2015 was the worst year of my life. (Well, until 2016, but hold that thought.) It started innocently enough, with a series of talks about hospice and OneHealth and how working with death in veterinary medicine made us better equipped to handle other deaths in life, then it ended with the old adage of God laughing at your plans.
“I see you are speaking about the important of hospice,” He boomed, stroking His long grey beard (I was brought up Catholic, I can’t imagine it any other way). “It’s great that you’re talking about families and the importance of dying at home and all that stuff.” Then God called my bluff by, quite unexpectedly, sending my young and vibrant mom brain cancer and forcing me to figure out just how far I was willing to commit to this whole “death is a family affair” thing.
So like I said, bad year.
Anyway, at the end of 2015, my sister and I sat by a fire and threw a lot of things in it, literally and symbolically torching what had indeed been a dumpster fire of a year. Up until last year, Christmas was absolutely my favorite holiday ever. I played it at Buddy the Elf level, to give you an idea how much I loved it. It was the only time of year that I could unfailingly rediscover that warm fuzzy feeling of a fleece blanket and a perma-hug, joy and anticipation and goodwill that not even the annual Christmas Vet Clinic Death March could overcome. It was magic, electric, life-affirming. In short, this was me through 2014:
And then in 2015 we wound up somewhere around here:
I left every decoration in the box and went away for Christmas, for the first time in my life. The joy was gone, evaporated, pouf. I looked around for it, hoping some imprint of the magic would remain in my brain like the sparkling trails left in the sky as a firework fades into black, but….nothing. It was just one of many significant things cancer stole, but it has the added insult of circling back every 12 months to kick you a few more times, for good measure.
I survived 2015, through a combination of relentless gratitude, meds, family and friends. I say this not because I want to show you all how well I’m doing but to let you know that sometimes, surviving is pretty much the best you can do, and that’s ok. I embraced the “count your blessings” routine for a bit because I had to in order to get up every morning, but I am also the first to admit that this lasted only through the first six months. In 2016 that act got old and I spent a good amount of time wallowing.
2015 was bad for me, but 2016, as far as I can tell, sucked for almost everyone. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s some weird black hole vortex of suckitude that happens once a century? An evil wizard placed a curse on 2016? Across the board, so many friends lost loved ones, and jobs, and houses, relationships, and a sense of security. Take, for example, last week’s Friendsgiving dinner at my dear friend’s house. This is who I was sitting with:
- The host, whose car was totalled the week before and was just now able to get out of bed and walk across the room;
- A friend who lost her mother and best friend within weeks of each other;
- A man whose young daughter was hospitalized for seizures of unknown origin earlier in the week;
- A doctor who is losing her job and entire life’s work at 35 because she has severe degenerative illnesses and can no longer work;
- A friend dealing with the pain of unexplained infertility;
- And me, refilling the quickly emptying wine glasses with rapid abandon.
At the end of the night we all sat looking at each other with a sense of empathy and flat-out exhaustion. Like, I get that it’s good to count your blessings and all, but SERIOUSLY, isn’t there a point where we get to just puff out our cheeks and say, “Wow, this really sucks”?
A few days ago, I posted a link to the infamous dumpster fire ornament tutorial on my Facebook page with an open invitation for anyone who wanted to, to come to my home and make one. When life sends you a dumpster fire, turn it into a festive ornament, that’s what I say. Crafting for the Cranky. A good number of people responded with a “heck yes!” and one person, a very nice and kind person who is the one woman I know who had a great year, responded with a sad face and a suggestion to focus on the positive.
She was not invited to my ornament party.
I am a big fan of resilience and doing what you can to survive and recover from bad circumstances. That being said, I also think a good part of that resilience means giving yourself permission to just stew and be sad and mourn for a bit too without feeling like you need to minimize just how bad you’re doing on any given day.
So I guess what I’m saying is, as a veteran wallower, if you’re having a sucky 2016, I get it and I give you permission to skip the Ugly Sweater parties, cookie exchanges, and cocktail hours. There’s a time and place for everything, even a good long pity party. Getting irrationally upset by a rerun of Love, Actually happens to the best of us. Sometimes you just have to watch the dumpster fire burn, you know what I mean? It’s ok. You’re only human.
If you’re having a terrible 2016, I’m sorry. I will sit by the fire with you and let you rage a little bit, because you should let it all out. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need, especially if what you need is space. And if you’re having a great 2016, a grand old time of things, just be content to sit quietly on the edge of the shadows with a fire extinguisher. Sometimes just listening is the best thing you can do. Save your pep talk for the times it is explicitly requested, and it will be- just not right this minute.
Happy holidays to you all, and “Tolerable/Survivable December Dumpster Days” to those downtrodden elves who knows exactly who you are. Cheers.
When she’s not busy watching crafting ornaments and listlessly watching The Year Without a Santa Claus, DrAndyRoark.com Editorial Director Jessica Vogelsang is a San Diego veterinarian with Paws into Grace and the creator of the popular website pawcurious.com. Her writing is regularly featured on outlets such as dvm360, Vetstreet, and PetMD. Her debut memoir All Dogs Go to Kevin is available in bookstores, online, and as an ebook from all major book retailers. For more information about the book and Dr. Vogelsang, visit drjessicavogelsang.com.