Sojourn In the Nation of Hiber

Journal entry, 01/10/17: Darkness covers the land; I am stale and sullen. My eyelids are heavy, my head aches constantly, and all I can coax myself to eat is chocolate, with an occasional potato chip on the side. Where am I, and when will this torture end?!

Journal entry, 01/13/17: Today is Friday the 13th. With an unexpected blessing of good luck, I have managed to reestablish my bearings, and find myself in the south-eastern portion of the Midwestern United States, immersed deeply in what is historically known as “the bleak mid-winter.” The dark sky greets me as I wake each morning, and accompanies me on my drive to work, then returns to travel home with me at the end of a long day. If I don’t have to work, I sleep until the sky takes on a gray, muted pseudo-brightness, which fills the heart with the kind of joy that might be elicited by a bowl of lukewarm, soupy gruel…as a matter of fact, you could say that the sky is a lukewarm bowl of soupy gruel. It would be the perfect metaphor. Once a week, I drag my weary bones out from under the covers and go out to forage for necessities. Sometimes, during the day, I get a vague impression of sunlight filtering through the fog, and maybe even a fleeting glimpse of a bright, globe-ish type object struggling to shine through the heavy haze of cloud cover in the sky. It is hard to say, for sure, as my eyesight has grown weak and blurry from living like a troglobite, which is the scientific name for people who live in Cincinnati during the winter. If you look this word up, you might read otherwise, but trust me on this one. Cincinnati is dark and lifeless throughout most of January, all of February, and a good deal of March. If we ever got any respectable snow cover at all, the world around us would take on a decided brightness, with the ground acting as a giant, natural reflector, but does this happen?! NO! We get freezing cold weather, but the longed-for, powdery precipitation heads to our north or south or east. The most we can count on in that category is freezing rain, which you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy (…okay, well….maybe your worst enemy might deserve such a thing, if they were pure evil). As soon as it warms back up again (a chart of Cincinnati winter temperatures resembles the course of a terrifying roller coaster ride), the moisture-laden clouds head straight for us, and dump buckets of rain upon our cracked and crumbling routes of transport. I must struggle to carry on, while keeping my weakened eyes peeled for man-eating potholes.

Journal entry, 01/17/17: I have seen the sun in all its glory! At least, I think it was the sun. It might have been a hallucination, not unlike an oasis in the dessert, but I’m pretty sure it was not a dream. The world around me felt a little warmer, and I had to dust off my sunglasses before heading to the outer world. I chanced to look up into the sky. I’ve heard that you should never look directly at the sun, but I felt the need to assure myself that it was real. Suddenly, my pulse quickened, and I was acutely aware of the blood rushing though my veins. I have a feeling that my reaction might have been akin to receiving IV fluids when you are suffering from dehydration. The sunlight was my medicine, and I came back to life, slowly but surely. Alas, thanks to the loss of Daylight Savings Time in the winter, my curative antidote left me at around 5:30 pm, and gloom descended once again.

Journal entry, 01/21/17: I am struggling to sharpen my senses enough to make one last entry in this journal. I am barely holding on, and I believe there is not much time left. If I send this communication out into cyber space, maybe some kind and compassionate soul will send more chocolates, or perhaps even one of those light therapy boxes. However, I am not sure that the post office is even making regular deliveries anymore, in this dystopian, lightless society into which we have been submerged. Mail carriers are certainly suffering just as much as I. Perhaps I should be leaving chocolates out for my mail carrier. At any rate, it no longer matters. I am giving up, and going to bed. Grizzly bears and hedgehogs have the right idea, and although I might not be able to master their sleeping patterns perfectly, I can certainly come close. All I need is a giant stack of good movies (or, Netflix on my Ipad…but a giant stack of movies sounds better), a few bags of my favorite Dove and Ghiardelli chocolates, a crate of potato and tortilla chips (non-GMO, of course!), plenty of tea bags, frozen meals for the family to survive on, and a good stock of tissues and toilet paper. I am pretty sure that everything else I would need to survive a hermit-like existence is right here in my house. Chances are, I’ll be bored to tears in about two weeks anyway, and the neighbors will notice a zombie-like creature staggering out of our front door, blinking in the sunlight. They’ll recognize a severe case of cabin fever, because, as it turns out, human beings are NOT designed for hibernation. Suffering through the winter woes is just a way to help us better appreciate the other seasons of the year, and the lack of other natural disasters that occur elsewhere in the world. So, I guess I’ll just head off to work tomorrow morning, as usual, longing for spring, and being thankful that there are (most likely) no devastating earthquakes, avalanches, or hurricanes headed my way. But, I will definitely be keeping a wary eye out for those man-eating potholes!

Dusting Off the Ashes

My return to normalcy has been slow and steady. Oh, sure – some days it seems like New Year’s Day was just a week or so ago (and, just in case you’re wondering, I’m talking about the “new” year of 2016!), but when I try to reflect on the past twelve months, my life blurs into one mad rush of “what-the-hell-just-happened-and-how-did-I-survive-it” scenario. We all go through times like this: long, drawn out seasons of challenge and change and confusion.

