Here it’s spring, and everything is waking up. Flowers are blooming, and trees are filling in with lush green foliage. Here in NZ, the seasons are opposite to the US. At home in the northern states, it’s fall, and the trees are bare, there’s a chill in the air, and the great pumpkin is about to visit (Charlie Brown reference). In Florida, where I have lived most of my life, fall equates to being able to turn off the AC and open our windows. I break out my favorite boots on crisp evenings and get excited about swimming in the cold waters of the Gulf. We’ve had a few arctic swims here, and though it is bone-chillingly painful when you first dive in, it’s also addictive because it initiates a natural high.
The health benefits of diving into what feels like a giant popsicle are enough to hook me. Being a voluptuous woman with a panic disorder, I love that 5 minutes of ice swimming promotes weight loss and alleviates anxiety. Our Uber healthy 22 yr old daughter told me this, and I believe her. She’s a fit researching meditating guru that I would follow to the ends of the earth. While here with my girls, I have been inspired to move more and think about my health and how it affects our future. We admire the lifestyles of centenarians and have been focusing on getting in our life-extending 10,000 steps a day with meditative walks and metabolism-boosting relaxed runs. I feel good, more alive than ever.
I am in a season of inspired movement motivated by my family. Dealing with some bouts of depression, I find that my goals come and go like the seasons. My best intentions are to be consistent and keep the positivity of my routine moving, and when I can’t or just don’t, I forgive myself. I give in as the trees surrender to fall and let go of their leaves swaying in the breeze in a rejuvenating sleep until the chill passes. When my spring arrives, I burst onto the scene with color and energy. I come alive with renewed vigor. I think every person’s body clock runs slightly different. And “routine” varies for each one of us. The seasons are opposite between NZ and my home in the US, or it’s frigid in the north of America and never-ending summer in South Florida. I have learned over time to give my body what it needs in each season of my life, and right now, in my mind, it’s spring.
I stand outside my rented flat looking up at the stars shining in the clear sky as they float over Devonport. The Southern Cross hangs in the cool crisp air, and the streets are quiet. I’ve been writing all day. After walking 10 miles, I listen to jazz, sip wine and work on my book. I’ve gotten a lot done. I’m able to collect my thoughts and settle into the stillness that surrounds me. My youngest daughter sleeps on the pull-out sofa in the living room. A man walks past briskly, taking his Australian shepherd for its nighttime walk under the street lights. Dim light glows in the windows of the homes that surround us, and everything is still. The sound of music, conversations, and footsteps in the house above us fill the night air.
I am at peace knowing that I’m making progress on my memoir and want to continue but have to get some sleep because I have 2 Zoom meetings with the US in the wee hours of the morning. The COVID cases here looked terrible today, 45 in the community. I’m not sure whether we will go to level two or not when they re-evaluate this coming Tuesday. I walk up and down the hilly sidewalk along the empty street just outside the fence of our flat and wonder if I should ask my hosts to extend my booking for yet another week. The thought of living on top of my girls in their one-bedroom flat makes me anxious, and this peaceful place I have found would be hard to leave if we are all isolated together with no end in sight. This lockdown is an unusual situation and one everyone in Auckland has to accept and get through together for the greater good.
I make my way back inside and decide to shower and settle in for the night. I have found a calm place in all of this isolated stillness which is maddening. The long walks, runs, rented flat, volunteer online marketing for the mental health coalition and writing have been my saving grace. The icing on the cake is my visits with my girls. Just knowing they are a few blocks away and happy in their space makes me feel good. I want everyone to be comfortable during this stressful time. Mental health is hard to maintain in isolation. It’s hard to stay sane when you can no longer tell what day it is without checking the calendar, and there is no definitive light at the end of the tunnel. Still, I am blessed to be where I am, where I’m supposed to be at this moment. I am productive, healthy, and happy. I have gotten what I asked for, time with my girls, time to write. What more could anyone want.
After five weeks in level 4 lockdown, we have finally moved to level 3! We still have to stay in our homes going out to exercise and shop for essentials. But we can expand our bubble to close family or friends, keeping it “small and exclusive.” It’s incredible how a tiny bit of progress gives me fulfillment. The highlight of this level is that we can now order contact-free items for pickup and order from Uber Eats. Sushi! I want Asahi Sushi! I craved it at home in America, and I’ve craved it all lockdown. Oh, and Flying Rickshaw INDIAN, yummmm! There’s excitement and mixed emotions among the girls. They can return to work and are essential for contactless pickups of items at their place of business. I think they will be happy to have some breathing room and a change of scenery.
In my little universe today, we’ve proudly launched a CAREGIVERS webpage I have built for the Collier Coalition for Healthy Minds. I filmed testimonials and wrote content for this, created the social media accounts and all content and edits of photos. I spent my time in NZ isolation learning to develop this digital piece to deliver on my promise as a volunteer to contribute to this fantastic and vital cause. CCHM is a community response to mental illness and substance abuse. This page is a crucial resource spot for caregivers who need support as much, if not more at times, than those who are ill. I have first-hand experience here because I suffer from an acute panic disorder and depression, I have since my early 20’s. And though I have loving support from my husband and daughters, I often feel they need someone who can support them. My issues can be draining and, at times, scary. The CAREGIVER page we launched gives tips and schedules for support groups of all kinds! I am so proud to be a part of this and happy that the board has allowed me to participate. I needed this win.
There is peace and calm in the flat as Molly, and I bond over cookie baking, and the laidback quiet life of Covid lockdown continues on another level. There isn’t too much to report, no house fires, breakdowns, or medical issues. I’m getting ready to leave for my daily walk under the long white clouds. It’s drizzling, and I’m happy to have another day with our girls and another day in NZ.
I have got to stop endlessly scrolling on my phone. It’s chilly in the house, and the laundry is piling up. I haven’t gone for a walk for two days (at home 48 hr birthday celebration with our middle baby). My bottom is sore from sitting so long, eating white bread, chocolate, cheese, and drinking champagne. The celebrations are over, and it’s raining off and on. Sitting in the window seat, I aim to work on my book but end up looking for chemist shops that sell Tucks or Preparation H wipes in NZ. No one does. I’ll have to adapt. Eating a piece of Vogel’s toast with Nutella and bananas, I wonder what the fiber content is.
Man, I’m getting old. I just flashed back to me interrupting a conversation between my mom and her brother (they were in their early 60’s). I asked why they talked about their bowel movements and crap so often? Fast forward to right this moment; I get it. I am my mother’s ass (take that however you want). Yeah, we’ve been here for 20 days now. You know you’re getting cabin fever and tunnel vision when your world shrinks and your interests become limited to scrolling on your phone, your bathroom habits, and the apple supply on hand—still confused about what day it is between following the US/NZ calendars and waking up to the same morning over and over again with no clear view to anything that might vary my schedule with a bit of mood shifting excitement. The birthday was a good diversion. At this point, you start to wonder whether you even need to shower. I mean, who’s going to see you? You don’t need to change clothes and survive going back and forth from walking outfits to pajamas. I do have to force myself to be on top of my hygiene at this point, though. Others in the one-bedroom may find my smell offensive. I don’t want them to feel “yuck” about my presence.
We have days now where we go through waves of silence, false starts of activity, walking on eggshells around each other, walking in circles outside aimlessly (just to be outside), and celebrating and making the most out of the little things. Two items must be in the house and seem to keep everyone calm, apples and pasta (there’s more that I could add, but those are the staples). I’m planning on doing some online volunteer work today and will walk to the store after I wander around the hood searching for something new to see (all of the sites here are beautiful, so no complaints there).
