Hello from the other side

2021. It’s good to see you. It’s also good to see this blog, which I apparently haven’t updated in almost three years. So consider this a new start in all forms. We’re two days in to a new year and approaching some things that way has already helped me considerably.

There’s not a lot to say about 2020 that hasn’t already been said, and said ad nauseam. It was a pretty shitty year overall in a lot of ways. But the last few days, I have been thinking about it all and reflecting on where I was a year ago and all of the things I have learned and worked on since.

A year ago, I was planning for a good year. I was finally feeling really secure financially, I had ended a supremely toxic friendship a month before and was already feeling better about that decision and stronger emotionally. I was confident that I would be able to grow my skills and talents at work and had discussed my future career plans and goals with my bosses and the CEO. The PTSD from my hellish job before this current one was fading even more into the background. I had trips planned, I was counting the days to being an aunt for the second time. My Special Olympics basketball team was about to start what would prove to be an almost undefeated season and I was feeling good about where I stood with being involved at church and with the youth.

Then came March. As we sat three to an office, my coworkers (friends) and I discussed the possibility of this new virus and what that would mean for all of us. We were told we’d be shutting the entire office down and expected to be working from home for a couple of weeks while things got under control.

You know what happened next.

Y’all there’s normal anxious, and then there’s PANDEMIC ANXIOUS. And yes it’s in all caps because it feels like all caps all the time. Ya girl thrives on predictability, control, and taking care of other people. And this shit took all of that and threw it in a dumpster and lit it on fire.

Before I go further, I want to emphasize that this is my personal experience from the past year and no one else’s. I do not pretend to know how things were for you or your loved ones or anyone else. There are thousands and thousands of people who suffered through much more than my mental health and I did, and I do not wish to diminish that in any way by sharing my experience. I share because writing helps me understand and cope and because I hope in my sharing, others will feel safe to share their experiences and struggles too as it relates to mental health specifically. I also do not write this for pity or anything like that, more for processing, because this is one of the best ways besides therapy I know how to do that.

At the beginning, I wasn’t feeling terribly bad. I’d just had a mini-vacation to DC to stay with my friend Rachel, where we ate, played tourist, watched Netflix and my knee was scarred possibly for a lifetime due to some accidental Parkour. The idea of working from home for a couple weeks was welcomed. I didn’t have to drive across town every morning, I could work from my couch and in my pajamas. As someone who had been running fairly ragged with extracurriculars like coaching and youth group and book club and a social life in general, I was fine with the break, because I figured things would get back to normal soon.

Before 2020, I thought I was an extroverted introvert. NOPE. I’m an extroverted extrovert, it turns out. And after a few weeks of nobody’s company but my own, I was ready for normalcy again. But, again, we all know how that turned out.

My anxiety really started to ramp up in early April. My sister was about to give birth to my second nephew, Benjamin (more about him in a later post, he’s WONDERFUL), things were getting much more serious with the virus, and when the CDC released the list of at-risk people, I realized more than a few of my loved ones met that criteria. As someone who worries about everyone else basically for a living, that sucked.

We all stayed home, locked down, and used all the hand sanitizer and toilet paper we could find. Groups scheduled to tour with my family and I’s bourbon tour company cancelled left and right. Restaurants were closed – meaning they didn’t really need to be promoted on social media. Two sources of income – which kept me financially sound and comfortable – were gone. I started reading the news and consuming any news I could find, looking, essentially for an end date for all this. When would it be over?

My nephew arrived healthy and happy, and we had to wait a couple weeks before getting to meet him. My family was all safe and healthy and I was staying isolated so that I could still see my parents and sister and family.

Derby was cancelled. A summer trip planned to Europe was cancelled. A family reunion for late summer was cancelled. There was a possibility of major changes for a wedding I was set to officiate in October (more on that soon, too). They kept pushing back the office re-opening date.

But all of that pales in comparison to the other major events that took place and changed everything.

In May, news broke in my hometown about Breonna Taylor’s murder. Protestors filled the streets, and soon the world was focused on Louisville. And rightfully so. What happened to Breonna Taylor should never have happened. And her death helped bring to light just how far we still have to go in terms of racial equality. It sparked conversations worldwide and within families and friend groups about race, equality, justice, the law, and more.

I am in no way qualified or educated enough to speak to the issues of racial equality, systemic racism or just about any of the other issues brought up by her killing and subsequent protests. I will say it opened my eyes to a lot of things, made me incredibly angry, and ignited in me a desire to both learn and do better for those who are mistreated by the system, the laws, society and ignorant people. I am just disappointed in myself that it took until now to do so. I became blindingly aware of my own privilege and frustrated that I didn’t know what to do to be a better ally for those of all races, genders, socioeconomic status and sexual orientation.

