And She Returns

It’s a weird feeling coming back to this blog after checking out for nearly two years. Things have been happening, or hadn’t you heard?

I had every intention of blogging in 2020 after recovering from my two concussions in 2019. But I ended that year by falling down the stairs and spraining my Achilles tendon the day we were leaving to go home to Atlanta for the holidays. That capped off a nice bookend that was my nightmare of a year, so I just wiped my hands clean of this blog and thought to myself, 2020 will be different.

How 2020 Went

Clearly, 2020 was different but not in the ways I intended. I had made it my mission to start 2020 by correcting the grapes issue I had on NYE of 2019. First of all, the grapes had to be small. Like smaller than small. And I devised a system where I held all the grapes in my hands instead of leaving them in the baggie, as this would allow me to shovel them in my face faster. Once the clock struck 11:59:48 on December 31, I ate and thought to myself, “Please don’t let me have the health issues and problems I had last year!” 

I shouldn’t have been so specific. I really REALLY should’ve vagued that up a bit.

I’ll be honest, since Trump and 2016, I struggled a lot. Internally, externally, with interpersonal relationships, with anger, with frustration, with gut-wrenching sadness, with fear and desperation, and then in 2019, my health issues and two concussions. I had so much to say about everything that was going on in the world, so much in fact that I was too overwhelmed to write it out. I was afraid my anger would drown out my points, points I knew were well-researched, factual, and necessary to state. But so much hatred, trolling, and non-sensical opinions generated by the Trumpublicans instilled in me the sense that it wasn’t worth it. I know it was but I didn’t have the energy to mount up to the fight. I was too concerned with my health, my memory, my marriage, my job, and everything else to release the internal strife that was hindering me from taking deep breaths on a daily basis.

Add in a novel, world-altering pandemic that shifted me to a remote job at home with no office space to share with Timmy, consolidation of my campus with two other campuses in the USF system, friends and family that wouldn’t listen to me as a public health expert and made up their own rules of medicine and nature, and the fact that we had to cancel our trip to Amsterdam and all other trips crushed me. Instead of forward-thinking and planning, I turned inward and focused on the immediacy of my daily needs: meals, work space at home, exercise, spending time with my puppy, and trying to fix my marriage that was embroiled in fight after fight after fight. 

I was also still dealing with the fallout of my memory loss, uncontrollable anger, and loss of patience from my two concussions in 2019. My brain injuries halted my ability to differentiate between 2018, 2019 and some of 2020, and it pushed Timmy and I too far at times. He was angry over things I didn’t remember happening or things I didn’t remember saying, and I couldn’t argue when I couldn’t remember. I had hoped 2020 would bring some calmness that 2019 didn’t provide, but instead it ramped up every external stress factor possible for both myself and Timmy.

Timmy was struggling with work and the inequities he was dealing with in his ever-shrinking territories and subsequently, his paycheck. His anger blossomed out of control, affecting the overall energy in our house, which I was now occupying 24 hours a day. Add in the fact that we couldn’t travel, couldn’t escape each other, and couldn’t be around other people since his asthma made him high risk…well, it’s an absolute miracle we’re still together. 

Once I switched to at-home work in late March 2020, things weren’t too bad at first. I was mostly concerned about setting up a temporary workspace that wouldn’t kill my back, but I also had zero expectations set by my supervisor, so I had really no idea what I was supposed to do. Thank God I was teaching at the time; moving my in-person class to an online format mid-semester and then focusing on designing a high-quality synchronous online class experience for the next two semesters kept me afloat. But like everyone else, I lost motivation, morale, and focus.

So that’s where I’ve been since March 2020. I’ve been working from home every day, trying to program and promote health for students that I don’t see and don’t know who I am. It’s been frustrating, soul-crushing, and limit-pushing.

However, there have been some bright spots that couldn’t have happened without the pandemic. I was able to stay with my parents in Atlanta for 5 weeks over the holidays in 2020, something I hadn’t done since I moved back home after college. They had quarantined as long as Timmy and I had, so there was no risk to anyone. Getting to enjoy the holidays together, at least the 4 of us, was something we all really needed.

The change in national leadership rocked my world in the best of ways. The day that Biden was declared president, I spent the rest of the day drinking cava, drinking to my favorite Atlanta-based jams, and breathing deeply like I hadn’t in years. Timmy commented on it numerous times about how much I was breathing deep, and for me, it felt like that Trump-sized elephant that had been crushing me since 2016 was gone. I truly hadn’t felt safe, respected, or validated since then and because of it, I felt like I wasn’t ever getting enough oxygen. I could finally expand my lungs and let the air in. For me, the 2020 elections became the turning point that cracked the door to let the light back in.

How 2021 Is Going

I also got all 12 grapes down leading to 2021. I had very tempered hopes of how much better 2021 would be considering I had really high hopes for 2020. We finally decided to expand our family and welcome a new puppy in January. It’s next to impossible to rescue a hypoallergenic dog anywhere, so after 2.5 years of looking at rescue sites, it became crystal clear that we’d have to go with a breeder. Luckily, I found an AKC breeder with a new litter that she hadn’t even advertised yet so we were able to get our newest guy pretty quickly, which wasn’t actually great news for Timmy who can struggle with change.

