Finding Moments of Joy Despite the Horror of the World Surrounding Us

It has been an unprecedented year, or at least it feels like it has been. In some ways it feels like the universe’s cruelest comedy. As if COVID and the way it has ravaged the US and the rest of the world weren’t bad enough, after I tore my plantar fascia early in the year, I then wound up with a stress fracture in the same foot, started having debilitating, daily migraines, and then stepped on an iPhone cable with my opposite foot and snapped my fifth metatarsal which after nine weeks of it not making any process towards healing needed to be surgically repaired with an internal fixation and bone graft. Being so isolated the past eight months has been a lot. It’s a lot to go through eight months having no physical contact with people other than my partner and a handful of doctors. It’s a lot to exist on immune suppressants in a world where people don’t seem to understand or care how to wear a mask properly, including on public transportation. It’s hard not being able to see people, especially now that the weather is growing colder and outdoor socially distanced hangouts are becoming less of a possibility. But this post is not about all of that, believe it or not. This post is about starting a new phase in life with my partner, creating a new home in a new city. This post is about excitement and anxiety and fear of the unknown and sheer joy.

A little more than two months ago, my partner and I took the plunge to start looking for a new home of our own. We’ve lived in the same apartment in our city outside of Boston for the past nine and some years, ever since we moved here from Colorado, and we love the area and the community that we have built here but the residential retail market has continued to rise and while our landlords haven’t actually been charging us an outrageous amount in rent compared to other apartments in the area, it’s still a lot of money to be paying to someone else when you have no idea if they might decide to sell your building or raise the rent again the following year. The idea of home ownership has always been something that I found pretty terrifying. The amount of money and responsibility involved just seem immense. But my partner keeps reminding me that we’re going to be building equity and the idea of being able to do whatever I want to my living space (within reason) without having to ask someone else permission first? Yes, please. And I keep trying to remind myself that we’re not still living in Colorado struggling to pay rent and buy food sometimes and running out of fuel for heat and the stove at least once a winter anymore. 

Our real estate agent came on the recommendation of a friend’s local mom’s group and she was fantastic every step of this process. We went on our first trip out to view properties and got really excited about a quirky single family home with a really great yard and back porch. The layout was funky but we were willing to take on the home renovation projects in the coming years. Unfortunately the entire foundation was awful, what foundation the house did have. We stopped the inspection after just the exterior and the basement because as much as we loved the outdoor space and as excited I had been about my plans for gardens and chickens, there was no way we were going to buy a house that needed at least $80,000 work just for the foundation. It was really disheartening and disappointing, but we mutually decided we had to back out of the sale. I was pretty jaded that afternoon but there were a couple properties that we thought we might like and we wound up going back up the next day to see two more. The first one we both hated. It was a nice space but it was very much not us. We wanted someplace where we could spend time outdoors and when we pulled into the parking lot with our agent, there was literally a woman sitting in a parking space in a lawn chair reading a book. But the second condo…

We fell in love. I fell in love very cautiously and insisting on not getting any hopes up (as if that ever works) because we knew there were going to be multiple offers and I couldn’t take another huge disappointment two days in a row. The thing I hate the most about trying to find a home is the whole offer process, which they should just call a bidding war since that’s what it is. The whole game of trying to figure out what is the right price to offer so you don’t offer too much but also not too little so that someone else outbids you… God, it sucks so bad. We got lucky though. After two rounds of offers, the sellers accepted ours even though we weren’t the highest offer! I think the personal letter we included introducing ourselves and talking about all the things we loved about their home and how we could see ourselves being really happy living and making a life for ourselves there played a part in that. The home inspection went well, we signed our contract with them at the end of the September and I started the mountains of documentation for our mortgage. Which was probably the ultimate worst part of this process. 

For anyone who has read much of these posts, you probably already know that I am not a person who handles high stress particularly well anymore. I managed when I was working in EMS, but those days have been long over. If you don’t fall into that category, well, I’m not a person who handles high stress situations well. I had a to-do list of things we needed to prequalify, a to-do list of things for our application, a to-do list for the underwriting. It was a lot and it just kept coming and coming and while being able to check things off my list felt good, there were documents that weren’t available until really close to the deadline and I started having pretty severe insomnia where I was sleeping maybe 3-4 hours a night. I would lie down at night feeling exhausted and then as long as the light turned off, my brain would start spinning over all of the moving pieces and how many there were and what if something fell over the side. I’d sleep for a few hours and then I’d wake up again and not be able to fall back asleep because the whole process would start again. If I was really lucky, I’d get some unrestful sleep for another hour or so, but most days I was getting up around 3:30 and just starting my day super early.

