouble breathing, or tiredness. My only symptom is that I just can’t stop sneezing, and that’s what finally drove me to the urgent care center today. Nothing I’d tried was putting a dent in the sneezing, and it was making me dizzy.

The funny thing about going to the doctor because you can’t stop sneezing is that you get a lot of “oh seriously?” looks when you show up and explain that you’re hoping to get help for this thing that’s presenting as either the mildest of colds or the most irritating of reactions to pollination. I even apologized when meeting the nurse and doctor, knowing full well that I was wasting their time by taking up space on the exam table.

The doctor patiently asked me about my symptoms, listing out all sorts of things that I wasn’t experiencing. I explained that my boyfriend and I both started getting a slight cough on Saturday, and by Sunday he was in bed with a 103 fever, while merely I hovered at 99.5 for an hour or two (which, to be fair, is three degrees over my baseline temp of 96.2), then recovered. I was completely better by the next day, but my boyfriend remained slightly under the weather. I chalked it up to him having a bad cold, and moved on.

I had a couple of instances on Monday where I felt maybe a little warmer than normal, but it wasn’t something I’d categorize as feverish, and it wasn’t for very long. Also, I’ve been tired and emotional all week, but that’s not uncommon, since it’s been a long festival season, my work hours are crazy, and I haven’t had any alone time to recharge my introvert energy stores. At the end of the doctor’s line of questioning, he asked how long I’d had allergies, and I explained that I never had them, but that was the only solution I could imagine, that maybe I was starting to develop them later in life. He laughed, and went to test the samples the nurse had swabbed.

I sat alone in the exam room for a minute, feeling foolish for even having come in to the urgent care for something so simple as sneezing and a slightly runny nose. Then the door opened, and the nurse popped her head back in. “Are you sure you never had body aches, and that you only had the fever for a little while on Sunday?”

I told her yes. The door closed again. I started to be moderately concerned.

A few minutes later, the doctor came back in with a bemused expression. “Guess who has the flu?” He told me that he’d never seen a flu patient as peppy as I was.

Now here’s the thing – I’ve felt MUCH worse at other times in my life. In general, I’ve been pretty lucky as an adult to be healthy, overall, but every few years I’ve had a “really bad cold” or a “sinus infection” that I just couldn’t kick. Because I didn’t have health insurance until three years ago, I didn’t go to the doctor for that stuff. I just took over the counter meds, bought a bunch of tissue, and struggled through it. Most of the time, I didn’t even take off from work, because I couldn’t afford to lose the hours.

In fact, my boyfriend, the one with the 103 fever, doesn’t have health insurance right now. On Saturday, when we first were feeling a little ill, we chatted a little about my health insurance, and how ridiculously affordable it is compared to most people’s plans. I wanted to say “marry me, so you can have my health insurance.” That would be so much easier. I wouldn’t worry about him getting sick, because he could go to the urgent care for a $5 copay, like I did today. Instead, this week he struggled through, not knowing that he most likely had the flu. It wouldn’t have mattered, either way, though. He couldn’t afford to take off from work. He’s got a shop with employees who need direction, manual labor that must be accomplished, and client meetings that must stay on schedule if his crew are going to get the work and get paid.

Tonight I’m home with my cats. I brought my work computer home, so I’ll be here at my office on the couch tomorrow, answering emails, taking cell phone calls from clients. Luckily, work isn’t too crazy tomorrow, so it hopefully won’t hurt me too much in the end to take a little bit of a break. I did have to reschedule my tattoo that was supposed to happen tonight, as well as my permanent eyeliner that was supposed to happen tomorrow. But that’s OK. I’ll be keeping people safe from my germs, as I take my Tamiflu and eat my chicken soup.

I won’t lie; I’m thinking about this ridiculous coronavirus media circus as I sit here, sniffling. So far this flu season, the CDC estimates that about 18,000 people have died from the disease. It is well-documented that the flu can progress to pneumonia, and is very dangerous for children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. It is a killer, it is HERE, and it has been here for a LONG TIME. It also mutates – that’s one of the reasons that it’s so important to get your yearly flu shot (which I did not do this year, by the way). But yet, here we are, freaking out about the coronavirus while we barely worry about the flu. For both of them, there’s not much to do besides wash your hands, try to stay away from sick people if you’re well, and try to stay away from healthy people if you’re sick. I wish the media would take the time to tamp down the fear-mongering just a little. We have enough real shit to worry about here, as it is. There’s no need to manufacture any additional drama.

