It’s been almost a year and a half since my last post – way too long.
When I left off in August 2015, things were Not Good ™. I languished in a cramped suburban apartment across the lane from a pile driving construction zone basically cut off from an accessible train and a close living hub when I could not overcome driving anxiety or afford an expensive $20 plus cab ride one way. Friends did what they could. The long battle with Winston, the black dog of depression left me in financial shambles. I had to weather a waiting game while my credit healed. Meanwhile I entered like an emotional Big Sleep where everything felt temporary and unimportant. Since I would restart my life when I finally found a place to land, why bother with anything while in a holding pattern? Needless to say, motivation and I were estranged. Everything took a nosedive except for knitting, a hobby I took up as a mental distraction and life line. Except for last year’s aborted attempts, I did not write. There was no there there.
I drifted along this way for 18 months.
Then four month ago, the credit gods smiled and I found a condo downtown in a leafy little village, two blocks from the train and no more than four blocks from shops, doctors, the movie theater and anything else I regularly need. The grocery is only a six block drive down side streets. As I cheered over this, a spectacular streak of bad luck brought me up short with a day in the hospital (mine), eye surgery (mine), another hospital stay (Patty the Pomeranian), another dental surgery (mine), and yet more future bills, courtesy of Patty. Really wish I knew which Fates I offended; I could knit them a conciliatory sweater for Christmas.
Anyway now it’s time to slip back into the stream of things, rejoin life and start writing again.
So, as chef Justin Wilson used to say in his best corny Cajun accent: How y’all are?
The good news is I’m blazing my way back, although your mileage may vary on how good that is. Like any egotistical writer, I’ll assume you’ve been whispering in corners brows furrowed, worrying and wondering what happened to my blatherings, snark, and deathless prose possibly about Richard Armitage. Don’t worry, I’ve stashed months and months of thoughts on all three.
The bad news my depression went all wibbly wobbly. No, Winston the black dog of gloom didn’t return. Instead my hormones have been thrown into chaos by that horrid phase of womanhood, MENOPAUSE. I could rant for days on the subject, but let’s just say that the turmoil negated the efficacy of the anti-depressives and stopped me in my tracks. Not only did the blogging stop, everything else did as well. Now that things seem to be settling and the meds work agreeing to agree, another window of opportunity presents itself to start pushing the proverbial ball back uphill.
The crazy is that today seems like a new year to me when I rise yet again, dust myself off and make resolutions: start blogging again, fire up Scrivener and write again, and think of life in terms of a story to tell. Surprisingly, I miss writing – not that I’m a great storyteller – but the mechanics of thinking about things and translating the story from my mind to the medium. I suspect the habit of regularly blogging ignited something internally. Dr. G. also believes that blogging is beneficial to psychological processing. So you see, it’s what the doctor orders.
I’m not sure whether to blog every day, but I’ll share thoughts about the latest doings of Mr. A. or maybe let The Man tell you. Any ideas are welcome.
I can’t post until I explain what’s happened with me, and that’s been difficult. So, I’ll just spit it out: my depression finally forced me to retire last Tuesday, ignominiously ending an almost 25 year career in government. A few colleagues acknowledged my departure by treating me to lunch. Dejected and conflicted, I left carrying a box and bag of all my things. This occurred at least nine years too early. It was definitely not what I had ever envisioned, so somehow, I had failed.
That is what a younger remnant of myself wailed -the 30-something lawyer focused on attaining the badges of my profession: law firm partnership, high salary, husband, McMansion, two kids, and a dog. As time passed and old classmates burned out in their jobs, divorced, and seem to go batshit crazy, I learned to redefine success for myself. But my younger self wailed, and I let her – overnight. After thrashing it out with Dr. G., I realized what really happened.
Let me start again. Here is my story.
Shortly after Christmas, Mother Nature (read: menopause) kicked in. If you’ve been following my depression saga for past two years, things didn’t just worsen, they went straight to hell. Friends reported I sounded like a 45 rpm record played at 33 1/3. I couldn’t work. I called Mayo Clinic which took me almost immediately in February. Armed with more hormone patches and pills, my condition improved, but functioning did not. I wasn’t sad but supremely apathetic and detached from the world. I had shut down, withdrawn, and built walls around myself, as if I were in survivor mode under siege. Dr. G. was baffled. I was baffled – in a uninterested way. Even my dwindling bank balance didn’t faze me. Dimly, I knew the point of hospitalization loomed close. Then, a series of events happened.
I published a post -the usual pot stirrer variety – hoping to stimulate my mind. Long story short, a reaction provoked a fit of rage in me so OTP and uncharacteristic that I realized that counseling and medication would not fix the problem. The rage created a two day window of clarity. I felt glad for the clarity but disturbed why only rage could pierce the fog. Clearly, the bizarre apathy signaled something different. My family intervened, spoke of moving me and getting nursing care. Oh shit.
Many readers don’t know that at work, while management paid lip service to being hospitable towards my illness, their actions declared the opposite. Even with union intervention, they created a miserable, soul-sucking environment. Meanwhile headquarters “encouraged” old (read: 50+) and sick (read: me) out the door. In recent years, management mentality has morphed to the soulless corporate variety. The old guard, like me, do not enjoy the buffer or support from the caprices of bureaucratic decision-making. So it was a race between recovering from an indefinite illness and being either fired or forced onto disability (a financially poor option).
During the window of clarity, I returned to the office for a day. Just as my mind flatly refused to work, a colleague (and surprising champion) dropped information on my desk. The gist was that I could feasibly retire early. I checked with Human Resources. It was true. But I needed money before interim payments began; I was flat broke. While dumping months of mail out of my box, I discovered income sources I’d either forgotten or didn’t realize. A few calls and the checks were in the mail. (No, really. I got one already).
So, six weeks after the fit of rage, I retired. A few friends I liked treated me to a farewell luncheon. One later came to my office and thanked me for 25 years of public service on behalf of the agency and the public, which management didn’t do. He told me my work had been appreciated. He thought this was the best thing for me, now I could get well. He understood I was sad but reassured me I’d feel better the next day. Then he carried my stuff to the taxi and waved.
So that’s what really happened. He and Dr. G. were right. The next morning, I awoke and felt – fine. A dear buddy drove over to get me on a proper eating and sleep regimen. I talked, ate, laughed and went to the movies (twice). I’m preparing to sell the condo for something less expensive. The loss of toxic stress has increased the groggy side effect of my med, so Dr. G. REDUCED the dosage. How about that? I looked at the blue sky and budding greenery and sensed – joy? The last time I felt this good was June 2011 during the London trip.
I spent 28 years in a profession I didn’t particularly like, and 25 years in a job which grew increasing toxic. Yes, I still have a depressive disorder, but the endless drip of professional poison was psychologically killing me. I lasted long enough in a high paying job to retire early on a nice pension. While I can’t live in the style to which I was accustomed, it’s a damn sight better than other situations. I served the public for almost 25 years and am proud of my work. I’m young enough to start a part-time second career in a more nurturing field. I’ve gone from no options seven weeks ago to having too many. As Dr. G. said, it’s like the universe conspired to move me out of the old bad and into the new.
I’ve been doing a mental dance since the beginning of the year: two steps forward, one step back, then zombie creep forward. My last burst of energy in late February turned out to be a bit premature. Mental and physical exhaustion struck within hours, laying me low for a few more weeks. It’s not the return of Winston, the black dog of depression, but Aunt Flo and her little hellish puppy Minnie O. Pause, have been really working my last nerve. Anguished calls to Dr. F. at Mayo Clinic yielded entreaties to be patient for at least two months do the drugs could build my system. Protracted whining to Dr. G. yielded dismayed looks and yet another ingredient in my expanding chemical cocktail. As you might suspect, patience is not my forte.
