“Who am I and how did I get here?,” is a question I find myself asking regularly these days. I can’t tell you how many times I have been out and about with a friend and we come across someone who inevitably asks, “What do you do?”
Each and every time I am asked that I am stunned. I have that deer-in-the-headlights look and always look to my cohort (usually Amanda or Tricia) for help, as though they have the answer that I myself do not. I used to rattle off a prepared response: “I work at blah blah blah and I teach yoga, art therapy, and cooking to special needs adults.” Sounds good, right? Just typing that makes me want to cry. Nearly 15 months ago I abruptly quit my job — the job where I made great money (all by my own hard work, not because the place I worked paid well) and people thought I was exceptional for doing what I did four days a week. I was not exceptional. I was very close to a nervous breakdown and I had no idea. Gosh, this is a long story. Hope you can hang in there with me. It may be a two-parter. Or three.
Both of my parents had been terminally ill for years. My mom had COPD and emphysema and my Dad had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Both had done remarkably well for years — Dad was a rock star with his treatments (he would get chemo in the morning and then go to his dream job as a building superintendent on horse farms in the afternoon.) Mom took a class where she learned to make the most of her breathing, went to the gym, walked on the treadmill, and did the best she could with the time and ability she had left. She did everything she could to keep herself busy and productive. But we all knew the inevitable would happen. One day.
One day finally came — August 22, 2015. My mom died and my dad’s health was deteriorating quickly. He missed my mom and was coming to the realization that she did much more for him than he realized. By this time I had been managing their finances and paying bills, I was their power of attorney and my brother and I were their healthcare surrogates. My dad wanted to stay at home and was adamant about it. He was difficult and stubborn at times and while working the job I had, sometimes I wanted to run away. I loved my dad. Of course I did. But between managing life for him and my job, there was little time or energy for anything else.
“Why was your job so hard?,” you may ask. Working with anyone with special needs can be difficult and challenging. But that wasn’t the problem. With my students I felt like I was making a difference for them. The place where I worked treated employees like they were second-class citizens and were always looked down upon. I was not appreciated, validated, or complimented. The people who worked there truly worked there because they loved what they did and they loved the students, NOT because the establishment was great to work for. I was never an actual “employee”, I was an independent contractor, so I was pretty much on my own. No one showed me the ropes, no one helped me, no one did anything. Unless I made a mistake — and when I did — it was like being a child and getting your hand smacked. I created classes to teach, made the school money, students to work with, and because of my assertiveness, made a nice little living for myself. But it came at a price. I was burning the candle at both ends. Between work and my family obligations and always having to be “the responsible one”, it was taking its toll and quickly.
I was beginning to have chronic pain, weird pain, and I had no energy. I couldn’t get enough sleep, no matter how many hours I crashed. Early 2016 I had to have my gallbladder removed. I thought that would help. It didn’t. While doing tests for my gallbladder, they found cysts on my kidney. Had to go to a urologist for that and monitor that to see what was going on there. My memory was awful, I was forgetting things, thinking things were at different times, double booking myself not realizing events overlapped, and just being confused. A lot. I felt myself shutting down.
In August of 2016, almost one year to the day my mom died, my dad passed away. I was with him in his room at the nursing home and I stepped out for no more than 20 minutes to get myself a chai. Before I left I sat at my dad’s bedside and we listened to Tony Bennett songs (his favorite, our thing together). Not sure if he heard the music, but it was somehow comforting to me. I came back from Starbucks with two chais (one for the nurse who wasn’t feeling well), but none of the nurses were at the nurse’s station. I walked into my dad’s room and everyone was in there. While I was gone, he passed away. The nurses told me that often people who are dying don’t want their loved ones to be there when they take their last breath. My mom did the same thing when she passed away. My brother and I were now orphans. Even as an adult, its a weird feeling. My parents were my “go-to” people. Whenever I had a question about life, “Dad, who’s your plumber?” or “Mom, if I wanted to refinance my house, what do I do?”, they always had the answer.
On one of my rare days off shortly after my dad died, I was coming home from visiting a friend who had cancer, she had surgery several days before and I made her some chicken noodle soup. I was stopped at a major intersection and some guy plowed into me, and seemingly didn’t try to stop. I was hit so hard my head jerked forward and back and my nose popped. Blood was dripping down on my clothes. No one came and checked on me. After 20 minutes the guy who hit me tapped on my window and asked me if I had called the police. My response, “No, I didn’t. I was a little too busy trying to get my nose to stop bleeding.” I had sensory bins in the back of my car. They had all been smashed and cracked so rice and beans and whatnot were all over the back of the car. My nose was swollen and bruised, no concussion or anything broken, but I had to take off a few days off work.
Going back to work after all that was nearly impossible. In addition to being in pain, trying to teach yoga, where, yes, sometimes your head is lower than your heart and all the pressure would run straight to my nose. I was overwhelmed with the responsibilities that awaited me as executrix of my parents’ estates (primarily my dad’s but also anything left from my mom’s), was working about 50 hours a week in a very physically demanding job, and the need to “flee” was becoming stronger every day, while I was getting weaker.
I went to talk to one of my bosses about getting some time off. Not a week, more like a couple of months. I could feel myself fading, closing off, shutting down. My boss said he would get back with me and e-mailed me the next day and said I could only have one month off (keep in mind they didn’t have to find a replacement for me and didn’t pay me when I wasn’t working and I wasn’t their employee. I was a contractor) and when I came back I was expected to work MORE than I already was.
I thought my head was going to explode. I could feel my blood pressure soar and I was angry and hurt and I felt like dog poo. I snapped. Everything unraveled.