Picture it: New Year’s Eve. 2021. I was in the kitchen, attempting to slice up a baguette that had gotten unexpectedly rock hard. (Heh. That’s what she said!) While sawing through the stubborn stick of bread, the serrated knife sliced through the tip of my pinky, unleashing a geyser of blood. I aborted the bread mission and angrily chucked it in the trash. Partly out of anger and partly because, at this point, it was covered in blood and looked more like a giant tampon than food.
After attempting to staunch the bleeding with a paper towel for 20 minutes, I applied a generous coat of NuSkin and parked my ass on the couch, sans snacks.
That’s when I knew 2022 was going to be a shit burger of a year.
Starting 2022 With a Bang (and the ‘Rona)
Despite my best efforts at trying to bring good luck via old holiday traditions at the start of 2022, it went south in a hurry. Come to think of it, those old holiday traditions never brought me much luck anyway in years past. Lesson learned.
Carving up my finger was just the tip of the iceberg. During the first week of 2022, after having dodged it for nearly two years, I got the ‘rona. I don’t get sick very often. However, the ‘rona made getting chicken pox at 16-years-old feel like a day at the carnival by comparison.
I’m not an overly dramatic person when it comes to getting sick. However, after three weeks of see-sawing fevers, chills, shortness of breath, pulling ropes of snot out of my nose like a magician’s handkerchief, and breaking into a coughing fit if I spoke more than three sentences, I was convinced I was going to die.
At one point, I’d almost passed out in the shower from exertion. Even taking a “whore bath” over the sink (where you wash your face, pits, and batch and do a quick wipe-down of any other appendages — just like Mom taught me!) was a Herculean effort. I’d wash an arm, then have to sit down on the toilet to catch my breath. Move to the next arm, sit back down on the toilet. You get the picture.
Nighttime Was Not the Right Time with the ‘Rona
I’d feel mostly okay during the day, barring weakness and brain fog. Nighttime, however, brought fever and intense body aches. I let my partner have the bed since he’s a lot taller and was even sicker. Being more compact and able to fit comfortably, I slept on the couch for three weeks.
Most nights, I was too afraid to sleep — or just couldn’t because I was so focused on my labored breathing. When I did sleep, apparently, I constantly made noises that sounded like a cross between Butthead and the ghost of Jacob Marley. My partner also made noises akin to a death rattle and I’d go upstairs to check on him to make sure he was okay.
When I wasn’t sleeping — which was most nights — I’d worry I wouldn’t wake up if I closed my eyes. Thankfully, I had my stuffed pal Sammy to keep me company and was able to distract myself and laugh in the wee hours of the night, watching YouTube videos and episodes of The Golden Girls, Seinfeld, and The Office.
I needed to laugh because I was angry. I’d been so careful for two years and now I was whacked with the plague. I was even more pissed off thinking, “This is how it fucking ends? This is how I die? I don’t even get a cool, noble, or funny death?” I felt like I was going to shuffle off without having accomplished or experienced what I wanted to in this life and that I’d wasted my time. All this responsibility and no fun.
But, in the words of Stephen Sondheim, “I’m still here.” I think the combination of anger, regret, and a pinch of spite helped me pull through.
The Fun Didn’t Stop There
Once I recovered from the ‘rona, it didn’t stop from there. I dropped 12 pounds after weeks of being sick. But the weight came back and then some once I regained my appetite. Great.
Even worse, about one-third of my hair fell out due to telogen effluvium, another result of being sick for so long. You could have made one helluva lace front from everything my vacuum picked up each week over a three-month period. This pissed me off more than anything. I’d always taken care of my hair. It was thick, healthy, and nearly to my elbows. I wound up having to cut it to a few inches past my shoulders to allow it to catch up with the new growth. Thankfully, it’s coming back thicker, but will take another year or so to get it back to elbow length. It sucked, but hey, it could have been a lot worse.
Thankfully, the ‘rona had no lasting effect on my lungs. I’d heard horror stories about long COVID and people having difficulty breathing for months after falling ill. While getting whomped with the plague sucked, I was lucky to have come through it mostly unscathed — and with a renewed drive to live life to the fullest.
