2020 is not the year of writing, or blogging, or anything remotely about the year-of-tuning-back-into-me I thought it would be.
No, no, this year has been a pretty big year of fuckery beyond the total fuckery the decade before it was for me.
We’d booked our annual trip back to America to see my family and friends at the beginning of this year, before COVID-19 had supposedly escaped beyond China’s borders. We were meant to visit Chicagoland towards the end of August through until the beginning of October.
A pandemic struck and laid waste to those plans pretty quickly.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t struggling to deal with not only the fact that I would not be seeing the family and friends I love so much this year but also the possibility I won’t be seeing them for another year (at the most optimistic of estimates) or for many more years (at the more pessimistic of estimates). Either way, it will be too long.
I am haunted by the events of today.
A step back to frame the day: my colleague Paula was quite injured in an accident years ago. Her physical health has been declining significantly in the last few years I have known her to the point that she had to be very doped up on a cocktail of pain medication to function from day-to-day. To see this decline in a person I am very fond of has been difficult, and I do admit I get short sometimes in the seemingly abnormal ways this pain medication makes her approach tasks at work, but on a broader scale, the way this medication and pain has eroded the person I first met nearly half a decade ago has been shocking.
After a long battle with The Powers That Be to get surgery to finally correct the issues causing the pain and the need for all that pain medication, Paula finally received the news she was waiting for: an operation to hopefully stop, if not pull back a few steps, the degeneration going on inside her body.
There was no question in my mind that she needed to get the surgery. It was almost serendipitous timing, with the pandemic stopping our trip back home to the States and allowing her to get her surgery.
During her time away, I took over many aspects of Paula’s role as well as my own. As a person who deals with the students in her day-to-day role, Paula left big shoes to fill.
Today is three weeks since her last day in the office pre-surgery.
The first thing this morning, even before I had arrived at work, the school cell phone was receiving texts and a voice mail . One of the students we have had attendance issues with had her mother call. I called back as soon as I could — I ended up at the post office this morning to send my United States General Election ballot since their system was unable to process it yesterday afternoon, so I was late getting into work as was — and found out this student could be having major issues with her classmates. The student would be late; could I keep an eye out for her (her tutor and I decided) and talk with her before letting her go into class?
She arrived about 15 minutes late. When I went to grab her from reception, her eyes were puffy and swollen. She’d been crying, and I asked her to join me in my office but I reiterated she wasn’t in trouble.
The conversation lasted about half-an-hour. She has been struggling with her depression, and I could tell that struggle and the conversation were the truth. Her battle mirrored my own in a lot of ways. At one point, I told her that the last time I saw my counselor, it was a beautiful, clear, warm, sunny day, and I told him I couldn’t understand how I could be so blue on such a wonderful day. The day before –raining and cold and blue itself — was something I could deal with better. (I did not talk about the raining day with the student, just the sunny one.) The student replied that that was how she felt. How could a rainy day speak so much clearly and deeply to her soul, she wondered aloud to me. And I confirmed that is how I felt too. There were a hundred more things I could have said, but I seem to be older and wiser now, so I am happy in listening more than speaking, so I listened.
She felt better after our talk. I don’t want to get into it all, because of her privacy as well as mine, but that 30 minutes made me understand her a lot better, and she understood me a lot better too. But it also haunted me to some deep spaces within me too because they struck a chord with me.
I had counselling this afternoon. I had cancelled my session two weeks ago as Paula was newly away and doing aspects of her work and trying to catch up on mine was overwhelming to say the least.With working the two positions, I have been more tired emotionally and mentally than usual, and this has caused me to be more emotional, I feel. That has worked to my advantage in trying to stomp out some of the harsher edges of depersonalisation. But I noticed that some of the emotions were around grief and sorrow from years ago I thought I had handled or coped with but was lying to myself about. With some of those emotions came sharp pangs of anxiety at random times. Not a fun combination.
I started the session about talking about the student I wrote about earlier — I seem to circle into the subject I end up discussing, not too sure about how to tackle what I feel I need to talk about — but it ended up (rather quickly) with me talking about grief and how by putting up a mask of indifference or lack of emotion is a front for the emotional turmoil within me.
Something during the week triggered one of these grief-filled moments, and I decided to put this forward as an example.
Our Chihuahua Levi (for whatever reason) thought the sun rose and set in me. As he got older and he became head doggy in our household, he relied a lot more on me it seemed. I heard many times that I was his world and that was why he was so dependent on me. That increased the duty of care I felt for him. I don’t want to say my love for him increased, because I always loved him as I love all of our fur children.
In his sunset years, we had a routine. Get home from work, and he would be at the bathroom door, scratching at it and whining in anticipation until I came out after I got changed. His tail would wag a million miles an hour as if I had been missing for a million years.
He’d sit on my lap for some of the evening until we had dinner. Then it was time for him to have dinner. And, from his blanket near the fireplace and across a walking area from where I was sitting, he’d look at me and then rest knowing I wasn’t too far away before putting himself to bed.
Our bed ritual included me tucking him in. He would love that a lot because it involved a lot of petting, cuddling, and kisses. Bless his lion-sized heart in a small dog’s body.
He had a weak heart. We knew this.
One weekend, his little heart started giving up on him. On Sunday evening, we called our vet, and she agreed to meet us at the veterinary clinic to possibly say good-bye.
Our worst fears were confirmed; his heart was basically falling apart with every beat, just like his sister’s had a few years before. It was time to say good-bye before something worse happened to him.
Levi growled at everyone except me. He’d seemed to have lost a lot of recognition and cognitive function with reduced blood flow to his brain with his heart failing.
You know what? He only wanted me. Just me.
I held him close and steady and spoke reassuring words even though my heart was breaking inside and my anxiety was high. Some higher power gave me strength and wisdom to know that these were his last moments, and during those moments, I needed to give him as much love and assurance and calm as I could give as he made his journey onwards.
Levi died in my arms.
That is something that I struggle with every single day.
The vet gave him medication to help him relax, and then more medication to humanely let him pass, but all that time, I was in physical contact with him, telling him he was being a good boy and I loved him very much.
Today during counseling? I sobbed very deeply.
It has been a long time since I have cried like that, and I think my counselor was even startled by the depth of the grief I have around Levi’s passing, and many other things too.
We moved on to other human-to-human relationships in a similar way. These were more complex as there are a wide range of emotions around those relationships. And I don’t want to get too into that conversation, but it involved grief too, some from a while back now, and the complexity of emotions around it.
By the end of the session, I was burned out. It was far more emotions than I have dealt with in a while, but I felt far more human for it too.
This, I said to my counselor, is how I need and want to feel. Human. I want to feel human. The good, the bad, the ugly. All of it.
The depersonalization was creeping in at times though. This feeling like someone had injected my forehead with botox to remove all the feeling. That, I said, was something I can’t deal with.
So we will see where we go from here.
There’s a lot of grief and regret and tons of other negative emotions in there to make it nice and complex, but I’m hoping I’m emerging into the other side of being more human again.