My life seems to be filled with hilarious calamity. My friends, family and co-workers typically enjoy the tails of my comedic misadventures. I have always been a story-teller and enjoy making people laugh, typically at my own expense. I learned a long time ago that finding humor in difficult situations always makes any situation a little more bearable. Recently, I gave my friends even more reason to laugh at my stories because after years of threatening to move to a warmer state where I could be free of the cold and barren Ohio winters, I moved to Florida for a little less than three days. Yes. That’s right. I sold my stuff, packed up my house, threw my two cats in the car, and drove from Ohio to Florida for a whopping total of almost three days.
Since I came back to Ohio I have been repeatedly asked how on earth does a person pack up their stuff and move down and then back up the Eastern seaboard in one week. I have been very honest about the precipitating factors that led to this misstep as I am typically a very candid person about everything in my life. Also, if I have to be completely truthful, I have been honest about this situation because I truly couldn’t think up any plausible lie to explain moving to another state for less than three days. There is literally no reasonable explanation for why anyone would move to Florida and back in three days unless they got bitten by a shark and now had a legitimate fear of oceans. And if you could come up with one, you should have told me about it 5 weeks ago.
Before you can truly understand how a person makes the seemingly rash decision to move to Florida and equally rash decision to move back in less than a week, I must start out by giving a brief history of my life. I have always been a bit of a runner, an escape artist in my own life. I remember at a very early age threatening to run away from home. My mother often offered to help me pack my belongings. I once made it around the block to my uncle’s house. I’m sure I packed the essentials. Like a stuffed animal or two. I was quickly scooped up and unceremoniously driven home and that was as far away as I ran until I reached high school. I am not sure what I was running from as a child but as I got older I saw moving away as a chance to push the reset button on my life, to start over, to forget the past and maybe find a small piece of happiness that I always seemed to be lacking.
At the age of 17 I had an actual escape plan presented to me in the form of a US Army recruiter. I signed the dotted line, swore my oath to my country and planned to go to basic training a few days after finishing high school. Shortly after the start of my senior year, I moved in with a stripper who owned a Chihuahua. I grew tired of the dog pissing on my belongings and after a couple months moved in with my aunt and uncle before leaving for basic training. I served two enlistments, traveling through various states and even once to Germany. After I completed my second tour of duty in Iraq I came back to Ohio and enrolled in a master’s degree program for nursing.
I have been stuck in Ohio for five years now. This is where I found out my brother died. This is where my ex-husband left me, after he made it pretty clear that he actually hated me. This is where I spent my winters, freezing my ass off and praying for a little warmth and sunshine during the long winter months. I had spent countless hours in school and clinical, learning to take care of the most acutely ill children. I was exhausted. It is not that I don’t love my job. I absolutely do love it with every part of my heart. But it is so easy to feel emotionally spent when you see the most beautiful and amazing children who are sick, injured and dying. Working with these children gives me such purpose, but I think their personal tragedies will always weigh heavily on my soul.
I finished my master’s degree in 2013 and my post-graduate in acute care pediatric nursing in June of this year. I had always told myself that I was stuck in Ohio because I needed to finish school. With school ending, I had the perfect chance to move, to start over, and to leave the failures, disappointments and sadness that I so acutely felt behind me.
I had planned to move for years, and I spent months telling everyone that I could not wait to leave this snow-stricken state. The winter was far rougher this year for more reasons than just the weather. I had a particularly tragic case with a child’s death in March and spent a solid three days lying on my carpeted steps, crying and drinking Bloody Marys. I am well equipped to do my job and realize that tragedy and death are a part of life, but this child’s story was so devastating to me that even my rational mind couldn’t wrap my head around why such cruel events happen to those that are so young and innocent. It was during this time of crying and vodka drinking that I decided that I was going to move to Florida. If I was going to spend my life caring for acutely ill children I should at least spend it in a place that is warm and sunny.