But not before my anxiety started getting the better of me. Sometimes, after you come through an ordeal, all the bananas aren’t attached to the tree. It had been building for awhile, but one night in April, the dam burst and I started screaming and crying so hard that I could hardly breathe. Every muscle in my body shook and wouldn’t stop shaking.
That incident prompted me to see a therapist to get a better handle on my anxiety.
Changes: Turn and Face the Strange
After 43 years of staring down my anxiety solo, I decided to take advantage of the mental health program that my job offers. Not only was I lucky enough to be able to work from home while being hammered by the ‘rona, but I’m also fortunate to work for a company that makes an effort to cover therapy in their benefits package.
I’d been internalizing a lot for a long time. I know I should be “over” my parents having passed well over a decade ago, but it still bothers me that there are so many life moments I don’t get to share with them. Also, most of my best friends live hundreds of miles away. Being surrounded by people doesn’t make you any less lonely if they’re not your kind of people.
Additionally, changes were afoot at my job with my department merging with another before the end of the year. I worried what those changes might mean for my career.
There were even more changes ahead at home. My partner of 25 years was retiring in July and would be around the house full time. I worried if having him around the house would cramp my style and throw a wrench in my routine.
I thrive on routine. I like to know what I’m doing well in advance to mentally prepare for something. I like having not just a Plan B, but a Plan C — and a Plan D in case every permutation of wrong goes down. I’m not a “spontaneous fun” person. While I can adapt and think on my feet when things go to shit, it’s not my preference.
Couple those impending life changes with past issues that still weigh on me, plus having gotten over a prolonged illness and dealing with a pandemic for two years, and I was a hot mess.
A Rebuilding Year: Bouncing Back
I took therapy seriously. I was lucky enough to find a therapist I clicked with instantly. I loved her approach and demeanor. I felt at-ease talking with her and being brutally honest about why I was there. I told her I wasn’t there to score prescription meds. I wanted constructive ways to deal with my shit to get a better handle on my anxiety.
In order for therapy to work, you have to be honest and put your therapist’s recommendations into practice. I kept a notebook of “homework assignments” every week. I would review those exercises every day, finding ways to put them into practice before my next session. Each tip built on top of one another, giving me a firmer foundation to better cope with things and connect the dots for myself.
I started therapy in May, going once per week. Soon, I’d scaled back to once every two weeks, then once a month. Now, I’m at once every two months.
The Benefits of Therapy
As a team, our goal was for me to be in a good enough place mentally by the time my partner retired in July. Part of that involved not internalizing things. Rather, I had to vocalize what I needed. Sometimes, that meant bluntly telling him to stop “joking” with me about certain things when I’d reached my threshold. At others, it meant voicing that I needed space and quiet to write or watch a show without interruption.
My outlook got a lot better when I stopped bottling everything up. No, I’m not “cured.” I’m still a work-in-progress. But it’s possible to get better once you get help and actively put in the work to push past those blocks.
With practice in taming my racing thoughts, I understood that certain things were out of my control. Most “worst case scenarios” a.) might never happen or b.) be entirely out of my control anyway. Rather, just enjoy the good, but live life in such a way that, if something bad happens, you have the resources you need to deal with it. But don’t live your life in a paralyzing state of “what if.”
To anyone who is on the fence and considering therapy, I can’t recommend it enough. It truly does help and you’ll be glad you did it. Even if you think you don’t have the means for therapy, there are a lot of low-cost or free therapy options available. Please look into them and make it a priority to take care of yourself and enjoy life!
Finding the Joy in the Suck
Change is never easy. However, therapy helped me accept change without freaking myself out. I also took a more active role in making positive changes.
I started taking myself on self-dates once a month. South Street became my “home away from home.” I’d take myself to Dottie’s Donuts and enjoy a donut and coffee on a park bench. I’d visit Harry’s World at 10am, then make my way from one end down to the other — hitting a few bookstores and picking up some reads until other shops opened their doors at noon. I’d strike up conversations with shop owners at Crash Bang Boom and South Street Art Mart. I’d sit at the bar and chat with random patrons at Tattooed Mom’s, popping parmesan pepper tots into my gob all the way.