So I got to educating myself. I checked my privilege, my blind spots, and took a hard look at my own behavior and responses to things. I am not even close to done learning, but I’ve started. And I will continue to learn and listen and do better in any way that I can.

As the year continued, there was more protesting and more virus spreading. It was hard to feel any kind of hope. The Zoom Happy Hours and Game Nights and virtual Scrabble and shit were long over, because why be on your computer/phone any more than you had to. The lines became blurred between work and home because when you work on your couch/in your guest room/at your dinner table, being done for the day is just a matter of closing your computer. And that’s it.

I started long-term dog-sitting for a friend’s pup in July, and while it helped to have another living thing in the house and something to take care of, he also doesn’t speak, so I was still craving human connection. I spent a lot of time with my parents, and with my sister, brother-in-law and nephews. I kept a fairly small group of people in my “bubble” and only hung out outside with anyone else, if at all.

My family and I were luckily able to go to the beach and remain socially distant from people for a week, which provided a change of scenery and much-needed togetherness. My parents and sisters made the tough decision to not attend my cousin’s wedding, where I would be officiating. I made plans to go, but with the caveat that I would not see anyone for 2 weeks after returning and getting tested.

My therapist will ask me a lot of the time in our sessions, “What do you have to look forward to?” And though it was crazy last year, for a long time there were things to look forward to in one way or another – whether it was a book club gathering spread out at the park or a chill holiday celebrated with a smaller group than usual.

And then came late October/most of November/early December. We’ll call that The Spiral. Now there are spirals throughout the year, tipped off here and there from some incident or another. Sometimes they’re ridiculous things (seriously), and sometimes they’re warranted. But this one was a doozy. (Doozie? Who cares.)

I felt it coming in a way – because I always feel the Seasonal Depression start acting up. It’s like clockwork. End of October I start getting really angry at little shit/for no reason. When I realize after two weeks it’s not due to my period, I remember the seasons are shifting and with it my mood. This year, we had the added issue of Pandemic Depression – not knowing when the end of all this would be, missing my people, uncertainty about the future in all kinds of ways. So, The Spiral. I started sleeping more. Napping more. Not caring too much. Sleep was my drug of choice because then I didn’t have to think about anything and would kill some time in the process. I’ll let you guess how that worked out.

It piled up for a while, with a few other outside forces not helping things, until I went over to my sister’s one night. She took one look at my face and asked if I was OK, and I started to get teared up and shook my head no. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. I talked to her, I talked to my mom, and I talked to my therapist. I made plans to stay at my parents’ house for almost a week to have company and a change of scenery. I stopped putting pressure on myself to do anything past the minimum it took to survive and get through the day. I watched seasons of The Great British Baking Show for like the fourth time through because it’s comforting as fuck and if you don’t believe me, turn it on and try not to feel all warm and safe and like everything will be OK.

My thinking in 2020 was all over the place. I thought I’d be so much more productive working at home. I’d start writing again. I’d complete some projects at my house. I’d cook more. I’d exercise more. I’d use the time I got back from things being cancelled to refresh. I thought trying online dating during a fucking pandemic was a good idea (get ready for that story soon..). For a couple weeks and in spurts some of those things happened and helped. But then we always ended up back at Square One – worrying about All The Things. Would I be healthy? Would my family be healthy? Would my job be OK? Would my company be OK? Would our family business stay afloat? Do I like being alone this much? Will I run out of stuff to watch on streaming services?

It took till just about the end of the year, but I realized there’s only so much (read: nothing, really) that I can control. What I can control is how I react and respond to things and situations. And some of that requires giving myself some grace.

At our last appointment, my therapist asked me what I had learned about myself in the past year. And it took a minute, for sure. But I think ultimately I learned that I can make it through some tough shit, mentally. (In case that wasn’t evident from THE JOB FROM HELL 2010-2015). I learned that I am definitely an extrovert and a people-person. I learned that I don’t have to do X, Y or Z to have had a successful day, week or even year. Simply making it through is an accomplishment.

I did, however, read 50 books, my Goodreads goal for the year. And I did a shit-ton of puzzles. I also spent an insane amount of quality time with my family, specifically my sweet nephews, that I would not trade for anything. I am so grateful to my family and my friends for helping pick me up all the times I was down, not just in 2020 but always. You all are the very best.

I spent yesterday being surprisingly productive and have set some goals for this new year, keeping in mind that like 2020 showed us, it could all just go to shit fairly quick. But I have learned to be nicer to myself, and gentler on myself, no matter what happens.

Oh and to try and read 55 books this year. BOOM.

Published by Laura

I've got a few stories to tell.

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