The abyss.

Are you one of those people who, when standing too close to the edge, feels pulled? Like gravity is sucking you over that edge? I am. It’s for this reason I have never been interested in things like hiking steep inclines or rock climbing or even rollercoasters. The ground beckons me back to its cruel bosom. So it should surprise no one that I have to be careful about looking into the spiritual and mental abyss, as well. To even think the word depression is to tempt fate.

I know people who are struggling right now, but I haven’t been one of them. When I took on breast cancer, I made a conscious decision to be positive and to try to live in the moment. That worked well for me during treatment and has worked well for me since treatment stopped. But I’m dealing with a lot of changes in my life. Not only have some people in my life died, others have been sick, and some are moving away – including my best friend. She and I are just two sick fucks from Georgia who get into shenanigans whenever we can. Age and illness haven’t really stopped us, though the coronavirus has limited our scope of shenanigans. She and her wife came over last evening with their 3 dogs, and we enjoyed pizza, Cards Against the Pandemic, and lots of laughs. I’m going to miss having them twenty minutes away. The anticipation of their move hurts.

Last night as I was trying to fall asleep after all the excitement, random thoughts jogged through my brain. I left off using my compression vest before bed, because I was tired from the visit. I thought, “I’ll just skip today.” I was very busy during the day doing laundry, vacuuming, washing dishes, and so on, that I figured I had moved a lot of fluid naturally. But looking in the mirror when I was changing, I saw the droop of fluid under my arm, and the shelf of it on my side. Still deciding against putting on the garments and sitting in the living room for an hour, I found myself feeling guilty about not doing it before going upstairs. And the thoughts intruded as I tried to fall asleep.

One of the thoughts that stopped at the curb of my brain was a meme I saw a while back. It was the picture of a packaged doorstop being used as a doorstop (still in the packaging, you know). It said something about taking laziness to a new level. I thought, “To be fair, that looks more like depression to me. Just the inability to even put forth the effort to open a package that cost you so much energy to go and purchase. The inability to do the necessary things every day, because they will just need to be done again (like dishes, laundry, etc.).”

And just like that, I felt the gravel shift beneath my feet, and I felt myself being pulled toward the edge. The word echoed in my brain – depression, depression, depression. Because I felt the truth of those thoughts in my brain. I felt the reality of how hard it is to do those same tasks over and over, never knowing for how many more years you have to do them. It can feel like being enslaved by life rather than being embraced by it. It can be as simple as that change in perspective. Turn to the left, you find joy; turn to the right, you find depression. I think that people who don’t suffer from mental illness don’t get that distinction. It seems like most people can just go about their day without thinking, “How many more times must I do this or why do I need to do that?” They don’t worry that no one could possibly love them given the absolute ENORMITY of the effort it takes to do normal things.

It didn’t help that when I woke up this morning, I was very swollen. The guilty thoughts persisted. You big dummy! You wouldn’t feel so bad if you had just made the effort to go through an hour of compression last night!

This morning, I would have put on the compression garments right away, but I needed to tend to the animals, make and drink some coffee, and do those other little necessities of the morning. Once all of that was done, I slipped my right arm into the tube of the compression vest and pulled the wrap around my chest, fastening it with Velcro. I turned on the machine and collapsed onto the couch, listening to an audio book during the 50-minute duration. I felt some of the fluid moving out of my damaged tissues. It felt better.

Suddenly, I was overcome by fatigue, so I went back to bed for what was going to be a short nap. I wanted to meet up with friends for some coffee and games. But a short nap turned into 2 hours, and I wasn’t rested even after that. It’s a gray, drizzly day here, and that always drains me. I missed out on meeting up.

I got up and got dressed, took the dog out and grabbed a banana. I haven’t been very hungry today, but I’m making the effort to eat nutritious food when I do eat. I had some watermelon after that. My mother always told me that watermelon is good to get fluid off your body, and I find that to be true. It’s so good when it’s in season. I filled up the dishwasher with last night’s plates and ran it.

I tried to watch a movie, but I didn’t finish it. I’ve been pushing those thoughts aside all day. I don’t want to be pulled too close to the edge. I’ve done so well over the last year. Don’t blow it! I thought. So I played with the dog a little, unpacked and repacked part of my son’s Christmas gifts into a smaller box. Thought about whether I should box each item separately or keep them together for easier shipping. I’m hoping to drive down and see him for Thanksgiving – if my body will cooperate.

I reviewed some responses to my ad for a cleaning lady on Care.com. Both applicants came back with the same amount, so I figure it’s the going rate. I could probably negotiate down a little when they see the place. Yes, it has 4 bedrooms, but only two are in use. One of the others is “the cat room” where they have toys and a tower. The other will be the guest room once I put a bed in it. The bulk of the work for those rooms is a quick vacuum. The hall bath will need light cleaning, just because of dust. It doesn’t get used. The heavier cleaning is the downstairs, where I have the kitchen, the living areas, the half-bath, and the non-carpeted floors. This area, plus my bathroom, constitute the bulk of the work.

Just that…just a few random duties around here and thinking about hiring the cleaning lady wore me out and I took another nap.

Sigh.

This fall, I’ll have to pay a company to get rid of my leaves, so that will be about $300, and next summer, I plan to hire someone to mow for me. My neighbors have been good to me and have cut my grass since my son moved away, but I can’t let them do it after this summer. They won’t let me pay them, so I will pay someone else. I guess I’m fortunate to have the money to pay other people to do these things, but it always feels like a waste of hard-earned money. I feel like I should be doing it myself.