We closed on Friday and I’ve got to tell you, after two months of constant, increasing levels of stress and anxiety, it’s literally like a weight has been lifted off of me. We had met the sellers the day of our home inspection and they are a very sweet, elderly couple. They left us a really beautiful note about themselves and their reasons for moving – they’re in their 70s and the stairs just aren’t manageable for them anymore – along with all of the manuals for every appliance, linens for the table, and butterflies throughout the apartment, because one of them really loves butterflies. It was incredibly sweet and it makes me wish we could have had more than a meeting in passing, but I feel really grateful to be moving into the home they have loved and shared and that we will now get to call our own.

Not all of the stress is gone, of course. We are spending the next couple of weekends doing some floor changes in the bedrooms and small landing to remove the carpet and put down some other kind of flooring because the carpet will definitely try to kill me. Our movers come on the 24th and there’s still a lot of packing to do. But my main point is that it no longer feels like this insurmountable amount of stress that is going to consume me. I’m so excited both to be moved in and also having this space of our own!

The condo we bought is on the second and third floor of a two unit building, with another building of five units behind the driveway. The laundry is in the basement, which isn’t ideal, but also not a problem and gone will be the days of waiting for our neighbors to be done with the one washer and dryer in our current building, and especially the neighbor we have who uses incredibly strong scented detergent. We have a large storage area in the basement. The second floor has a bright and sunny living room with a sliding glass door that opens up onto a large private deck with a gas grill that is plumbed into the house, so no more lugging propane tanks! The kitchen is similarly sized to our current one, with no pantry, but it has a dishwasher! I’m going to have a dishwasher for the first time in my adult life! There’s a large dining room and hilariously the sellers’ real estate agent wrote in the e-mail that they’d accepted our offer that there was one “caveat” – they didn’t want to move their dining room furniture, so we would have to take it! It’s really nice furniture. There’s a dining room table that seats six, a side board, hutch, nice rug, and a matching clock on the wall. Coming from an apartment where we have no dining room, starting with beautiful furniture already supplied as a gift just was a really nice bonus. There’s a very small but bright office space off the dining room that we’re planning on turning into a crafting space. Upstairs there are two decent sized bedrooms. My future room has a huge closet on one side of the room and a short but deep closet on the opposite wall which I have dubbed the “hobbit” closet. My partner’s room has an even larger walk in closet. And there are so many closets throughout! Coming from an apartment with two bedroom closets and a small coat closet, I am ridiculously excited to have storage for things. And gaining more than 500 square feet of living space is really great and the fact that we’ll be saving hundreds of dollars per month on houses expenses even with the addition of condo fees, property taxes, and home owner’s insurance feels kind of unbelievable.

I don’t want to discount how horrible this year has been or the lives that have been lost, many due to the cruelty and incompetence of our current administration. This has been a truly horrific year, with multiple hundreds of thousands of deaths just in the US alone and when I think of the trauma that first line health care workers are enduring and the effects this is going to have on them for the many years to come, the trauma of the families who can’t be with their dying loved ones because of visitor policies, tragic doesn’t begin to describe the situation. I don’t want to discount the effects COVID has had on the people I love or the people my people love – the loss, the grief, the fear, the terror. And I hope that this post doesn’t come across this way. It feels strange to feel such excitement and joy in a time where there are so many deaths on a daily basis and hospitals are overflowing again, not to even mention what’s happening politically in the US. But I feel at least for my own sanity, I have to let myself focus at times on the good in my life because otherwise I will go crazy. It has been two years since the last time I was admitted, for six weeks, and my mental health has had it’s ups and downs, but the reality is that I’m learning what I need. And sometimes that means spending time getting excited and filled with joy briefly, and not reading Facebook for weeks at a time, and avoiding any media outlets. Sometimes just unplugging from social media, aside from baby pictures ,and the news is a necessity. So I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’m trying to find and celebrate my joy, even if these terrible times and I hope that if you are able, that you can do the same.

Please stay safe, hug the loved ones you are quarantined with, and if you can, try to find something, anything that isn’t just absolutely terrible every now and then because you deserve to feel something that is not horror and terror.

Me, standing with my arms raised triumphantly over my head after our closing. I am wearing a bright orange rain jacket, a black face mask, blue jeans, and sneakers. The ground around me is covered in snow and the tree to my right is bend under the weight of it