Tomorrow I will go back to work after an entire week away. I spent my time off catching up on some life things, watching bad television, sleeping and also not sleeping, and drinking alone. For some reason, I anticipated that I would be wildly productive and I would go soul searching all by myself and I would feel better about life when everything was said and done. It is not uncommon for me to be woefully misguided about my own abilities. Present Me is unfairly and unrealistically optimistic about the motivation of Future Me.
The night before my first day of vacation I went directly after work to happy hour with some people. Except the swanky-ish bar we chose featured half-priced martini-esque cocktails, and the truth is that I am a moron when presented with the option to drink cocktails.
Yes, I would love a very sugary, boozy drink! I can’t wait to get drunk inappropriately fast and then bring up uncomfortable topics of conversation and then overshare everything about myself!
This is precisely what happened. It is what always happens. The thing is, candor is awesome and I wish we communicated more truthfully in our culture for a variety of reasons. If there is one aspect of academia that I simultaneously miss with every fiber of myself, it’s the ability to be candid all the time about everything. You are in a safe space where you can work through your reality, your fledgling thoughts and opinions, where you can be naked and truthful and generally that vulnerability is met with curiosity instead of condemnation. I am naturally candid, and living in an environment that fostered that candor for five-plus years didn’t do me any favors in terms of not alienating people in the real world. Sometimes, this is why I withdraw. Not because I am inherently uncomfortable with who I am, and not because I don’t want to be around people; but because I fear other people are uncomfortable with who I am and that makes me uncomfortable. I know, self-loathing, need to learn to love myself, girrrrrrrrrl forget about what other people think and all that jazz(hands).*
Despite my Happy Hour shenanigans, my first day of vacation was productive. I ran errands, I cooked, I cleaned, I got a professional massage, I watched TV, I took a hot bath with essential oils. It was a combination of all good things: productivity and relaxation, no pressure. My goal was to use vacation to reset my sleep patterns, which have been awful for the entirety of 2013, and probably weren’t great for a couple of years before that. So I went to bed super early, and I managed to rise early, and things were right on track toward a healthier, happier, more well-rested me.
By about three days in of just the critters and me, things got weird. With food.
People often ask me how she’s trained so well, why she is so obsessed with me, and how I get her to listen. The answer is food and an obscene amount of time spent together. The fact that the rats can run around and she is either disinterested or playful is a testament to her temperament, and the fact that we just hang out. A lot. All of us. We are a bizarre little family.
By Saturday night, things got extra weird, with popcorn.
On Sunday, Jos and I headed to my family’s campground compound for what was intended to be several days alone in the woods, reading books, reconnecting with nature, reconnecting with myself, sleeping, relaxing. It was some of those things. But mostly it was me being restless and uncomfortable in a new location. When I was agonizing over whether I should cancel my trip to the Pacific Northwest, I called my sister Yay. She was on vacation at the time in Florida. She assured me that no matter how beautiful the scenery, I would probably still want to crawl out of my own skin, and that I should definitely go if I wanted to, that parts of it would likely be fantastic, but that I should be prepared to feel uncomfortable at times. She had spent an entire day in bed after drinking too much and sobbing like a weirdo, a whole day when she could have been at the beach or the pool or the aquarium or any number of places. Grief splits you into pieces this way, makes you strange and socially awkward. Sadness settles over you no matter where you are or how much fun you should be having.
When I experienced great loss before, I was somehow able to shut down huge parts of myself so that I could go on functioning and living my life. Not long after that loss I started taking a psychotropic drug that rendered me a flat line. I didn’t cry. I wasn’t angry. I didn’t get overly excited. I just was. In retrospect, this was exactly what I needed to keep from dropping out of school and just giving up at that point. I needed to be at least 80% frozen, so that all that was left of me had to be hyper-focused on what was in front of me. And what was in front of me most of the time was school or work. Only once in a while did I have “down time” during these few years. The truth is, I don’t know that I know how to appropriately do down time anymore. When I spend what should be relaxing time, I feel on edge and unwell. My instinct is to be doing something, anything, at all times. I do not feel entitled to earned down time, yet there are times when I should be doing something nowadays where I lie in bed and do nothing. Somehow I can justify stolen time of nothingness. Or maybe I can’t justify it, but I can do it, and I don’t feel entirely on edge, I just feel apathetic and heavy.**
My time in the woods was meant to be deliberate down time, to force myself to disconnect from technology and read actual books and enjoy myself. Except I was deeply lonely. My dad and stepmom were there for the first hour or so after I got there, and when they left it suddenly felt empty. There is a TV in the cabin where I slept and I watched episodes of The Simpsons and I messed with my phone and I was restless, just as I would have been at home. We awoke before dawn the next day and made breakfast. I drank coffee and listened to the birds, we drove in to the sleepy little nearby town so I could get dog food, and then we napped the day away.
It was relaxing. It was restful. Except every time we woke up, our reality was still our reality. The dog is a special needs girl who was struggling after only twenty-four hours in the woods; she is no longer a dog who I can count on to hike with me for a whole day. I am a late-twenties woman who feels adrift and ungrounded, and who is grieving a tremendous loss that is not yet three months old. We were a ragtag pair of idiots searching for something in the woods that we were unlikely to find there or anywhere. In fairness, I was the idiot, and the dog was just doing what is her instinct: following her Mama to the ends of the earth.
By early evening, we wandered down to the lake, which is about a quarter of a mile from the family land. We took in the sunset, a story unto itself. When we got back to camp it was starting to get dark in the woods, and I made a strange concoction of food from various leftovers and vegetables I had brought. I built a fire. Then I spent the evening writing with a pen and paper and drinking alone to facilitate that writing and to subdue the hurricane of emotion that was swirling inside of me. I started with a high-end pumpkin ale, but quickly graduated to Bud Light and wine coolers that I stole from the mini fridge in the pantry outbuilding. There is a gun club less than a mile from my family’s land, a place where they apparently fire weapons until after 10pm on Tuesday nights, and because of this, I spent most of the time I was writing with headphones shoved into my ears. It was almost impossible to focus with the intermittent boom! and pop! pop! coming from the gun club, so I drowned out my surroundings with Explosions in the Sky. I was not enjoying the woods. I was listening to music and writing in the outdoors.
By the time we awoke right around dawn the next morning, Josie could hardly even awaken, much less walk or run around.
I had planned for us to stay another night and into the next day, but after I lifted her onto the floor and saw that she was struggling to walk, I had to call it and bring us home. I thought about staying in the cabin and just relaxing that way, but I figured it made just as much sense to come home and get a jump on preparing things to go back to work. We stayed until the middle of the afternoon, reading in the sunlight and lamenting the fact that I was no closer to whatever it is I was trying to reach after having spent a couple of days away.
As a pet owner, I know I made the right choice by coming back and forcing the mutt to take it easy. The trip was bittersweet for a number of reasons. And now I get to spend tonight and the entire day tomorrow at home “relaxing”, whatever that means.
*I’m going to therapy next week! Hooray!
**See that part about going to therapy next week. Clearly it’s very necessary!