The closer I got to remission in early 2015, the more I plunged back into my former life. Sometimes it seemed like, in my enthusiasm, I hardly came up for air.
A year had passed since I’d felt this energized. With the return of my energy came a surge of urgency to move forward. If I got into remission, we could consider trying for a baby. That was suddenly within reach again. And if parenthood was within reach, then there were other pieces of life that needed to rapidly fall into place. I was still jobless, after a year of illness and a cross-country move. Our new house was far from set up. My almost-finished book about Dad was languishing on the back burner while I tackled the house. I wanted all these pieces in order as quickly as possible.
This month–February 2015–my attention was still largely on setting up our home. The most urgent, foundational tasks were done: repairs of broken fixtures and walls, installation of new locks and security lights, clearing of the garage and transforming it into a storage room. I had found much-needed furniture; our medicines were now in a cabinet and our books were on new shelves. But there was still a mountain of boxes loitering in the garage, and all over, the walls were still bare. I wanted to finally make our house a home.
This felt especially important because it had become so much harder for me to travel. My idea was that walking into our living room or our bedroom could give me the feeling of being on vacation. If I couldn’t travel easily, maybe home could become my soothing oasis.
I hovered in doorways or leaned against walls for long minutes, staring at rooms, trying to glean how to create inspiration and calm. I bought batches of items at a time–five throw rugs, three bedspreads–and tried them out, then kept one and returned the rest. For our bedroom, I persuaded Ron to let me splurge on a new duvet and duvet cover, and to let them be white. White was impractical and luxurious. Walking into the new, white-bedded bedroom made me happy.
I’ve become so materialistic this year that it boggles my mind! I wrote.
I conducted a sorting and digitizing operation to reduce the thirty-odd boxes in the garage. I just wanted them to fit on our storage shelves. Since the garage was our laundry room and our only storage room, this, too, felt important–I hated walking into the room’s chaos every time I did laundry or picked up some needed item. I couldn’t believe the quantity of unused possessions we owned: school notes, medical records, keepsakes, odds and ends, outdated camping gear… Now each possession was examined for sentimentality and utility, then kept or discarded. If it was paper, it was often fed through our printer/scanner, digitized, then recycled. I emailed our families announcing that this year, we only wanted gifts we specifically requested, and everything else would have to go to Goodwill.
We are totally out of space in our house! I explained.
Sorting through all our stuff gave me the strong conviction that, aside from sentimental things, I only wanted us to own what we would use and care for. Ownership of possessions is a privilege. I was proud to own a house–for the first time, I was the master of my own domain. I wanted to live up to it, to honor this privilege by being a good steward of everything I owned, and by owning only what I could take care of.
Ron helped when he wasn’t swamped with grading and prepping, or when he wasn’t too tired from his demanding teaching job. He and I made a few visits to Home Depot and met with a designer there to plan a kitchen remodel we’d be doing by hand this summer. Whenever we made decisions or did house or yard work together, I felt a warm glow. We were fulfilling my vision of how a family should be, working side by side, building a household together.
The other times, when Ron was tired and spent the weekend watching football, or when he was swamped with grading, I grew restless and irritable. I didn’t want to be doing all this alone. I wanted to do it together, “like a family.” And together we’d get it done sooner. I wanted to move on with my life, my career.
We often fought. We hadn’t fought much in the fall, when I was exhausted and in need of Ron’s help and grateful to him for moving all the way to Portland with me. But now, as my energy returned and I felt myself still bogged down with our neverending list of tasks, my energy to fight returned as well.
At some point I framed pictures and hung them: pictures from Madison, paintings from a trip to Guatemala, family photos. These were the first decor that had hung on our walls in the six months since moving in. Hanging them made the house feel more ours, more a part of us. Since moving in, I had been so focused on practicality that it hadn’t even occurred to me to hang them sooner. I winced inwardly at this thought. Friends would have hung decor early, just to feel at home. In a typical manner, I had ignored my own feelings and treated myself like an automaton, getting the practical things done first. The thought made me feel vaguely ashamed and regretful: it was the latest evidence of my chronic anxiety.
Our fireplace and wood pile, which we’d inherited from the previous owners, had gone untouched all winter. My focus on tasks had left little room for pausing to build a fire, which would have made things feel so cozy. Now winter had passed.
I vowed to build fires next winter.
It was time to start salvaging my career. The gap in my resume was growing by the week: eight months and counting. I joined half a dozen environmental listservs and began applying for conservation jobs, reasoning that by the time the jobs started, I should be even closer to remission. I upped my volunteer work with my local watershed council.
And I began writing again, aiming to finally finish my book about Dad.
Soon I decided to prioritize writing and career over the house. I wanted to start living again like a real person, which to me meant a career person, not a sick person and not a housewife. I began spending daytime hours at the computer and relegating house tasks to evenings and weekends. Nowadays, I could sustain this pace of work. It was like my pace before getting sick, often going all day without resting except to walk or shower or eat. My only regular exercise was walking. But, I reasoned, my house tasks often kept me so physically active that I didn’t need to build in anything else.
Amidst the bustle of my projects, I didn’t find the time to sit listening to my thoughts as the minister had suggested. Each Tuesday and Thursday, I was supposed to sit with myself and my journal in some quiet place and just be with my thoughts for a half hour. But whenever a Tuesday or Thursday rolled around, at the appointed time I would quickly decide it was okay to put off listening. There was always something more pressing to get done. At the moment, I didn’t feel distraught, I would reason. My shroud had lifted. Did I really need to listen to my inner voice or the voice of God, when I was already feeling so great?
I decided on a compromise. I would listen for my inner voice, but not by pausing. Instead, I would fit the listening into my current routine so I wouldn’t lose any more precious time. I could do it when walking, instead of using the walk to plan my next batch of tasks, which was what I usually did on my walks. And I could listen when doing the dishes, or driving, or showering.
Couldn’t I just learn to listen when going about my life, anyway? Wasn’t that what most people did?