This led to the most extreme sulk since RA failed to provide a full frontal in Between the Sheets. Well, maybe not that bad. The apathy proved so severe that I couldn’t be arsed to do anything or care about it. Dr. G. queried whether fear, resentment, anger, or depleted fortitude fueled this fugue and what could be done about it. Long story short, a fit of rage over a situation jolted me out of the fugue while the meds finally started kicking back in. On one hand this is great; on the other, I wonder about rage as a primary motivator. Anger is not my forte either. My upbringing did not encourage it, and forced me to push it down. So going from apathetic to livid in minutes is equally disturbing and scary. They say depression is repressed rage. Clearly, that swamp needs more draining. And so it goes.
Meanwhile, I’ll creep back with more writing here. Small steps. Still small steps.
My eyes open slowly. Three faces hover fuzzily over me. Eventually, the faces of my id, superego, and ego (Jada, Jodi, and Quiet One) sharpen into view.
Jodi grins and chirps. “Hey, she’s coming around!”
Jodi nods warily.
Quiet One sighs in apparent relief.
I blink. Something about the light… it’s much brighter. Things feel lighter again.
My Pomeranian Patty’s face suddenly fills my field of vision. She’s wearing a little white nurse’s smock and matching cap. I notice that the trio is also wearing smocks of various colors with Jodi’s being the loudest. Neon rainbow. Naturally.
Patty barks sharply to get my attention again and eyes me critically. Little paws clack away on her iDog beside me. She speaks into the microphone, listening obviously to responses. She rapid fires a series of questions at me.
I blink. “Yes, I feel much better … no, I feel neutral … you were born in 2005 and came to live with me Thanksgiving weekend, 2008. Homicidal urges? Gosh… no, no homicidal urges.”
I sit up and glance around apprehensively for blood on the walls. Nope.
Jodi gives a thumbs up sign. “We had to check. Remember the flight to Mayo Clinic with the coughing, puking, whining tot behind you, and obsessive Chatty Cathy next to you? And you finally arrived starving at the hotel at 1:00AM? You showed such restraint. We were so proud of you!”
Jada sighs again happily.
Quiet One snickers.
I remember. “That’s because I couldn’t think how to fashion my plastic cup into a deadly weapon.”
Patty continues chattering into the mic. I arch a brow at the trio.
Jada explains. “Patty is skyping with Dr. F. on your progress.”
I lie back against the pillows. My anti-depressive medication had seemingly stopped working six weeks ago. After a alarming downward spiral since New Year’s Eve, I sought tertiary care at Mayo Clinic with Dr. F. Acting on a hunch from Dr. G., Dr. F. sprang into action. Within hours, she ascertained that my medication had been effected by severe hormonal changes caused by perimenopause. She zipped the prescriptions to my local pharmacy, saying that if this wasn’t the answer, I had to return in two months.
I blink again. By George, I think she got it in one. I felt absolutely fine. Wow.
I smile at Patty, who smiles back and ends the call. So, Dr. F. understands Canine too? Brilliant.
I throw back the covers and leap out of bed, grinning at the quartet. “Right! So, where were we?”
They look at each other.
Jada’s smile turns lopsided. “Erm, about the tree and stuff …”
I notice finally the sound of music from the living room. Is that Christmas music on a loop?
I’m enjoying one those rare evenings when nothing urgently presses at the moment. The Christmas tree is up and decorated, but needs some TLC from the local hardware store. One holiday party is over. I need to shake people down for their gift lists but that’s another day. And there’s nothing to report from The Great Hobbit Tour blitz, thank goodness. Now that I can hear myself think, a few thoughts have jumped out at me.
It’s been great without Winston, my black dog of depression. He’s been MIA since May and counting. Last year at this, I could barely get through the holidays. Grudgingly, I threw up the tree, decorated slap-dash, and dragged myself to two parties I found a mental ordeal. This year, the tree got the full treatment as I sang carols before rushing off to a holiday party. My weekends are quickly filling up this month. Old friends are reconnecting.
As soon as Winston fled, I met with external Real Life problems that I can’t do anything about right now, but they kept me on edge and wobbly. The only thing I can do, instead of waiting for the problems to resolve, is to put them in a box, push them to the back of my mind and get on with it. So, I’ve reemerged once again, flying to NYC for the day, blogging the Hobbit tour, chattering on Twitter (sorry Facebook), and reconnecting with people in real life and online. Yeah, I’m tubthumping – I get knocked down, but I get up again. I’m still gathering my mental resources. It’s slow going, but considering how far I’ve come, I can’t complain. Baby steps, baby steps.
It feels good to feel good.
As an older fan, I still have some reflections on the NYC trip. I also haven’t forgotten about RA’s report card; I’ve decided to expand the critique to include the entire tour. Then I will answer this question: Has RA overtaken my crush on David Tennant? Wouldn’t you like to know? Hmmm?
Give RA that warm and fuzzy feeling. Congratulate him and show your appreciation by gift bombing his Justgiving page! Show him and the world you care.
I lie on my bed replaying the same game of Spider Solitaire on the iPhone. Their voices rise and fall in the next room. My personality, id Jada, superego Jodi, and ego Quiet One have been warring since it arrived. I’m resolutely indifferent. Let them sort it.
Patty lies with head on paws beside me, just within reach. She watches me intently, but I ignore her.
My fingers tap the screen, undoing moves. I’m determined not to break my winning streak; a superstitious dread of the probable deadlock has taken hold. I’ve never been superstitious. Is this a new thing?
I sense another presence beside us but still don’t look up. Jodi’s voice rises again as she angrily berates Jada, her voice cracking with emotion. Jada murmurs calming words. Happy go lucky Jodi? This doesn’t bode well. The silence stretches as the visitor waits patiently for my acknowledgment. I sigh, knowing I can’t win.
I glance finally at Quiet One. She sits regarding me, her face unreadable. Her kimono has changed from a colorful motif to a disturbing plain gray. Suddenly, I feel inexplicably small. Not able to hold her gaze, I stare at the small screen in confusion.
Quiet One arm reaches across me; clearly she’s petting Patty.
She says simply, “she’s afraid of losing her freedom.”
My eyes closed as if to blot out everything. Jada has been upset since I refused to read the postcard they received. I resent her histrionics. I’m afraid too; I dont want any message from him either. I imagine Winston returning, running as fast as his doggy legs will carry him. Sending a postcard to make sure I wouldn’t miss his arrival, the little bastard.
Quiet One pauses and says with a hint of finality in her voice, “we can’t do this without you.”
I sigh, resigned. Indeed, they can’t. Progress will stall until I accept my fears. What if Winston comes back?
Party sits up. She has the postcard in her mouth. Finally, I reach for it.
It starts, “hi” in dark crayon. This isn’t Winston.
“I’m struck by the crude, barely formed letters and imagine her tongue stuck out in concentration, little fingers gripping the crayon as she struggled with her first letter.
“whar r yu? I ned to see yu. Im skard! plees kom. luv judy.”
It isn’t Winston causing havoc but Little Judi, the small me, the ever present remnant from my past. Driven by memories and fears she is too young to understand, she reacts viscerally to events happening to my adult self. The latest salvo has rocked her apparently. I’d forgotten her. Again.
Jada and Jodi join Quiet One at my bedside. They will me to be strong and pull myself together. Closing my eyes again, I inhale deeply.
Patty licks my hand and I stroke her soft fur. Time to carry on.
[Many of you have been following my struggle with depression humorously referred to as Winston. If you’re interested in reading those posts, they start here. In addition to medication, resolving the depression requires overhaul and reintegration of pieces of one’s self. It’s a very serious and trying business. I wrote the following many months ago but never published it.]
I’m sorry little Judi.