Just like all decisions that you make when you’re drunk, this probably wasn’t the greatest life choice, but I was committed to the idea of a fresh start in a warm place. I took the first job I could find and planned to move to Orlando at the end of July. I gave my job my two-week notice, sold all of my larger belongings and began packing my things. My best friend Victoria was planning on driving down to Florida with me, and honestly she did a large part of my packing. Mostly because she found me sitting in the middle of my living room, surrounded by all of my belongings and staring at her with wild-eyed panic. She banished me to my room to finish packing the upstairs and she packed the entire down-stairs and then tetris-ed all of my belongings into my four door car.
Victoria and I had a great trip down. The cats were surprisingly quiet on the journey which I like to think is because I threatened to leave them in West Virginia if they howled the entire trip. We drove through the mountains into the beautiful scenery of the Carolinas. We stopped in Savannah, GA. The cats were shell shocked and we had to turn the cage upside down and shake Jack out as he was pretty committed to making the 18 x 12 inch space his new home for the rest of his life. The stop was planned by me as I had lived in Georgia before and knew of a place called Wet Willies on River Street. They serve slushies made out of 151 and 190 grain alcohol. We quickly drank about half a slushy before I realized I couldn’t feel my face and both of us were wobbly on our feet.
In the morning we left for Florida, I driving because Victoria had drank two more Wet Willies’ slushies for breakfast. I had promised my friend Tim that we would stop and get him a peach pie in Georgia but between my forgetfulness and Victoria’s drunkenness we quickly forgot the one task we were supposed to complete before leaving the state. We hit Cocoa Beach and drove around aimlessly trying to find a hotel. We were both hangry, neither of us were speaking, and I was shaking with hypoglycemia. We dropped the cats off at what I am pretty sure was a roach motel and then went to the first restaurant we could find for food. Halfway through dinner I told Victoria there was no way in hell we were staying at that motel for the night. “Thank God! I was going to suck it up if you seemed okay staying there,” Victoria sighed in relief. She’s such a good friend like that. She would have never complained but was more than happy to move to a better location.
After googling our new surroundings we found a nice hotel on the beach and quickly dragged the cats from underneath the beds of the shady motel and relocated to better surroundings. We spent the next day swimming in the ocean and the next morning we packed our belongings and headed towards Orlando. As soon as we arrived I began to feel uneasy about my life choices. I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I was starting a job that was out of my field of expertise and living in an area where I truly was alone. After a tearful goodbye at the airport, Victoria left and I drove back to my new apartment, feeling more acutely alone than I ever had in my entire life, and that is the moment I began to panic.
I have had anxiety since I was a child. I remember waking up before school and vomiting from panic. Even in Iraq I would get sick in the mornings, which was made significantly worse by having to use an overfilled porta-potty to vomit in. When I have anxiety I feel like my chest is caving in and my throat feels tight like I am being strangled by invisible hands. My extremities and face get numb and I can feel my heart pulsating in my neck. I have never had difficulty jumping out of planes, going to war, or working in a chaotic trauma room but my anxiety is insidious and often bleeds into the more mundane aspects of my life. I feel at ease around my patients and their families, becoming so focused on caring for them that I virtually have no anxiety. Put me in a social situation or on a date and it’s another story, internally I’m a wreck and outwardly I am insanely awkward. So there I was in a new city, with a new job, with no actual plan and I felt like I had been pushed out of a plane without a parachute.
At first I tried to ignore my feelings of anxiety, I made myself busy washing my clothes, cleaning up the apartment and purchasing food. The first day I had forced myself to eat lunch but by the time dinner came around I could barely put food in my mouth because of nausea. I tried doing yoga, listening to meditation tracks on my phone and dosing myself with Benadryl but it was useless. By Saturday I began vomiting and felt so anxious that I could barely breathe. My sister encouraged me to go to the doctor for help.
I was so completely paralyzed by my anxiety that I had no choice but to heed her advice, and I was just a little bit hopeful when I walked into the Urgent Care. I was tense, tearful, and my hands were a little shaky but I remained mostly stoic as I asked for help. The nurse turned me away, stating they don’t see people for anxiety. When she offered me an ambulance to an emergency department I almost started laughing at her, but by the time I got to my car I was in tears. I’m an emergency department nurse. There is no way in hell that I wanted to get in an ambulance and go to the ED. I felt deeply ashamed for even needing to ask for help and with no access to a primary care doctor and the Urgent Care refusing to see me, I truly began to feel a sense of hopelessness and defeat.
