As I got off the train downtown, I felt the humidity clear, and I knew right away I was in for a mess. I hadn't brought an umbrella or even a jacket, and I knew that the feeling of the city taking a deep breath could only mean one thing: the rain was about to start again. I sighed, swore at myself for choosing the worst kind of weather for this excursion, and hunched down, heading toward my destination about two city blocks away, but as the drops began to fall, I changed my mind. The rain was steady but not a downpour, and it was cool in the still-muggy air. I was in no hurry, and didn't have to impress anybody by staying dry. So I squinted against the drops, held my head high, and walked like I would have if I'd been in a summer rain in the country. I decided, almost unconsciously, to enjoy it. And to my surprise, I did.
As I walked down the street, I noticed a few other people following my lead. These were the people who, like me, were unprepared. We were getting wet anyway. We decided to enjoy it. We made eye contact, and in the sea of people hunched down against the rain, those few of us with our heads up tossed smiles at each other. They were my people, and I was theirs, and we all knew it.
As I did my shopping and wandered through the rain, letting myself get soaked and feeling a little foolish, I marveled at how much things have changed for me. Graham's not even in the province--I was completely alone downtown, and would come home to alone-ness, too. A year and a half ago, I'd never have let myself do that, let alone done it nonchalantly and without fear. A year and a half ago, I'd have needed Graham to come with me, or, at least, to be easy enough to reach that if I panicked I'd be able to call him to come help me get home. My life a year and a half ago was a very scary place to live, because everything in it was terrifying.
My bad year is over. I can say that with some confidence because it's been a full year since I started feeling better. It hasn't been a full year since I last felt sad or angry or anxious without good reason or beyond what was appropriate, but it's been a full year since any of those feelings were severe enough to keep me from normal activities. During my bad year, I could only very rarely go shopping on my own. I never went to grocery stores, because I found them too crowded and noisy and confusing, and if I did go somewhere alone, it had to be somewhere I'd been before--and in a new city in a new country, that left me with very few places I could go.
I got through some things. My Bad Year was a pile of stuff. I was Not Coping with some residual trauma from my experience of the NIU shooting in 2008, and I was trying to cope with the unbelievable stress of being an immigration-applicant-in-progress (I can't even begin to describe that stress). On top of that, I've always been a little bit like this. My default setting most of the time has always been that positivity takes effort--an effort I always try to make, but effort all the same. During My Bad Year, the things I normally am got amplified by stress and delayed reaction and all the tremendous--good, but still massive--changes going on in my life. Although in a lot of ways I was the happiest I've ever been, it was also the hardest I've ever had to work to put one foot in front of the other and figure out how to be well. I had a hard time feeling brave, and as a person who was always proud of my bravery, the loss of my courage was an added stress I had to figure out how to work around.
What ended up kicking me off was a visit from friends last spring. I had an opportunity to be courageous with protection, with people who knew what was going on and were there to stand behind me if I needed them but who also needed me to take the lead a little bit. I used that week, and built up some courage. We moved into our new apartment, into a friendlier neighborhood, and that helped, too. My residency was finalized, and the unbearable weight that I'd been carrying--the worry that my fledgeling family would be split up by bureaucracy--was finally gone, and that was the biggest thing. Leaving that stress behind was a life-changing moment. Shortly after we moved to our new neighborhood, which felt so much more comfortable, I started running, which helped with a bunch of things. I set goals for myself: to be able to finish a 5K by this summer, my doula certification, to learn some more complicated recipes and cooking techniques, and an optimistic but attainable reading goal. I made sure the goals I set would be a challenge, but a challenge I could meet--I knew I was going to need things that would make me feel like I was working and achieving. I forgave some people I needed to forgive (whether they deserved it or not) and asked forgiveness from some people who deserved my apology. I decided--actively--to allow myself to be the mushy love-driven hippie that I am, and not be embarrassed by it, or to be embarrassed for other people when they express genuine excitement about things (my tendency to do that is a thing I knew I had to change).
Ultimately, though, it wasn't something I could entirely control, and I don't want to pretend it is. I needed some major stresses to work out, and I had no power to make that happen--it was all in someone else's hands. The few things I could control needed a jump-start, and I didn't have it in me to jump-start myself. That's how it works, most of the time, and I realize that. A lot of the things I'm probably going to write about here are based on my personal journey--The Bad Year included. Figuring out how to get through The Bad Year was huge for me, and changed a lot of things in how I'm trying to interact with the world, but although I mean to write about the things I've discovered to be helpful, and describe the ways in which they've been helpful, I know that any kind of positive perspective isn't one-size-fits-all. Everybody needs different things, everybody's jump-start is going to be a little bit different.
The trick is to catch it. To notice the day when you feel like yourself again, even for a moment, and nurture the spark. It might even take a few different sparks before you catch again. The spark might be therapy, it might be medicine, it might be a change in your circumstances, or it might just be a moment where the light manages to get in.