Tonight I sat in therapy feeling misery and sadness, and things came back to you again. She told me to picture my earliest sadness, and again you appeared in the old living room, ready to go, dressed in a bright blue jumper, white peter pan blouse, white tights, wine Buster Brown shoes. Nobody’s around. It’s just you standing there, small, lost, inconsequential. You’re looking down a long empty hallway. I can’t remember why.
I’ve seen you before many times over the years. They told me to talk to you; I talked to you. They said to hug you and tell you everything would be alright. I hugged you and said everything would be alright. But you always looked the same, so I had to do it again. Each time, you always looked the same. Damnable inarticulate child, you wouldn’t tell me what was wrong, where it hurt, so we could put a bandage there and I could finally get on with my life. So I had to keep reassuring you. But when you would look up with those sad eyes, I knew you didn’t believe me.
Tonight she said to send you colors of emotions to see how you would react. I imagined. You stood there holding big balls of orange and green light in each small hand, looking even more sad and lost. You were me, but separate from me, something outside of myself that I left in the past. I needed to move on the best way I could, so I left you behind.
I told her I wanted to reclaim the creative parts of myself I’d lost, find my true self in the pieces that broke off. I imagined going back and collecting the bits of myself like seashells and dropping them into a bucket. Then we would put the pieces together in some meaningful way and I would Find Myself. But I could never collect you because you weren’t small enough. Then I would be angry and frustrated that such a small child could be so larger than life, an immovable object. Then I would cry for myself, always my adult self.
Tonight I looked at you and realized I’d treated you the same way others had. I said what they told me to say and hugged like they told me do, all the while hoping for some change for me in the present because I couldn’t connect with you in the past. You were a stranger who resembled pictures of my younger self, a small, lost, inconsequential child. I couldn’t remember and didn’t care what you thought and felt; I just wanted you to respond to my hollow words and distant hugs. No wonder you didn’t believe me.
But you kept standing there, quietly waiting, hoping I would notice you, just you did with everybody else. Tonight, as you held those spheres of color, looking so sad and lost, I cried, but not for myself as I’ve always done. I finally cried for you. I felt so sorry for you. For the first time, my adult self in the present felt a connection to you in the past. You weren’t a strange child; you were my child.
So when she said to conjure up a life where you wouldn’t feel so sad and lonely, I imagined a place where you could play with other children and took you to the playground myself. I coaxed you to the monkey bars and watched you mingle tentatively. I heard children’s laughter. I’m not sure if it was yours yet. Among all the pants and tops, you looked out of place in the blue jumper and white tights that you refused to change. But it’s early yet. Small steps. I took a mental picture and framed it, to remind us things will be different.
I’m so sorry little Judi. Things will be better. I see you now.
The jubilant giddiness has been wearing off. My mind is still clear and free of Winston’s weight, pulling me down, always threatening to drag me under. This reprieve feels more permanent; the mental shift feels solidified, more tangible, as if a door has been literally thrown open in my mind, minus the fear of it slamming shut again.
The world is my oyster, as they say. Now I can get on with life.
Well, not exactly. I’m left with all the behaviors and defense mechanisms created to cope with Winston that protected my psyche against him, while enabling him to maintain paradoxically the reassuring presence I knew; the old friend I loved to hate. His bed is here; all his toys are still here, as it were. I still seen the after-image of his presence. I want to scoop up all his things and toss them out the door behind him, but something stops me. What feels the void Winston leaves behind? If I clean house of all traces of Winston, and stop the escapist napping, chronic procrastination, self-imposed isolation, and learned mindlessness, does a skill set I never had morph into its place?
What to do, I asked Dr. G. She replied that I have to take it slow and allow myself the time needed to transition to the New Judiang.
It sounds similar to being like recovering addicts. Only they have half-way houses and programs to ease them back into mainstream life. There are websites and videos galore dispensing information concerning Life After. But what do you do after depression? I googled and discovered precious few. On one depression forum, a poster asked that very question. One respondent asked the OP if s/he was mocking the forum because she didn’t understand the question. She couldn’t fathom the idea of Life After. I came away with the sense that depression forums primarily exist for the sufferers only. If you made it through to the other side, then don’t rub it in here. Not very helpful. While forums dedicated to survivors might be more empowering, a tiny lazy part of myself knew there was no quick start blueprint to follow.
So this is where I am. I’m in the process of reexamining everything about me and life, feeling my way, taking it one day at a time. I’m doing a total overhaul of my mental house. Things are in flux.
This has been a long-winded way of saying, Dear Reader, there will be blog changes too. I recently complained to a friend, “I didn’t know what to blog about”. That’s not an accurate statement. What I really meant was, “I don’t know what my blog is about anymore.” In my last post, I mentioned returning to regular programming, before realizing the programming has changed. To what, I don’t know. It’s questions, questions, questions. What is my place in RA fandom? Is there more for me to say? Will readers be interested if things change too much? Has the blog served its purpose?
So, this is where I am – in transition. Please excuse the dust.
If you’ve been following my blog for the past year and a half, you’re aware that this blog has been interrupted by periods of silence. That is because behind the scenes I’ve been engaged in colossal, knock down, drag out fights with Winston, my black dog of depression. I’ve won skirmishes but each time, Winston kept returning to mess over everything. He would morph from a little pug to a hulking monster and I needed all my mental resources for the next round. Aside from a short reprieve last summer (remember London?) with a new medication (Cymbalta), we have been battling since February 2011. Things really started going downhill last Fall but I was determined to blog through it.
By Spring, there was no improvement in sight. The medication did not combat the most severe breakthrough symptoms, loss of concentration and extreme lethargy. I’d ceased to function in any meaningful way. I was absent from my job intermittently for about five months. They could not carry me indefinitely, and so they started making noises about either easing me onto to disability or out the door. As a single woman two-thirds to retirement, neither of these was an option for me. In addition, my brother uncharacteristically showered me with calls. My sister-in-law did the same. My close friends descended on me, cooking and cleaning. Friends emailed, texted, and called in support. I learned my family was discussing how to take care of me.
The point made it through my foggy brain that things were dire. Winston was eating me alive.
Panicked, I told Dr. G. that we needed skip from Plan C over some of the less appealing options (meds with horrible side effects) and go straight to Plan G, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). It works similar to the ECT treatment of old except without the shock or side effects. However, it would take time to get insurance approval. Dr. G. wondered if I had treatment-resistant depression because all of the new SSRI medications all had the same limited affect on me. These meds all increased serotonin and/or norepinephrine in the brain, two chemicals of the three chemicals responsible for mood. But what if she treated the brain fog with a psycho-stimulant that increased the third chemical, dopamine? So, she prescribed a small dose Ritalin. Yes, Ritalin, a popular drug given to kids with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I don’t have ADHD, I said, but hey, I was desperate.
Long story short, it felt like the difference between night and day, in a matter of hours. The breakthrough symptoms disappeared. Winston disappeared. I could focus, think, and function. I returned to work and have been fine for a month and counting. I feel even keel and a little better than neutral. In other words, I feel “normal.” How can this be? According to Google, Ritalin/Adderall/ dopamine derivatives given to people with ADHD, help them focus and slow down. Without ADHD, it increases focus and stimulates. So, psycho-stimulants in small doses like Ritalin and Adderall are emerging to augment anti-depressants. Could it be that after 20 years of experimenting with medication that we’ve finally discovered that my brain needs serotonin AND dopamine? I’m better due to an offhand throwaway idea? It’s almost too good to be true.
I haven’t seen Winston in a month. This isn’t a cure; the symptoms slowly return if I’m not diligent with medication because Ritalin doesn’t have a long half-life. I must accept that I’m like a diabetic with insulin, but that’s okay. I’m back to the way I was last summer. People have again remarked about the change in my personality. It’s all good.
Right now, I’m marshaling my mental resources and slowly reconnecting with life. Depression is truly a bitch. It steals your life, but I’m determined to get mine back. This post has been a bit long-winded but I’ve revealed all this in the hope that my story may help somebody out there. Don’t give up. The solution is out there.
