what a year it has been!

The seasons have turned 4 times since I last wrote. Winter is, once again, upon us. And I fear, dear Readers, that I have left you in the lurch. (I don’t really know what a lurch is, or how anyone would know which lurch is specifically “the” lurch being referred to here, but nonetheless I regret leaving you there.)

I am returning to this journey of putting experiences into words, in the hope that my words will resonate with you in some significant (or perhaps minor, or at least somewhat recognizable) way, and that these words – when written – will cease taking up so much space in my overstuffed brain file of “significant things to write about”.

So, perhaps I should briefly recap the turn of events that led to the predicament in which I now find myself. It all began when I came home one February day to find a note posted on the building door, stating the following: “The building has been sold, and is under new management. Renovations will begin immediately, and will be taking place every day.” This seemed for a brief moment in time like a potentially good thing – A new owner might actually make needed repairs and take care of things like doors that don’t close, windows that don’t open, and the thousands of gnats that take over the apartment in the warmer months.

Alas – the new owner had plans of his own, which involved the complete de-construction and re-construction of the entire building, from the ground up. Calling this process “renovations” is somewhat like calling a category 4 hurricane a “strong breeze”. Overnight, I found myself living in the midst of a demolition zone, with the entire building being gutted all around me. While I generally do my best to adapt and “go with the flow”, I do have my limits. I can now say with complete certainty that the epicenter of a construction site is not a recommended habitat for a person with MCS. (According to Wikipedia, I have incorrectly used the word “epicenter” here, as it is supposed to refer specifically to earthquake-related events. However, since the Wikipedia experts do concede that the term “may be misused as a metaphor to describe focal points of unstable and potentially destructive environments”, I stand by my technically incorrect but metaphorically precise word choice.)

My system became instantly overloaded, and I lost the capacity to continue showing up as a functional person at my job. I stopped working and never went back. I got approved through my job for short-term, and then long-term, disability. When the term transitioned from “short” to “long”, my employment was officially terminated.

This is a very interesting change in identity. For most of my adult life, I had been known (by others and myself) as an employee, a psychotherapist, a professional, a contributing member of society. Following a brief frenzy in the pursuit of properly produced paperwork, involving doctors’ visits and the completion of frustratingly formulaic forms, the transition was complete. The old roles fell away, instantly replaced by the new role of “sick person”.

I will admit that finally being considered disabled has its ups and downs – a subject likely to be explored further at a later point. For now, I’ll simply observe that the “What do you do” question is ubiquitous in our culture, and that “being a disabled person” is not an answer that lands well – particularly in a first (and most likely last) conversation with someone from an online dating site. It is worth noting that the last 3 men I have interacted with from those sites have walked away upon learning of my condition. I truly appreciate their honesty about their needs to be with a “healthy woman”, their fears about how my illness might impact their lives, and their inability to handle this particular challenge. And I do appreciate their willingness to speak their truth and to name their needs and limits. And I do want to tell them that they have no fucking idea who they are walking away from, that they will live to regret their foolhardy choice when the body of their next heroically healthy partner breaks down in some unplanned, unpleasant way, and that they should go fly a kite off a short pier. (I know Wikipedia would likely tell me that I’ve incorrectly mixed my phrases here, but it works for me.)

Returning now to the synopsis of my past year:
In the whirlwind of becoming disabled and unemployed and without a reasonably safe or sane place to live – I managed to find an apartment and to move again, only 8 months after moving into what had now become uninhabitable. Circumstances required immediate action, and I immediately acted. Inner strength and determination rose up from unseen wells, enhanced by the strength, love, and support of dear friends, and when my world seemed to throw me up into the air, I landed safely. For this, I am profoundly grateful.

One observation I’d like to mention here is that decisions made in the midst of crisis may not always be the most well-thought-out ideas. I do cut myself some slack about this, given that I made what seemed to be the best decision at the time. (According to the idiom dictionary – “cutting slack” is technically a nautical term regarding rope-maneuvering activity. Given the very high likelihood that I will never use the phrase in any ship-related context, I’m glad to be able to use it here. And if my compulsion to elaborate on the origins of phrases is more irritating than interesting, kindly disregard .)

