a·wak·en·ing [uh-wey-kuh-ning]: adjective 1.rousing; quickening. noun 2. the act of awaking from sleep. 3. a revival of interest or attention. 4. a recognition, realization, or coming into awareness of something (definition from dictionary.com).
This word defines my experience in 2013 in many ways. My desire to live life as fully as I could was roused, quickened. After struggling for several years with anxiety and depression, I feel like 2013 was the year I finally awoke from a long, restless sleep. My interest in experiencing what the world has to offer has been revived, and pursuing those offerings has garnered much of my attention in these past few months. And finally, I have come to recognize, realize, become aware of the fact that I am worthy of being happy; I do not have to be ashamed and fearful of asking for help.
One year ago tonight I was working my eight 12-hour night shift of the week. I gave my sergeant the night off so he could Skype with his wife and 3-month old son. I only had 2 months remaining of my 12-month deployment and knew by now that having a night off wasn’t going to make me any happier. I was living in Groundhog Day. As I watched the clock, waiting for the stroke of midnight, I finally acknowledged how miserable I was. When our senior officer on shift, an effervescent Brit always sporting a smile, gathered us around the ops desk for a round of Auld Lang Syne and sparkling grape juice, I vowed to myself, “never again.” As I stealthily wiped away tears in a dark corner, fearing one of my airman seeing me exhibit real emotion, I worried about how to go about improving my emotional well-being. I didn’t take any positive, meaningful steps to mend my wounded soul, but at least I had finally acknowledged that I needed to do something.
As I was wrapping up my last month in Qatar and passing on everything I’d crammed into my brain for the past 11 months to my predecessor, I realized I was actually going to miss Doha. I had just started joining some of my coworkers on their trips downtown and to the souqs for dinner and shopping, and I was actually enjoying myself. Social anxiety had kept me pent up in my house for the past six years, and finally being able to muster up the courage to engage socially was a monumental step forward.
Midway through the month, I was notified that I had gotten the assignment to Germany that I had requested. I was elated! Having this to look forward to was what I relied on to improve my mood for my final few weeks on that deployment.
Home at last! I was back in sunny Florida, but was essentially homeless and without a vehicle. While I was deployed, I rented out the house I own and had all of my household goods stored. As the lease my tenant had signed was still good for another few months, I had to find somewhere else to live. After searching for about two weeks, I finally found a house that was way too big for me and Doc and signed a lease without letting on that I was only going to be in the house for about two and a half months. Without the protection of the military clause in the lease, I would have been screwed.
I had also sold my vehicle before deploying to pay off my student loan. I figured I wouldn’t be driving this big, beautiful SUV for over a year, so I may as well sell it and not have to worry about insurance or registration payments. Best decision ever, but the new car I ordered while I was deployed was delayed by customs on arrival to the US. I spent a lot of money on rental cars while awaiting the arrival of my “deployment baby.”
I finally got the call from the Volvo dealership in Pensacola that my baby had arrived and that I could come pick her up. Oh, happy day!
I arrived at the dealership, checkbook in hand to pay the remaining balance (no bills for a year = paying cash for my dream car). I was happy to hand over that check and get her out on the road. I had a beautiful three weeks with Selma (Nordic name meaning “safe; helmet of God” – appropriate, no?) and then I had to put her back on a boat to start the journey to Germany. I rolled 1,000 miles on the odometer while driving to the car to the port.
Work was not at all fulfilling. While I was deployed, I got a new supervisor back in the states. He was new to the base, new to the general job function, and had no idea who I was or what my capabilities were. When I started back at the office after taking my post-deployment leave and setting up my temporary household, he had no idea what to do with me. …so he just didn’t use me. I was being paid to show up every day and hold down a chair. Those are your tax dollars at work, folks. How embarrassing. His excuse was that he didn’t want to give me a duty position just to have me move off to Germany two months later. In an effort to be productive, I had to actively seek out opportunities to be of use. In an ever-shrinking military, this should have been much easier than it actually was. I did find work on occasion, but for the most part I felt defeated and useless. May was a pretty demoralizing month for me professionally, which certainly did nothing to ease my mental health issues.
By the end of the month, I was happy to have my mother come visit and spent some time at the beach with her. I had “lived” at the beach for four years by this point and had not spent a single day at the beach in that time. What? Oh right, I was avoiding social situations.
My brother brought his family to visit me for the first time ever. He’s been married for 11 years and I’ve lived in some vacation-worthy places, but this was still the first. I know it was for the free beach vacation before I moved away, but it still made me a little happier than I had been for a while. I enjoyed having the kids in the house and being able to take them to the beach and out for some pure redneck seafood dinners.