I don’t know if I’ve won the war with Winston, but like another famous Winston, I shall never surrender.
Again, there’s nothing surreal here except my state of mind. I’ve been mulling the past few hours how my friends never fail to amaze me.
My family was too dysfunctional to be examples of healthy relationships. They were too consumed by their own issues to consider any effects on me. I grew up with a sense that love was conditional; if I put a foot wrong, it would be withheld. Dissenting opinion wasn’t acceptable. I felt mostly inconsequential, when I wasn’t literally and figuratively preventing them from going off the deep end. When I left that environment, I didn’t leave these examples behind, so I attracted more of the same people because that’s all I knew. You can imagine how those relationships turned out. You can also imagine it all left me chronically depressed.
Naturally I assumed there it was all my fault to be treated to poorly. I recall sobbing to my first therapist for the umpteenth time, “what’s wrong with me?” Finally her professional mask dropped and she leaned forward, clearly angry. “There’s nothing wrong with you. You need better friends!” Of course, needing to pay out $75 a hour then for therapy didn’t convince me that I was poster girl for mental health. It took a long a time to separate me as a person from the disorder. Then I worried how people accept me and my depression. How do keep friends with this?
Some of the therapy must have sunk in because I did find a different kind of friend. My worries are not an issue for two best friends I’ve known since 1996. Over the years, they’ve seen me sad, reclusive, grumpy, and simply not functioning. They’ve listened to my silences. For the last eight months, they’ve been quietly supportive through this latest struggle. They descended on my place this past weekend from out of state. For my birthday they expensively stocked my refrigerator with home cooked meals, sorted through my piles of clutter, ran errands, got me out of the house, talked to me, and listened. I see evidence of what real love and caring means every time I open the fridge, eat the candy, walk down the neat hall, look into the clean closet, open my checkbook, and I’m in awe. Once I asked why they bothered all these years. “We like the not-depressed Judi much, it’s worth it, ” they said. I was so stunned, I didn’t know what to say. They chattered about what we will do during the summer when I’m hopefully okay, as if I were back after a hiatus.
I just finished a call with another friend. He and his wife called to take my pulse, as it were. He’d already phoned earlier in the week to wish me a happy birthday, but wanted to double check I would be able to attend Easter dinner with them. He’d bought my favorite wine; they wanted me to come. He chatted as if there has been only short pause in socializing, instead of months. I didn’t have to search for my place in their lives again; our friendship was still there, waiting for me to return.
I’m amazed by online friends who have sent me supportive private emails and humored me on blog, in chat, on Twitter and Facebook, gently nudging, letting know they care. I laughed when Sally Field gushed “you like me, you really like me!” but I understand the shock and surprise at feeling validated.
After all these years, I still haven’t gotten used to this yet. Part of me is still that child fearing rejection while wanted to be accepted. Maybe it’s good I’m amazed by my friends every single time. Then I won’t fail to be appreciative or take any of them for granted.
The following songs have been floating through my head. I think they say it all.
I’ve talked many times before about wanting to rediscover my creativity. That necessarily implies I need to go back and find where I left it. For me, that seems to back in my childhood, back to the younger Judi. One of my biggest laments, as a person with depression, is the tendency to forget. A dark cloud descends, blanketing the mind and dulling the senses. I can literally forget what I thought or wanted yesterday because all that exists today is the dark cloud. Using my metaphor,Winston, all I can sense is him, nipping at my heels or sitting on my chest. When the cloud lifts, a little bit remains, casting a hazy veil over whatever happened before. The past becomes indistinct, unfocused.
This haziness causes time to become vaguely disjointed, not consciously, but subsconsciously. That doesn’t mean I have memory gaps. When goaded, I can generally describe what I did yesterday or last week, but I have difficulty tracking the flow of subconsious thoughts: what are my goals, how do I feel about X, what do I like to do, what do I want for myself, what drives me – all of these questions with answers that lie right below conscious thought and propel our actions. I imagine, Dear Reader, when you are questioned, you pause to collect your thoughts and call to the surface conclusions you decided yesterday, or last week, or last year. For me, it’s as if I’m hearing the questions for the first time, every time. Whenever, I’m asked one of these questions, I feel like a deer caught in the headlights, my mind frozen into a perfect blank and I reflexively think: “I don’t know.” Of course my mind goes into overdrive, reminding me I *do* know, like I knew and should have known when asked before and the time before that. My mind leaps into the breach to stitch my thoughts back together into something plausible. Then the moment passes and I’m left with that sinking feeling of having forgotten myself. Again.
So each time I must ask myself the same questions so I can hopefully remember the same answers. Some sessions are not as clear as others and all the navel gazing and introspection doesn’t help. Then I take medication to keep Winston at bay and another drug induced wall rises. I emailed a friend complaining of my woes and an inability to penetrate my blogger’s block. She suggested, “write about what drives you.” Over thousands of virtual miles, that question nailed me. “I don’t know.” I’d forgotten. I have exchanged the dark cloud for a wall of placid blankness. It’s simply a different haziness.
But lately, just before I drift off to sleep at night, memories come, unbidden. My mind plays it’s own home movies. Here you are holding your squeaky giraffe as you grin up at your brother, waiting for him to take your picture. He’s in his ROTC uniform. You are four years old. See, you do remember being small. Here you are watching as you your family stands around a figure lying peaceful on the sofa. You are two. See, you do remember your grandmother. Images move across the placid blankness of my mind like movie shorts from an old projector. I’m older, then younger, then older. Some memories are sad, some are happy.
At first I resented this insistence in dredging up old memories, but now I suspect there is a purpose. This is me, remembering, piecing half-forgotten memories back together, looking for myself. I hope one day to actually find the younger Judi, the creative one, the authentic me and hold onto her tight. She can help me remember myself. Then I will be able to answer those questions.
Dear Reader, you’re probably wondering what has happened to my usual posts, so I’m giving an update.
My black dog Winston has been been a little monster, clinging harder than velcro. Trying to get the obedience regimen in place combined with the sometimes forced cheerfulness of the holiday season has him more hyper than Patty and that’s saying something. Add to that the strain of daily blogging and I’ve needed a mental vacation. Typically, I would have taken a hiatus as in the past. However that strategy led to extended periods of not writing that was hard to break. I grew tired of leaving, then making comebacks. After awhile, that gets old. Hence, I decided to do a string of Interlude posts to keep going this month. It’s serving as a mental break without totally stopping.
Rest assured you won’t be forced to look at picture after picture of Richard Armitage the entire month. I have a holiday treat in store extending for eight consecutive days during Christmas week. During that time, my blog will be password protected, like it was for a certain excerpt. Interesting, eh? I’ll leave you to mull over that. Be sure to keep watching this space.
In the meantime, back to the RA Bag of Goodies for something sweet and calming. How about RA reading you a bedtime story? Jump into your jammies, grab you teddy, and have a listen.
Richard Armitage reading a story for Cbeebies, courtesy RichardArmitageNet.com
When Winston, my black dog of depression, leaps out of the bag, morphs and starts misbehaving, I’ve noticed my pomeranian Patty has been suddenly like velcro at my side. Usually she’d be off loving Dolly (which looks indistinguishable from biting, mauling and beating up her stuffed meerkat) or sleeping under the futon. But when Winston threatens to comes out, Patty has been right there.
I first noticed this when walking her. I’d bring her back in and usually she would trot back through the myriad of doors we have to pass in my building. But on bad days, she would try to get me to go back outside until I’ve dragged her through too many doors. She would persist at the front door, act odd and then give up. At first I assumed she wasn’t finished with her business but each time that has not been the case. She stayed close by, keeping an eye on me although I feel fine. Then later, Winston would come out and run amok.
