Monday, January 30, 2006

Life Lessons

Six years go I began working in my current position. I started out in a different office, and for the last four years I have been in the office I currently work.

I was lucky to get the job, as my lofty qualifications for the level two position included both a two-year degree and two internships. Wow!

I learned a lot my first year. I earned my position, and over time became quite qualified. I took initiative to learn software I didn't know on my own, followed through and did what I said I would do for people, and worked my butt off (although sadly, not literally). The money was (and is) good, as are the benefits. Also, I like my coworkers.

Four years ago my brother became sick. He went to the doctor and they said he had strep throat, and sent him home. He did not improve, and when he was sleeping to the point of near unconsciousness on the couch, his roommate took him to the emergency room. They found he had Acute Myeloid Leukemia, and a very aggressive type at that. He went into the ICU and spent 30 days hovering near death. His white blood cell count was well over 300,000. Normal white blood cell counts are nearer around 10,000. We had no idea if we'd ever be able to speak to him again.

After one month, his condition improved and he was transferred to a room in the cancer floor, where he continued his amazing improvement. At this time, he could begin to have visitors.

It was during this time I was working full time. I also had a small baby, and lived an hour and a half from work. I was on my own for much of the time, doing most everything by myself: taking care of the house, the baby, cats, bills, groceries, cooking, cleaning, and everything else. It was lonely. It was hard. It made me depressed and I questioned my sanity. I could no longer sleep at night, and my body felt like it was attached to an electrical outlet with all the nerve endings completely fried.

After my brother got sick, I began to stop at the hospital a few times per week. I was so tired. I felt guilty that I had to spend so much time working and driving rather than paying attention to my family. I wanted to spend more time with my baby, and more time with my brother, but I thought that I was being responsible by working and focusing on work.

I also thought my brother would live. I couldn't imagine him dying, especially after pulling through from near-death and the dangerously high 300,000 white blood cell count.

When he died 11 months later, I was shocked and angry. I was angry at the situation that caused me to not have enough time for important things like family, and angry at myself because I was the one responsible for making the situation thusly. I was angry at the lack of time I spent with him but also with the quality of the time. I was so stressed out and always thinking of the next thing I had to do, that I was not good company. I didn't have much to talk about except how stressed out I was. I was miserable. And then, I went and did exactly what I was doing before he died. It was as though nothing had happened, and I hadn't learned anything. This really bothered me, because I knew a lot had changed and I knew that I wanted to change, but I was scared. Of WHAT, I'm not sure, but I was too afraid of change that I preferred to stay stuck in my depressed, sleep-deprived, lonely, exhausting, just-plain-wrong station in life.

If I could do that over again, I would do many things differently. I know that now, but it took another death to really get my attention. When my dad died the following year, also of Acute Myeloid Leukemia, I eventually reached the end of my rope. Finally, I took action: I moved out of my house and closer to work; I got divorced; I worked very hard to take good care of my daughter and help her with her emotions during this time filled with ridiculous amounts of change. I remember lying on my bed at night, staring up at the ceiling and feeling like I was spinning. I wasn't drunk, but it felt like it does when you get the spins after drinking; disoriented, confused. I couldn't believe how much my life had changed, and how overwhelmingly scared and how I felt like I didn't know what I was doing or what would happen next.

I found a counselor who was very good, who got to the heart of my problems and helped me find ways to cope. She directed me to my psychiatric nurse practitioner who prescribed an anti-anxiety/depressant which helped level out my brain chemicals and allowed my fried-to-a-crisp nerve endings to heal. It is not an exaggeration to say I would be dead without that help. My co-worker jumped off a bridge to his death last year, and I don't mean this to sound flippant in the least, but I remember thinking that what a great relief that must have been, in a way. I could understand how much pain he felt, how he didn't see a way out, and that made me really sad because I was in the same situation. I saw what the result of his action did to his family, and I also thought it was a selfish act, but there was something else: I was jealous.

In my counseling sessions, I learned how to address some deeply painful hurts. Over time, I got more confident. I learned to identify what was holding me back, and how to safely let go and let life take me where it knew I needed to be. I learned to be assertive in ways I could handle, and it felt good to me to start participating in my relationships in a healthy way, a way that I'd NEVER DONE BEFORE. I learned to open up and be more giving, both with my daughter, my family, and my future husband. It was scary, and hard to get used to, but it felt so right and so much more real that I will never be the same again.

Life started to get better: I found a church where I was accepted completely and that taught me important things, where the sermons sounded like they were meant just for me but weren't like sermons at all but rather, interesting stories with handy instructions that made me feel better about myself and cared for and which totally saved me. The sermons are spoken by a pastor who is the smartest, coolest pastor I've ever met. I married a wonderful man last year at that kickass church, and it was the greatest, most beautiful experience outside of OC being born.

I know I am blessed. I have a home that I love and have had the opportunity to make our own. I have a daughter who is smart and resilient and sweet as candy, who forgives her flawed mother for her transgressions. I have a husband who loves me and challenges me in a way I've not experienced before. My daughter is happy to have a bigger room, not to mention a great (step-) dad, and a family. Hell, even the fluffy little kitties are happier, too! (You would think this would mean they would quit finding creative places to use instead of their litter box, but no; it is a big game to them. Fluffy little bastards, who I cannot help but love despite their bad manners.)

Now, I finally get it! I know not to take people for granted, and that work can take a backseat to your life when something drastic happens, and it's okay. People will either understand or they won't, but you don't get time back ever again, so you'd better make the most of it or you will miss out. I also know I can reach out to people who care about me, and that it will make me feel better to reach out, even if it's hard, than to stay closed up with all those depressed feelings.

I trust myself to make decisions that are beneficial to myself and my family, and I don't have to go along with something just because I am afraid of something. My opinion is valuable, and I give it more readily now, backed with the new confidence I have in myself. I have finally tapped in to my true self, and can express my feelings, including anger, healthfully instead of using them as an instrument which removes years from my life by bottling them up in the pit of my stomach. It's a heck of a weight loss plan, what with all the diarrhea which accompanies anxiety and unexpressed anger, but a terrible way to get through the day. Change is good. It is refreshing. And I am no longer afraid of it.

I am finally honestly ready for the unknown, and to trust life and G-d to take me where I am supposed to be. I know I am not in control here, but that I am a part of things and that the forces that are in control want the best for me. The best for me includes learning some hard lessons, but it goes along with the good stuff, too. I am grateful for my job, and for the experiences I have had because they got me where I am today and I'm very glad to be here.

That's why this post by Datinggod has really resonated with me:

I don't believe that people can change, but I've found that if you are willing to
change your environment, to surrender to the fine art of wildly listening to your
heart and firmly following the handholds the world offers you, different aspects
of yourself will come into the light of your daily living, and others will fade
away into shadows.

May this find you allowing wild, wonderful energies into your own bed of living .
. . :)

I so appreciate the poetry in this paragraph. I certainly have changed my environment, and as a result have seen different aspects of myself fade into blackness while other aspects come to bask in the light which I have never before allowed them to see, much less bask.

I feel so grateful to be out the other side of that experience that I want to hold a feast with enough food and wine for Dionysus, and declare to the world: I am here, fully present and accounted for, ready to live my life. And, thank you!

I just thought you would like to know.

1 comment:

jess said...

Wow, really great post. I'm so sorry for your losses. I cant imagine.

The journey you have been on is amazing! I will be back!