So I haven’t blogged in a long time. I’m not sorry. I couldn’t find my way to words that would hold up to how things were going. I couldn’t find the time to try to write. A few times, I thought I had something to say, but then I could never really muster the emotional energy to say them.
But here I am now in the quiet and reflective space between semesters, between years, and I guess it’s time for my grudging annual attempt to sort through the past year and think about the next one. Usually, the effect has been that I remember the past year more fondly, but I don’t think that will be the case this time. I think, though, that the effort will be worthwhile.
To say that this has been a hard year is to be excruciatingly reserved. It feels more accurate to say that it’s been my worst year–ever–although in truth all of my years in Atlanta have been so difficult that it’s hard to pick one out from the tangle and say that it’s worse than the others. You see, this is why I haven’t blogged. Just living this year has been hard enough; trying to transmute my experiences into language and derive some meaning from them was too much.
Melodramatic enough? Well, here’s what this year looked like for me.
2014 was the year that started out numb. Going through the motions. Wondering if I would ever feel passionate about anything again. Wondering if I would ever feel content or happy again, instead of just blank. At the time, I attributed it primarily to burn out (which I wrote about in my last post), which was probably part of it, but I think it was more likely a hold-over from the previous, difficult year and a half. At any rate, I sort of snapped out of that in time for a short breather before the next thing.
Because 2014 was the year that I learned about living with someone dealing with depression. Around the end of April, just as the semester was ending, the bottom fell out for my brave, amazing roommate, Grace. Grace, who made my life so much better when she moved to Atlanta and who has become one of my best friends. Grace has dealt with depression in the past, and although she can recognize now that this particular episode was a slow burn coming on for a while, it blindsided us both at the time. Grace got the meds she needed, and began slowly to recover and heal, but for both of us depression colored the rest of the year in bleak tones.
2014 was also the year of the sleepless summer. Not really sleepless–I did sleep some. But almost every night I had trouble going to sleep and/or woke up around 2:30 and had trouble going back to sleep. Nothing I did seemed to help, even prescription sleep aids. It took me all summer to work out a
ritual routine that usually allowed me to go to sleep and stay asleep. Mostly this was due to compounding stress–see the previous paragraph, and add to it trying to read for comprehensive exams and worrying over repairs needed for the house. But then the insomnia added to the stress, and slowed down my ability to read which also increased the stress, so I ended up in a feedback loop of stress that I couldn’t find my way out of.
2014 was also the year my Uncle Max succumbed to cancer, and I couldn’t deal with the stress of unexpected travel and didn’t make it back to Texas for the funeral.
2014 was the year Grace and I road-tripped to Boston, where I promptly developed debilitating nausea on our first day there. To add insult to injury, I was halfway through my glorious and favorite banana-stuffed French toast at Zaftig’s when it started. I couldn’t even finish the dish I had waited a year to enjoy. Worse than that, I couldn’t enjoy my trip, although I had ample opportunity to be so grateful to the Gibsons and Lollars, who graciously hosted us and were so kind. Our last day there, I was well enough to get out and even managed to eat a cannoli. I’m glad we went. I’m glad I got to see a few friends and spend some time in the city I love so dearly. But what I desperately wanted was a time of renewal and refreshment, and instead I got nausea.
Which turned out to be chronic. 2014 was the year in which I spent about three months nauseated most of the time. What happened in Boston was the start of a pattern–4 or 5 days of nausea followed by a day or two of feeling okay, rinse and repeat. Or maybe 2 or 3 days on and one off. It wasn’t really a pattern, exactly, but those okay days would make me think that maybe I didn’t need to see a doctor. It took me about a month to decide that I did, in fact, need to make an appointment. The doc and I both thought that my problem was related to reflux, so I tried a course of Prilosec and a restricted diet. It helped some, but not enough, so the doc referred me to a gastroenterologist who showed mercy and prescribed both a reflux medicine and anti-nausea pills and continuing the restricted diet. He also scheduled an endoscopy, which revealed that I have gastritis, inflamation of the stomach lining–not so bad, really. It should clear up eventually. So 2014 is the year of gastritis.
