Managing My Need to Manage Myself: Finding Space to Breathe and Reboot

I haven’t written a blog post in a very long time. I created this blog to give myself a space to vent, think aloud, and sometimes solicit feedback from the internets when I needed guidance. But mostly, this blog is for me.

So I don’t feel guilty having taken a few months (ok…more like 6 months) away from this space. I needed it. More specifically, I need time to wade through a new space in which I found myself last Spring and Summer.

On the heels of a professionally challenging Spring semester I started a very demanding Summer. I had a grant proposal due on Aug 5th, needed to prepare my third year review file, was teaching 3 classes (2 concurrently), and had to write 4 chapters in my book if I was to stay on track with my publisher.

In true Manya fashion, I had a schedule with due dates and a really solid plan for making sure that this would be a productive summer complete with scheduled time to celebrate my 30th birthday in New Orleans.

Then the person I had been dating came to visit. And he got sick. And he was admitted to the hospital. And he died. All in a 5 week span.

I’ve written before about managing my grief while trying to be a functioning academic. But this time it was so different. Losing my grandfather during my first year of grad school was hard but he a) was older and b) had cancer so it wasn’t a surprise. Losing my brother in my third year of grad school was devastating. But again, I can soothe myself when I remember that he didn’t really want to be here anymore. Last Spring I lost my best friend to complications associated with HIV. That hurt. A lot. He was young, he did want to be here, and so many people counted on him to be their light. Including me.

But all three of those losses represented a loss in my history. These were people with whom I shared a piece of my past. My grandfather building a swing set and teaching my cousins and I about snapping turtles. My brother was the one who could always remember minute details from childhood experiences. My best friend was a reminder of how much fun I had in high school and how I started becoming the person I am today. But this most recent loss is all about my future.

When you meet someone and you date them romantically you can’t help but envision what it would be like to really be with that person. You know, marriage, kids, all that. And even if you aren’t that deep into your relationship, you start to feel a sense of hope that maybe, just maybe this time, this is it. And you’re happy.

I was happy.

Then he got sick. So sick he was bed ridden and not eating or drinking. I had to take him to the hospital 2-3 times a week to get fluids. He lost 50lbs in 3 weeks. I was his primary caretaker. I would wake up every 2 hours at night to check on him and make sure he was breathing. I lived in fear that when I came home from teaching a class, I would find him dead in my house. I was so relieved when I was able to get him admitted to the hospital because I felt like it was no longer my responsibility to keep him alive.

The doctors and nurses were amazing. They did everything possible to figure out what was wrong. I was able to teach a 3-4 hour class and not have pressing guilt that if something happened, he would be alone. I was at the hospital by 7:30am every day. I left from 12:45-4:15 to teach. Then I went home at 9pm every night to shower and sleep and spend time with my dog. That was my life for 9 days. On day 9, he had emergency surgery that he pulled through by the grace of God. I called his mom. She came on day 10. On day 13, he was doing so great. He was up, walking around, talking, wanted to eat and drink for the first time in 4 weeks. I was elated. I was meeting with nurses and learning how to take care of him once he came home. I was making arrangements for rehab and physical therapy and thinking how I could change the bathroom so someone with a walker could move around. On day 14 he went back to ICU. He wasn’t oxygenating. He was septic. He had pneumonia. His kidneys stopped working. He died at 1:50pm on June 30th. I was holding one hand, his mother held the other.

For 5 weeks I’d done nothing but worry about him. About Ron. Now, I had to worry about myself. My mother came the next day. People brought food. Mom made sure I ate. And then she left because life doesn’t stop just because you feel like it has. And I was left alone in my house for the first time in 6 weeks. I was in this new empty space alone.

I kept on with my schedule. It’s all I knew how to do. I wrote, and went to New Orleans, and wrote and planned courses and slept. People checked on me. I was as okay as I could be.

School started. I was finally able to see a therapist. I cried a lot. I stopped drowning myself in work and faced my grief. I went to visit my parents for a week. That helped.

And now I’m in a new space. So many pieces of my heart have been broken by loss in the last 5 years, but I am finding that I have a lot of heart left.

I was especially reminded of this when a student/mentee came into my office, sat down and said “You need to write a blog post. It’s been too long.” He even gave me an idea of what to write about. But more importantly, he gave me a reason to reclaim this space, this blog, as a space for myself that sometimes becomes a space for others as well.

So no, this post is not about educational inequities or being a professor. It’s about being a person who is learning to take the space I need for what I want.

(Stay tuned…I do actually have a blog post about charter schools coming soon)