Where to start.
It’s hard to say, because it has felt like one big domino effect for I don’t know how long. You know, I don’t ask for much, and maybe that’s my problem. Today I reached the last thread on my rope, and I am just done. Done.
Given the nature of my more recent posts, it may seem like a complete turnaround to appear to be back to ground zero again. Thankfully I’m not at ground zero, and in the end, these trials and tribulations will stand as evidence of how far I’ve come.
But today, they are just shit.
I am in Mexico right now. I’ve been in this country for one harrowing week already, with one more to go. The weeks before that were filled with grading, end of semester stress, threatening students (them threatening me, not the other way around), preparing a workshop, etc. It has literally been non-stop, and by that I mean several sleepless nights, up working, plugging away at grades and handling mundane responsibilities, and preparing all materials for a multivariate statistics workshop, and teaching the pilot version in the U.S. before bringing it abroad.
I’ve been handling my shit, in other words. And that’s been really great, although I’ve since discovered that there is practically zero incentive for being so awesome.
Before leaving for Mexico, I got all my ducks in a row. Grades were submitted ON TIME. The workshop was prepared, with PowerPoints, and an illustrated (more like screenshots, but whatever) user interface manual, annotated outputs, and a complete knowledge of the material and its implications. And by the way, when I showed these materials to my advisor, who had invited me to teach the laboratory portion of this workshop, do you know what he said? He said, “oh great, now I know what I need to teach in the lecture.”
Mind you, this was literally a day or two before the workshop was to begin. And he hadn’t even started. I pulled all nighters, working on this shit, and he hadn’t even bothered to start.
Lesson #1: Only work as hard as your students. Or in this case, your advisor.
Back to my original illustration of being initiated into the superhero society: I looked up international phone services, and got instructions to avoid extra charges. I arranged to have my neighbor watch my dogs, and paid her a hefty sum so I knew she’d step up to the plate. I ordered rental insurance in case anything happened while I was gone. I called the bank, and made sure my cards wouldn’t be canceled or flagged if I used them in Mexico. I paid my mother fucking rent. Early.
I also arranged it so that I would not be responsible for teaching in Mexico. My Spanish is spotty and combined with public speaking fears and being in another country, I thought it best if my colleague and friend taught it, since she speaks more fluently than I do. It seemed like a reasonable trade that I teach the material in the U.S., she teaches in Mexico, and we share in preparing the materials. It turned out that I ended up preparing EVERYTHING, but still, since I didn’t have to teach in Spanish, I was only moderately annoyed.
It’s been hard and trying and exhausting and challenging. That’s par for the course with, you know, life. I made it. I earned my fucking stripes. I kicked ass and took names and goddamn it, I wish I could say that in real life without feeling like I had to make a fucking disclaimer, or water it down by saying it as a joke.
In any case, so everything is in order, and I’m on my way to my advisor’s house bright and early so we can drive to Mexico. At the time, I’m thinking, Great! I’ve got my shit done, my friend/colleague (we’ll call her Linda) is going to teach this, so I’ll have the days to myself to set up my summer course, which begins exactly two days after returning from Mexico. The lab is, after all, only one hour out of the day. The lecture portion doesn’t start until 4pm, and so we would teach from 6-7pm. I’d be like an assistant, helping students with the interface and materials, while Linda reads off the PowerPoint slides. Whole days could be spent working, getting my class together, and even working on research projects. Or if I’m really lucky, relaxing.
Lesson #2: Nothing ever goes as planned.
I get a random call from Beautiful Disaster, who is shit-faced as expected, and telling me how amazing his life is, fluffing his peacock feathers, about how he wants to fly me to Miami, or come see me in Tucson, or whatever. Really, I only ever talk to him just to hear about the crazy experiences he’s having. Sadly, I can’t really empathize anymore because of, well, mood stabilizers. They really kill highs.
Plus, it would be stupid to burn bridges with someone who has ungodly amounts of money and no idea what to do with it. A few weeks before, he had called to ask if he should consider going into a PhD program. To be a clinician. Of course I thought this was a terrible idea but rather than say that right away I asked him to tell me why he wanted to do it. His reason? Because he’s fucking rich and wouldn’t have to go so far in debt to get the degree. And then how awesome it would be to have this amazing degree and he’d work barefoot counseling people. Almost like clockwork, he played right into the point I intended to make. I said, you know, there is one reaaaaally important think in that whole answer that I didn’t hear. Something that would be SUPER important if you were going to do this job, you know? And he said, what?