And so it was also the year of dietary restrictions that make eating hard, especially when traveling, and a lack of appetite that makes eating a chore rather than something I enjoy.
2014 was also the year of counseling. The first doc I saw about my stomach suggested that stress could be a factor and I should look into counseling. And since I knew with certainty that stress was a major factor for me, and had been since I moved to Atlanta, I decided to follow up on that. And counseling was hard, but really helpful. I wish I had gone sooner.
So, yeah. Reflecting on the last year is kind of rough. My counselor helped me to acknowledge how hard the year had been, how hard it was to feel sick, how stressful it was for that sickness to impede my progress toward my exams. Also, how bad I am at sharing with others when I’m having a hard time. But honestly, I don’t have a lot of practice at it. I can recognize as I look at this list just how very blessed I am to say that this might be my worst year ever. This. What a charmed life I’ve had that this list is what makes a year the worst. It doesn’t really take the sting out of the year to say that, but it feels important to remember it.
And this year wasn’t all bad. 2014 was also the year that I stopped feeling lonely all the time in Atlanta, thanks to Grace. I have been consistently glad she was here, even with depression. My life is so much richer with her in it, and I’m grateful for her presence and her friendship.
It was the year I found the perfect barn for me to ride at, with the perfect riding instructor for me. 2014 is the year I started learning to jump with horses. The year that I remembered how it felt when I was kid and riding was new and precious and a sanctuary. This year, riding was a much needed sanctuary again, and most of my happy moments from the year were spent at the barn, in the saddle, getting to know fellow horse-lovers and some special horses.
And 2014 was also the year when Grace and I started rock climbing. We’re pretty lucky to live about 10 minutes from the biggest indoor rock gym in the US, and we’ve loved climbing. We haven’t tackled the big walls yet–it just seems like so much is involved in getting certified to belay and putting on harnesses and all that. Plus, one of us (me) has a fear of heights that makes the big walls look less appealing. Bouldering is our game. We climb the short walls (15 feet? 16? something like that) surrounded by crash mats. We do a lot of routes in a session, relax on the cushy mats between climbs, chat with other amiable climbers, sing along to classic rock favorites playing over the gym speakers. We have a good time. And it’s an exercise that feels good, mind and body. I love how strong my hands and arms are getting, and how finishing a particularly hard route makes me feel like I can do anything.
And maybe most importantly, 2014 was the year that I had opportunities to appreciate the support of communities. Lots of times, I send out distress messages to my closest group of friends from college asking for prayers and was so grateful for their generous responses, and when they shared their struggles as well. Lots of times I sent ridiculous, long, sometimes angsty emails to Hilary, who always received them and responded graciously (but we saw each other through the difficulties of elementary and middle school, so we’ve been in the angst trenches together for a long time). And my goodness, my parents, who took half of their vacation to come and help me fix things in the house and who told me over and over that they love me and they’re proud of me. Also this was the year when Grace and I really started to settle in and develop a sense of community in our incredible church family. And my year ended surrounded by some of my best friends and also some new friends in a wonderful, peaceful New Year’s celebration that almost made 2014 seem not so bad.
There have been some great moments this year. But for the first time I can remember, the good moments don’t tip the scale. I have this list of good things, this four-point list that I’ve been reciting to myself for weeks now to try and shift my feelings about the year. I’m deeply, profoundly grateful for the good moments and even more grateful for the good people in my life this year. But it doesn’t tip the scale. Last year I was hopeful that 2014 was going to be better. I felt like things were going to get easier, and I was wrong about that. This year I’m not sure what’s in store. I’m more hopeful now than I was a couple of weeks ago, but it’s a tentative and fragile hope. What I am sure of is that whatever comes, I’ll get through it. I read an article recently that argued that life is less like a heroic tale than it is like a comedy–not because life is always funny, but rather because comedies feature characters who just sort of muddle through and manage to survive their circumstances by luck or accident. That’s what I have in mind for 2015–no grand plans or lofty expectations. But I’ll muddle through. Maybe it will even be funny sometimes.