And then the movers came to start packing up all of my worldly belongings. I had to divide everything into three different shipments, and I was pissed. Knowing that the end result would be me living in Europe for a couple of years was the only thing that kept me from losing my shit. Putting Doc through the trauma of the flight across the Atlantic was almost more than I could deal with. But I was in Germany!
House-hunting and moving into the house I settled for happened. I nearly decapitated a few moving men when I saw how much damage had been done to my furniture. I got over it and was just happy to be in a house with a yard for Doc and a garage for Selma. I learned how to deal with not having air-conditioning or cable, and finally became more comfortable with shopping in the German grocery stores. Oh, and driving on the Autobahn is every bit as cool as it sounds. Driving aimlessly became my new favorite hobby, and I found a beautiful and peaceful hiking trail around a nearby castle.
I discovered travel blogs! On a whim, I bought a domain and found a host and dove in head first. I’m still fumbling through how to be a “good blogger,” and I’m not totally comfortable yet, but I’m working on it and enjoying the process.
I finally ventured further out of my comfort zone and took day trips to a few cities within a few hours of my house for the first three straight weekends of the month. I felt like I had to cram it all in as quickly as possible, because I had just scheduled back surgery for a problem I’d been dealing with for the past six years. About time, eh? The surgery went smoothly and I was up and walking before dinner time that night. I was discharged before lunch the next day and thought it was all smooth sailing from there.
I was wrong. September was the worst month of my life. I am absolutely not exaggerating. My 37th birthday came and went with no acknowledgement. My family had not called or emailed to ask about how I was doing after the surgery. I was feeling enormous guilt about not being at work so soon after moving. My dog was suffering because I had to lay down as much as possible, so I wasn’t playing with him, walking him, or even letting him into the yard very much other than to take care of his immediate needs.
I stopped taking my pain medicines only six days after the surgery. I didn’t want to burden any of my coworkers with having to drive me to and from my doctor’s appointments, and I am just too damn shy about asking for help when I need it. I was alone, I was in pain, I was incapable of taking care of my dog properly, and I was falling into a deep dark emotional place. This time I finally lost it. The surgeon asked if I was considering hurting myself at one of my follow-up appointments and I answered without hesitation.
I finally admitted that I needed help.
After a few weeks of an antidepressant and some mental health counseling, I was finally feeling “normal” again. I hadn’t felt good in so long that I was almost manic. I started making plans with people and actually following through. I attended a Halloween party, which was a huge step for me.
I even started planning a vacation. Why did I wait so many years to finally ask for help?
Another medical issue sent me back to the US via MEDEVAC in October, and it was an eye-opening experience. This also plunked me down in the DC area during the government shutdown. It was an interesting trip to say the least.
I finally stared getting into the details of my new job and decided that this was going to be my best assignment yet. I love the job and absolutely adore my coworkers. I don’t know if the meds are the difference here, but I’m happy, so I’ll take it.
I found that many of you are absolutely wonderful people and have so much to offer the world. I have met some beautiful women in this amazing community, and consider many to be true friends. Your support and encouragement through my recovery from surgery and my early days of blogging mean more to me that you could ever know. Thank you.
At the end of the month, I took a week-long trip by myself to Spain. This was the defining moment of my year. I was confident. I was strong. I was completely independent. I WAS HAPPY. I was reminded what pure joy felt like. I can’t wait to do it again.
This month has been amazing. Now that I’ve decided to grab life by the horns, I’m loving it! I have visited so many beautiful Christmas markets, in both Germany and France, and rekindled my love of the holidays. I am so happy to see the Grinch leave my soul after setting up residence for the past several years.
As the Grinch departed, my new buddy, Wanderlust, came knocking again. I’ve already planned a trip to Paris in January and another to Berlin in February. I also have the pleasure of traveling to Estonia and Latvia for work in February. It’s going to be so cold but I won’t complain about an opportunity to see another beautiful country or two.
As I sit here tonight enjoying my Christmas market finds and reflecting on the past year, I am filled with gratitude. I am grateful for my family who loves me both on meds and off. I am grateful to have a job that I love. I am grateful that I have great medical coverage, because boy have I needed it this year! I am grateful for this blogging community that has helped me through a difficult period in my life. I am grateful for my dog, who loves me completely and unconditionally.
I am grateful for my life.
Happy New Year, everyone. May 2014 be a year of further growth and much joy and love.