I said, you didn’t say one word about wanting to help people. Not one! This is clearly not the job for you.
We went through a few more options. But the point is not that he is a retarded kid, which he is, clearly. The point is that someone with stupid amounts of money is asking ME what he should do with it. Which means that given the right circumstances, I could, possibly, influence him to do something good with it. It might never happen, but it could. So, in the end, it’s worth it.
Back to my original story. Mexico.
I arrived at my advisor’s house 10 minutes early, which interestingly made my advisor flustered and a little irritated.
Lesson #3: With some people, you simply can’t win.
I had just a few tasks left before heading out of the country. I called my veterinarian to put my credit card on file, in case anything happened while I was gone. I also tried to pre-order and pre-pay for dog food in case I ran out. That didn’t work, so I texted my neighbor that I would send money via PayPal. Finally, all was complete. I was ready to go.
Or so I thought. I gave my advisor’s wife the keys to my car, in case she needed to use it, or the alarm went off spontaneously, which it has been doing as of late. Not 20 minutes later, it went off, and by the look on my advisor’s wife’s face, random instances of my car alarm would not be remotely acceptable. After a few seconds, I decided that the best course of action would be to disconnect the car battery. I asked for a wrench. They didn’t have a single one. I requested an old rag and tried to remove the negative terminal cable by hand. No luck. Eventually, I just decided to go knock on the neighbor’s door, even though they weren’t my neighbors and I had no idea if they would have the tool I needed. The bottom line was that I was going to do whatever it took to solve the fucking problem. And I did.
We finally got on the road, albeit late, around 10:30-ish. The morning events, and likely the stress of the week(s) prior, left me feeling anxious and uncomfortable, tired but restless, and on edge. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I had been irritable all week, frustrated with useless people and assholes, and I started to panic a little because I thought that the stress from everything had initiated a bipolar episode. The feelings were identical to those I felt when she-who-shall-not-be-named told me I was experiencing dysthymic hypomania. I was on my way to Mexico, with my advisor and a colleague, and of all possible times, I was cycling into a fucking episode.
We weren’t at the border yet, so I texted my aunt and asked her to look up symptoms and treatment. I only had just enough meds to get me through this trip, so if I had to increase dosage, I’d need to fill a prescription in Mexico. Not ideal, but do-able. I didn’t want to say anything yet to my advisor and colleague…not until I was absolutely sure AND knew that it was going to impact my capacity to work. That stretch of highway was REAL fucking lonely. I was scared and humiliated that this was possibly happening to me, doing my best not to cry or bug the fuck out.
My aunt was able to call while we were stopped at a gas station, just before the border. “Not the ideal time for this, now, is it?” Ha. Ha. Ha. I made sure to decrease the volume on my phone, but Linda had already swiveled her head around the seat, one eyebrow raised, and looking very, very curious. I tried to smile and brush it off, and dialed the volume down lower. We made a plan for her to look up some information, send it by email, and for me to practice deep breathing exercises. After all, I had had a lot of coffee that morning. Maybe that was it. Hopefully.
For an hour and a half, all I did was count my inhales and exhales. If conversation was going on, I didn’t hear a word of it. Only, breathe in, 1, 2, 3, breathe out, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, over miles of desert. Maybe 45 minutes in, I started to feel myself start to center. My mind started to calm. I stopped trembling. We pulled over to a restaurant for lunch right after the border at a delicious place called Leo’s. Just one of many hole-in-the-wall places set up haphazardly on the side of the road. I decided I would eat and make sure to use the bathroom, in the case that the caffeine was causing my symptoms. I continued my breathing. I distracted myself by eating the spiciest salsa I could stand. My eyes watered and my face burned. It was excruciating. Excruciatingly good.
The hard work paid off. My face was flaming hot, but my mind was calm. By the time we finished lunch, I was able to drive, and we pulled out on the long road to Hermosillo.
Lesson #4: Exhaust all options before assuming the worst.
to be continued…