A Heavy Winter

Go back to Westeros John Snow, you’re drunk! Winter isn’t coming, it was here, it basically lasted from October to April, and, well, to be honest it was awful. There’s no easy way to put all of this, so in the spirit of both honesty and a hatred for beating around the bush, here it is, all of it, sort of in order of how it all unfolded. Enjoy! I know I didn’t!

Shortly after I put up my Christmas decorations, (They got put up the day after Thanksgiving by the way. I can’t do it any sooner, Turkey Day is my favorite holiday… food, booze, entertainment in the form of a major department store sponsored parade, and most importantly, NO GIFT GIVING! Independence Day is a close second for the same reasons, just replace the watching of a parade with the watching of pyrotechnics) my small but mighty feline companion Scout Finch began peeing all over my house, including on my tree skirt, which destroyed my wood floors (right before I hosted a holiday party), and triggered the first of several yuletide meltdowns. After several vet visits, bladder infection, hyper thyroid and kidney failure diagnoses and several hundreds of dollars, she got really sick and I had to make a very difficult choice on a snowy (of course, because everything was made more difficult by the weather this year… seriously, ask anyone in Minnesota) Sunday (so I had to find an emergency vet) night in January.

Now, I’m not saying a cat is a person, but after my experience that night I have a better understanding of what it’s like for people to make the decision to end medical care for someone they love. You know it’s the right thing to do, but there is great weight in being the one who actually has to say, “no more.” This was the first time I had to make that decision, though I’ve watched (and judged) others as they have tried to shoulder that burden. My experience was painful, but, it brought me to a new level of empathy, and, hopefully it will help me be a better nurse and a more understanding member of my loved ones’ support systems.

Now, for the sake of time, and everyone’s emotions, I’ll just breeze over a few other health related events from around that time… my boyfriend’s grandmother was in and out of the hospital with heart failure, my friend’s mom had a pretty major stroke, my other friend’s dad had a heart attack followed by a quintuple bypass, and my uncomfortably pregnant best friend, (after many vet visits and bills of her own) was forced to make the same decision about her cat just 24 hours after me. Happy holidays everyone! Like any good nurse, I tried to put my own emotions (mostly grief in this case) aside to try to be there for everyone else. Oh, and by the way “everyone else” included the staff at the emergency vet. That’s right, I consoled the crying vet, and vet techs in addition to my amazing friend who drove me to the clinic. I just couldn’t turn off the caregiver.

I didn’t really cry about Scout until I got home to my newly empty house after leaving the vet. If you’re keeping track, that’s emotional breakdown numero dos. Silver lining, I got some of the best night’s sleep after dumping some of my emotions into the universe and onto my duvet. Talk about settling down for a long winter’s nap!

So, now it’s January, everyone’s people are sick and everyone’s pets are dead, the little house next door has been torn down and a giant 4-bedroom house is replacing it… at 7 AM… every morning while I’m working on the capstone project for my accelerated online BSN program. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that part? In an effort to take a break from the hammering next door, the subzero temperatures, and working extra shifts during the worst flu season in recent history (SO many sick calls!) at a hospital that was implementing care model changes at all levels amidst a system merger, I traveled to St. Louis to help my mom recover from her second knee replacement surgery. Happy New Year everyone!

In February, after I turned in my 10.25 page, evidence based paper on diabetes education in the inpatient setting along with its appendix and narrated PowerPoint, I went into full hibernation mode. I spent most of my time in sweats in front my boyfriend’s television, very little of it in the gym or yoga studio and none of it talking about everything that had piled up over the past few months. I was exhausted from overcommitting and overcompensating and, I just felt overwhelmed. Happy Valentine’s Day!

March! Cue spring! Just kidding! Mother nature is an angry unstable jerk, oh and as it turned out, so was my boyfriend. Yuck. I’m not proud of it, but in the past, I have ignored red flags in relationships. Sometimes they were just the marking your yard before you dig sized red flags and sometimes they were full on Les Miserables end of Act One “One More Day” size red flags. Unfortunately, I have had a habit of dismissing or excusing bad behaviors. Fortunately, this time around I heard the buzzing powerlines and the angry French peasants, and I made my timely exit. Yes, March was in like a lion and out like a, well, a near syncopal episode (sorry, I don’t know how to draw a line from nearly passing out on three occasions to lambs, sheep or any other fluffy mammals).

Yes, the Ides of March came at me like Brutus, and by St. Patrick’s Day, my heart had taken so many emotional hits, the effects were now physical and I found myself in a cardiologist’s office with palpitations, tachycardia, and three episodes of nearly passing out with a heart rate in the 40’s… a scary situation for anyone. In my case it was made even scarier by the fact that I knew WAY too much about what could possibly be wrong on two fronts, my professional experience, and my family’s extensive cardiac history.

An echo stress test, bloodwork, and the report from a 30-day heart monitor all came back normal. Getting the all clear on my heart (the anatomically correct version of it) made me realize that my real problem was all of the untreated issues with my heart (the pink sparkly emoji representation of it). My soul was what really needed some time and attention and recovery. The weight of the heavy snow outside (in mid-April now… 17 inches in 48 hours to be exact) was a perfect reflection of the weight I had been carrying all winter. Despite all of my efforts to ignore it or shovel it to the side; it just kept coming. I was buried; buried in exhaustion and sadness and so. much. snow. It all felt so heavy.

Even worse than the actual heaviness was realizing that my attempts to manage (ignore) it had failed miserably. Every time I tried to push the bad feelings away, I unconsciously pushed the good ones away too. I had inadvertently become numb. I didn’t fully feel the pride of finishing a third degree. I didn’t fully embrace the fun times with family while I was in St. Louis. I didn’t fully experience the joy of hosting a house full of people for my best friend’s baby shower. I didn’t fully participate in any of the small parts of everyday life either. It was all just blended together and got mixed in with the whirling snow.

As it turns out, every experience this winter had been dulled because every feeling had been numbed.  And, every meltdown I had along the way was simply all of the feelings (the good, the bad and the ugly) just trying to be felt. I was tired all winter, but now, I was just tired winter… and everything that came with it this year. So as the last of the April flakes fell, I made the decision to start digging myself out. Grab a shovel… there’s work to be done.


“We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”  –Brene Brown

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