I have learned while being here in the cold that I am genuinely HEAT INTOLERANT (we’ve had our suspicions, Paul and I). If it gets too warm in the flat for even a second, I have to stand out on the cold patio. It hits me with a sudden paralyzing weight, agitation, hot skin, sweating, and just an overall feeling of burning in the unforgiving fire of hell (can I say I am not looking forward to returning to the heat of Florida? Yes, yes, I can.) By the time we get out of lockdown in NZ, I may have built a transporter; yeah, I think I have time to learn how to do that.
Wouldn’t that be awesome? Then I could pop back and forth from my husband, sisters, dogs, and home in the US to my children in NZ at the flick of a switch. I could maybe benefit from having my DNA scrambled with each passage. A setting on my transporter could allow me to pick a gene rearranging feature on each trip with choices ranging from high metabolism, weight reduction and redistribution, best post-pubescent skin, hair texture (ooh, there could be a hair color feature to cut out transports to the salon). Heck, the transporter could be a cure-all for cancer, diabetes, mental illness, disorders, COVID (no face-masks on this flight), the common flu, and freakin hemorrhoids! The sky’s the limit. Let’s get real, though. I don’t need a transporter at the moment. I need to stop scrolling, put my phone down, shower, and get outside.
Eighteen days and we’re still here. There isn’t much to do. We have started to forget what day it is because none of us here in the flat are working so why should we remember? Yes, online school is still happening, but it’s all become very routine and familiar at this point. We’ve walked so much that the girls signed up to run a half marathon if we’re out of here in time, and I’ve gone from being able to walk 3 miles a day of the very hilly terrain of Devonport/Stanley Bay to 6 or 7 miles a day. It’s just hard to get someone to want to walk that distance at this point. We walk by cars parked down by the waterfront with people inside enjoying the view and past others taking their daily stroll, jog, skate (inline/roller/board), or bike ride. The repetitiveness of it is making it feel forced at times. Wait, really? Did I seriously say that? How can it feel forced when we walk among the beauty we are surrounded by, in the fresh air looking out over the clear blue Waitemata Harbour? Come on. Let’s not take the stunning environment we are in for granted. Admittedly It does feel like groundhog day, and isolation (absolute isolation where nothing is open except grocery, pharmacy, petrol, and utility) is starting to mess with our anxieties and personal issues. It seems a bit of a heavy feeling is creeping in as we go through our daily routines. We watch YouTube, laugh at Cody Ko’s Couples react (pretty funny), watch classic comedy, have drinks, squeeze together on the tiny back patio to lay in the sun, and dream.
We dream of what we want to eat when we can order takeaway food, Chinese, Indian, Sushi, and Pizza. We think about places we want to go when we get to level 2 (God willing, that happens before our time is up here). Places we would visit like Cape Reinga, Wellington to see family, and any excellent hiking place. Heck, we’ll be happy when we can go inside the house of our family down the road! The closest we’ve gotten to family visits since lockdown began 18 days ago is, of course, Zoom and Facetime. And we’ve been fortunate to have the ability to stop in front of the “other” Bruntons house, a bit up the road, on our walks, and yell hello up at them on their balcony. We have had some great breakfasts while isolated together, and man, our Molly, can cook some splendid authentic Italian from scratch. And Sabrina is replacing any dreams I might have of popping into a cafe on release. Who needs a cafe when you have a personal barista who rocks!
Who knew? Who knew we would travel 8000 miles to NZ where there was no community covid, and this would happen? We did our time in Managed Isolation (MIQ). In fact, between that and this level 4 lockdown, we have now spent 4.5 weeks of our eight weeks here IN ISOLATION. There is, however, a beautiful silver lining; the undivided attention of our three girls. I will not leave here feeling like we did not have enough time together (well, I can never have too much time with my girls; in fact, I never want to leave them). Having all 3 of them together is like holding a completed Rubik’s cube in your hand. All color, everything in its place, leaving you in total awe. Yeah, isolation sucks, to be honest, but when things open up again, EVERYTHING WILL BE OPEN, and there will be no cause for social angst or fear of getting covid from someone who just refused to cooperate. Community cases are decreasing daily, and I’ve got my eyes on that yummy sushi place down in the village.
I’ve completed the outline and first chapter of my forthcoming memoir/book. I’m well into writing chapter 2 now. And I can’t sleep. I just began feeling this niggling anxious agitation in my chest after editing chapter one and doing some rewrites. Though I’m approaching my story with a mixture of blunt truth and humor, I’m already starting to feel things and stuff that my panic disorder meds may not be strong enough to help me keep in check. I knew parts of writing this book would be unsettling; when I finished listing my outline in managed isolation in mid-July, I felt exhausted and broke down in tears. I read my ideas, and my life rapidly flashed before my eyes. At that moment, things I’ve questioned became clear to me for the first time. People I miss stood before me, and events I’ve wanted to forget felt fresh, wounding me as I read them on the page.
I am writing this story and all of the subsequent tales that spin-off of it. This is my lifelong dream. I am more than thankful to my husband for supporting my passion for writing while I’m am at the same time with our daughters and family in NZ. There’s so much to say about my journey. I worry that my words will fall flat and not be entertaining enough. But all I can do is tell my story, write what I know, relay the details in my Jeri way, and hope for the best. I just thought I would share.
We’ve lasted pretty well so far. The one-bedroom apartment is cramped, of course, but the 4 of us are putting systems in place that work. We’ve been in our family bubble in lockdown since August 18th. And on Tuesday, August 31st, the NZ government will reevaluate the country’s isolation situation.
Zoe and I knew there was a possibility this would happen when we set out for NZ to be with Sabrina and Molly. Thank God we extended our stay, moving our flight from August 29th to December 1st! Our original departure date was August 23rd. We would have been back in the US by now with Paul. And though we all miss him terribly, I would not have been satisfied with the short time I had with our girls.
So here we are in intense togetherness—all 4 of us with our little quirks and tasks. Zoe has online school and gets very anxious before DBAs and tests. Molly and Sabrina are also studying online. Molly is used to her alone time, and Sabrina, like me, can’t settle her mind and body unless every item in the house is in its place. Almost all of us have issues with overstimulation which triggers, anger, tears, anxiety, and confusion. So the more I am helpful by endlessly tidying and cleaning, the more anxious it makes the people who seek solitary moments.
On the other hand, when we let things go and chill, let things lay around and pile up to minimize movement, more anxiety and feelings of fight or flight build up in those who seek absolute organization. We understand each other and the issues we each have. We talk through the tough stuff and make plans to minimize discomfort.
In our small space, we have decided to assign areas. Each person keeps their area clean. Molly has the couch, I have the window seat, Sabrina has her bed, and Zoë has Molly’s. We decided yesterday that from 10 am – 12 pm each day, we will go to our stations to have space inside the apartment, a quiet time we can look forward to while being together but separate, and much-needed study/work time. This sounds like a perfect plan; however, there’s one little mouse we can’t keep out of our pantry and in their space. That’s the one with the inability to stay still (ZOE! I admit that her mother has the same issue, but as I’ve aged, I’ve developed a bit more self-control, I said A BIT!).
There is no perfect solution to any situation, but we can try and do our best to respect each other’s space and reduce triggers.
There’s something to be said for spending two weeks in isolation with a 15 yr old who doesn’t often initiate conversation or can’t hear you when you start one (thanks, Apple AirPods). I don’t watch TV, and we’ve had ours on over the last 11 days for maybe a total of 2 hours. Zoë watches stuff on her phone or our laptop and snaps her friends and sisters for entertainment. I tidy, tinker, read and write (and now do my 5-minute on-the-hour alarm exercises as of two days ago). We are as different as chalk and cheese, but it works. We have had about 3 minutes of friction through our stay, and that is an accomplishment! You would think placing a 15 yr old girl and 53 yr old menopausal woman in a box together for two weeks would be a cat-scratching, bitch (female dog) howling, disaster. When in fact, It has been a delight to be penned up with my baby G.