Courtesty Black Pug Art, Deviant Art
It turns out this type of behavior is not unusual. Sensitive canines such as seizure alert dogs are being used to assist epileptics. They also may be able to detect other disorders including diabetes and cancer. Scientists aren’t sure exactly why animals are able to detect the onset of a seizure or a hypoglycemic attack in a human. They theorize dogs are able to smell chemical changes or are more connected to us. Their reactions can be false positives; dogs may react whether it’s an actual episode or not not. However scientists point out the important thing is the owner’s response to the dog’s signals. A diabetic should immediately test her blood sugar; an epileptic should find a safe place to avoid injury. Googling this subject, I’ve learned dogs are also being used as psychiatric service animals to detect disorders like depression.
I’m learning to anticipate the slumps, either alerting myself to log the episode, checking medication or rearranging activities. This has been immeasurable in assisting the doctor in treating my condition. Although Patty has not been trained for any type of detection, perhaps being such a sensitive dog, she has trained herself to anticipate my moods. It appears as if Patty and Winston are squaring off nose to nose like competitors. This possibility grows stronger every day.
As pointed out in my London saga when Winston loves his Happy Pills, my psyche flourishes. This is a very welcome development. I started blogging in an attempt to jump-start my creativity which has lain dormant since law school. Law school by its nature teaches to think inside the box and by the law; creative legal thinking could very well get your client 20 years to life. Over time, my right-brain hemisphere, the seat of creativity, has been very slowly awakening to the idea of returning to things I loved: writing and drawing. I even darkened the door of an art supply store for the first time ever inspired by Zelda’s wonderful artist blog. Schools supplied my earlier tools, so this was a novel experience for me just to buy pencils, charcoal, knead-able erasers and sketch books. I felt a sense of accomplishment walking out with my supplies.
So armed with writing and drawing tools I’m getting right to it, right? Wrong!
Instead I entered the addictive world of video making! For those of you who miss the daily chat room discussions (usually 8:00PM onwards CDT), the topic of video making arose. Video maven BccMee explained the programs she used to make her great videos. She pointed out Windows Live Movie Maker 2011 bundled with Windows 7. (It also is downloadable for Vista). Now, I’ve never paid any attention to this program for some strange reason, I felt compelled to try it. I had gigabytes of video taking up space in my iPhone that needed to seen by somebody’s eyes. So I downloaded it all and proceeded to make movies – for hours. Now I understand the addictive quality of making fanvids. This program is so elegant and simple, it’s almost – I repeat almost- idiot proof. It’s fascinating watching the movie coming together piece by piece to create the finished product. Finally I produced my first actually watchable videos. Who woulda thunk it? So for my 100th post, I’ll share them.
My first attempt is July 4th fireworks filmed live with an iPhone 4 in HD. YouTube blocked it so I had to audio swap (which you can watch) but the original is now on Vimeo. There’s also a short slideshow tribute to my dog Lance if you wish to view.
I filmed the next videos at one of the most interesting places I’ve ever seen, the Bicycle Museum of America in New Bremen, Ohio. I visited this summer with Trinalin who does the honor of correcting my lousy vision. These videos are entertaining and informative especially if you remember the old days and love bikes. Try to watch close to HD if you can.
So, I know you’re thinking: does this mean you’re making fanvids? I don’t know, the idea is tempting. However considering the quality of some of the fabulous ones I’ve seen, I will certainly take my time with the music and compilation. The bar is so high in this area.
So what do you think about fan vidding? Any tips, stories, recommendations? Feel free to share!
[This post is reconstructed from semi-coherent posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter. Social medial experts call it microblogging. I call it leaving a trail to remember I was there. If you want to read about the newspaper account, click here. If you forgot who or what Winston is, click here. If you want to read past installments click here.]
As I stand unsteadily near the bed, it’s quite clear that any leaning, sitting, lying or even showering will be my undoing. If I have any hope of seeing tonight’s show, I need to stay on my feet and active. I don’t have a clue how I will stay awake.
I head to Wyndham’s Theatre for the tickets. Thankfully it is located just outside the Leicester Square station, thus sparing my labored brain any further work. I enter with some trepidation because I lost the ticket reservation number and booking in a computer crash in March. Could I get the tickets?
Winston wakes for the first time in hours, refreshed. He loves his drama.
There is a friendly young girl at the box office. Let’s call her Ms. Friendly. Just out of sight is the theatre manager, let’s call him Mr. Awesome. As far as I’m concerned, I’m speaking coherent correct English in pleasant American.
Ms. F.: May I help you? *stops a bit and stares*
I can’t imagine how I look now: a homeless woman? A drug addict? Lucifer?
Me: Yes, I’m here to pick up my tickets for this evenings performance please. My name is Judiang.
Ms. F.: *thumbs through envelops* I’m sorry, there’s nothing here by that name.
Winston: Ruh roh.
Me: *frets* Are you sure? I lost my reservation number in a computer crash but I have my passport here. *thrusts out passport*
Ms. F.: *rechecks*
Me: *blathering* I’ve been traveling here for since Tuesday, I just got here today, there must be some tickets. I booked them in January.
Ms. F.: Really? What happened?
Me: *tells the whole sordid story*
Mr. Awesome: Wow, that’s amazing.
Ms. F.: I’m sorry, there’s nothing here with your name for tonight.
Me: *decidedly whingy* Oh nooo!
Winston: *sticks head out bag and wags tail*
*We all stare at each other*
Me: *horror dawning* Was there anything for last night?
Mr. A.: *motions to a shelf* Check that parcel there.
Ms. F. checks and places a dead ticket on the counter.
Winston: *wags tail more*
Me: *despairing* And was there anything for Tuesday night?
Ms. F. checks and places another dead ticket on the counter.
Winston: *wags tail harder*
We all stare at the dead tickets
Me: *absolutely whingy knowing the show is sold out* Oh noooo. I’ve taken so long to get here. Don’t you have anything? Behind a pillar?
Mr. A.: It’s just you right?
Mr. A.: *reaches around a corner* Here’s a ticket.
It’s a ticket for the next day’s evening performance.
Winston: *doggy gasp*
Me: *somewhat deliriously* Oh thank you! Thank you! Thank you! *might have bounced but refuse to confirm that*
Mr. Awesome and Ms. Friend grin. Enjoy! That’s a very good ticket.
Winston huffs and curls up in the bag.
I stumble out of the lobby on cloud nine. What an incredible thing! Things are looking up. I’m smiling so hard I must look like a loon. A passer-by turns and smiles. Such nice people. Just outside the theatre door I spot a sign. My brain pieces together there will be a lottery for tickets the next morning at 9:30 AM. Oh! I could win my second ticket. I resolve to return first thing. Now I can go back to the room and pass out after all, thank goodness.
I awake sprawled across the bed feeling as if I’d been run over by a lorry. Something lightly sits on my chest drooling and snorting. Winston! My medication schedule is screwed up and I forgot to drug him. Nicely docile, he gets back in the bag with his happy pills. Good boy.
I head to High Street but discover I woke a bit too late; all the restaurants are closing. As I wander up and down the darkening road, I see across the street light streaming from an eaterie, like a mirage. It’s apparently a franchise called the Chicken Spot. Its doors are wide open and the lovely aroma of fried chicken teases me. I need to cross the street to this oasis but my brain tells me I’m on my own. Miraculously I make it across without getting knocked over by a car. I order chicken and chips. It is either delicious or I’m starving to death.
I’m so delight I tweet the following: Why did the tourist cross the road? To get to the chicken- and it was good!
[This post is reconstructed from semi-coherent posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter. Social medial experts call it microblogging. I call it leaving a trail to remember I was there. If you want to read about the newspaper account, click here. If you forgot who or what Winston is, click here. If you want to read past installments click here.]