By Sunday I was still sick to my stomach and couldn’t eat at all. I was taking melatonin and Benadryl and the anti-nausea medicine Zofran around the clock and lying in bed trying to calm my racing mind. I had no idea how I had gotten myself into this situation, or even why I had this overwhelming sense of dread looming over me, but it was not getting any better. I slept fitfully Sunday night and woke with a start Monday morning at 5 am. I bolted out of bed, feeling like a trapped wild animal. I threw my empty suit case on the floor and began throwing things into it as I called my dad. My dad is never one to mince words and although he didn’t offer words of comfort, he told me what I needed to hear which was to come back home. I packed in a blind panic, and began throwing all of my belongings back into the car.
I called into my work twice and left a message for my boss at 6:45 am. She called me back by 7:30 and thankfully gave me back my job. I felt so insanely grateful to have my job that I started crying actual happy tears. It was the first time in days that I felt some sense of relief and that no matter what happened, everything was actually going to be okay. I resumed my feverish packing, and this time it was not the amazing organization that Victoria created through hours of meticulous planning. It was definitely all thrown in and whenever I opened any door there was a 95% chance that a mountain of stuff would come crashing out on to the parking lot. The cats saw their cages sitting in the middle of the floor and both knew that something had gone terribly wrong. I had to drag Jack out from under a recliner and shove both of them unceremoniously back into their cages for the journey home. I turned my apartment key in at 10 am.
Instinctively I stopped at Starbucks to grab a drink before hitting the road, and of course opted for decaf iced tea as I didn’t need any other reason to hear my heart banging in my ears. When I tried to add sweetener to my tea my hands were so shaky that my drink went flying off the table, crashed to the floor and immediately soaked everything within a five foot radius with passion fruit iced tea. I stammered a million apologies, while my face turned beet red. They replaced my drink and I practically ran out the door just in time for a woman to notice my Ohio plates, and welcome me to the great state of Florida.
I hit the highway and drove as fast as I could, my mind reeling with what possible explanation I could give to people for why I was coming back to Ohio so quickly. Before I left Ohio I bought cakes for my co-workers on my last day of work that said “Adios Muchachos,” “Peace out Homies,” and “Deuces.” They threw me a going away party and over 20 people came to wish me farewell. How on earth was I supposed to explain that I was coming back less than a week after my goodbye party? I called a few people on the road, alternately laughing and crying about both the hilariousness of the situation and my disappointment in myself. Once I reached South Carolina I decided to make it Facebook official that I was moving home. I drove straight through the night with all of my belongings and two cats in tow, finally stopping in West Virginia when I hit a traffic cone that took off part of my passenger mirror. I slept for two hours in a seedy motel. Despite their desperate protests, both cats were shoved back into their carriers for the rest of the journey home.
I have been so lucky since coming home. My friends and family have been so supportive. I lived on Victoria’s couch for almost a week while contemplating my life and watching DVR episodes of “Naked and Afraid.” I am sure there were more than a few times that her roommate thought that I had permanently taken up residence on their couch and that I might never leave. I went to the doctor and got on anxiety medication. And I even decided that for the first time in my life I’m actually going to deal with my emotions instead of trying to run away from them. I bought a new couch, table and television so now at least I have somewhere to sit besides the lawn chair that the cats were bitter about having to share with me. I am looking toward the future for career plans, but honestly it feels comforting for now to be back in the chaos that is working in an emergency department. The best part is coming to work to see my patients; my heart misses them when I am away for too long.
My co-workers have been more than amazing. Honestly I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome, and although they occasionally tease me about my move, it is all with good intentions. I feel that they are genuinely glad to have me back. Happiness is something that I am working towards and sometimes I feel that the best changes in life come from personal failings, which give us a wake-up call that maybe our lives aren’t moving in the right direction. As for now, I am working to have a brighter outlook on life, learning to deal with my emotions in a healthier way, and trying to find the beauty in the fall weather. Maybe someday I’ll even learn to like the snow, or at least not bitch and complain about it like I do every year. As for the cats, their PTSD from the chaotic trip up and down the coast seems to have resolved. Although I would highly recommend that you never take your cats on a road trip.