The long periods of silence in any given space force me to reflect on my external and internal life. While I’m excited about walking out the doors of #NZMIQ on Monday morning with 100 other people (socially distanced and a single file line, of course), I am also thankful for the time I’ve had to be in this environment where I’ve had the chance to focus and reflect. There have been no distractions of daily life. No dogs to feed and walk, groceries to buy, meals to prepare, gardens to water and weed, no pressure to socialize, worry about what I look like, and no guilt over being an unpaid writer (at the moment). I’ve been here being all that I am in one tiny bubble.
Since we arrived at #NZMIQ, my mind has run a gamut of emotions:
• 😃ahhhh, we’re finally in NZ!
• 😃AHHHHH This room has the softest bed and best view.
• 😃Spoiled for choice with Indian and Asian food, yum!!
• 😃Let’s jump on the bed for exercise!
• 😃We’re having a blast playing cards and mancala!
• 😃I’m super stoked to blog about our daily happenings.
• 🙂Wow, the meals in here are pretty nice.
• 🙂Awesome, we can sleep as long as we want!
• 🙂I’m so excited that we’ve booked to go outside for a walk!
• 🙂The healthcare and military workers here are very upbeat and friendly.
• 🙂It was nice to see my babies through 2 fences and mesh after not seeing them for 18 months.
• 😌We’ve got our exercise routine down to a science; we’ll be so fit when we leave.
• 😏Ugh! We’re in NZ, and it seems like we will never get out there to enjoy it.
• 😒I don’t want to know what day or time it is.
• 😒This room smells musty, and the carpet reeks of damp dust.
• ☹️I’ve been in bed so long I’m sore! I can’t stand sitting or lying on the bed anymore.
• ☹️I don’t even want to touch the bed!
• 😳Everything out the window looks surreal, and it’s hard to believe we’re going out there.
• 😐I can’t be bothered to go outside and walk in a 40 x 60 oval for 30 minutes (or more if we want, but we don’t want).
• 😐Sabrina and Molly shouldn’t bother coming to visit us through the fences and mesh. We can see them better on FaceTime, and they don’t get rained on that way.
• 😐What’s the point of exercising? I’m sleeping until our release day!
• 😠”Zoë, I will end you if you use the chair on my side of the room!”
• 😠”No, I don’t want to play cards or mancala Zoë! You keep kicking my ass at everything.”
• 😠I don’t want one more plate of curry or pad thai! And please, no more breakfast in bed.
• 🤔Yes, my blog is reaching into some deep personal territory at this point. My inner space is all there is to explore!
• 😵💫I feel manic and can’t stand sitting still anymore.
• 😵💫I have no idea how I will handle the simulation of the world beyond these doors. Maybe I should ask to be institutionalized?
Despite my progression of thoughts, I have begun learning how to put into place the outline for the novel I have been planning and am to the point where I can define my characters and settings and the premise of my tale. This stillness has gifted me that, and I realize now that to finish, I’ll need more isolation. Honestly, positive and enjoyable things have come from this experience.
We are looking forward to the unknown of the days to come.
⚠️Caution this story contains information about mental illness issues and could be disturbing to some readers.
I never imagined I would grow tired of breakfast in bed, someone else making my food, and getting to lay around every day, until now (wha wha privileged rant). I spent the latter part of yesterday popping up and marching or doing some lifts and crunches every hour after my exercise alarm went off. I have decided if I have the alarm set 7 times a day and I do 5-minute workouts each time, and I will have gotten 35 minutes of exercise in for the day. I think this habit could carry over to post quarantine life. All I need to do is throw a walk or two in there (outside of my alarm workouts), and I’ll be fit all over. Eureka, I’ve done it! I’ve cracked the isolation or writer sitting at home writing all the time fitness code!!!
Sabrina (our journalism and film daughter) came up with an idea for a short film and a very excellent article due to our stay here in #NZMIQ. She’s so talented, and I can’t wait to see what she creates. She wants to cover some services that help people get through #NZMIQ in a healthy, comfortable manner (and they do, the healthcare workers are very attentive). She got me thinking about the mental health aspect of being in here and the effects of long-term isolation as it applies to me.
Mental health and illness are something I think about daily as I am constantly aware of my battle with an acute panic disorder, coupled with intermittent bouts of anxiety and depression. It became apparent that once we leave the relatively small space of #NZMIQ I will need to be conscious of overstimulation on the outside. If you’ve never dealt with a panic disorder, overstimulation can occur due to being in a room with too many people who are talking and moving around or walking down a street where crosswalk signs are telling you to walk. At the same time, the sound of rushing traffic zooms by, a busker is blaring their guitar over against a wall on the sidewalk, and a group of people walks by laughing loudly! These two scenes are regular everyday occurrences, but my brain (sometimes, not often) has a hard time keeping up with and categorizing all of this activity and sound at one time. As a result, my brain and body start shutting down. My legs feel heavy, and it feels like I’m dragging my body behind me; my eyes track in slow movie frames (as my brain can’t keep up), and I begin to shake first in my hands and then if I can’t get a handle on things, all over (similar to a mini seizure). My saving grace is that I have been taking my medication FAITHFULLY, and my Dr and I anticipated everything that could trigger an attack on this trip. He prescribed me a little safety net in a little brown bottle just in case, on top of my daily meds.
If you know me at all, you know that I’m personally opposed to prescription medication, so my Dr and I worked together as I attempted to stop taking the drug that has helped me for over 30 years. I was free of my prescription from September 2020 till March 2021. I got my medical marijuana license, and with my Drs help, we tried the natural route. NO! That is what my body and brain said to that experiment. I had suicidal visions, my body became paralyzed, and on my back, randomly unable to move or speak (it wasn’t because of the THC because my dose was only .4ml at bedtime). A couple of times, I was going through my day and suddenly appeared to be drunker than a skunk, and man, my head hurt so bad on occasion. I was disoriented daily, unaware of time, and worst of all, any suppressed memories I had all came flooding back in tsunami-sized waves that were powerful enough to kill me. NO! Medical Marijuana is not for everyone, and as much as I wanted it to work for me, it was driving me down a very dark rabbit hole that I may not have escaped with my life had it not been for the love and lifeline my family and friends threw to save me.
So I go back on my medication, and poof! I function like a normal human being again. I look at that tiny pill every morning before I pop it in my mouth and am amazed that my life hangs in the balance of that little 20 mg clump of chemistry. Here’s something I learned about Medical Marijuana and mental illness: 1. It is nothing to play around with without the guidance of your Dr. and a sound support system of counseling and love. 2. If you have ANY schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in your genetics (and our family does), it will exacerbate existing symptoms or trigger them if you didn’t have them before. So while I enjoyed dropping 22 pounds while off my medication (because it
suppresses your metabolism), I didn’t enjoy falling further and further away from my loved ones and desire to live into deep dark space floating into insanity or, worse, death. Everyone I loved begged me to retake my medication for months. Some were genuinely worried about how close I was to falling off the edge of
life, and some were unaware but knew something was a bit off. I’m thankful for my Dr, my daughter Zoë and my husband Paul, my sisters, and my friend Mindy for retrieving me from that scary place. I’m not happy that the minute my meds kicked in, the weight packed back on with a vengeance, but who cares? I’d rather be fat and happy than a skinny psycho, possibly dead bitch (I was pretty bitchy without my meds due to being in constant fight or flight mode).
