It is the first Monday of 2014. At one point, in what now seems like a past life in which I had time, I had a habit of writing a blog post twice a week. Then fall 2013 happened. I loaded myself up with five classes, a second job and the expectation that somehow I'd be able to maintain the rest of my already jam packed life. In my mind I was some sort of superwoman powerhouse who, with my superhuman scheduling abilities and short night sleeping habits, would not only get it all done but do it with a smile on my face. At the end I'd be looking at every one else and saying, "What you didn't think I could do this? Piece. Of. Cake."
I was wrong. I was very wrong. By mid-September I knew that piling it on like this was a mistake. At that point of course I was committed. If I wanted to finish earning my degree by Fall 2014 I had to push through these five classes. I couldn't drop the second job because I desperately needed the money and even with it I was struggling to make ends meet, feed myself and my feline companions. Creative commitments were piled up too, most of them collaborative in nature, and I wasn't going to back out or let anyone down on that front either.
By mid-October the tired began to creep in. I relied greatly on my obsessiveness about writing things down and setting the reminder alarm on my iPhone so that it's chime would alert me to where I needed to be in the next 15 minutes. Still I started to fall behind. Every evening was jam packed with homework and keeping up with performance responsibilities. My social life became non-existent as I cancelled dinner and lunch plans and stopped going out dancing. I not only lacked the time to make such commitments but I also felt I simply wasn't all that pleasant to be around. I seemed unable to do anything but talk about how exhausted I was and when I wasn't talking about that I was distracted because I was thinking of all I could be doing at that moment. I seemed to have no time for writing, dancing or music and certainly no time to just sit and be still.
"I just have to make to to December. I just have to make it to December. I just have to make it to December," became my mantra.
The crankies set in and I ended many days with tears and questioning whether or not I could do this. Due to a self feeding cycle of anxiety and lack of sleep I became an emotional sieve. I could hold nothing in. I cried daily...sometimes hourly. I was snippy and short tempered. I lacked any shred of diplomacy in most interactions. When I was happy it was with almost manic giddiness. The one thing I seemed unable to feel was any sense of peace.
(I just have to make it to December.)
On top of all of this my elderly cat began to have unexplained seizures which after over $1000 in veterinary bills is yet to be explained. I began to have trouble with my own health issues as my asthma flared up again and again likely triggered by stress. I couldn't afford to purchase the medication that I needed to keep it under control (and the stress I was under was certainly NOT helping with that). Bills piled up and I began to make yet more cuts in my life, this time on food. My diet was pretty much devoid of fresh vegetables and became a steady diet of rice and beans, which generally left me standing over a stove before a meal wondering if I wanted to actually bother to eat.
(I just have to make it to December...or maybe January)
At this point something quite amazing happened. An anonymously given gift certificate to Trader Joe's appeared in my mailbox one day. The next a Hannaford gift certificate from my mother arrived in the mail. Other friends brought over homemade canned goods and even the treat of some homebrewed wine. My father gifted me with a heated mattress pad for my bed after learning how cold my bedroom became at night. There were even gifts to help out with my and my kitty's medications and bills. It was all unexpected, very needed and truly if not of these acts of kindness I'm not sure I'd have made it.
(I just need to make it to December)
My grades suffered and though I ended the semester with three As and a B, I also earned my first ever C. And I earned it. School is something that has generally always been easy for me and it was one of the reasons I thought I could pull off five classes. I was wrong. I found myself fighting to keep above a D and knowing that I had to earn a C in the class to have it count towards my degree I contacted the professor. who told be exactly what I needed to do to earn it. 100's on all my remaining homework and quizzes (which I did) and at least a 63 on my final exam (I pulled of an 85). In the end it brought my GPA to a level that, while still quite respectable, is far lower than I'd like it to be.
(I just need to make it to...oh, wait...)
I finally did make it to December and I thought when I walked out of my last final exam that I would feel some sense of relief but it didn't come. Looming on the horizon was a New Year's Eve show in Boston with my troupe for which we needed to rehearse, create costuming and make travel arrangements for. Due to weather, holiday schedules and the unexpected lateness of a funds payout everything was crammed into the last week before the show. My late and mostly sleepless nights continued. Once again a few folks stepped into assist and thanks to the busy hands of my fellow troupe members we had what we needed for the show and I was able to get a few extra hours of sleep the night before our performance.
The show went well (everyone was on the top of their game) and it was so very nice to toast in the new year with my fellow troupe members, many of whom were witness to all of my emotional ups and downs. My social interactions had been minimal in the prior months, if not for the continued efforts of a few close friends who pestered me often to take a few minutes to do something other than work (and who I thank immensely for their patience and tolerance), I'd have had none at all. New Year's Eve after our show was a reminder that I need to allow the time to enjoy the company of those I call friends.
On the train ride home I finally began to relax. I found myself nodding off and gave into the pleasure of a nap. When I arrived home I collapsed for two hours and later that evening, when I finally went to bed I made sure I would sleep. I took two benadryl, turned on my white noise machine and put in earplugs. I did not have to work until 10:00 the next day and so finally, after months of existing on two to four hours of sleep a night I managed a solid night of it.
This weekend I was able to get out of town to visit a friend and spent time reading by the fire, eating good food, having late night conversations that were not about how tired I was, spend time in the winter woods snowshoeing and yes, getting more sleep. I'm not 100 percent yet, but I'm on my way.
So I made it. Somehow I made it through all of this. The new semester begins in one week and I plan to spend this week doing not much other than working. I'll be taking four classes this time, still a heavy load but I think more manageable than five. I am making some rules for myself about making sure I keep aside enough time for real self care and to do the things that feed my soul.
Like many of us I thought in the past that I knew what my limits were and I realize now that I only had an inkling. The level of emotional stress and exhaustion I felt brought me to a very dark place. Though I still don't know how close to the edge I came, I feel like I have turned a corner and that I have a good chance of finding some sort of balance again in the coming year.