Friday, July 25, 2014

One year gone, One year back

It’s been a whole year--367 days since we flew home from London. We're having a hard time wrapping our heads around that.  I have to tell you--it’s been such a hard year.

Returning knocked us for much more of a loop than we expected. Part of that was just the disorientation of staying in one place, and having more than 6 sets of clothes to choose from. In fact, David pulled out 6 or so sets, and has been wearing just those, with the rest in storage. Everything looked different—the grocery store, the excess of fortune and luck we live in here.  Different things were important to us. We struggled to find a way back in, like trying to jump into an already turning jump rope.

When we made the decision to take this huge leap out of our lives, I didn’t kid myself about what it might mean for our futures.  Specifically for my future.  Given the times we were living in, the chances of me getting my job back were slim to begin with. By the time we returned there had been a significant government shut down while we were gone, and I knew I wouldn’t.  I asked anyway, but in no uncertain terms was (very kindly) told there was nothing, would probably not be anything until 2016.  Even though I knew it was coming, I was devastated. I remain devastated.  Here was something I really loved, really wanted, and I could in no way make it happen. I had no one to blame but myself. I had closed that door when I chose to leave to travel and not only was the door locked, it had very likely disappeared entirely.

I was happy with my life before we left. I had a job that I really liked, with a great boss and coworkers who were friends as well. 

I had built up my endurance in running to the point where I’d run three full marathons and a dozen or more half marathons, an accomplishment I was damn proud of.  I had interests and plans and I liked the way my life looked, with one notable exception.

My husband, my love and partner-in-crime was not at all happy.  More than anything, more than all those things, if your partner isn’t happy, then you can’t truly be. It was always hovering there, whether we talked about it or not, and it shrouded and colored things that should have otherwise been amazing, fun, enjoyable. It was like a rain cloud that just trailed behind us. I tried what I could to get him to make a change. Go back to school, I said. Just quitI have a good job, I just got a raise, I can support us.  But ultimately, it was up to him to decide what he wanted. Finally we made a plan, we took a leap, and we left.

I was so proud of David for leaving. Even in the time between when we made the decision and actually packed our bags, I could tell that rain cloud was gone. In all my storm, both during our trip and in our year back, he’s been my calm. He’s the man I married, the man I love, and I'm so grateful to have him back.

The day we arrived back in the States, however, a window opened. I got an email that there was a posting for a job in another court.  I hadn’t been home 24 hours and I had to decide if I should apply for a job. I knew I couldn’t get my old job back, and so I applied.  After the interview, which I felt went well, I was distraught, knowing I’d have to go straight back to work and to a job I wasn’t excited about.  I didn’t get the job, and I breathed a big sigh of relief that I didn’t have to make that decision.

After that brush with reality, we decided not to make any decisions, and we ran off to the Grand Canyon and to see our friends in San Diego. We had a wonderful time there, and made ourselves useful to our friends. It was good to be able to end our trip the way we began it, but taking a road trip.

Then David’s mother had surgery, and my dad had a heart attack. Things got serious pretty quickly, but we were there to try and take care of things for our parents. I drove my dad to his appointments, and traded out ice packs for my mother-in-law’s swollen knee. It gave us a purpose for a few weeks, and a reason to delay the job search.

Then our renter gave notice she was moving out in December.  Our car broke down expensively (is there any other way?). We fixed it and then it broke so extensively that it's still sitting shrouded in the garage.

By December I was having GI issues, and then I would wake up at night with my heart racing, with horrible heartburn like someone sitting on my chest. I saw my doctor. He ran all manner of tests. In the end, there was nothing physically wrong with me aside from some weight gain and a vitamin D deficiency. My doctor is a wonderful man, and we had a frank chat about what was going on, a box of tissues in his hand.  “I think you’re grieving,” he said.

I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but he was right. It was a relief to give it a name, all this bottled up frustration and anguish over something I couldn’t change. I wanted things to be different than they were, but I couldn’t make them different. I was no longer the person I was before we left. I wasn’t who I was when we were traveling, either. I have no idea who it is I’m supposed to be anymore.  The only sound I seem to be able to hear is what I’m not, what I’ve lost.

My doctor did think that I was depressed as well, and put me on some anti-depressants. It helps. It doesn’t make me feel much better, but it does help me get through the day.  Like any other kind of grieving, there are better days and worse ones. I try to roll with the punches. Sometimes I manage, sometimes I get one in the kisser.

I applied for a job, a federal court job, in December but didn’t hear anything. I got called for an interview in January, and then heard nothing. Things were beginning to look pretty dire, we were beginning to think about re-renting our house, when I got offered the job at the end of February. All the while we were both applying and looking around, but this was the first job offer either of us got. It was a federal court job, and I could resume my federal service. There was no reason not to take the job except for the pay. And at the time we weren’t in much of a position to turn down a job when the alternative was a big fat salary of $0.

David still isn’t working. It is a question I seem to get, from everyone, often asked sotto voce. The question comes to me, as perhaps people are too afraid to ask David, for fear he might break down in tears.  That must be so hard for him, they say.  Poor David.  Pity is pretty much always a misplaced emotion, and this is no exception. It's not actually that hard on him.  He's not the kind of guy who needs to be the bread winner, and he's keeping busy with projects (4 partial kitchen remodels; one bathroom remodel; he's growing herbs and tomatoes; he's making Middle Eastern food and pork char siew; he's running errands and doing laundry).  He's busy, he's happy, he just doesn't have a job that pays him actual money.

As far as I know, no one has been asking David how I'm doing. There are no whispers of Being the sole income, that must be so hard for her. Poor Lana. Usually the question I get is And you're liking your job? Usually this is accompanied by a nodding head, as if they're giving me a hint at the answer they're wanting to hear. I think because I found a job there's a check mark next to my name--everything is all settled for me. I’m back, I’m set, I’m good to go. But the truth is, I'm the one who has really struggled since coming home. Am still struggling.

I turned 40 this year. I am overweight (again). I am medicated for depression. I’m working for 1/3 less than I did before we left.  I am learning a new job in a new office, having to navigate new politics, and I wonder how I can get myself to care about any of it. A former me felt up to these sort of challenges, but right now I’m just tired. I sag through the day and then curl up on the couch with the dog and read. Or I binge-watch television shows I've missed with the slack-jawed dedication of someone Avoiding Difficult Things.

I keep waiting, hoping that I’ll shake this off and be myself again.  Whoever that is. Before we left, I knew who I was. I felt in control of my life. Traveling, I both knew who I was and didn’t know. We gave ourselves the opportunity to examine our lives from a different perspective. But at the same time, we knew we were in a golden hour, and that it wouldn’t last.

The challenge for this next year is to find a way to go forward. To find some way to take the joy and lessons from our year abroad, and infuse them into our workaday life. I haven't found it yet. In my more hopeful moments, I can see this as an opportunity, a clean slate.  Other times I feel impossibly stuck. The irony that I'm in a similar emotional position to where David was before we left on our trip isn't lost on me. That only one of us should be fulfilled doesn't seem fair either.

But I know I'm lucky. I have a roof over my head and shoes on my feet. I have friends and family and enough to eat (too much, actually). All this angst is a First World Problem.  But while that gives me perspective, it doesn't bring me peace. I'm going to have to keep searching for it, right where I am.

The other question we hear most from people is If you had it to do all over again, would you still do it? Despite everything that's happened to us since we came back, knowing what we know now, having struggled this year with the repercussions of all of it. You can't avoid joy just to prevent future pain. That's crazypants. And it doesn't work that way. So our answer always: Oh yes. In a heartbeat.