Saturday, July 5, 2014

Where Have I Been All This Time?

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to live in the Pacific Northwest. When I was in college, I dreamed of having a fast-track career and living a Bohemian lifestyle in a loft apartment in some trendy Seattle neighborhood. I was going to participate in all the cultural activities and walk everywhere whenever possible. While that never fully came to fruition, I did finally move to the Seattle area in 1996. I worked in the high tech industry for almost 17 years and ventured into Seattle from the outlying cities on occasion. I eventually moved across the water to the Olympic Peninsula and did the ferry commute into Seattle for a while. I couldn’t imagine living anyplace other than the Puget Sound area, but after losing my job and being officially unemployed for over three years, I did the unthinkable and moved to Colorado.

I probably would have never moved to Durango if I hadn’t known someone there, but after two years in the high desert of southwest Colorado, I started to question what I was doing there. I had found work and it wasn’t just a job, either. I felt like I was making a difference, making a real contribution. I had joined a writers group and began working on my books again with a passion that had eluded me for quite a while. Even though it wasn’t a place where I pictured living out the rest of my life, I probably would have stayed in Durango if things hadn’t started going very, very wrong . . . which is part of the reason I haven’t posted anything since last September.

What Happened?

First, I had to put down my cat. Then the health issues started. Shingles. Really? Old people get shingles, not me. Then I tripped over my computer table and badly bruised my shin. The lower half of my leg and foot remained bruised and swollen for almost two months and, eight months later, I still have the initial bruise and welt where my shin landed across the top of the metal support. I was lucky it didn’t break.

Two weeks after I injured my leg, I was on my way to the bus stop when I reached out to press the traffic button to cross the street, slipped on some loose gravel and dislocated my elbow. I sat on the ground at that intersection for what seemed like hours in the most agonizing pain I’ve ever experienced. I couldn’t move. I watched all the cars drive right past me as they continued on about their own business. I wondered how I would get to the hospital. I thought, “This must be what it feels like to be invisible. No one cares.” Finally, someone stopped to help me up and drove me to the hospital where I had my elbow reset.

That experience traumatized me so much that I was actually afraid to leave my home. I was afraid of falling down and getting hurt again. The word “afraid” doesn’t even come close to describing how I felt. I was gripped with an intense and irrational fear – something I never dealt with before and hope I never have to again. Although I was fortunate enough to have friends who assisted me when they could during this time, I felt isolated and helpless. I was ashamed to admit my paralyzing fear and was upset that I needed help. Everyday tasks took me ten times longer to accomplish. No one was there to help me get dressed or to wash up or to make my meals. Anger soon moved in with Fear and none of us seemed to be going anywhere. I resented my new roommates.

A month after that fall, I got the flu. On the third morning, I got out of bed to go to the bathroom. I was dizzy and felt weak. On my way back to the bedroom, I passed out and woke up hunched over the edge of the bathtub, face down on the shower curtain that I had pulled down on my descent. I’m still not sure how I got there. Disoriented, I managed to start making my way back to the bedroom again, only to wake up after passing out again, this time just outside the doorway into the bedroom. The first fall injured a rib; the second, my tailbone. My arm was still in a sling from the dislocated elbow. I couldn’t lay down comfortably, it was painful to sit, and I was barely functioning with my lame arm. I was a mess.

Three weeks later, Vertigo showed up on my doorstep out of the blue and moved in with Anger, Fear, Pain and I. For about six weeks, my world spun around me and my life was out of control. Something had to change. The folks at work were great and accommodated my need to work from home all the time instead of only part of the week, but I sensed some tension around that. Friends helped out by bringing me things and taking me to the grocery store, but that couldn’t last forever. I needed to be able to do things for myself again; I needed to get my life back. I hated my roommates, but I also realized that I hated living alone. I missed my family and I missed Washington.

The signs were everywhere: Durango was going to kill me if I stayed.

My time in Colorado wasn’t what I had hoped it would be. A long-time friendship ended badly. I was living for the first time in decades without the companionship of a pet. I had to deal with slum lords and creepy, peeping-Tom neighbors. I stopped making and selling my meditation beads. I felt like I had given up a precious part of myself in order to live in Mainstream USA, but I never quite fit in. I missed my “hippie” friends and New Age community. Convinced that I could make it work – that I had to make it work – I stayed. However, after so many bad things happened, I finally stopped ignoring what the universe was trying to tell me: I had to go home, home to Washington.

What Went Right

Certainly, not everything about the two years I spent in Durango was traumatic. The right people came into my life at the right time and I made some great new friends. Everyone I worked with at the pharmacy holds a special place in my heart and I’m glad that I have the opportunity to remain connected with them. In fact, I’m still doing work for them remotely from Washington! How’s that for a crazy kind of wonderful?

The one person who’s probably most responsible for my staying in Durango is Lori Kearney, the owner of Rivergate Pharmacy. She gave me a job, she trusted me, she became my friend. She was always there when I needed someone the most, including the day I said goodbye to my cat, crying with me through it all. She has the biggest heart of anyone I know.

In addition to the people at work, I met some pretty amazing folks in the writers group, like Melissa Stacey, who helped me face my fear of walking outdoors by picking me up every day to go for walks on the River Trail. She also made me remember how much I love writing. Melissa is a brilliant author and her critique of my work gave me a fresh perspective on what needed to be done with my books.

There is a lot to be said about Durango and its friendly people. I loved the small-town feel. I loved how I could run into people I knew around town. I had been there three other times before living there, and always thought it was a great place. However, despite all of its charm and the people I met, there was still something missing.

Why I Came Back

I left Washington because I needed work. I stayed in Colorado because I found work. I left again because it wasn’t enough.

My son flew to Colorado to help me pack up and move back to Washington. I rented a truck and we took turns driving. It was a great road trip. I love spending time with Nick. My sister had my old room ready for me when we got to Port Townsend. I helped her pack and we both moved to Bellingham a month later. The first several weeks back in Washington felt like an extended vacation.

Now as I’m settling in, I am rediscovering what I’ve always loved about this state. It’s not just the water, the boats, the tall trees, the lush landscape, the mountains, the nature trails, and the birds – seagulls specifically. What I missed most about Washington was how it felt like home. I was at ease the moment I crossed the state line. I rekindled my sense of belonging as soon as I entered Seattle after my long journey across the country. It was as if I had never left.

Even though I never actually lived in Seattle, it is the very heart of the region I call home: the Puget Sound area. It has a vibrant life of its own. Anyone who’s ever lived here probably understands that. I’ve lived in Everett, Port Orchard, Bremerton, and Port Townsend. I’ve worked in Redmond and Bellevue. I have friends in all the outlying cities that surround Seattle. Despite the fact that I now live in Bellingham, about an hour and a half drive north, I still feel an undeniable connection to Seattle.

I’m not sure what the future holds for me. Will my sister and I still be sharing an apartment or will we each be in our own place? Will I stay in Bellingham or venture closer to Seattle again? Will I be able to continue my long-distance telecommuting or will I have to find a full-time local job? I’d like to be in a position where I can focus all of my time on doing what I love most: writing. Most likely, I’ll remain in the Pacific Northwest, no matter what I end up doing.

What have I learned over the last two years?

I have learned that I’m miserable when I’m not true to myself. It’s important to live an authentic life. I can be happy almost anywhere, but I’m not happy unless I can freely express myself without being judged, without fear of reprisal or fear of offending someone.

If my life feels like it’s out of control, that’s probably because it is – because I’ve given that control over to someone else or to something else. My values are important to me and I should never belittle them or let anyone else belittle them.

More than anything, I hate being dependent upon anyone for anything, but sometimes you have to compromise and let go of some control in order to be in a better place later. Other times, you need to learn when to cut your losses and just move on.

Ultimately, I need to be where I need to be, and I need to be myself. I liked Durango, but many situations were placed before me to make me see that I was no longer in the right place. I need to listen to my instincts more often – and sooner rather than later.

Enjoy this short time-lapse video of Seattle and the other video of Bellingham: 

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