I moved into an “apartment” that is the entire 3rd floor of a 115-year-old Victorian mansion. The term “apartment” is not really accurate here – as there is no door. It is actually a collection of rooms, each of which thankfully does have a door. The good parts: no carpeting, no forced air heat, no recent painting, no smoking, and the landlady’s willingness to ask tenants to use fragrance-free laundry products. While these are most definitely good parts, there have been some teeny tiny problematic parts along the way.
Perhaps it is best to swiftly summarize:
Due to the lack of any barrier between my “apartment” and the two floors beneath me, every odor/chemical/fragrance used by the tenants below wafts upward and saturates the air in my space.
This in itself would have been perhaps a less than perfect, but manageable, challenge.
The freezing cold temperatures in early spring, when I moved, soon turned into sweltering summer heat. Because of the type of windows, air conditioners were not possible in the living room ( my movement space) where it was typically 90 degrees. I got through that, choosing to think of it as an unintentional introduction to Bikram yoga, and a ready-made sweat lodge.

Then came fall – and with it, the crawling creature curse (which seems to have followed me from the gnat neighborhood). It began with noticing disturbing bedbug- type bite patterns on my body, and then a profusion of insanely itching bites around my ankles and calves, and then learning from the tenant below me(with multiple dogs and cats) that the house was infested with fleas. This was soon followed by the multitudes of mice that brazenly scurried across my kitchen counter on a regular basis. (The good thing about their brazen boldness was that they marched right into the traps set on the counter – No need to even place any bait. The not so very good thing is that dead mice on the kitchen counter is a bit of a disruption to meal preparation.) I learned that mice do not like balsam fir oil or peppermint oil, and so I placed these aromatic repellants all around my kitchen. (The good thing about this is that the potent smells effectively repelled the mice. The not so very good thing is that they also effectively repelled me, providing an added dimension of dinnertime disruption: the inability to breathe.)

Hoping  to avoid pesticides, I first attempted to address the flea issue with what might be summed up as “the diatamaceous earth debacle”, during which I discovered that if you cover your floors with diatamaceous earth and then try to vacuum it all up, you will promptly and permanently destroy your vacuum, and you will also inhale enough particles to likely scar your lungs for life. When this approach failed, I reached out to a variety of exterminators. After multiple inspections -all with bizarrely different ideas about what needed to be done – I was convinced that I did not have bedbugs and that, despite not actually seeing any fleas, it would be wise to do a chemical flea treatment in the apartment. This I did, in a perfectly orchestrated plan, coinciding with a trip to Florida to be with my family. The part I hadn’t planned on was that somehow the fleas seem to have traveled with me in my car, perhaps seeking warmer climes. More on the Florida trip later…
Upon returning from Florida, I surprisingly felt ok in the apartment, pesticides and all – with the minor irritation of crying spells on a daily basis, and the ongoing appearance of mysterious itchy bites which still have not been explained.
And now winter is here. (The good thing about this is that fleas apparently take a break and become inactive in the cold. The not so good thing is the complete lack of insulation in this “apartment” and that, unlike fleas, my own human body goes into hypothermia instead of hibernation).
Not a storm window to be found in the place – and I have discovered that if I keep the thermostat at 60 degrees, I can keep my heating bill down to “only” 200 dollars. This poses an interesting dilemma: Do I turn up the heat and end up on the street because I can’t pay the rent? That sort of seems to defeat the whole staying warm agenda. Or do I keep it at 60 degrees and end up having a complete mental and physical breakdown, which might land me in an institution – where despite ever-present exposure to conglomerated chemicals, I might thaw out a bit?

This is where I sit today – in one of the rooms, with the door closed, a space heater on, and the thermostat turned all the way up to 62 degrees. I’m looking at the snow falling outside my uninsulated window, and in a moment I’ll start my morning movement routine – during which at some point the blocks of ice where my feet should be will melt, and once again I will experience having lower extremities that are not quite so extreme. And then I will continue to search for housing. And maybe, just maybe, I will find a place that is not saturated with scents, or crawling with creatures. or flipping between freezing and frying. And maybe I’ll call it “home”.

One thought on “what a year it has been!”

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