So, back to day 10 of isolation in #NZMIQ. When the healthcare workers come by for our health check, they ask about our mental well-being daily. And they’re not just asking out of curiosity; they’re asking because they have staff here on hand who are ready to help if you are struggling. I wonder how many people out there in NZ know how hard the healthcare teams and military are working to make travelers transition into COVID-free NZ an easy and safe one.
So while I’m excited to be back home in New Zealand, I am aware that in 3 days, I will be going from virtual silence, stillness, and the safety of isolation to the hustle of the city, family asking a million questions with excitement, the close quarters of our one-bedroom accommodations with Sabrina and Molly and the stimulation of being alive. Wish me luck.
My daughters all, unfortunately, inherited my anxiety. Some of them have it more severely than others. I feel terrible that I have passed my broken bits to my sweet children. It’s enough of a struggle for me to deal with my issues without also having to watch my babies struggle. We’re away on a short holiday at the moment, and I woke up with my husband absent from our bed and on the couch. Our 15 yr old soundly slept next to me, letting out a little snore here and there. She had come in late last night and asked Paul to move. She said, “I’m feeling very anxious at the moment, and I won’t sleep all night. Can’t I please snuggle, mom?” He asked me if I was ok with it, and I said, “sure, why not?” She crawled in and snuggled as close to me as she could. I gave her an anxiety hug. I wrapped both of my arms around her and kissed her on top of the head. She nestled in the crook of my arm. She went from feeling anxious to being sound asleep before the words goodnight left my lips.
When all 3 of our girls were babies, we did skin on skin, breastfed, and often I would carry them in my baby Björn front carrier while I cooked and cleaned. I have always been accessible to them. Being the safe place for my children has always been a priority for me, mamma bear that I am. As Zoë and I slept, she spooned closer and closer to me. I have to admit that this made me sleep very sound as well. Whether you agree with my parenting methods or not, my happy place has always been snuggling my babies, no matter how old they get. So yes, on the odd occasion, our 15 yr old still jumps in bed with her mom, and you know what, I love it. She will be gone soon, and these are the moments I will cherish for the rest of my life.
AUTHOR NOTE: I don’t drink unless I am on an outing with friends or family, and there have not been many opportunities for those outings lately, so I haven’t drunk much and have become a lightweight. Now my story.
I took what I thought was the last sip of my skinny Pina cola. I had only had one, and that was perfect. They weren’t cheap, and I drank every drop. My Niece and I sunbathed by the resort-style pool with her two children; I haven’t seen them for over three years, and it was a joy to be with them, so we were celebrating. After two sips of her skinny drink, my niece was done. She slid her almost full plastic cup over to me, and I happily drank it. The sun was beating down, and as my body became relaxed, I slowly melted into the lounger where I lay. The pool was huge, and the sound of the waterfall began to lull me to sleep. I dozed for a second and then hopped in the inviting clear sparkling water where I floated weightlessly free with mellow content. I noticed my niece shifting the wet towels on the lounge chairs, and I took it as a sign she was ready to go.
I said, “are you leaving?” She looked at me puzzled, “well, we can…, yeah we’re probably going to go soon.” She thought that I wanted to, so she packed up. I did the same and headed for my car. I secretly fretted as we left the safety of the pool. Had I known we were going home so soon, I would never have finished her drink for her (she seemed to really need help disposing of it, though). In retrospect, neither one of us was ready to leave. It seems we got our wires crossed trying to read the hidden messages our body language was sending. Due to our lack of communication, we packed up for no reason. In my car, I sat in the driver’s seat calculating how much food and water I had consumed, my weight to alcohol ratio after two vodka filled skinny drinks and regretted drinking that second one (don’t judge readers, I’m sure there is some point in your life where you have done this or something like it).
I sat in the parking lot patiently waiting for the minimal buzz I had to pass. I drank my two-liter water bottle till it was empty and did some writing, read social media, clipped my fingernails, listened to music, checked my emails, did some writing again, and then decided to head for home. I was not loopy, but I knew the alcohol was present in my bloodstream. (Ok, I wasn’t loopy, but I did feel VERY relaxed!) I called my husband to keep me company while I drove home and he was concerned (loopy Jeri is not often a normal state). I had two blooming drinks; I don’t even think driving with two drinks and two liters of water in your system is illegal, but I felt like a hardened criminal. I was in a part of town I had not ever explored and decided to stop at CVS for dog treats.
I saw a smoke shop next door and peeked in. The shop, stocked with bongs, CBD, Vape pens, and everything “Marijuana” was stoner central (no, it wasn’t a dispensary, that’s not legal in Naples). I quickly walked in and back out again. I walked further along the plaza and popped into the liquor store. A woman greeted me at the door and, noticing my wet hair and dress, said, “did you just come from the beach?” “No, I was at a pool,” I replied. She was a small Indian woman with kind eyes that looked me up and down as If I was out of place, and she couldn’t quite figure me out. I was there for a teeny tiny pack of cigarettes.
I thought If I just had one, It would snap me out of this foggy feeling. The kind woman called her husband to the front to help me. After asking for the skinniest tiniest pack of Virginia Slim menthols anyone could ever smoke (literally, you practically need tweezers to hold these things and a magnifying glass to see them), he asked me if I smoked often? Man, you had to answer security questions to get a pack of smokes; now I truly felt like a fugitive. I didn’t hold back; I told him everything I knew for fear of failing whatever secret test I was taking. In one giant run-on sentence, I said, “OK! I had a couple of drinks by the pool a little over an hour ago and my daughter will be home from school soon If I ever feel tipsy I usually smoke a cigarette and it makes me feel normal again I would never smoke in front of my children so I thought I would grab a quick one here before I head home!”
I stopped talking, and as usual, there was silence as I realized I said more than I needed to. The couple started at me, and then the man looked at me and smiling said in a soft indian accent, “You are a good mom. Be careful driving home.” I passed, I passed the test. There was hope for me yet, so with confidence, I sat outside the store, on a bench drying off and smoking the anti buzz remedy. “You are a good mom” rang in my ears. I had felt so guilty over my morning staycation actions and was so worried that I had not done my day perfectly, but now I could relax. I did snap out of it. I took my time getting home. Overall I spent 2 hours traveling 20 minutes because I was ultra-careful and waiting until it was safe to get behind the wheel. I haven’t touched those cigarettes again since I bought them; that was a few days ago, and I have maybe smoked one pack total in the last four years. I used to drink wine with my mom, and we would have a social cigarette together on the patio, but nothing more than that. Since she has been gone, there hasn’t been much thought of doing it.
This event has led me to wonder about the anxiety I manifest for myself over needing to do the right thing, appear to be the perfect mom, sister, etc. (when anyone who knows me knows I’m not, but I sure do try). I know I’m not the only one who does this. We all have our reasons for wanting to appear perfect on the outside. I understand why I hold myself to high standards. There are reasons I won’t just let go and go wild like my head sometimes tells me I should, but every once in a while, a girls just gotta have some fun, you know.
