A quick check-in showing my current emotional state. (Higher numbers mean greater degrees of emotion.)
- Depression 20% 20%
- Anxiety 65% 65%
- Stress 80% 80%
I’m not sure how to record this – yes, things are a little higher (meaning stronger) than last week. At the same time, I can’t really say that I feel worse or even at the same level as a couple weeks ago when my mood was at its lowest in a while.
It’s a different sort of feeling. Definitely sad – there’s no doubt about that. But at the same time, there’s a comforting sort of feeling about it. It feels like how it does when fall and October roll around every year for me. This sadness kicks in – but it doesn’t feel bad – just the opposite. Comfortable is the only way to describe it. It’s weird. I call it melancholy. I know that’s not the correct term for it (if there is one), but I’ve always called it that. In some ways, it’s like the return of an old friend that you kind of feel ambivalent about. It’s good to see them, but you know there’s something not right going on and you can’t wait for them to leave.
Anyway, as I said, it’s not necessarily a bad feeling. Just something to be aware of.
Anxiety and Stress
This week has been a real roller coaster of events that have sent me everywhere with these 2 emotions. With everything going on, I’m actually surprised the scores are not higher than they are.
The week started out normal which was fine. By Wednesday, however, chaos was beginning to take over. A lot has happened and I’m going to skip some of the lesser events. However, here’s some “highlights”:
Nita, Our Dog
Our dog is 13 years old and is this lovable but extremely shy Blue Heeler mix named Nita. (At least she’s lovable to my spouse and I. With everyone else, she’s a complete terror. Living in the apartment building has helped, but she is not a friendly dog and will bark when frightened.) She refuses to let anyone else touch her except my spouse and I. Our vet is able to sometimes, but usually not for prolonged periods of time like for an exam.
For the past few years, she’s had these fatty cysts that are getting larger and one is growing under her front arm, making it somewhat difficult for her to walk. Thus, we wanted to take her in for an exam. In order for this to happen, though, the vet would have to sedate her. As he is in Ferndale (about 65 miles north of Everett), I had to take my spouse to work Wednesday morning in downtown Seattle, then drive north to Ferndale to pick up the pills, then back home again, then back downtown to pick my spouse up again after work. Needless to say, that was over 200 miles and a lot of it was in heavy freeway traffic. (Stress and Anxiety ++)
Then the next day, we made it back to Ferndale with a sedated dog. (At least this trip my spouse was able to come with me which helped.) However, there was the anxiety about what the vet was going to say and whether she would be ok. (Nita is officially my emotional support animal. As she’s getting up there in years, I’m trying to steel myself for the inevitable, but it’s still difficult and I can’t imagine life without her.)
Anyway, things went well – the vet wasn’t that concerned for the time being. We’re to bring her back this summer and then he’ll take a look at removing them. (Stress and Anxiety -)
My spouse had to work that night so he dropped Nita and I off, changed clothes, then left. I was woken from a nap a couple hours later by someone in the apartment. When I went out, my spouse was home.
He got to work and then was told his position was no longer needed. He was sent home. (Stress and Anxiety ++)
Based on what I spoke about last week, luckily it looks like I am going full time so that will help. However, right now our insurance is through him and he has a surgery scheduled soon. Since I will be full time soon, I can put him on my insurance, but there’s the rigamarole of cut-off dates, when mine kicks in, etc.
And then there’s the income that will be missing. He’s officially still employed by the company – he just doesn’t have an assignment. How soon before he gets one? Who knows? He does have Social Security so there’s that so it isn’t all bad. And we’ve been talking about him retiring completely – is the universe saying now’s the time?
I’ll admit, everything spiked inside for me. It’s been 10 years or more since I’ve worked full time anywhere and to now be the main breadwinner started freaking me out. What if I’m unable to handle it? Everything’s resting on me and if I fail, I’ll take us all down.
Neither of us handled things well later that night. I made a comment I shouldn’t have in response to something he said. Next thing I know, WWIII is breaking out. Choice words were spoken by both of us and my spouse eventually left to cool off. Of course, this brought back all kinds of memories of my dad leaving after fights with my mom and taking off sometimes for a couple days. Sometimes, we’d get in the car and try and find him, going to bars he would haunt or other places he used to hang out. Sometimes, we’d just wait it out and hope for the best.
I lay in bed with all this going on inside my head. My mind was all over the place – Would he return? What were Nita and I going to do? How would I support us? I had no car and needed one where I was stationed. Is this the final straw that was going to push me over the edge? What would happen to Nita if it did?