Such times are difficult, but necessary. When in the midst of these arduous passages, I often wonder if I will ever come out again on the other side. Time slows to a sloth-like progression, and daily responsibilities loom like treacherous storm clouds on the horizon. Despair casts its net, and I fight it with all I’ve got, trying to avoid being tripped up and dragged down. “Hang in there just ONE…MORE…DAY,” becomes my daily mantra, while my constant friends, hope & faith, try to remind me that this trailblazing, uphill climb is leading somewhere worthwhile. Each day takes me further and further afield, and I grow weary trying to find my own way back to where I’d like to be. What frustrates me the most in these situations is that I feel like I was listening, that God had made His plan very clear to me, and His guiding hand had gone before me. But the place I ended up didn’t seem all that great, and God was suddenly, suspiciously, quiet. I’ve been here before, but still, I always have to remind myself…often – this is where trust comes in to play. Trust is often referred to as “faith in action.” With genuine trust, people are able to get up every day and do what needs to be done, and those whose paths intersect with them do not see a lost soul – they see a person carrying their own particular cross, who acts with compassion, empathy, good humor, and hope, spreading the light of faith, in spite of the trials. I believe that I was able to do this. From the things that I shared, close friends and family knew that I was going through a difficult time, but I tried hard to give my best to those I served each and every day. (To keep this honest, however, I must confess that while I was hanging out at home, I was sometimes crabby, I played a lot of games on my Ipad, and I slept more than usual, with my cat on my lap. And creative pursuits, like blog writing and crafting, were stored on a dark shelf in the dungeon.)

Fast forward now to New Year’s 2017. Exactly how I got here is a fuzzy mix of images, but at least I have arrived safely, and the storm clouds that tormented me for months are now but a distant memory. My hard fought battle with uncertainty and anxiety has been won, and I’ve come to a land of quiet joy and peaceful beauty. I recognize this country, because…I’ve been here before as well. It is the place I stumble upon when I have won the fight, when I have refused to give up. Upon arriving in such surroundings, it always seems much too bright. I blink my eyes, wandering around in a daze, trying to get my bearings. Sometimes, quite honestly, it takes a while to realize that I am in a better setting. The transition from feeling bewildered and alone is difficult to shake off – I’ve gotten used to it, and am not sure that I want to let it go, just yet. Slowly, the sun warms my bones and sharpens my senses. I look back to the west, into the valley through which I have labored, and I am struck by the rugged beauty of it all. I am able to recollect the gifts I received, and the accomplishments I made, while stumbling down the path that was laid out for me. I can gaze from afar upon my completed course, and see the good mixed in with the bad, and the memories of the journey come back to me.

I made two job changes during the past year, first, with an agency that provided me with training for Home Health Aid certification. I had to sit in a classroom and take notes, and study for tests, and pass hands-on clinical testing, and I am proud to say that I triumphed. My new boss even hinted that I was the best of the class. I know for a fact that I was the only one who aced the final exam…100%!! (At the age of 56, these kinds of accomplishments take on new meaning.) At that point, I thought that this agency was going to be the place I retired from. Imagine my vexation when the illogical scheduling procedures, coupled with the two-hour shifts scheduled all over town, soon began to wear me to a frazzle…and, I was stuck there for 6 months, because of the training agreement. Right in the midst of this unwelcome revelation, my dearest, most beloved client died. She had been doing pretty well, then started with some virus-like symptoms, went into the hospital for a few days, and suffered a massive stroke on the day she was supposed to be sent home. She passed away about 2 weeks after that. The gift that I received through that was knowing that I had brought some spiritual rest to the end of her days, by finding a wonderful young priest to come and visit with her a few times. I was even asked to do a reading at her funeral Mass, which was a great honor and privilege. Shortly after that trauma, I had a horrifying clash with a neighbor, who stood in my yard screaming, over and over again, right in my face, that I was “foul,” and spitting on my face as he screamed like a crazy man. This was not the first time we have been verbally attacked by these neighbors, but it was, by far, the worst. This time, though, his extended family was there for a party and witnessed the whole thing. I believe that they were shockingly appalled by his behavior (and, gave him a good talking-to!). Things have been much improved since that clash, and, even though I suffered terribly after that attack, I can see the good that it has wrought. It was around this time that I also got hired (through a friend’s recommendation) by a handicapped woman needing another PCA (personal care assistant). She does direct hire, and offered me 50% more per hour than I was making through the agency, and gave me set hours. I worked for her and continued with the agency until I thought I would drop, and then left the agency almost exactly six months after my first day of work. That was a difficult, but absolutely necessary step in my “recovery.” The final stab of the difficult journey was the loss of my sweet little Albert, my most favorite-of-all-time-kitty. He had actually become very sick earlier in the year, while I was on the edge of depression, but he had rallied to stay with me for several more months. He got me through the toughest days, and then it was time for him to go. He went quickly, suddenly becoming very weak and dying within a few days of that. It still breaks my heart to think of him, I miss him so!

So, anyway, here I am now, after a blessed Christmas visit with my growing family, all settled into a new, happy place (which will be purr-fect when I find a new feline friend to sit on my lap), with a lovely, but challenging, job (that I might not have been confident enough to accept without the HHA training experience). My new client (who shares a birth year with me) is also my newest best friend. We enjoy our time together tremendously, even on the difficult days. I have learned a great deal, and become a stronger person in many ways. All I’m hoping for now is a quiet year, with no “traveling.” I’m hoping that you’ll hear from me regularly once again. Growth and challenge are good things, but, let’s face it – too much of a good thing can drive a person batty!