The Dark Year

The Dark Year

I had posted the original version of this a few nights ago, then retracted it. I felt it may be perceived as too emotional, too dramatic, etc. Then a friend reached out to me for help – help I couldn’t give because I was at my RL job, and once I could, they didn’t respond … sending me into a panic until I could log on and make sure they were okay.

So, I tweaked it a bit in hopes it might help someone going through a struggle. Love you all!

***

About twenty-four years ago this month, Queen Elizabeth stood to make one of the most memorable speeches of her royal career. Scandal had racked the family: Tabloids had ripped them apart as Charles, Anne, and Andrew found themselves embarrassed at the end of their respective first marriages. As an example to society, they were never supposed to divorce … and yet, they all eventually did. As if the Fates could not hold back a final blow, one of her favorite residences, Windsor Castle, experienced extensive damage from a massive fire, destroying many national artifacts, and memories she had held and grown to love as a child.

As everyone watched her that night, looking for the slightest hint of emotion as she read from her prepared manuscript, she described that year as her “Annus horribilis” … quite literally, the horrible year.

I almost amuse myself to think that I might have a right to complain about anything in my life. People on this planet are literally starving to death, or dying from lack of decent affordable healthcare. As difficult as my life has been this year, it is still completely wrapped in white male privilege; something I can never escape, and am not always aware of. I’ve never been denied a job because of my gender. I’ve never been followed by security in a store. I’ve never been pulled over in traffic and had the ownership of my vehicle called into question because of what I looked like (regardless of what I was wearing). And while we all have a natural fear of crime, I’ve never had to worry about being killed by a neighbor, or a police officer, for the crime of walking back home from a neighborhood store with candy in my pocket.

We’re each formed by our unique experiences, and by the lives we grew into from the shoulders of our parents before. Is the life of one Elizabeth Alexandra Mary less stressful than mine simply because of the trappings she lives in, and the daily activities that are attended to for her?  Or,might she be a more resilient creature because of her time as an auto-mechanic in World War II and the aftermath, or from assuming the largest responsibility in the English-speaking world with little preparation and at such a young age?  What pressure does she live under constantly to maintain the respect of the British public, and to preserve a monarchy that struggles to justify its very existence?  I couldn’t begin to guess, and doubt I could honestly ever fill her heels (except on Saturday nights, but that’s another story).

And so, for me, it was a brutal Monday in July when the weight of my own dark year came crashing in on me. What I had hope would be a wonderful opportunity in my career and company turned into being the second job promotion in a row that was a total nightmare.  Despite the fact that our department is incredibly understaffed compared to sister offices, I felt I was being pressured to do so much more than was possible with less … or be terminated from a company I had worked for now 18 years. A co-worker, a favorite of my supervisors, expressed concern that I wasn’t enjoying my job. She stated that my discontent was obvious to everyone, and that maybe I should begin considering other career options. What was more obvious to me was that she was just “the messenger;” but the message from above was clear: Step up, or step out.

The previous job had been less personally catastrophic, but a nightmare nonetheless. As a patient safety specialist, I felt I was doing all I could to keep our hospital from actually hurting people from professional and operational neglect. I had to fight a leadership team that didn’t understand why I insisted on self-reporting safety issues using processes that were essential to our accreditation, with the ironic benefit being that this reporting could spur processes changes that could save lives. Instead, I was treated as an alarmist … like a town crier who ran from church tower to church tower clanging the bells because Mrs. Smith’s cat was lost again. The year after I left, they were nearly stripped of that very accreditation for another safety issue discovered by accident during an investigation by the state.

But that day, as I sat there, it all seemed to be slipping away.  Step up, or out.  I had been in this profession twenty-one years total, having decided to follow a career track just the last six years.  To be at this crossroads felt like a stab in the back. I had meticulously taken positions in the company to advance myself, each step making things better so I could move to the next level. If I were to change now – or worse, get fired – it would mean the last several years of networking, problem solving, and educational preparedness would go down the drain.

A real-life relationship issue prevents my home from really being the sanctuary it should be. I make it no secret why I come into Second Life, and I have often found many in the same boat who have wanted to do something different than they could in the Real. I’ve found myself fortunate when I could call some of these distant souls friends, lovers, boyfriends, or husbands. I laugh when people deride the virtual as a compilation of pixels … it has many, many times in my life been a sanctuary, a respite, and a healing place for me over the years.

But, as my life seemed to falling apart on the outside, things were rapidly changing for the worse in Second Life as well. A series of failed relationships in the last year and a half had me questioning my ability to love, my capacity to be a companion for another soul, and even my ability to attract a mate in a world where weight, size, color, and age really don’t matter as much as having a personal sense of style. Always being afraid of abandonment, I now felt my loneliness might be my new normal from here on out.

A few days before, one of the most precious of them had ended disastrously, and so when the pressure from above hit me at work that day, I pulled back from my desk, closed my door, drew the curtains and began to sob uncontrollably. Why was my life so out of control? My real one had been teetering for a couple of years, and now I couldn’t even maintain a loving relationship in a world where most of RL’s stressors and worries simply don’t exist. In a brief state of panic, I wondered how difficult it would be to take the stairs to the upper garage deck of our office building and simply walk out of both.

Once I could breathe, I phoned a friend – one from our virtual world. He knew how depressed I had been, but thought I was overreacting on IM until he heard my voice. Thankfully, he talked me down. I cleaned my face, straightened my office, and before I left work that day, I made an appointment with a therapist I’m still seeing weekly.  While I still struggle with depression and anxiety, it is with a better understanding of what my priorities in life should be, knowing the triggers that set me off, and knowing that it’s OK to take care of my needs however I have to – in whatever world is available.

In the last few weeks – even with setbacks in either world – I now see the world through a small prism of hope. I feel better emotionally than I have in a very long time. I’m meeting new people in Second Life. I’m happier at work (my boss recently complimented a presentation I made to 50 leaders in our company). And, I’m putting RL relationship issues in perspective, and working on solutions to chronic problems in areas where I’ve previously just hid my head and hoped for the best.

And so, here we are on Thanksgiving Day. This has truly been the darkest year of my life (and I’ve only touched the surface), but I find I have a lot to be very thankful and grateful for. I’m happy – very happy – to be alive. I’m grateful to have a job that supports my family and I, and despite the recent setbacks in the country at large, am happy to live in a country  that gives me the life I currently enjoy.

Life is beautiful, but it can also be very hard. Sometimes, it isn’t easy to see that a circumstance won’t always cause pain, that a situation in life actually may not persist until death. When several of things are pounding you at once, it’s easy to hide, run away … and maybe even end it all, but it’s also extraordinarily selfish.

Life isn’t a consumer activity. It doesn’t exist to amuse or entertain us. It can be painful, but it can also be beautiful, and to the extent that it is wonderful, it is so only because we engage it head on and make it that way. If we want change in either of our lives, we have to follow Gandhi’s advice … and be that change ourselves … not give up, not hide our heads, not abandon.

Happy Thanksgiving!