One hundred thirty-six million Americans were fully vaccinated as of May 31st; according to “Our World in Data,” that’s 41.4% of us; so we are slowly opening back up. I watch as people begin to shop, dine and socialize again and in my head, hear, “Please notice that the seatbelt sign is off, and you are now free to roam around the cabin” (that’s airplane talk, seems I’ve taken one too many flights in my lifetime). I’m getting out there tentatively and still wear a facemask even though my husband and I have chosen to vaccinate fully, and our 15 yr old at this point is 1/2 vaxed. I’m anxious and gun shy. I do Shipt shopping for a couple of hours a day, a few days a week, to offset the cost of my smoothie bowl addiction. When I’m out there in the stores walking around shopping, I feel traces of the paranoia that had set in at the swell of the Covid 19 pandemic run through every fiber of my being. I’m sure a lot of people are still feeling uneasy. Pre vaccination, I was anxious and downright angry about antimaskers rubbing past me while I shopped, and sometimes I would comment to those who wore their masks only over their mouths, saying, “ Hey, you know that mask only works if you cover your mouth and nose.” I admit I was sometimes downright shitty and would glare at people who came too close without protecting the people around them like I was, and I would think, “what an asshole, what a selfish human being!” I would get upset because I was in the store working. Though I was sweating bullets due to 53-year-old menopausal hot flashes behind my mask, I still found it monumentally critical to protect others, myself, and prevent the spread of this crappy disease that some had the nerve to call a hoax. What became most apparent to me due to the pandemic and how people reacted to our new normal was that the narcissistic, entitled “give me liberty or give me death” monster is real. It took over the most unsuspecting of friends and family, tread on you like a pack of wild kids running over ants on a crowded playground, and got stronger the more you objected to it! It’s been hard not to judge through the Covid days.
Frankly, the last year and a bit have been exhausting. I got to a point where I didn’t have energy left to follow the news, CDC guidelines, my friends opinions and beliefs on social media, the trumped-up election commentary for or against it, look for a new job, worry about being separated 9000 miles from my two daughters, wonder when I would be able to hug them again, think about when we would be able to start paying ALL of our bills again, poor health I was experiencing and the body numbing feeling that my world was closing in on me; so I hit my wall. Mental health was a struggle well before all of this. I have battled an acute panic disorder, anxiety, and depression since I was 13. It came on as my hormones changed while going through puberty. The tween years is an expected time of onset for this kind of hereditary disorder. Covid was exceptionally challenging for me and has changed my thought pattern somewhat. Because everything had gotten so heavy and so hard in the world outside my home, I had taken to isolating and staying inside when I could. The CDC had suggested we stay home when possible, and I had no problem with it. Our 15 yr old was also home and doing school online; plus, we have our two dogs, who, by the way, were highly thankful for Covid isolation because they got to snuggle us every day.
I got too comfortable in my bubble, and Isolation for me over a long period is not good (it’s not really good for anyone). In my mid 20’s I suffered from Agoraphobia which, according to Wikipedia (for those of you who don’t know), “is an anxiety disorder characterized by symptoms of anxiety in situations where the person perceives their environment to be unsafe with no easy way to escape. These situations can include open spaces, public transit, shopping centers, or simply being outside their home. (in my case large crowd of people). Being in these situations may result in a panic attack. The symptoms occur nearly every time the situation is encountered and last for more than six months. Those affected will go to great lengths to avoid these situations. In severe cases, people may become completely unable to leave their homes.”
When I experienced Agoraphobia, I was one of the lead singers of a top 40 band that performed 5-6 nights a week in Naples. People would say, “wow, you must be having a blast!” But in reality, 50% of the time, it was terrifying. I would spend my mornings and afternoons in the safety of my home or rollerblading and running alone, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was sleeping; in fact, I became addicted to sleeping during the day (it’s an escape, it’s a thing). If our phone rang, I refused to pick it up. The thought of talking to anyone made me panic and feel nauseous. It was extremely hard for me to grocery shop at that time; it seemed like everyone in town knew me even if I didn’t know them, and they would stop and talk to me every few aisles. After a while, I started leaving my cart in the middle of the store and hiding in my car where I would go numb with panic, become disoriented, and have to call my then fiancé to save me in the parking lot because I couldn’t move my limbs to drive my car. I viewed the world in single slow frames because my visual tracking was off due to overstimulation in my brain. On one occasion, my husband Paul and I went car shopping at a huge open-air car market in NZ. It was shoulder to shoulder with people. Somehow I lost hold of Paul’s hand, and when we got separated, I went into fight or flight mode. I tried to hold it together, but as my anxiety began to surge, I started shaking uncontrollably and crying so hard I could barely see through the tears. My limbs began to lose feeling just as Paul found me, and when he grabbed my hand again, I furiously yelled at him, “why did you leave me like that? I was scared, and you just left me!” My poor husband, if he had no mental health issues before we married, I’m sure he does now; please pray for him.
The act of panicking and running into triggers became a vicious cycle. The more I isolated or felt abandoned, the more those triggers flicked on, causing my issues to accumulate like onion layers building up into a more complex series of disorders. Peeling back those layers to find some semblance of normal Jeri inside has taken years, long sessions with several kinds of therapists and doctors, and begrudgingly but very necessary, medication. It’s been hard, and even though I have long periods where everything is running smoothly, the fact remains that there are still a few fried circuits inside me that, if tapped the wrong way, set the cycle in motion again. So fast forward to today, I am finding it hard to move outside of my head and my house, to fight the urge to continue to isolate even though the reason to do so is diminishing. I don’t talk as much daily as I did pre isolation, and when I do, I verbally puke out any and every thought that hits my lips because I don’t know when I’m going to have the chance to do it again, and I can’t help myself.
We planted some Clusia hedges in front of our house during our home improvement stage of Covid isolation, and I have been excited about how lush and green our new landscaping looks as it grows. But I found myself looking at them this morning as I was pulling out of the driveway to go Shipt shop (which I make myself do, so I have to leave the house for something), and for a second, I caught myself thinking, “I can’t wait till those grow so tall no one can see our house. Then I will be able to step out on my patio and sit there in comfort, and no one will see me hiding behind the hedges.” It’s not an irrational thought; everyone wants privacy, but I am mindful of these thoughts of wanting to hide and putting them in check while taking baby steps to break out of my bubble and roam freely around the cabin in an attempt to get back to a life that feels free and somewhat normal.
Let’s get real for a minute. Living with someone with mental illness can be challenging. And though I state in most of my bios that I write about mental illness, I have skirted the issue. You see, talking about Mental Illness is one thing but admitting that you have a mental illness is quite another (I didn’t even put 2 and 2 together until about four months ago that this is what my label is, in my mind, only those crazy people over there are the ones with mental illness, what I have is a debilitating panic disorder and stuff; that’s not mental illness). I like to think of myself as an enigma, mentally and medically unique (which I’m actually not if you compare me to other people who have actual mental illness, and my doctor once said, “you’re a medical enigma”). When I was little, my mom told me I was faking my mental illness. Some kids fake having a cold or fever, and once when our middle daughter was seven, she pretended to throw up by mixing weet•bix, yogurt, and something green with water and splashed it all over her bed then called me in and said she couldn’t go to school because she threw up, which would have worked had her sister in the top bunk not witnessed her Julia Childs like skill of producing spew on-demand and called her out on it. Anyway, no, I didn’t fake for years the mental illness-induced psychosomatic stomach pains that left me in the fetal position for days on end, feeling like my insides were going to explode. We determined that I had issues of this kind after my dad had left, and I ended up in the hospital for a few nights at the age of 8, where they tested me for sinister stomach problems that only a pro could fake so well. I got to drink a pink barium milkshake and take a ride on a rotating table that rocked back and forth while an X-ray took photos of the nasty contents of my drink making its way through my intestines. There was no indication of appendicitis, gallstones, or a blockage (my mom would have been happy with this diagnosis as she attributed every illness to the fact that “you probably have to poop!”). After two days of wheelchair races, eating chocolate pudding, and being petrified when it was time for lights out in the children’s hospital ward, my mom picked me up. She was happy to see me but annoyed at the money wasted to find out I only had a urinary tract infection.
