Thursday, December 23, 2010

Welcome Home, Stranger

In the space of three months, I've interviewed countless women in multiple countries, achieved Diamond Elite Plus Status on Delta Airlines, and developed a sensible habit of reading my book before bedtime to trick my brain into rest. Permanently stuck on a timezoneless schedule, I've learned to manipulate myself to know how to act like a normal human being. (Now you should eat, now you should focus on work, now is when you should go to bed.)

Months back, I was so stressed out. The luxury of hindsight more accurately would define it as depressed out. I remember looking in the space of time standing between Fall and Winter and not knowing how I would make it out alive. There were so many logistical factors surrounding my life in relation to being away for business travel. Anxiety got the best of me at four in the morning when I would go through questions that had hazy answers.

  • How will I store my car when it snows? (I live in Uptown. Enough said.)
  • How will my mom fair by herself while I'm in Russia and my aunt is in China?
  • How will I entertain a Thanksgiving guest in my dirty, cat-hair-filled apartment?
  • How will I cope with missing a best friend's wedding while I'm working half a world away?
  • How will I keep saying goodbye to my quadriplegic father, over and over, without him able to say goodbye back?
I keep it no secret to friends, family, or strangers on the street that I manage a common, chronic mood disorder. I take meds for it, I'm fine, heck, I'm considered "extremely high functioning." To me, it is no different than if I were studious about checking my blood sugar if I had Diabetes. But one of the downfalls of managing an illness that occurs in the mind is that things get complicated when life throws blows at you that would affect anyone in the mind.

It has not been until now, since I've been home for an entire week – the first time in a while! – , that I have been able to look back and put things into perspective. I was beating myself up, angry at my stupid brain for being so despondent and indecisive.

Being away from home for long stretches of time is complicated and sometimes lonely. Coping with a severely handicapped family member is complicated and sometimes lonely. 

The interesting part, though, was that the depression never happened while I was away. The only time I started to worry was when the airplane started the descent into Minneapolis.

Sometimes, to get healing, we have to run away. This is something I have always known. When I was a kid and my mom got mad, I would storm up the stairs and SLAM my door. I'd stay locked in my room and make miniature paper books for my Barbie Dolls. When I was in college, and I was behind on my latest painting, I would scamper off to the dorms and do shots of flavored vodka with my roommates. We'd listen to Hip Hop and dress slutty, even though we just stayed in our dorms and danced. When I was in my twenties, I ran away to Canada, and hid there with my cell phone turned off until I knew it was time to go back home.

In a way, business travel for me this year has been a form of running away. New York, Moscow, São Paulo, Miami, London... side trips to Amsterdam and Prague... truly my job has offered me the ultimate escape from a life that I had learned to detest. Travel allowed me to be someone else. I learned new languages, I met new people, I bought new clothes, I ate new food. I reveled in the excitement with co-workers and clients, all of us quietly turning a cold shoulder to the worlds we left behind. 

But there was something different about me from the others. When the projects came to an end and the wing tips went up for the flight home, others would silently smile into their phones with excitement while I looked out the window, feeling anxious about what would be waiting at home. Will my mom have had a hard time shoveling the driveway? Will my dad be showing signs of another infection? Will I have zero text messages, zero facebook messages, and will I be leaving on another business trip on the one night that I get invited to do something with friends?

This was how it went. Coming home meant questions with no answers, a stressed out family life, and a vacant apartment with only the promise of a barren refrigerator and two shedding cats.

The cats. I used to be just so into them – using my laser pointer, brushing their fur, and snuggling on the couch. Then, once my new home became my suitcase, my two pet cats became more of a nuisance than anything. Finding people to watch them, cleaning up after them, watching their questioning miniature marble eyes as I shut the door countless times, rushing to the airport with other things on my mind.

Riding on that airplane, stomach knotting up as the familiar geometric farmlands came into view, I longed for that old feeling. It was the old feeling, when life was normal, when I used to get excited to land in Minnesota. I'd be excited to see my boyfriend, excited to go out to eat with my parents, and excited to see my friends. Somehow, all of that changed a year-and-a-half ago when my dad got cancer. It changed me. It changed us. It changed everything.

Until now.

Something is different. Something is lighter. My dad is still in the same condition, that has not changed. I'm still a single thirty year old, that has not changed. I still have two cats who shed, that has not changed. But something is definitely different.

I'm starting to like being home again.

Last night, I stood in my kitchen, slicing bell peppers, cucumber, tomatoes and onions. I put together a salad with mixed greens, roasted chicken, olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. I watched a Netflix movie and brushed knots out of Vinny's fur. I cleaned the bathroom and did the dishes. Before getting into bed, I took my pajamas out of a chest of drawers. All the while, my expensive business traveler suitcase with the bright, shiny new Diamond Elite Plus Status plastic tag was stored away in my front hall closet. It was a night of doing regular, normal, stay-at-home things. And I loved every minute of it.

Tonight, December 23, 2010 is my Christmas Eve. We are celebrating the big party a day early so that tomorrow, on the real Chrsitmas Eve, we can be at home with my dad, by his bed, hopefully singing a few off-key Christmas carols (actually, they better not be off-key cause my dad's a musician and he's got perfect pitch. He may not be able to sing, be he certainly can HEAR us). So tomorrow, we make a new, different Christmas. We adapt. It's not like it used to be. It's completely different. But adaptation is a necessary trait if you want to survive. 

It's actually one of the things we humans do best. We pack up our stuff, move to higher ground, and call it a new home. Sure, it's different. It's not the same as the past. But it is what we make of it.

I'm home.

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