Sometimes I think about how lucky my sister is. Though she and her husband are in their 70s, her husband is in pretty good shape. He not only built their house, but he has continued to add on to it (a screened porch, a beautiful deck, new flooring and paint in their detached garage apartment) and he does the heavy cleaning around the house. My sister, like me and all of our siblings, has physical limitations. Too much heavy or repetitive work lands her in bed for at least a day.

So I shouldn’t berate myself for needing sleep. Yesterday, I vacuumed the downstairs and the carpet on the flight of stairs. I need to replace that carpet. The last owner put Berber carpet on the stairs. Do you know how hard it is to get pet hair up off of Berber carpet? For one thing, the hair tends to blend in until it has built up to a clump. Only then can my poor vision detect it. Or I will see it – horrified – when someone comes to my home. I’ll open the drapes, and there it is in all its glory! Shining in the sunlight! So yesterday I extended the hose on my vacuum and put on the pet attachment and went after all the hair on that bloody carpet. I resolved once again that I’ll have to change that out for a standard low-pile carpet like I have in the bedrooms. How much will that cost me? I thought. I felt good when the work was done, but all that scrubbing left me swollen. My arm felt heavy.

That’s the way it is. Do a little, and then rest a little. Thank God my work involves sitting at a computer, because if I still worked in construction or retail or network hardware, I would be screwed. Working at a desk from my home office means I can keep working. It means I’m not destitute from all that expensive cancer treatment, or dead because I didn’t have insurance. It means I can pay people to help me take care of this house for a few more years, because I don’t have a husband or wife to help me. I’m on my own here. By Friday evening, even though I work at a desk all week, I’m thoroughly and completely exhausted.

I cannot afford to even glance at the abyss, because I need the fight in me every day to keep going. Some might even say I’m a little crazy, because not only have I continued to work, I’m also changing career paths again. Over the last 8 years, I’ve worked as a Scrum Master as part of my tertiary duties for several companies, while working full-time as a technical writer. All the work and none of the recognition, in other words. Earlier this year, just before I wrapped up treatment, I applied to an open Scrum Master position at my company, but I didn’t get it. The position was senior, and I didn’t have my certification. So I got my certification (while also working toward my web development certificate). Another position opened up last week. I thought, “Well, I’ll let them know I’m still interested, but it seems like they don’t want me for the role,” even though I’ve again been working as the Scrum Master for my doc team while also writing full-time.

My boss actually asked if I had applied for this new opening, and she wrote a recommendation on my behalf. I sent my resume, again, to HR. The position isn’t for a senior role, so I had a little hope. On Thursday, HR called me and said they’d like to offer me the position without any further interviews (since I formally interviewed for the previous open position). I was very surprised and delighted! Finally, after years of doing the role in an unofficial capacity, I am going to get the opportunity to truly sink my teeth into the position and achieve my professional goals on a new career ladder.

There are many reasons I want to do project management rather than continuing to write technical documents. One of the biggest reasons is that I feel like writing all day detracts from my being able to write my creative work. I used to look forward to writing in the evening and on the weekend. Now I can’t really get in the creative writing groove because I’m so tired of writing by the end of the week. I have a piece of a novel in progress, but I can’t seem to get past a few pages of writing before my soul just gives up for the day (or for the month). But also, I just love project management. I love that feeling of helping a team reach their goals, and that feeling of celebrating their accomplishments. I also love being involved in helping the company achieve important milestones and releases. Technical writing is something I do well, but technical writing teams do not get the credit for all of the user-centric work they do. Some think of them of as administrative workers rather than the highly-trained, skilled representatives of and champions for the customer. I have enjoyed technical writing for the last 17 years, but it’s time for a change.

In 2004, I was at the pinnacle of my success in the network engineering field. I had written all or a portion of two successful books on the subject and decided to move into technical writing full-time. It married my two loves – writing and engineering. It was hard to take a $30K pay cut to start a new career path, but I was married at that time. We both made good money, so the timing was good. Getting my first position wasn’t easy, though, and it really took knowing someone at a company who would give me a chance. I stayed with that company for almost 13 years as a writer. Joining a team of career technical writers there, I found myself on the bottom rung. That’s difficult when you have been as successful as I had been in another path. I learned a lot from those who had more experience than me, and I tried to rein in my enthusiasm and need to rise and just listened. (I’m not always good at that! My excitement often gets the better of me, and sometimes folks get their backs up about that.) I didn’t stay on the bottom rung for long. Within 2 years, I was a senior technical writer. While working, I finished by bachelors degree and then my masters.

I’ve now worked for 4 different companies as a technical writer. For half of those companies, I’ve also done the work I’ll now being doing full-time. Thankfully I don’t have to take a pay cut this time; it is a lateral move. The room for growth, though, is great, and I’ll be working with some folks who have years of experience in this field. I’ll be bringing my own experience to the role while learning and growing. I’ve now been working in technology for just about 36 years. I’ve seen a tremendous amount of change over that time, and I’ve been part of some exciting projects. I’m ready to do more and rise in a new position in the high-tech world.

You might think this is nuts. You wouldn’t be wrong. I could just rest on my laurels and ride my current career into the sunset, but it isn’t in me to do that. I have a drive that cancer didn’t kill and cancer treatment and its aftermath didn’t kill. I always want to be learning and growing. The worst thing in the world for me is to feel stagnant. Eventually, more of my energy will come back. I’ll get better and stronger.

And I’ll stay away from the abyss. I’ve got no time for that.

Namaste, Jude

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