In all honesty, I have never felt like I have been faking anything. Whatever each one of us has going on in our mind or body is genuine, whether anyone else can understand it or not. My husband says I am like a thoroughbred. I am tough, powerful, and beautiful, but I injure easily. When I imagine what it would be like to be married to me, I think it must be hard living with someone like me; I understand because I know and have lived with others who have mental issues or have battled with addiction or abuse. Paul is a trooper of the highest honor. When we first started going out, I remember discussing the kind of people he had dated in his past. He gave me a quick rundown and highlighted the crazy girl he had gone out with who was from OHIO. he said, “that chick was a psycho. Come to think of it; I have dated a couple of whackos from there. I don’t know why it seems like the messed-up ones are from Ohio, at least in my experience.” Then he asked me where I was born. I said, OHIO. As a result of this conversation, every time Paul would spend the night, I told him the medication I took in the morning was a prescription vitamin to replace some stuff in my body that I was low on. What I was saying in code was that I had a prescription that I took to replace chemicals that were missing in my brain. I had to tell him the real deal at some point but waited until he was sufficiently in love with me before I fessed up. He took it pretty well. He hadn’t experienced anything strange, yet so we were all good. As time went on, he learned about my acute panic disorder, anxiety, depression, recent recovery from anorexia (it was too severe yet), and obsessive nature. He always seemed to sail right through my episodes, and after a while, we learned to work through the tough stuff together.
Paul and I have been together for 28 years, and as long as I’m taking my medication, I might have one or two episodes total in an entire year. Looking back, we have had some big adventures on the wild Jeri ride. Earlier this evening, we were sitting on the couch, and I said, “you must feel traumatized every time one of my weird and scary episodes rears its head.” We never know what kind of glitch my body or mind will have when I have an attack. I felt for the crap he has had to work through with me over the decades and admire his patience. Not many people outside of my children, husband, mother, and a couple of siblings have witnessed these terrifying moments, and if they have, they had no idea what was happening. Paul thought about what I said then revealed a tiny secret to me that I was unaware of that helps him get through these moments in our life. He said, “no, I don’t feel traumatized; I feel fine. I truly forget everything, the next day, I wake up, and it’s like nothing ever happened.” I was honestly surprised and almost felt let off the hook a bit, “oh, so you’re like Dory, you know HI I’M DORY, the loveable fish with short term memory loss from Finding Nemo Dory?” “Yeah, exactly. I think that’s why you and I have lasted so long.” Thank God for Paul’s poor memory due to his adversity to drama, or I would be a childless crazy cat lady living in a cardboard box in the woods somewhere singing Memory from Cats over and over again like a warped record.
Lately, I’ve felt like the whole world has opened up. Not because I won the lottery or found out that secretly I’m the air to a small country in the middle of nowhere. No, not because of that. I feel this way because I have finally found myself. I have found my voice and that one true purpose. Making this statement is colossal, right?! I know that every human being out there at some point in their life has wondered why the hell they are here. I have for years. It didn’t click for me until recently at the age of 53. It was an accident that I found my purpose. I had hit my lowest point in life and thrown my hands in the air in defeat, swore never to leave my bed again, and then my purpose found me.
The life I’ve lived has shaped my purpose. I am the youngest of five kids, and by nature and according to Alfred Adler’s Birth Order Theory, I am a textbook 5th or last child. I’m a risk-taker, outgoing, creative, self-centered (but come on, who isn’t), competitive, bored easily, like to be pampered, like to be pampered, like to be pampered, (oh yeah, I like to be pampered), and have a sense of humor, did I say I like to be pampered? There is also a bit about being financially irresponsible, but that’s not me. I am that person who was journaling paper budgets six months in advance in those black-bound school journals before you could use digital budgeting tools like PocketGuard or Mint. I am the organizer in our house, the cleaner, fixer, mover, shaker, and disciplinarian. At the beginning of my relationship with Paul, we had a sleepover at my mom’s place (if that’s what you want to call it); I walked past the bathroom door as he had just opened it on his way out. I stood back and watched him silently go through my bathroom drawers. I would say that was creepy, but It was entertaining to watch the horror on his face over finding my hair ties, bobby pins, hair clips, and barrettes all separated and placed neatly into individual little Tupperware containers. I held my laughter in as he lifted one of the containers from the drawer, examined my severe organization, and let out an audible “holy shit!” Yeah, no, I think the creepy one in that scenario was me. Paul is still with me after 28 years and brings in the cash while I write, mother, obsessively rearrange our kitchen cabinet contents, wage war against plastic, and manage our finances and the house. He enriches our lives by sharing silly antics with our daughters, drumming up raucous play sessions, imposing his cool dude presence, and cleaning up the kitchen after I cook nightly. We are a well-suited match. He doesn’t worry much. There was a time when that was detrimental to our relationship because I obsessively stress enough for all 5 of us and got frustrated that his head was empty while mine was racing with thoughts (that green-eyed monster, jealousy is ugly).
Being a worrier, I find it hard to let go of things. Worrying less gets better as I get older because I don’t have the energy anymore. Worrying involves digging up a lot of information stored in our being. Humans process thoughts over and over again deep into their subconscious, where conclusions are formulated in a REM state; which I can never achieve because I’m too busy laying awake worrying and counting the number of popcorn bubbles on our stucco ceiling or naming all of the shapes I can see in the little bumpy plaster splatters. So worry is not really my only actual problem; there’s also insomnia; I’ve had that for as long as I could remember. I’m like Buffy the Vampire slayer, only older, puffier, and brunettish, only in the sense that she was a vampire, and they come out at night. I am a night dweller too, and I’m in no way scared of the light of the sun, but I do like to sleep in, so don’t ever invite me to catch a sunrise, please. If you wake me up anywhere before 7:30 or 11:30 am, I just can’t. Oh, I’m exaggerating, 9:30 am. If I didn’t take citalopram and journal, relieving myself with a brain dump, I would never close my eyes (hey, if I do a plug for Citalopram, do I get a kickback like my Dr’s? Come on, big Pharma, throw me a bone!). I usually fall asleep at about 2 am and then wake up late. I lay in bed reading, talking to our girls in NZ on FaceTime, or writing in the notes on my iPhone. At one point in time, I traced our entire family tree back to the 1400s, hiding under my covers. It’s a wonder my poor husband doesn’t have sleep issues because there is always a little glow of phone light coming from my side of the bed. I hold off on looking at social media until the early hours of the morning, 8:00 am. You early risers probably think I’m pathetic; I know, I can feel the way you’re eyeing the page, all judgie like. Just because Ben Franklin said, “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” doesn’t mean me and those like me are doomed to be broken, starving artists with limited intelligence and foolish banter till the day we die.
I make sense of my world by putting it into words and taking photos. I am creative. Most creatives have some quirky issues and are sometimes highly intelligent (I’m not saying I’m a genius or anything, but I am smarter than the average bear). People like me aren’t savvy in the conventional; you test well on national standards tests way, but in a more creative thinking outside of the box way. I wasn’t a standard student, and I wasn’t academically gifted. My teachers recognized my gift as a singer early on, and they tailored my school schedule to nurture my talents. I had voice and dance lessons after school, and by the end of high school, I had four music classes out of 7 a day. I would even get pulled out of academic courses to work on creative projects. I was fortunate to have a middle school and high school in tune and sympathetic to my needs. Big shout out to Gulfview Middle School and Naples High School. Best schools ever! 💙💛🦅
Even though I was encouraged to sing and be the captain of the majorette squad, I missed out in the English lit area. All of the brainy kids were in the classes that would have nurtured my desire to be a writer. I was fortunate to be put in Mr. Glancy’s class my senior year, he taught the advanced English lit classes, and he inspired me to read and love it. He had the cool factor and was skilled at getting inside the student’s heads. He could see I was a bit of an oddball but didn’t dismiss me. No, he sat me at the front of the room to sleep with my head on my backpack and made me wake up and engage. I’m thankful for that.