Sticking It To Myself

In 2019, I named most of my monthly wrap-up posts after Beatles songs, so I’m going to continue that trend in 2020 with Jonathan Coulton songs. I’ll save you the agony of me waxing poetic over my love of JoCo, but I’ll say this – if you’ve got a dark sense of humor and an appreciation for pop culture, this guy’s music will seriously improve your life. I survived the onslaught of 2018/2019 on a steady diet of JoCo and They Might Be Giants, and will forever hold both bands in high esteem. They quite literally saved my life.

This particular song appeals to me for multiple reasons. First off, it’s just spot-on when it comes to the mental process that accompanies joining the corporate rat race. It’s a peculiar feeling to see your life slipping away as you struggle towards these arbitrary goals that ultimately have nothing to do with who you aspire to be. Secondly, on a much more literal level, today and tomorrow I’ll be getting “stuck” with a couple of tattoos. Anyway, enjoy!

As for my recap of how I worked towards my 2020 Bold Goals in February:

  1. Work on becoming a better communicator. I started going to a therapist on a weekly basis, to help get some of this gunk out in the open. It’s going well? I don’t know. It’s a weekly talking session. I’m frequently frustrated and emotional. We’ll see.
  2. Volunteer. I haven’t done anything on this yet.
  3. Nurture my relationship. It’s been a rough couple of months, between our work schedules, me being an emotional wreck, and now we’re both sick, so that’s fun. All we can do is work at it every day, and I’m happy to say that we’re on the same page in this regard. Last night I was so tired that I begged out of a planned dinner date, but he took the time to come over and just spend an hour talking about our day, which felt so good. I love that. I love him. I love us.
  4. Dance! I’m still going to Chorus Girl practices, and will perform this session. After my little meltdown the other night, I honestly don’t know if I have it in me to dance next session, but we’ll see. I would really like to try flamenco, this year, too.
  5. Make two new friends. We’ve still got 9 months for this. I can do it.
  6. Go on at least five camping trips. We just went on our first scheduled camping trip of the year last weekend! Tbh, it wasn’t exactly what either of us had hoped for (the site was muddy, there were way too many people out at the park, the dogs were needy af and kind of trying both of our nerves, and then we both got sick and had to cut the trip short), but there were still some fun moments, and the trip wasn’t a complete bust. We went to the lake and the farmer’s market, made couple of really tasty meals over the fire, and spent a quiet afternoon just hanging out and not working, and all of these things were really necessary.
  7. Sew three projects. Haven’t started this yet.
  8. Learn to do bead embroidery. I’ve sewn two projects so far, and am working on a third. I’m sorry that I can’t share pictures or any info, as two of the things are going to be used for a present that I’m making, so I’m trying to keep it secret-ish. That being said, it’s fun and easy, and the people that I’ve shown the finished things to are impressed, so I feel like this is a thing that I could one day get good at.
  9. Read 52 books. I’ve read four books, and am WAY behind now.
  10. Pay off my debts. I’m working at this. I just paid off a credit card and some back taxes, and have one more credit card to pay off, then I will start paying off a loan. I’m in a much better spot than I was in at the start of the year, but there’s a long way to go. I’m also trying to really watch my spending, which has been hard this last month since so many people I know from out of town have come to visit, and it has made it harder to be frugal. I’m looking forward to March and April being quieter, in that regard. It should help.
  11. Buy a vehicle. Still in my thoughts, but no action just yet.
  12. Make a home. My lease ends in May, and I’d like to move to a new place by then. I have an idea of what I’d like this to look like, but I’ll keep you posted.
  13. Learn something new every month. In January, I learned bead embroidery. In February, I taught myself how to make butter, install a toilet seat cover, and Dan taught me about some of the power tools in his shop. In March, I’m going to make cheese.
  14. Publish the Camino memoir. It’s time. It’s been five years. Get it done.
  15. Get two tattoos. On Monday, I went to the tattoo parlor with my best friend Jess to get little tattoos together. Instead, we got her a little tattoo of a lizard on her hand (so cute!) and then I changed my mind entirely and started working with the artist to get a really big tattoo. I stopped by the shop last night to look at the art, and love it. Tonight, I’ll go in and actually get inked. I’ll write about it in the next couple of days, but let it suffice to say that it’s going to be something of great importance, a piece devoted to my dad. Then, tomorrow, I’m going to get permanent eyeliner with my friend Amy! Not at all afraid of tonight, but a little bit apprehensive of my eyes swelling shut tomorrow. Fingers crossed!