Luckily nothing was open at that hour so my spouse soon returned. By then we had both cooled down and were able to sleep. Still, my anxiety was pretty high.
Since he had Friday night off and this was our first night home together since before November, we decided we needed to do something together to reconnect. Even though we were hesitant, we decided to take in a movie if there was anything interesting playing. We eventually settled on “Nomadland” and socially distanced with about 10 others who shared the theatre with us.
If you don’t know about it, please check it out – it’s a fantastic film. Starring Frances McDormand (Fern) and David Strathairn (Dave), the story concerns itself with folks, primarily older ones like myself, who are living out of the backs of their vans after losing homes, spouses, etc. They end up traveling from state to state working in seasonal jobs when they can find them; when those jobs end, they hit the road again looking for the next gig. And even though the lifestyle is usually forced upon these folks, in time, it’s also something they find themselves preferring. Except for a few professional actors, most of the cast are actual nomads who weave moments from their lives into the dialogue.
This was quite a deep experience for both my spouse and I.
As I wrote previously, my spouse and I lived in a tent for 6 months after we became “houseless”. (The term used by Fern when a friend says she is homeless. No – she has a home in her van. She just doesn’t have a house.) But those six months weren’t the whole story for us. Things have been precarious for us for almost 20 years.
I just now stopped and created a list of the places we’ve lived. The first few years we were together were fairly stable as we had decent jobs in Phoenix and we only moved a couple of times before buying a house.
Then our jobs got outsourced. We lost our home during the big housing foreclosure bust in the early 2000’s. We tried to start a business that eventually failed. And then things really started getting interesting.
Since 2002, we’ve moved at least 30 times – and a lot of those moves were forced upon us.
Some of our stays were somewhat stable — a cabin we lived in for a year and a half; another house that we rented for about that same amount of time; a third house we shared with my spouse’s brother for a year, partially subsidized by a second brother.
Most of the time, however, we would plant ourselves for a few weeks or months and then move on when life circumstances changed – usually for the worse. There were several places where we stayed for a week or less. Sometimes we were bartering room and board by helping those with whom we were staying. A lot of times the places were “last resorts” – places we wouldn’t have specifically chosen except that was our only option. (Our credit history was shit based on what we had gone through and felt lucky when anything presented itself.)
We lived in a horse’s stables infested with desert rats for a few months. Volunteered at an ashram for 3 months. Slept in a hammock while watching a friend’s place while she was away for a week. Stayed with strangers (friends of acquaintances who took pity on one or both of us.) Lived in a motel for a week when friends provided the money.
And through it all, we were both just trying to hold on: me with my worsening depression and anxiety, and my spouse trying just to keep us both afloat with whatever jobs he could find. (Sometimes this meant we were in separate parts of the country – once I was in Tucson, AZ while he worked in Everett, WA for a couple of months. Another time I was back in Indiana while he was in Idaho looking for work.)
It’s been rough. And even though we had only stayed in a van a couple of nights, I knew what those people on the screen were going through. And you know what the weird part of it all is? Like them, there’s a part of me that misses the freedom we experienced when things were the shakiest for us.
There’s a scene where Fern is invited to spend Thanksgiving with Dave (an ex-nomad now living with his son and his family.) She starts out in the guest room but quickly moves back to the van in the driveway because that’s what she’s used to. And even when she is invited to stay permanently, she leaves, knowing that she just can’t go back to that life.
There’s part of me that feels similarly. Even though I yearn for security, I’ve tasted freedom and adventure – and survived. Hell, I spent 6 months up in the near wilderness of Alaska, knowing no one. Yeah, I spent the first couple of weeks in absolute despair. I would just stand outside, looking completely around myself at nothing but mountains and glaciers and try not to scream out in panic. But, I eventually made it. And I would consider doing it again. Am I crazy? Perhaps. Who knows?
So how does all this translate to the story? I’m actually not sure yet. I’ve been thinking a lot about Tim, the main character. He’s driven by the need to feel safe, to be part of something/someone, but at the same time, he always feels he’s on the outside – a leper of sorts because he feels he killed his father.
Like me, his experiences are quite a bit different from those with whom he grew up. At times, he wishes he could go back to the simpler days of his youth – even if there were beatings and pain, at least he could pretend to fit in. But he also knows that even if he tries, there will always be a part of him that can’t be tied down any more. And that is one reason he has a hard time thinking about Zach and what a relationship with him would entail. Could he give up the freedom and adventure he has known – even for love? Or can he convince Zach to come with him?
I’m sure as I process more of these feelings and memories, Tim will fill out in my mind. I can hardly wait to see how he turns out.
Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash