Zwei Jahre

One thing I know for sure about myself is that I’m a dweller. And in that nature, I have been one of those that takes a moment to reflect on the prior year, as well as the year ahead. Reflect is probably the wrong word. What I really do is sit and marinate in stormy clouds punctured with the occasional rays of sunshine.

But here we are: the last day of 2022 and I’ve woken in the brooding mood that I’ve done for the past however many years I can remember. To be fair, the last day of 2021 was significantly less stormy, but then, that’s how some years go, isn’t it? Some years are full of change and hope; while others are filled with change and dread. I suppose the latter has been the theme of this year.

As someone that has had numerous ups and downs with depression, anxiety, and seasonal affective disorder — this year has been a down time. My anxiety suddenly flared into overdrive, causing a significant blow to my already delicate ability to process an overabundance of sounds. As I explained it to my therapist: imagine someone that hates the sounds of chewing, then amplify that by 1000. Better yet, imagine a house alarm or fire alarm piercing your ears; the vibration of the sounds ricocheting off every nerve ending; synapses firing off like canons – the effect like dominoes until it reaches your brain. It’s painful – like someone taking an icepick and mallet and slowly chipping away at any coping mechanisms I’ve built for myself.

I couldn’t tolerate the sounds of my friends talking. I couldn’t tolerate the sound of Tristan’s rubics cube, arguing, conversation in the car. Often, I couldn’t tolerate the sound of music, clacking of keyboards, the dogs nails clicking along the floor… my own breathing!

After some research and help from a coworker, I went to my PCM and advocated for myself to increase my antidepressant. Initially met with hesitation, I was able to convince him an increase was okay… but it wasn’t enough. The downward slope of the rollercoaster continued to accelerate into the abyss. It became hard to get out of the bed in the morning. I no longer loved my profession, my hobbies, my life. My motto became I can’t.

Perhaps one of the positives of a lifelong struggle with mental health disorders is knowing when enough is enough. It was time for a tune-up, so I sought help.

Whilst my own struggles were playing out, Tristan was also on his own downward slope. Our anxieties played against each other causing their own ups and downs. We would have weeks without arguing and fighting before an explosion would happen. We were mean to ourselves and to each other. Schoolwork was a struggle. Homelife was a struggle. Life was a struggle. Our house was imploding.

But here we are. Living a dream life in Europe. Traveling from country to country and experiencing things many we know may never get to experience. I’ve been able to take my mom to Switzerland, France, and of course Germany. I’ve been able to take Kevo to Germany, Belgium, France, and England. This spring I’m taking them to Greece. So why are we struggling so much?

If there is something else I’ve learned in this life, it’s that our troubles follow us no matter where we are. My therapist tells me every session: move away from asking why. It just simply is. Accept that. And spend more energy learning to rephrase, retrain, and redirect those intrusive thoughts. He writes example phrases, reminders, exercises on sticky notes that are scattered about my home and work. He’s given Tristan and I tools to identify our level of anxiety so we have the ability to communicate to each other in the hopes of waylaying some of the unnecessary arguing and fighting. We’re working towards being able to allow sounds to be less painful, intrusive, anxiety-inducing – the only methods available to treat the rediscovered diagnosis I had as a kid: Auditory Processing Disorder.

With the help of a psychiatrist, we increased Tristan’s sleep medication and began the journey for ADHD (without hyperactivity) treatment. And herein lies the little ray of sunshine through the clouds: hope for the New Year.

And amidst all the stormy clouds, there are still moments of awe, pride in myself, pride in Tristan, and pride in our life here. In my 37 years, I’ve never spent more days exercising, learning new skills, pushing myself in activities I’ve previously (and sometimes still) hate. Before I caught COVID in June, I had spent three months building myself up to an hour or more of yoga and 30-45 minutes on my exercise bike a day. I’d walk the dog every day. Tristan and I would go on 6-8 mile bike rides into the next village over. For the past couple of months, I’ve been going to the gym with a trainer at least once a week (the goal being two, outside of sickness and the holidays). Changing my diet has been up and down, but so has my mental health and my diet really struggles when my mental health struggles.

I’ve visited Scotland, twice! Tristan flew back to the US all by himself. I’ve rediscovered my hobbies. And I’ve even rediscovered music. Maybe, just maybe, this year I will rediscover my writing.

Has my love for Germany changed? Absolutely not. My heart still belongs here; my roots still firmly planted into the mossy soil. I still adore the sound of Deutsch, though I’m only slightly getting better at understanding what I’m hearing. And I’m still working hard at finding a way to never leave.

Admittedly, this year I did finally feel a small inkling of homesickness… but not in the way I thought I would. There were many days that I missed my mom. Just that. But I felt those days when I lived 45 minutes from her too.

It’s said that making friends with Germans is hard, but once you do, you have friends for life. And that, I have felt. They are a forever part of our family and for that I am grateful.

This year, I experienced my first Oktoberfests. Tristan and I visited numerous significant places like Dachau, Nürnberg, Bastogne, and Dunkirk. We visited new countries: England, Scotland, and I visited the Czech Republic.

In the coming year we intend to visit numerous other new countries, and continue to experience this amazing life we live. We intend to continue our self growth and learning. We intend to make big choices for our lives and to be accepting of the choices we are unable to make. We will strive towards discipline, structure, stepping outside of our comfort zones, and remaining teachable.

Einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr! And so we shall.

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