Failure

Have you ever been in one of those moments where you’re feeling pretty good about life and how you fit in it, and suddenly, just out of the blue, have that mood ABSOLUTELY FUCKING CRUSHED? That happened to me tonight.

I was apprehensive to go back to dance class tonight, since I’d missed the last two weeks of classes (though last week was cancelled because of Mardi Gras – I’m not a complete slacker!). After some mental back and forth, I talked myself into going. First off, the teachers are very positive and supportive, no matter the skill level of the participants. It’s no pressure, and that, in turn, makes me less likely to get nervous and screw things up. Secondly, there are other people there who aren’t perfect, and they’re being brave and doing it – why can’t I?

And then there’s the fact that I desperately need the exercise, and really enjoy dancing, even if I don’t look as cute as my teachers or graceful as the other girls. I’m not the only awkward-looking girl out there, and this isn’t about being good. It’s not about comparing myself to others. It’s about having the guts to go out there and do a thing, even if I suck, and to keep doing it until I learn that I don’t need to be perfect at a thing to be allowed to enjoy it.

Tonight, the teacher started us with a brand new part of the routine, and we were learning from scratch. No need to feel bad about things unremembered, because we weren’t even going over that material. Here’s a chance to do something from the start! I was wearing a funky outfit that made me feel cute and emphasized (to me, at least) how much weight I’ve lost. It also emphasized my poor posture, and how my shoulders curve in to protect my heart. I noticed this, and practiced throwing my shoulders back and down like we learned in ballet. My neck elongated. My torso extended. I looked graceful in the mirror. I felt good.

We practiced the new part of the routine, and I was doing pretty well. I silently congratulated myself on getting so many things right in a row, a combination of muscle memory and my brain just naturally counting 8’s all the time, no matter what’s happening, whatever I’m doing. I can always find the beat. I may not have a ton going for me, but I know where I am in relation to the music, right? I’m inside it. It’s inside me.

We went over the entire end of the song, for an hour and a half, and it was nearly time to go, but one of the teachers wanted to record a video of the practice. She announced that the other teacher would record, to which the other teacher made a concerned sound. They conferred in whispers. I was on the front row, right beside them, so I could overhear them, or at least I fancied I could. What I thought I heard was one of the teachers – the one that I look up to the most, I should add – saying that she didn’t want to video this run-through because of Anna (me). I was at the end of the line, closest to the camera. I’m the fuck up. Of course she wouldn’t want to do the practice video with me front and center. My heart sank through the floor.

After a second, the teacher with the camera announced that there would be two videos – one video of footwork, where she’d walk around the group, and then the next time we ran through the routine, she’d take an overall video of the entire group. This confirmed it for me – the next time we’d switch lines, and I’d be back at the back again. Of course she was waiting until I was out of the frame.

The music started, and all of a sudden this routine that I’d just been feeling pretty awesome about was foreign. I had no clue what was going on. I missed my steps – the majority of them. I wanted to cry, but held it together. The music ended, I took a break and took a swig of water, giving myself stern directions to just hold it together for one more run-through. The next time through, I was at the back of the group, and I was fine, overall. But it stung. I felt that old familiar feeling of my gaze stuck to the floor. Shame. Aloneness. That knowledge that everyone had been merely pitying me, and that my failure was glaringly obvious to everyone other than me.

I have faith that both teachers are really kind, and that I misunderstood what was being said. Most likely, the conversation wasn’t “I don’t want to video because this clod is going to fuck it up,” and was more, “I don’t think Anna is comfortable being videoed.” Which might be an easy assumption to make, especially seeing as how, once the camera was turned on me for the first runthrough, I froze and lost confidence.

But it’s not about the camera at all. It’s not about the crowd. It’s about my perception of myself, and my perception of how others perceive me. I feel like a failure, so I make up ways to keep believing it. In truth, I simply can’t believe that this ridiculously kind, funny, GOOD teacher said anything disparaging about me, especially within five feet of me. I wouldn’t ever treat someone like that, and I know enough of her by now to know that she’s actually nicer than I am. It’s just not true, and I have to find a way to not let it eat me alive.

I’m crying on my couch as I write this. I’m heartbroken, even though it’s a false narrative. But I will be triumphant. I will dance, goddamn it.