As I look back at all of the journaling I have done in my stack of notebooks and online, I realize that I have been a natural-born writer all along. I worked so hard at my singing career, but my silent true passion was always right at my fingertips. When I gave up hope during the isolation of covid, the only safe place to turn was inward, and that spilled out of my fingers onto paper and up to the cloud. I have been feverishly writing since that morning in March 2021 when I woke up and frantically searched the house for every one of my old journals and online diaries. I was desperate to speak my mind and didn’t want to burden others with my issues, beliefs, and ideas. I did what came naturally to me and wrote about the pain and confusion I felt. Over the weeks that followed, my dear husband noticed a calmness in me. My writing was healing me, lifting me, and giving me purpose. He has been so happy for me, and I have felt such relief and been much easier to be around (I’ve even started laughing at myself again). My lost feeling hadn’t started during COVID; in fact, the more I dive into my memories and document my journey, I find that I was wandering longer than I or anyone else knew. I know who and what I am now; I have a voice that I am not afraid to use. I’ve found a space I can be my authentic self in, and while doing it, I can share my words and help others find themselves hopefully (or I may just confuse you even further than you are now).
The world has indeed opened up as my mind has opened, as I’ve let go of my fear of failing and worry over being perfect. I’ve learned to take care of myself first now. I understand that taking care of Jeri gives me the strength to be there for others and still know when I need to back off. Yes, I am a writer, blogger, wordsmith, and expert through my life experiences. I am excited to be alive again and looking forward to seeing how my words touch others and continue to heal me. I am at peace knowing that one true purpose has finally found me.
Hey God. How’s it going? That’s a loaded question. You’re probably pulling your hair out these days between COVID 19, Global Warming, racial and identity issues, mass shootings, and politics. All though some of that stuff is the same old same old. I don’t know how you do it; I really have trouble wrapping my head around all of it at once. Like, who’s idea was it to have snow in Texas this winter? Sorry, yours, totally your call, of course. I get it you probably have heaps on your mind and a lot to unload; I’m here if you need an ear. Man! (Or woman, not sure), you’ve got to be frustrated with us. If you do decide you want to talk, please send me a word or come to me in a dream though, I’m not sure if I can handle something on a grandiose scale at the moment. Yeah, if you want to send me a sign, can you hold back on the stigmata, trial through fire, and natural disasters for just a tick? Have you noticed the communication between you and me has been chaotic and sporadic lately? Me too; I have to apologize for my part in that. So again, I’m open whenever you can fit me in for a face-to-face. Oooo no, maybe not a face-to-face that would take a great deal of arranging on my part, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. I mean, what would I wear? You know that’s not something I usually worry about, but I’ve gotten used to dressing for this Covid lifestyle, which is basically not getting dressed at all. I’m sure you saw that I’ve just cut my bangs/fringe in the middle of the night, so I’m not presentable enough for such a committed undertaking with THE GREAT I AM. I would also have to take a leave of absence from my family, and just like traveling to NZ from the US, I’ll have to mask and shield my face for a perpetually long trip, and that may be more than I can bear at the moment. Anyway, let’s just schedule an impromptu conversation if you don’t mind?
So yes, our communication has been strained. I’ve been saying my prayers regularly and daily like now I’m talking to you, so that’s promising. I’ve just felt like we’ve been growing apart. I know you reach out to me, and believe me, I am uber thankful that you took the time to send that yellow and black butterfly that kept following me around the other day while I was gardening. Those little reminders that you’re there mean a lot to me. And I’m sure we can PrayerTime, and I can pick up your book and read it any time of day, all day long, but something is missing.
I know, I know, I asked you how you are, and now I’m making it all about me, typical. I have to get this off my chest, though, if you don’t mind me going first. Just gently and painlessly stop me when you’ve heard enough. I want to say this separation anxiety has come on and has been getting stronger since the start of COVID; because we’ve been blaming everything else on that, but it started well before COVID. I’m sure you remember when you gave me that job as the admin to the pastor and middle school youth leader at a local church. Right? Anyway, truth be told, that place scarred me. I mean brutally wounded my faith. Not my faith in you; nothing could ever do that. I may get pissed off at you at times or frustrated because you keep giving me what I need in your time, not when I wish for it (as if your some genie in a bottle passing out ponies, Porsches, and worry-free lives), but besides that, we’re tight! On my soul, you’re stuck with me for eternity, I hope (maybe I shouldn’t say on my soul I’m sure its totally inappropriate to say that to you because if you even detect a hint of deceit in this story, you can take it, can I get an Amen?!).
Don’t get me wrong, you did the right thing by placing me at the church (I know I don’t have to tell you right from wrong), and I’m thankful for the experience and lessons I took from being in that space for three years. But geez, my faith in people was almost shattered. People I thought were good faithful ones with a holy mission really let me down. I asked to work in that very environment, and you answered my prayer (thank you). I know I don’t always hear you with a discerning ear, but I’m sure you’ve told me repeatedly not to put my faith in man but in you alone, and I did work hard to abide by that. I genuinely believe that given the benefit of the doubt, most fellow humans have redeeming qualities. I knew going into that job that churches embrace broken people (I’m one myself), and let’s face it, if you are sick, you go to a hospital for a cure; and if you are broken, you go to a church for healing. I totally understood what I was working with, but I was out of my depth; even a few church leaders kept telling me they thought we were under spiritual warfare. I didn’t believe in that kind of religious hocus pocus, but after what I witnessed, I wonder. Your book warns that the dark one will use the most unsuspecting people to do his bidding, and you could see him at work there. I felt like a scout leader among a crowd of kids who were working feverishly to earn their seven deadly sin badges. The gossip, judging, and manipulation were mind-boggling. Hey, you know better than anybody that I am far from perfect and on that journey of self-discovery, and we both know that no one gets it right 100% of the time.
I faithfully tried to serve you and my community; you probably hear that from everyone because it’s all relative to an individual’s understanding of faith, right? And ex-church admins that I’ve met over the years have all had similar stories saying they’ve come out of their roles with a few spiritual and social wounds, so I shouldn’t feel too terrible. Now, this is where you and I start to become distanced from each other. I know you are a forgiving God, and so we too are supposed to forgive others. It’s hard, though, because I’m human. Those people we put our trust in to lead us faithfully, pastors, priests, church boards, and bishops, high profile faithful and broken people, supporting other faithful and broken people can annihilate a whole congregation of believers with their actions and words when left unchecked. It has become abundantly clear to me that politics and religion are not a good combination; however, at the heart of any faith organization, those two elements are the very lifeblood that keeps it running. One can’t exist without the other. I had to leave your house, though, because (again not because of you) because I don’t understand why with all of the true believers that did have good intentions in that church, your sacred temple felt so out of control and appeared to be one big bipolar cluster flock? There were so many people praying for the church’s mission and for you to swoop in and save us, all of us. Maybe it’s because anything you put in our human hands is bound to get screwed up; just look at what we’re doing to your planet, and oh my God, (yes, you) look what we did to your son. I have had a lot to reconcile since I left my job at the church, and I know you are still walking beside me, always inspiring me. I’m not sure how to deal with my lack of desire to attend a brick-and-mortar church or get too close to a congregation of people again. I’m sure there are plenty of your followers that feel this way. I’ve got my bible and my constant conversation with you, and for now, that’s all I think I need. You will be the judge of that, though.
