Monday, September 5, 2016

A New World

Einstein was really onto something with that theory of relativity. "Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour," he quipped. "Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute." It's funny how two years in a graduate program can seem to have passed in one long sigh, while five months can feel like a decade. Five months can reveal a lot. Five months can change you. Five months can make a different person. 

Back in April, I was completing the second half of my student-teaching requirement and contemplating what a job in a classroom would mean come the fall. In retrospect, in light of the way things actually went, that seems laughable. We plan and we plan, and sometimes our plans work out and other times God throws us delightful surprises. He certainly surprised me. Back in about May or so, maybe a month after we last checked in, I was completing a difficult second student-teaching assignment and also wrapping up my stint working with a local public-relations company part time while in school. I decided, due to some longstanding reservations, to put in a few applications for communications positions outside education and see if anything materialized. I'd received some positive but non-committal responses when I departed Mountain University for Northern State in the third week of June. 

This two-week trip, to a monastery on a bend about one hundred miles from where the Holy River leaves the City of Fate, was one of those rare moments that actually changes a life. What happened to me in that place deserves its own post, and will have one. But you should know it was a gift, delivered in a deeply painful package, that taught me important lessons about people and important lessons about myself, that forced me to confront some of my own worst predispositions. I walked down to the shore of the Holy River, sobbing, and told God I didn't understand. I asked Him not to hate me if I had to leave for a while, take some time away from my relationship with Him. And then there He was. Shimmering off the glassy surface of the river. Blowing over to caress my tear-streaked face with a warm summer breeze.

It's okay, He seemed to say. You're still mine. I still love you.

I wiped my eyes. Staring out into the afternoon sky, I took stock of the things a visceral new wound had taught me and realized what a profound gift I'd just been handed. I thanked Him and turned back to the monastery, and a day later I was on a train bound south for Mountain State. A week after that, I was on a highway headed to Native City.

"This might be a great conversation to have over lunch," the man's friendly voice enthused through my cell phone speaker. His picture had been intimidating, and I remember being surprised that his tone wasn't more gruff, maybe more menacing. Lincoln, they say, had a high, reedy tenor, not the baritone people usually assume from photographs and from his stature. It was the same here.

"Sure," I said. "When would you like me to come by?"

This was just another turn in an improbable chain of events. Earlier that week, I'd been perusing through regional public relations companies to see who was hiring, and in glancing over one with no vacancies I noticed that one of its senior officers was a Russian speaker who'd spent time working in the former Soviet Union. Purely academic interest led me to send an e-mail asking him about his experiences, and not too much later we were on the phone organizing an impromptu meeting. That meeting, incidentally, went well, and included the man, his colleague, delectable coffee, Netflix-centered conversations, and halting exchanges in Russian. "Your accent is good," he laughed. "Mine's getting rusty." I'd no sooner gotten home than another phone call awaited me.

"Listen, BB," the man said. "I know this is kind of out of the blue, but we were really impressed with you. We've just brought on some new clients and have more business than we anticipated, so I'll get right to the point: we'd love to have you come on board. Are you interested?"

And so a random man became Ivan the Great (Boss), at least on my blog. Isn't it weird how things turn?

After a hasty move to Grand Ma Normal Family's house--"It makes sense for you to save some money at first, and this way you don't have to worry about finding an apartment before you start work"--to take a position that neither employer nor employee had planned for, I began work as a junior account executive with Native State Public Relations on August 22. The photo above is the view from our conference room. Me using a conference room. How bizarre is that?

A few weeks in, I keep wondering how in the world I lucked into this. Ivan has been incredibly supportive and, noting my challenging commute, has allowed me to work from home two days a week and operate on an eight-to-four rather than a nine-to-five schedule. My co-workers, most of whom are in their twenties, have been friendly and warm, and my immediate supervisor makes clear her very reasonable expectations, offering appropriate feedback as needed. I'm writing, editing, researching, gladhanding. I wear a suit jacket three days a week and leave my house at six-thirty to sit in rush-hour traffic on the highway. I love it.

And I'm getting paid, which, after years of underemployment or the unpaid internship gigs that everyone seems to now have, seems like some kind of incredible luxury. This salary, mind you, is not glamorous. But it would be sufficient to live on my own, if modestly, and with the money I'm saving staying with my grandmother it's more than enough to cover everything I need to cover and then have plenty left over. And that's a new feeling.

As is the case for anyone, my current situation is not without its challenges. My contract is a trial one that runs from August 22 to December 31, and while Ivan has expressed a desire to bring me on permanently effective January 1--"as long as you're happy and we're happy with the arrangement"--it means that there is at least the chance this position will end in the New Year. I am also waiting to hear from a company who was considering me before Ivan made his offer and is still weighing my application. So, on Native State PR's end and on mine, there is a bit of uncertainty.

It's also become increasingly clear that the mysterious ailment from which I began suffering during graduate school is Hashimoto's disease. This autoimmune condition, which I inherited from my father (though he himself does not appear to be affected), involves the gradual destruction of one's thyroid by one's own immune system, which goes haywire and, mistaking the thyroid gland for a foreign body, does everything it can to kill it. My exhaustion, hair and eyebrow loss, weigh gain, forgetfulness, delayed reflexes, and episodes of slurred speech are all classic symptoms of the disease, from which my grandmother and cousin also suffer. Far more frustrating than the symptoms has been the experience of dealing with medical personnel who are often shockingly ignorant about a condition that affects tens of millions of Americans. When they finally thought to check me for the antibodies that are the marker of the illness, and for which I've now tested positive four times, they downplayed the extent of what was going on.

"You may be one of the lucky few who has this disease but never becomes symptomatic," one told me brightly.

"But I am symptomatic," I said. "That's why you ran the test in the first place."

"Your lab numbers are on the high end of normal," another informed me. "So it may be that the disease has not progressed very much yet."

It took my calling her professional organization and requesting their official guidelines to learn that she was wrong. The numbers weren't normal, not even close. She just hadn't known. And when I sent her an e-mail citing her own group's guidelines, she didn't care. I'm seeing a third endocrinologist on September 16 and keeping my fingers crossed that he's well versed in the realities of the disease with which many of my family members have been afflicted. With medication it's very manageable, and I want to begin that management as soon as possible. So not everything is great. But some things are great. And everything is better than it was.

Finally leaving the home of my destructive and disrespectful stepmother, finally working a real job and earning a real salary, finally making a stab into the world, is so much better than rotting away in a prolonged pseudo-adolescence. Sometimes it's scary. Sometimes I miss things I know I shouldn't miss, or people I know were bad for me. Some days I am sad, some days worried about the ongoing progression of a serious illness that two physicians have declined to treat. But every day, I know I'm doing the right thing. Every day I'm aware I'm investing in myself, taking an important step. Every day I remind myself that I'll make new friends, date new men, grow in my career, spark with the right partner, find a good doctor, get better. Every day I'm thankful. And every day I take another tentative step forward.