8:00 AM GMT
I make my way through Heathrow’s labyrinthine walkways to Baggage Claim. The joyful trembling is now just trembling. In uncalled for optimism I check the bags from my flight. There is the sea of black luggage and a smaller lake of – red. What? My head swims as I check a puce one in hopes it’s mine and I might be going blind. Nope.
8:15 – 10:30 AM
The baggage clerk confirms: no, the bag is NOT in Chicago; yes, it was last in Dulles; no, it should have been on this flight. Oh wait, it should be on the next flight blah blah blah, due in at 10:00 AM. I’ve journey since Tuesday morning with only six hours of sleep in 48 hours. What’s a two hour wait? Wait, did she say blah blah blah? My hearing’s gone funnier than usual.
I sprawl across a seat near the appointed carousel. Security eyes me several times as they patrol. I can’t imagine how I look. My fingers cease to cooperate so I pocket the iPhone. Peering like a drunk, I realize the Toilet is nearby thank goodness. Sheer masochism prompts a look in the mirror. All things considered, my clothes look pretty wrinkle free; hooray for cotton blends. Wish I could say the same about my face. My eyes are a shade of red to complement the lime green top and blue jeans. My hair looks like I stuck a finger in a socket right before being whacked in the back with an anvil. My feet – my feet are there somewhere. Sigh.
At the carousel the sea of black bags continue flowing with streams of red. When the heck did people start buying all these red bags? I eye a whole set of luggage, neon Barbie pink with logos on it. Is that really Mattel? Surely not! I insanely consider buying something like that; it would certainly stand out from half a mile away. I mull over other times me and my baggage were separated, 12 hours in London, 6 hours in Detroit, 2 days in Rome and wager when I might see it again. Given what is turning out to be a long weekend, I want it back before I leave on Monday.
Finally Flight blah blah blah arrives and the bags disgorge, and the last one – is mine. I’m so ecstatic I’m thisclose to hugging the thing but think better of it; security eyes me closely. I double-check the tag, walk few a paces, question my vision and double-check again. Yup, still my luggage. Now I won’t be whiffy and need to wash my undies in the sink for three days. Or spend too much buying replacements at Marks & Spenser. Or Selfridges. Or Harrods. Dodged that bullet.
Another long passage finally points the way to the Tube. All I need to do is swipe my debit card through the travel card machine, purchase an Oyster Card and be on my way. Except the machine does not like my debit card. I turn around. There’s a long queue for that. Sigh. The line inches as I longingly watch better luck travelers move swiftly through the turnstiles. I zone out for a bit and I’m before the window clerk. He looks like a nice elderly man out of a Norman Rockwell painting. He gently extracts the proper information using small words in a calm voice and patiently draws on the map. I am age four again. I nod complacently. Clutching the prized Oyster Card in its protective plastic, I jump on the next Piccadilly line train confident I can’t mess up. After all, there’s only one direction it can go -out. With a change at Leicester Square, I’m on the Northern Line to Finchley Central. I’m armed with Google maps on paper and on my iPhone; I’m prepared. As I fight sleep, it dawns I couldn’t be any farther away from Heathrow than if I was in the Docklands. It’s almost an 1 1/2 hour journey. Despite a map plotted to the B&B’s door, I manage to get lost but am set right by a friendly florist. It’s an easy walk, all downhill.
Finally, almost 46 hours after leaving home, I enter the B&B. It’s typical English brick Victorian in a quiet leafy residential neighborhood. The proprietor, Mike, greets me, takes me to the dining area and puts the kettle on. He murmurs and coos and plots out a quicker way to the Tube station. I nod complacently. He stares hard asking if I’m taking in any of this. I’m sure but awareness is relative at this point. The place is busy; phones ring. I’m left to figure out the complexity of tea making. I locate a cup, hot water and milk but not the tea so I drink the milk. My room is happily on the 2nd floor off the landing. It’s small and updated with a wooden floor, twin bed, table, lamp, microwave, TV and an en suite bathroom containing toilet and a skinny shower. The view is a lovely garden out back. It’s cheap, cheerful and clean. It is actually better than other B&B rooms in which I’ve stayed. It’s too far from the airport but there’s no help for that now.
I can’t think of sitting down and losing consciousness. I need to get to the theatre.
[This post is reconstructed from semi-coherent posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter. Social medial experts call it microblogging. I call it leaving a trail to remember I was there. If you want to read about the newspaper account, click here. If you forgot who or what Winston is, click here. If you want to read past installments click here.]
Wednesday, June 22nd
A growing din finally reaches my brain. I sit up and pry my eyes open. It’s daylight. The hordes have returned, looking fresh and crisp. A young professional woman in a black suit perches on a chair next me pecking on her Blackberry. Across, an elder woman dripping money in an exquisite beige pants suit clutches an iPhone in a gold diamond studded case looks up at me. Two small preschoolers stare. The airport is awake.
I peer at my dying iPhone and inwardly groan. Did I even sleep? My mouth tastes like the bottom of my sandal, my eyes burn and my brain hurts. The tantalizing aroma of sausage and hash browns wafts to my nose. McDonald’s calls. I ungracefully unravel myself from the blanket and stagger to the rest room passing my fellow overnighters clutching their blankets like refugees. We are not a pretty sight. After some splashing and swishing of water and bedhead fluffing, I tell myself I’m presentable. Sated by the Golden Arches, I discover my makeshift bed is where I need to be. And that I slept no more than two yards away from a computer station replete with plugs. I dart for one as civilly as possible, commandeer a nearby chair and join the tweeting and facebooking horde. My virtual followers tut and commiserate. What will happen next? Damned if I know. Winston snores on.
More suited professionals crowd the lounge. I feel wrinkled and frumpy but hopefully not smelly. Mithum works. A rep announces we will board late. Color me surprised. Most of the profressionals tote identical little black bags and I congratulate myself for buying a new red one – like the one I… checked… Oh hell. A quick chat with a rep confirmed: no, my bag would not have been allowed to leave the country without me; yes, the bag was still here; yes, they will tag it through to DC. I don’t believe the last part but resolve to deal with it in Washington. It’s time to board.
After a delightfully boring flight, I land at Reagan, scoot quickly out the exit and into a shuttle for the 45 minute drive across town to Dulles. There is an upside to having no luggage. I see nothing of the sights but recognize my job’s headquarters of all places. Bah. After a few bumbling attempts dialing international, I reach the proprietor of the London B&B on my cellphone and explain the situation. “No worries, luv,” he says. “I’ll put the kettle on for you when you get here.”
Dulles is a large expanse of emptiness with its soaring maple dome and blindingly polished floor. I’ve never seen such an empty airport. TSA still manages to hold up the short line out of pure cussedness. I make a conscious effort not to roll my eyes; it’s not good to annoy these people. I rush to baggage but find a line – in an empty airport. Inexplicably they wander off as a happy rep comes my way. (She is too old to be called perky). Ms. Happy confirms: yes, my bag is still in Chicago; yes, it’s possible I will see it again; yes, it will probably join me before that night’s flight to London. She will flag, alert, and expedite. I should check at 4:00 PM to see if it arrived. Things are hopeful.
Winston as a dog is a fitting metaphor. He awakes wondering about food, just like a dog. I duck into a restroom and drug him. Onwards to food. Dulles has some of the longest corridors to terminals I’ve ever seen. Am I in Virginia? Then I must be walking to West Virginia. There are no food courts, only hidden eateries tucked into alcoves off endless miles of carpet. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost weight since yesterday. Finally I spot a seafood place and collapse there. I order a lobster roll and new england clam chowder, reasoning that I shouldn’t be poisoned, being so close to the ocean. The food is fresh and quite good.
Miles later I find my gate lounge. There are a few early souls. My head spins; it’s a good time to get some sleep. Maybe 2 1/2 hours of sleep last night and semi-dozing on the plane so far. Pulling out the Amazing Collapsible Blanket, I cocoon myself across a bank of seats near the rep counter just to be safe.