Anyway, I know this is a long letter, please be patient with me. You know Zoe, our 15 yr old daughter; well, It seems you’ve been working on her heart because we haven’t been to church since Christmas, and we had also skipped Easter Sunday. She literally asked us if we would take her to church this weekend, out of the blue, while I was typing this letter to you! I don’t know why I am even slightly amazed at that. I’m trying to listen to what you want for my family and me with my ears, eyes, and gut. I’m trying to be faithful to you and serve (probably not enough; it’s been hard to connect during COVID) while being broken, hurt, and still gun shy. I know you know my heart; you made it. I know you hear my prayers, even if I am not sure what to pray, and don’t pray out loud. I know that your door is always open to me, and likewise, you are always welcome in my home. I am evolving, learning, praying, watching, and hoping this uneasy feeling I have been feeling about us growing apart will subside. But at the moment, I can’t go back to church; I hope you’ll forgive me. So, like I said when I started this letter to you, I’m waiting for a time when we can reconnect, and you’ll send me a word on how we should do that. I’m hoping that you and your good book are enough until you lead me to a place where I will meet like-minded people (yes, I know, like me, they will be broken. But maybe we can be that way together in a healthy way). Just let me know when you’re ready to talk; I’ll keep an ear out for you. And since you’re everywhere (not just in a church) and know all things, I know you will find me and pray you will reassure me that this strange new path I’m exploring is ok.
We spent ten days in our home in COVID quarantine. Our 15 yr old tested positive for Covid. She had been sick off and on for about two weeks with a sore throat, slight trouble breathing when she was running, fever, and on Thursday before we went into lockdown, she had a massive migraine. She kept telling me she didn’t feel well, and I told her it was probably everything but COVID. Im not sure why I couldn’t put two and two together. I pulled her out of school and prayed she had not passed it on to anyone else. We made a quick life adjustment to lock down as a family. She went back to online schooling, and hubby set to work from home and got a lot done. I did little projects (as you do), cleaning out closets, cleaning off bookshelves, and doing my usual tidying, cooking, and enjoying shopping online for food. Whenever the boredom got to be too much, Zoë and Paul would grab the Razor scooter and ride around the house in a blaze of speed from one room to the other. We have had time to catch up with people on the phone or FaceTime. Our two oldest girls keep calling us from their haven overseas, saying, “you guys have to get out of there; it’s a mess” Yes, it’s a mess, but to me, it’s home and where their Dad makes the money that keeps us running smoothly.
My husband is a New Zealander, A Kiwi. And I grew up in Florida. We have sent our two oldest daughters to live there to go to university and be with extended family. New Zealand is an excellent example of a community that comes together to get things done. They have the system of fighting COVID down pat. I’m so thankful the girls (Sabrina and Molly) are there safe and able to live everyday lives, except the odd lockdown for 3 to 7 days if Covid does pop up in a household. For the most part, New Zealand is fully open, and stress levels are low. The girls are in their second year of University and working part-time jobs. Our oldest is modeling, and they are both going out with friends, thriving and living normal college girl lives. Best of all, people in NZ are getting close to each other and making happy memories together. They have a quality of life that is fulfilling. God knows when we will get back to that here in America without it being interrupted. Some people here are anxious and angry over the entire aspect of Covid. It will be nice to strive for and have inner peace without the fear of “The Rona” looming someday.
All of us are dying to get back to living our everyday lives. Covid has messed everybody up. From not working a regular job to hugging people, socializing, traveling, going to parties, having people for dinner, and celebrating holidays, it’s been insane. The lack of activity and connectedness is causing us to forget how life used to be. We’ve been doing this for a year, and we wonder when it’s going to end. Covid is no hoax, and the harsh and terrible reality is that at this point, over 525,000 people have died. There isn’t a person alive who has a conscience or heart that can diminish that tragic fact without showing disrespect for the dead and those who loved them.
We see the light at the end of the tunnel, though. The Covid vaccine has been rolled out for everyone over the age of 16 in Florida!!! Yaaaaa hoooo!! We have movement in a positive direction! If more people are vaccinated, and we all follow CDC guidelines for reducing the spread of the virus by simply wearing our new favorite accessory, the face mask, we will decrease the chances of variants developing. Several studies say variants can render the vaccines ineffective. We are working towards life becoming normal again; it will be sometime before we lose face protection, touch each other and get cozy the way we used to.
While in quarantine, I looked at some of the research talking about children born during Covid and how they may be emotionally detached. They’re saying that school-aged children who have not been attending school physically and are online learning are going to become “the lost generation.” That sounds so sad to me. I think of the song American Pie and the prophetic lyric that says, “…oh, and there we were all in one place a generation lost in space”. Our young won’t know how to connect like we used to connect pre-Covid, be as expressive, and maybe Covid kids won’t be as emotional. Is the world becoming a colder place? What if we’re turning into one big nonfeeling AI (artificial intelligence) society and the popular kids are Siri, Alexa and Google!?
At the end of our ten-day quarantine, Paul and I got Covid tested. We arrived at the medical center, gave them our phone number, and then we went back and sat in our car and waited for an hour and a half. During that time, they called us on my cell and did a telephone check-in; it was all pretty interesting, well organized, and touch-free.
On the morning we drove to the testing center, I panicked that we had to get tested at all. I said, “I’d rather get Covid than get one of those long plastic swabs stuck up my nose and into my brain.” Zoe and Paul laughed and tried to tell me that it tickled, and at one point, Zoe said, “it actually feels pretty good.” Suspiciously I replied, “oh ok, right”! The wait was silent and, for me, unbearable. We sat there looking at our phones to pass the time. Then mine rang, and I jumped a little bit.
We checked in, and a nurse took our vitals. Another nurse was peeling the plastic wrapper of a swab. As he came near me, I blurted out, “I’m so nervous, I think I’m gonna throw up”! He didn’t even flinch. Nobody assured me that it would be okay or that it wouldn’t hurt. They just smiled at me awkwardly, leaving me feeling more uneasy. I visualized myself lying on the table being probed by aliens in a dark room, floating somewhere out in the unknown universe. Was I going to walk out of there with my brain still intact? I pictured it being stabbed like a marshmallow and pulled out through my nostril. When I saw our 15 yr old get her Covid test ten days before, they didn’t use the long swab you see on TV. They used a fat short one that went up your nose just a little bit. I hoped to get that test! Zoë made getting it look so easy.
Low and behold, the short fat swab was what I got too; I was elated!! I was happy I was going to get to keep my brain. As the nurses walked out of the room, I said, “Oh, thank you, God! I’d been praying for that test”. They looked at me like I was crazy if they only knew.
Paul and I were taken to another room to wait for the results. I started thinking about the whole procedure and how it felt. I looked at Paul and whispered, “does it sound weird that I think that felt really good“? “I mean, it actually felt nice.” TMI disclaimer: I’m one of those people that will take a piece of toilet paper and wind it up really, really long and thin, then clean the inside of their nose till it “shines like the top of the Chrysler building.” Yeah, I’m that person you hung out with in school who would ask you ten times a day, “is there anything in my nose, in my teeth, or on the back of my pants”!!
When I was little, I watched police shows, and they would always tell their informants to “keep your ear to the ground and keep your nose clean” that was cop talk. Seeing that my television partially raised me, I used to think it was essential to keep your nose clean. It was doing the right thing. Hence my delight over the thorough nasal scrub. I felt like the nurse administering my Covid test was doing me a favor. I left there relieved, happy, and clean as a whistle. Our tests came back negative; we were clear to leave quarantine. All and all, the time went by pretty fast once the days started running Into one another. But we were disease-free. Ahhhhhh, I and my household could breathe easy, in more ways than one.