I’d meant to just keep this blog focused on my adventures teaching and gardening in a foreign land, but alas it is also meant to be a place to record Life. And as much of a lifestyle choice it is to be a teacher, it isn’t my whole life. Nor is creating a garden.
Gratitude is an oft forgotten practice in my daily life. When it comes to New Year’s resolutions it seems farthest from my mind. I want to eat healthier, be more active, get out more, learn more Spanish, create a garden, learn how to ride a motorcycle, take trips around Costa Rica, visit Cuba and Patagonia, learn to meditate for longer than 2 minutes, get back into yoga, laugh more, learn to sew…the list is endless.
Amidst the never done to-do list in my mind, the blurred days into the next, the teeth gnashing gut punch of depression, culture shock, and loneliness, gratitude hasn’t exactly been oft on my mind since moving 5000 miles away from what I knew as home.
Life is the great educator and maybe gratitude is the exclamation point I can affix to start a new day and a new year.
For starters, 2011 sure as shit had some less than stellar moments. In late January 2011, I got an email from Dad telling me Mom was in the hospital with a broken hip. I cursed them living so far from town, without electricity, without a phone and wanted nothing but to hear their voices on the other end of the telephone.
I got my wish late one school day after the students were gone. I was frantically trying to stay calm to put together sub plans so I could back home. Dad called and gave me the good and the bad. Mom had made it through surgery but wasn’t coming out of anaesthesia. I heard Dad’s voice crack and it was all I could do to hold myself together for him. He said he’d call to report in a while. I hung up and literally began to shake.
Rarely have I had such an intense bag of mixed emotions. Hearing Dad’s voice after a year was a gift, but the news and its implications were not. All of a sudden, the phone was my enemy. It took all my strength and guts to calmly answer when it rang again a half hour later. I waited breathlessly to find out if Mom had made it. She had finally, after nearly 2 hours, come out of anaesthesia and called my Dad’s name. Since on VERY rare occasion I get to talk to Dad on the phone we reveled in the moment and caught up. I made him laugh and I heard the stress and exhaustion bleed out of his voice.
In this process I’d called my dearest friend and tearfully relayed all that was going on and that I literally would not be able to drive myself home. No questions asked, they were on their way.
A week later, Mom emailed to tell me Dad was in the hospital. Disbelief doesn’t even begin to capture it. Luckily (ha!) I knew the hospital’s phone number and got direct to Dad’s room. Mom literally couldn’t be there so again it took all my grace and strength to make those phone calls and be cheerful. Luckily Dad’s condition wasn’t as serious but still worrisome.
Fast forward two weeks and I was home, caring for the both of them for a too short 7 days. I kept my emotions measured and positive and put myself on the task of cooking all meals, some for the freezer,shoveling the walk and generally just being there. I became patient advocate for my Dad and held his hand through an appointment where his anxiety was so palpable he literally gently rocked back and forth.
By March 2011, I think I finally exhaled. I didn’t know I had the capacity to deal with such intensity for so long. Looking back, it still feels raw and I can’t say that I even did a decent job of dealing.
The next couple months Dad barely emailed and I knew that things were not going well for him. His treatment timeline was unknown and his mobility was limited. This sent him into a deep depression. Keep in mind, I’ve been getting near daily emails from him for almost 10 years (since they moved to the boondocks) so I knew that things were bad. Mom made an amazingly fast recovery and was fully healed and one hundred percent mobile after 3 months. By May, Dad was finally back to 100% and by August I was getting my near daily emails again.
All felt a little more right with the Universe.
The backdrop to these happenings included being apart from my man, making a huge decision to take a teaching job in Costa Rica and beginning and seeing through the process of making an international move. To be honest, the months after Dad healed completely and I headed out to do DPW (Department of Public Works) at Burning Man were a blur. My to-do sticky notes literally spanned the length of my kitchen counter and table, I ran out of cell phone minutes making calls, I repainted the house, I arranged storage pick up, I schleped things to the dump, I schleped things to Goodwill, I had a garage sale, I rebuilt a retaining wall at my house (with the gracious help of LoDog)…the list goes on and on. I got in an epic fight with my man after not having seen him for months. And found out a friend had cancer.
Before I knew it, I’d packed my life away into a 8′ x 10′ storage container, sedated 2 kittens, held my man’s hand and got on a plane. A week later he had to go back to work thousands of miles away and it was just me, my suitcases and my two cats.
At first everything was fascinating, novel and exciting. But once that wore off, the feeling of being alone, utterly and completely alone took hold. I wasn’t working so I had loads and loads of free time. The phrase “What have I done?!” was a constant companion for the first few months. Eventually anxiety gave into depression and feeling alone became my enemy. All that mindfulness I’d gotten mildly good at through the aforementioned trials and tribulations, meant nothing here. I’d forgotten how to be. Being awake meant wishing for the life I’d left behind like some really bad fever dream. It meant an intense sense of loneliness I never even knew existed. I’d always absolutely enjoyed my solitude and relished it. Now? Now it was some enemy I didn’t know how to fight except with old habits that led me down the rabbit hole of depression.
Luckily I’d planned to head to Haiti again (now that isn’t a phrase you hear just everyday huh?!) to see my man and volunteer on the project he helped run. At this point, it felt as if my whole being was rejecting being away from my beloved friends and family. I managed heat exhaustion for a third time in a year that was bad enough that we almost made our way to the hospital. (Luckily I didn’t have to go) And I came back to Costa Rica with intestinal parasites. The communal living aspect of living on project about drove me batty. More batty.
Soon after I returned, alone again, it was my birthday. It was one of the toughest and most enlightening birthdays I think I’ve ever had. I began my morning in a grump, by mid morning was crying from loneliness but by early afternoon had resolved to treat myself well. I planned a birthday meal, a movie and received so many well wishes that I couldn’t stay in lonely land for long. I unexpectedly got taken out for dinner that night and enjoyed the birthday song sung to me in Spanish.
The next day I woke up and things didn’t seem so bleak. And ever since I’ve been slowly pulling myself up and out.
Now for the whole point of this post! Gratitude!
1.) I am eternally grateful for my chosen family of friends.
2.) I am grateful for my family. Though we are small, there is no lack of love and support.
3.) I am grateful for my health and my Mom and Dad’s health.
4.) I am grateful for being alone. Although it is a cruel mistress, there is a harsh brilliant lesson in it.
5.) I am grateful to my partner in crime, for being so supportive and loving even miles away.
6.) I am grateful to the small successes that show me that happiness isn’t a new year’s resolution, a permanent state or some unattainable goal. It is illusive, maddening and frightening. It just begins with gratitude.
May I remember to implore it a little more often in 2012.