We decided on a Havanese because honestly, this was the description: “Havanese, smart and trainable extroverts with the comic instincts of a born clown” is that not an exact description of Timmy??!!? We introduced Floyd to him at a neutral park in Palm Harbor, and because of that successful meeting, we took him home that day. Armand, named after Robin Williams’ character in The Birdcage, has been for me the addition I was hoping for. Sure, it was crazy having a puppy and waking up in the middle of the night, multiple times for two months, then training him and getting him into classes, then entering into puppy adolescence and eating a hole in our wall and regressing in the most maddening of ways…but he makes us laugh daily, all day, and loves us and his brother Floyd so much. And our old man Floyd, at almost 13 years, loves Armand and hates him all in the same breath sometimes.

He’s 8 months old now and I couldn’t love him more. Even though Timmy got a rough start with accepting the new puppy and the temporary change to our lives, I catch him wrapping Armand up in the sweetest and most loving of embraces, and I know that we made the right choice in the end.

My parents got fully vaccinated and slowly I started to remember what hope felt like. Once vaccinations opened up to us in April 2021, Timmy and I immediately got fully vaccinated (him Moderna, me Pfizer), which finally opened up the whole world to us. We started flying, traveling, seeing people, leaving the house regularly, and overall feeling less paranoid and scared about others and their poor decision making skills. We went to Disney a few times (obviously for my birthday), traveled to Atlanta to surprise my mom for her 70th, spent some time with my in-laws WITH hugs, and made all we could of our re-entry to society.

I finished my DrPH classes with great grades since the program had always been online, but then this summer came the time to start writing my doctoral project proposal in order to defend it before fall. That too has escaped through my fingers because, like always, life has gotten in the way.

This summer started out just peachy. We decided VERY last-minute to go to Cancun for our annual travel-abroad vacation that had been stolen from us in 2020. We were there for 4 days in mid May, and it was magical. Healing in many ways, and necessary to take before an impending surgery. I had arthroscopic hip surgery in late May to repair a torn labrum, shave down a hip impingement and release my psoas to fix the never-ending hip pain I’d had since early 2019. Since my brain injuries were so much more immediate and noticeable than my hip pain, I didn’t really start noticing the major issues I was feeling there until my brain healed some. After receiving the correct diagnosis after seeing two other doctors, I was able to finally schedule the surgery, and since then I’ve been pain free, albeit still limited while I rebuild strength and balance.

In what can only be deemed yet another overwhelming blow to the family, my father-in-law Trey became very ill in May and died two weeks ago. He was so sick, he never was able to have a biopsy to determine a diagnosis, but it was most likely advanced pancreatic cancer that spread to his lungs and liver. I never met Timmy’s father, who passed away in 2002, so Trey is the only father in law I’ve known. Barbara, Timmy’s mother, is now a widow twice over before the age of 70 and we are all devastated not only for the major loss of Trey but for her as well. 

Once we heard about his illness and hospitalization (which happened the day after my parents left St. Pete after 2 weeks of helping to care for me, post-op), we made our way to Atlanta and saw him late Saturday night on the 12th. He was gone by 2am on Monday the 15th. We still say how thankful we are that my parents FaceTimed us on Thursday the 10th to tell us that it was imperative for us to see him ASAP while he was still lucid. His doctors had given him 6-8 weeks, so we thought we had time, but when hospice saw him on the 14th, they said no more than 48 hours. And sure enough, he passed away peacefully in his favorite recliner in the living room not even 14 hours later.

I haven’t really had an opportunity to grieve. Timmy’s been struggling to get through this, and I don’t think anyone in the family has even gotten to the toughest parts of grief yet. He was more involved in Trey’s passing than I thought he needed to be, but he stepped up to help his stepbrothers and mom in a superhuman way. Unfortunately, his helping nature will undoubtedly lead to some type of post-traumatic emotions and anxiety, which will only exacerbate the other issues he’s been dealing with.

Because of this, I’ve choked it all down. I have no choice right now but to be the rock Timmy can depend on. While we were in Atlanta to say goodbye to Trey, I was still on crutches and couldn’t physically help like I wanted to, so emotionally, this was what I could offer. Timmy’s been up and down every day, so I will continue to support him as much as I can. As time ticks by, inevitably it will explode in my face, but I’ve decided to cross that bridge whenever it collapses.

Our relationship has been on a rollercoaster, as I’m sure many have these past few years. Thankfully, we are stronger than we have been since we’ve taken a renewed and necessary focus back on our marriage. We’re strengthening our ties, trying our hardest to meet each other’s needs while focus on repairing our own mental health that of course wavered and failed after these last two years. Now that we can make plans for the future, Timmy’s interviewing for a new job, I’m gearing up to physically return to the office full time in August (I’m in now 2 days/week), our families are healthy and mostly vaccinated, and Armand outgrows this phase, I have to say, I am so excited about standing almost fully back in the light. It was dark for too long, in ways that shadowed us separately and that threatened to eradicate the parts of ourselves and our relationship that were special to us. 

It’s been a real claw-back of a year, but halfway through it, even though we’re still hurting, I can now see that there is still plenty of joy to be had. We’ll find it again. And we’ll share it with everyone we know.

♥, VB