I’m awaked again by a growing din. The hordes have returned. I blink at the lounge, chock full of tourists? professionals? Who are they? The relentless stares of the obligatory small fry finally propel me up and towards baggage.
It took 48 minutes of powerwalking to baggage and back. I learn in two minutes: no, my luggage is still in Chicago; yes, my luggage will be flagged, alerted and expedited through to London. Riiiight. I’m piqued about Ms. Happy. There’s no help for it but settle things at Heathrow. I try sprawling in different seats but can’t capture that snoozy feeling surrounded by so many people. I would read an ebook but my eyes won’t focus. I’m in a twilight zone. The plane is here. I stare longingly at it.
I’m surprisingly on the aisle side of twin seats, having resigned myself to being stuffed into the freezing center seats. My seatmate is a grumpy woman around my age. I decide not to bother her. The flight is on time. There are no screaming children or hacking sneezing plague carriers near me. I’m close but far enough away from the lavatory. I have three blankets and two pillows. It doesn’t get better than this unless they put me in first class. Alas Ms. Wonderful checked that too and it was full. I eat something, peer at something on my personal screen, and wrap myself in blankets before passing out.
5:00 – 7:00 AM GMT
It’s difficult getting real sleep on a plane. I’ve dozed maybe 3 1/2 hours but feel like I’ve not gotten a wink. By now it’s like medicine; you keep taking it hoping it’s doing some good. Flight attendants pass out water and snacks to supplement the dinner I can’t recall. The movie I can’t recall plays again. My brain refuses to process the images. I doze off once more.
What seems like a short time later, the flight attendants walk briskly through, turning on the lights and throwing up the shades. It’s morning across the pond. Below the clouds sits the UK. We all sit up quickly, packing away our things, shoving blankets and pillows, trying to make ourselves presentable. My seatmate is a British ex-pat visiting family. She’s lived in the US for 16 years and prefers it there. I say how much I’d love to there. We laugh how the grass always seems greener on the other side. Winston stirs; must be breakfast. There’s tea, clotted cream and scones. I feel a rush of excitement. Almost there.
I’m here. I tweet victoriously: “LONDON I’M IN YOU!” I’m almost delirious with joy and exhaustion.
Winston whines and buries his head. I think he’s jet-lagged.
So Dear Reader was left huddled and shivering with me in an airport and then –… And then –?
Er… hasn’t this been the greatest cliffhanger ever? It’s like the break between episodes 7 and 8 of Doctor Who. No?
Godzilla would be impressed.
What if I said the dog ate my homework? Yes, it’s the old tired joke, but for the first time in my life, it’s true.
Winston ate the next installment. The pug leaped out of my bag and morphed into an ebony version of the Big Red Dog but not a bit as cute. He went on a rampage, much like those little monsters on It’s Me or the Dog except far nastier. He didn’t like his happy pills any more, so he got more different happy pills and then more pills to make him happier about those, but only just. To my chagrin, he thinks he’s still a lapdog, so he’s been spending most of his time flattening me and whining in distress, only since he’s a dog, he can’t be useful and TELL ME WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON.
Currently, Winston in calmer times.
So this is where we stand. Dr. G. and Winston are at an impasse. Dr. G. suspecting an underlying physiological problem sent me to my ole Dr. V-A who after prodding and blood tapping pronounced my hormones whacked and why was I still having menses? Why in the hell was he asking me? He deduced there wasn’t much he could do but throw more happy pills at Winston; he didn’t deal with black dogs. So Dr. G. is casting around for A Specialist in the elusive field of whacked hormones. I’ve had dealings before with this specialist species. This should get interesting.
In the meantime, I’ve reverted to being really blonde on good days and vacuous and addle-brained on bad ones. Because I can’t focus consistently to get any appreciable work done, I’m starting the paperwork to take paid leave from my job. I did this 10 years ago during a string of bizarre physical problems (my first dealing with Specialists); that lasted almost three months. I really hope to have some meaningful control over this situation by the holidays.
So that’s my update and explanation about the unintentional cliffhanger. I’ve been out of the loop with ArmitageWorld and the latest goings-on like RA’s birthday. I’ve been trying to keep a toe in by visiting the chat room and being utterly silly with some lovely and supportive members. Thanks to all who have asked after me, I appreciate it. I’ll try to post when I can.
[This post is reconstructed from semi-coherent posts and tweets on Facebook and Twitter. Social medial experts call it microblogging. I call it leaving a trail to remember I was there. If you want to read about the newspaper account, click here. If you forgot who or what Winston is, click here.If you want to read past installments click here.]
Tuesday, June 21st
I arrive at the airport with no mishaps: read departure time correctly, remember to pack everything including iPhone, iPad and their accoutrements, comfort upset Patty (my real dog), remember passport (barely) and tickets, get limo on time, and hit no traffic snags. I lug my spanking new red overnight suitcase purchased to better identify my luggage in the sea of black. Medication is split between bag and purse in case something is lost. The cotton waist pouch under my clothes contains money, birth certificate, copy of passport, credit cards and other personals in case I’m mugged. I check the suitcase and watch it disappear in the bowels of the airport. Security flows relatively smoothly. I’m not selected for “advanced security clearance.” A wave of my new enhanced security chipped U.S. passport gets me everywhere I want to go. The Golden Arches beckon and I indulge in a Big Mac happy meal reasoning this is vacation time. I walk miles through the main terminal, down into the even longer funky multi-color lit people mover and into the United’s steel and glass terminal Concourse C.
The lounge holds seats for the 6 surrounding gates. It’s a very hot humid day and the AC is barely detectable. I find my gate – Chicago to Ottawa departing at 7:00PM, take a seat and chow down. Rubbernecking reveals the plane is at the gate. Things are going swimmingly. A gate door opens and I breathe in the heady aroma of jet fuel, infusing me with a sense of contentedness and well-bearing. How I love the smell! I’m doing what I love, traveling, to a place I love. The only thing better would have been to leave from the international terminal, but no worries. Winston sleeps in my bag, snuggling his bottle of happy pills. I’m almost fond of him. Almost. I’m cool.
After quickly popping into the women’s restroom and not the men’s (don’t ask), I gather my things. The airline rep announces the flight is delayed until 8:00PM. We look out at the mildly overcast sky, puzzled. My Ottawa connection to London is at 10:30PM-ish. A passing flight attendant confirms I’ll need to clear customs in Canada first, so there’s no way in hell I will make that flight; I’ll need to reschedule. Damn it!
I find customer service has a maze and a long line. Pulling out the trusty iPhone, I call their line and wait on hold as I stand. Everybody around me is doing the same thing. After 50 fruitless minutes, I decide to sort things out in Ottawa and return to the gate.
We board quickly. I luckily get a single row seat still worrying about the London flight. Will I get another in the morning? The plane taxis, and taxis and taxis and I wonder if we’re driving there instead. A flash catches my eye, then another and another. It dawns on me we are taxiing into a lightning storm, while in a pressurized metal can. This is not good. The pilot chirps rather loudly over the PA system, “well, we’re not taking off folks; there’s a storm coming. So, just hold on!” WHAT?
Suddenly the heavens open and a curtain of rain hits with a WHOOSH. The rain is so torrential we can’t see out. I’m usually unflappable during travel. The increasing lightning storm around our little sardine can has me only slightly concerned. That is until the gale hit, rocking the plane back and forth. “Oh shit,” I mumble. The passengers around me obviously think the same thing as we clutch our armrests. The wind whips and howls. It’s like the Blizzard of 2011 except with water. Everybody is actually remarkable calm considering. They probably are pondering the weighty question of why we waited to taxi into a lightning storm like I am. I mull how long it would take United to go out of business after paying out outrageous settlements to our heirs because all the passengers and crew were electrocuted or drowned or both. I feel the solidarity with my co-travelers and hope we will be commemorated by President Obama in a special ceremony. I’m cool. I wonder if the others are medicated too.