I had one day where I’d scheduled a “self date,” but just didn’t feel like leaving the house. So I didn’t. I recognized that what I needed that day was to binge-watch a show, snuggle with Sammy, and take it easy.
Time with Friends
I also wound up having one of the best birthdays in years. My best friend, several other good friends and I met up at the Franklin Institute to check out the Harry Potter exhibit. This was my first foray out into a crowded venue (apart from walking up the block to my local Wawa to grab coffee or a breakfast sandwich) in over two years.
After checking out the exhibit, we all went for Thai food. It was so good to have a low-pressure gathering and be in the company of friends and loved ones.
On another occasion, I got to show my best friend around some of my favorite haunts on South Street when she and her husband came to Philly for an extended visit. These were moments I’d missed that were a balm to my soul.
I also got to see one of my favorite bands, Ghost — my first concert in nearly three years. It was soothing to feel the bass-induced rattling of my chest cavity that comes with hearing live music — and even better, to feel the sense of community you get at a show. People were truly kind to each other, which was refreshing since the news piles it on with how horrible a place the world is. It made me so happy to see live music alive and well and people of all ages there: Kids with their parents in full face paint. Dudes in their 50s and 60s. Teens with their friends, wearing costumes or just dressed up for the occasion.
Enjoying Time With My (Retired) Partner
Despite dreading what would happen when he retired, I wound up really enjoying having my partner around the house. He was much happier, less tired, and less irritable after working an intensely physical job for 30+ years. He was able to take it easy, enjoy playing video games, and find projects to occupy himself. Also, thanks to techniques I picked up in therapy, we were communicating better. He’s since become my lunch buddy and I look forward to chatting with him more now that I work from home.
I even managed to get him to experience new places and things with me. He accompanied me to see Ghost in September, and then the Philly Christmas Village earlier this month. He’s a much happier person since retiring. And he deserves that joy. There’s more to life than just an endless procession of responsibilities.
One of the best bits of advice I’d picked up in recent years was that “‘No’ is a complete sentence.” I set and enforced boundaries. If there was something I was not ready to do or not comfortable doing, I said “no.” There were certain situations where I was comfortable leaving the house and others where I wasn’t. I honored those boundaries because I realized that my mental health was more important than whatever was encroaching on its turf.
Having previously felt that my life was just a series of obligations with very little fun, I realized this was partly my own fault. While I couldn’t just shrug off all responsibilities, I also didn’t have to take on so much. I could be more selective and say no to things that were not necessary, did not bring me joy, or took time away from engaging in activities that were meaningful to me.
Getting Back Into Hobbies
I’d been neglecting my blog and writing short stories for awhile. My intentions were there, but the energy wasn’t. I stopped beating myself up for not writing — and the inspiration came back. I forgave myself for binge-watching shows or comfort-watching old favorites again. I realized that this was what I needed and adopted yet another mantra: “Your worth is not measured by your productivity.”
I came to appreciate how so many other hobbies helped make life better. I put together more music playlists, listened to new albums, and discovered new artists. These playlists powered my workout routines. I stopped weight lifting because it didn’t make me feel good. Instead, I got back into doing yoga and dance regularly, increasing mobility and flexibility while building strength and endurance — minus feeling like a door in need of WD-40.
I listened to more music, more podcasts, and watched more drag shows. I took chances on movies on streaming services that were outside of my usual genres. And I enjoyed the hell out of all of them.
Sure, 2022 didn’t just suck. It sucked dick for bus money and walked home. But in the midst of all of the turmoil, there were lessons learned. Ultimately, I came out of this hellscape of a year with more gratitude and a renewed zest for life. It may not be “a wonderful life,” but I’m grateful to be here and for what I have.
Header photo by: cottonbro studio
All other photos (Squirrels on Buddha, South Street street art, and self-portrait with stuffed fox): Author’s own