The storm abates. The plane has not shaken apart or sprung a leak. The chirpy pilot returns. I start to hate him. “The storm looks like it’s passing over but the tower says we need to return to the gate.” No shit. “The problem is it will take time to find a gate, maybe upwards of an hour.” Out come the phones to call customer service. I try but notice my battery is low so opt to wait. The flight attendant passes through with cups of water. She later does the same with salty pretzels -after we drink the water. We taxi, and taxi and taxi back and double park along a median strip. I listen to a woman behind me give extraordinarily complicated directions to a third party for booking another flight. I chat with a stressed young woman from Ottawa who has to be at work the next morning. The pilot chirps from time to time. I imagine sticking him with pins to fix that chirp but Winston snorts in my bag so I switch to rubbing his tummy and he goes to back to sleep. I’m cool.
We finally are in hailing distance of a gate and dumped. After three hours in a plane without ever taking off, nobody cares. Ironically we could have flown to, back and to Ottawa in that time. We trudge into the terminal which turns out to be Concourse B and hordes of milling people. Instead of emptying out, the place looks like the middle of the day. I again find customer service behind a maze behind a line and queue behind a young newlywed couple.
“Guess I’m not getting to London anytime soon,” I say.
“Oh we just flew in from London,” says the groom. “The turbulence was awful from the east coast. But wasn’t that exciting?
I am clueless.
“You missed it? The concourse was evacuated. A tornado was in the area and they moved us down to the people mover area cuz this place is glass. Hundreds of people down there.”
“Yeah I missed it,” I yelp. “Because I was sitting in a little metal plane out in the middle of nowhere waiting to get hit by lightning or sucked up!”
“Wow!” the bride says.
“Guess you guys were on your own,” he snickers.
Tuesday, June 21st to Wednesday, June 22nd
11:00PM – 12:30AM
Eavesdropping passengers around us join in with their stories. We eventually piece together that the storm was so big, all eastbound flights were cancelled. It doesn’t look good but there is nothing I can do. Shit happens, as they say. Hopefully I can reach London by Wednesday night. I’m cool.
The other stranded passengers realize the same thing and after awhile people laugh and talk. We save spots for each other for toilet and food breaks. Occasionally some hothead screams on his phone and those around him murmur in disapproval.
“Don’t be a dick,” smirks the groom.
As we enter the maze, we spot an elderly distressed Japanese couple with an increasing disgruntled rep. They clearly don’t speak English. Word passes down the line and a young woman volunteers to translate. She quickly handles everything much to the couple’s relief. We cheer the woman as the smiling couple departs and motion her to complete her business. It’s a feel good moment and everybody looks at each other smiling. I idly mused if enough people had playing cards we could break into bridge groups, or maybe do pinochle. I’m cool.
I approach the airline rep. Let’s call her She so I don’t call her something else.
“What’s you final destination?” She asks.
“Well I can’t help you. We only do domestic here.” She’s mouth forms a grim line.
“But I had a connection in Ottawa.”
“Sorry, we only do domestic here. You’ll have to leave security and go to the international terminal or go to customer service in Concourse C.”
I stare at She. “Are you SERIOUS?”
“Ma’am we only handle regional flights here.”
“My regional flight originated here. This is where I was supposed to leave from.”
“But your final destination is London and that’s international. You need to go to Concourse C. She scowls.
“Are you seriously not going to help me after I’ve been standing in line for a hour and a half? You want me to stand in another line?”
“There’s nothing I can do,” She spat.
I step away in complete astonishment.
‘She refuses to help me,” I say to the line.
“What?!” says the line.
“Yes? Did you say something?” She calls over.
“I can’t believe you’re refusing to help me!”
“Ma’am, you’ve got to go Concourse C. It’s that way!” She points viciously.
Winston stirs in my bag.
“Rarf?” he asks.
“Shut up!” I snarl. He goes back to sleep.
I’m so not cool.
I storm down into the not so funky multi-color lit people mover and up back all the way to Concourse C where customer service sits behind a maze behind a line literally gates long. I waylay a young pert rep supervisor in stilettos pretending everything is under control and tell her what happened. “I don’t know why she wouldn’t help but we’re take care of you here,” she coos and beats a hasty retreat.
I queue with an old English lady who is as dotty as I am furious. I compose a scathing but brilliantly crafted testimonial and indictment of the airline in my head. An ironclad legal defense for airport rage blooms in my mind like an epiphany as I sense a Wednesday night arrival slipping away. I’m handed a voucher for a reduced hotel room; they do not reimburse for weather-related cancellations. The line inches and stalls, but mostly stalls.
Winston quivers with fear in my bag.
A young rep supervisor arrives but he’s not wearing stilettos.
“We’re taking about 25 people over to Concourse B. They handle domestic and international there,” the supervisor announces. People tiredly drudge towards him like dying men to an oasis.
“But I was over in Concourse B and your rep refused to help me saying she didn’t handle international! She REFUSED! And I’ve been standing in lines for almost THREE HOURS!” I am incandescent.
“What!” The supervisor has the grace to look indignant. “I don’t know why that happened. You stay with me.”
I remain close as he organizes a group and issues order into his walkey-talkey. He’s apparently a real honcho because other reps crowd around waiting for instruction. Wild horses couldn’t tear me away from him now. He marches us through Concourse C, down through the damn headache inducing multi-color lit people mover and back up to Concourse B. The crowd is herded to the scene of the crime. He barks more orders; it’s almost time to shut down operations and send the reps home.
The supervisor shepherds me past gates looking for particular people. He finds an older rep willing to help me when she hears my story although she’s technically off duty. Let’s call her Ms. Wonderful. Ms. W. exudes experience and compassion and I deflate like a balloon. She motions me to a terminal and gets to work.
I drape myself across the counter in exhaustion as she searches and mutters. Ms. W. discovers the issue is how to get me out of the country. The eastbound cancellations also affect international hubs in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey. I can’t get a flight on any other carrier either direct or non-direct. My heart sinks. The trip is quickly turning into an expensive long weekend abroad. I debate whether to give up and go home. Winston stirs. I groan. Ms. W. offers two options from which to choose. Winston peers out with interest. I decide to sally forth and pick option B: an early flight to Reagan Airport in Washington D.C., shuttle to Dulles Airport, and then a night flight to London. I would arrive Thursday morning, and still see the show that night. This trip can still be salvaged. I’m proud of my optimism and persistence. Winston harrumphs and goes back to sleep. Little bastard.
I wear a fleece hoody zipped to my neck but I’m cold. The airport AC had been set to 32F after all. People wrap themselves in blankets which are flying off the shelves at the only open drug store in the terminal. I rush in and get one for myself. Starbucks is also open, selling hot coffee by the vat. I decide caffeine now is a bad idea.
I walk miles up and down the concourse, wrapped in a blanket with a phone in one hand and an AC cord in the other looking for an available outlet to recharge the damn thing. I see bundled shapes huddled by plugs, sometimes hogging two, recharging their phones, iPads and laptops. It’s every geek for himself. I eye a spare outlet but a shape moves and gives me the evil eye. I move on. I find a spare and plug in, but realize I need to guard the phone. It’s so cold. I give up after half a hour.
I walk up and down the concourse looking for a place to sleep. It made no sense to pay for a hotel since the flight was at 7:30AM. Sleeping bodies lie everywhere, on seats, on the floor, across a stage, up against pillars. I’d seen newscasts showing hundreds of travelers trapped in airports and wondered what it as like. I wonder no more. Finally I spot a row of armless seats not under an air vent. Mummifying myself in the blanket and using the bag as a pillow, I stretch out and slip into semi-unconsciousness.
NEXT: London or Bust
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