Photo by Kim Dowson

Life sure is a funny thing, isn’t it? You think you’ve got it all figured out and then BOOM, there’s a detour. Those unplanned changes. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they scare the shit out of you, but most of the time it’s just what you need.

Cat thought she was happy, but she was fat, sick and in chronic pain. She was taking care of everyone else and forgetting about herself. She kept herself busy doing busy work. Didn’t know how to get out of the rut. Cat was completely blocked with no real idea of who she was. She had forgotten herself.

She had accepted this was her future. The exercise made her sick, stress made her sick and there was that constant need for comfort food. Which, by the way, is not comforting at all. Cat was, by all accounts, dead. She had shut everything off and had no clue how to turn it back on.

She spent a lot of time thinking about the future. Thinking there wasn’t much of one. It was too painful to think this was life forever, that she was going to be alone. Spending her days listening to her mother talk about things she had no interest in. But listened anyway because that’s just who she is. Even though she found herself on occasion screaming inside.

It was like an incredibly slow death; she could feel herself fading away one moment at a time. The fight was gone and, in its place, a withering lump of skin who could barely stand on her own two feet. A target for the dysfunction that surrounded her.

Up until this point, Cat had had a tough life. A constant uphill battle all the way with extraordinarily little reward. There was always someone lurking in the shadows, ready to steal her thunder. Or, ready to pour water on her fire. There was rarely anything in between and if there was, she didn’t always notice it. She was busy trying to survive.

So many years of stress, too numerous to count. She survived it all; it took a toll though. Forced into seclusion and isolation. It was the only way to protect herself against the toxicity of those who wanted to harm her. It made her scared and weak. It broke her.

There was at least one small part of her that still had a voice. A part of her that knew she needed help. It was persistent, extremely hard to ignore; it was her lifeline. She held onto it, never letting go, and it led her to the help she so desperately needed.

There was so much work to be done. Cat was like a volcano on the edge of exploding. Her body, her mind, sick from stress and years of abuse. She still had fight left in her though. She still had hope and now she had help.

“The Dysfunctionals” is how she described them. She had uprooted her life and moved thousands of miles to get away from them. They’d be at her door, daily, with nothing but bad advice and intrusion. Calling sometimes more than once a day and if you didn’t answer you were scolded.

Inside was just as bad. They seeped in under the guise of helpers. Some with their hands out, looking to take bits here and there. Others hiding the shadows, ready to kick you when you’re not looking. It was her home, but she had no privacy.

Her life there had become that of a prisoner, and she knew if she didn’t get out soon, it would only get worse. Especially since her support system was leaving as well. It left her with little choice. It was not something she wanted, not fully. It was just a quick escape.

Settled in another part of the country, far away from The Dysfunctionals, she tried to find her roots. It was hard being in this new place, even worse at the beginning. It was so far from home and so far from anything she had ever known. It was terrifying.

A chance to start fresh is how Cat decided to view it. She couldn’t go back, so she had to stay here. Her support system was here. She registered for school, she decided what she wanted to do, she was going to make a go of it.

Within the first couple of months, the sickness started to sink in. The exhaustion of having to do so much by herself, the responsibilities, the stress, and cruelty she left behind. It was taking its toll. She caught every virus possible, from bad colds to pneumonia. She was slowly crumbling.

The stress of being homesick was tough to bear, as well as the stress of being in unfamiliar territory. An island, with no way off unless there’s money to spare. The anxiety of it all started to become unbearable. She was locked, she couldn’t leave, she couldn’t go back. She had to do something.

Antidepressants. The solution to everyone’s problems, all in one pill. Trouble is, if you take them and you don’t really need them, they can really mess you up. Cat was homesick, sick, and depressed and apparently, this was the only solution.

So, Cat started the pills, she quit smoking and started walking the path nearby. She had always been a walker, so it was natural to continue that, especially in such a beautiful place. She was determined to lose those last few pounds she had gained.

The anxiety was taking its toll, the pills weren’t helping. She was exhausted and despite no change in her diet, she was gaining weight, rapidly. She didn’t have a regular doctor yet, being still so new, so she’d have to settle on whoever would see her.

She complained constantly about the weight gain but none of them, (male doctors), ever took her seriously. One doctor said to her, “you need to put the pizza and donuts down dear and get yourself up off the couch.” That doctor later lost his job for improprieties with a patient of the female species. Karma.

It was the medication, there was no doubt, but no one would listen, and she was afraid to stop it. It appears she was gaining a pound a day and in less than a year, had gained 80. Walking had become increasingly difficult and of course there were other side effects.

A doctor should never give you a prescription for psychiatric meds unless you’re evaluated by a psychiatrist. Cat found that out the hard way. Not only was she gaining weight at an alarming rate, but her thoughts were also getting darker, and her moods were shifting.

She went on this way for a good ten years. For ten years she kept getting worse and no one would listen. It was the day she had the darkest thought of all, and it scared her. That was the day she realized it was the meds because this had never happened to her before. Everything was getting worse, and no one was monitoring her. She had reached a point where she knew she had to get off them.

She had been a guinea pig before. Lots of doctors, but no one ever listened to her. The appointments would last about five minutes with a script being written within the first two. She knew they were not taking her seriously. She knew she just needed someone to listen to her.

As most of the smart ones do, she started doing her own research. Scanning through the various diagnoses that had been suggested to her but never confirmed. Reviewing all the medications that had been given to her over the years and recognizing the damage they were causing. She had to find someone who was going to really listen to her, and she was going to be armed with information this time.

Cat eventually found a doctor, a good doctor and he helped her get off all the meds. And there were a lot. Slowly her head got better, but the weight stayed, the exhaustion stayed, the stress and anxiety remained. There were alternatives though, and this doctor was willing to try them all.

Years were going by, so quick, she was losing track. Unable to focus, exhausted and sick. It was difficult to get out of bed. It was difficult to think straight, and it was difficult to answer all the questions as to why she was not functioning like everyone else.

That was tough. “Why aren’t you functioning the way the rest of us are?” There was not any answer, just that she was sick. And the finger pointing started, the accusations started. The guilt started to make it worse. She could not explain what was happening to her yet everyone around her wanted an explanation.

It was about this time Cat started to shut down. In robot-like mode. Functioning but just barely and without awareness. Performing daily tasks as if she were a factory worker doing the same thing everyday. Everything had become stale. She had lost the colour in her world.

The homesickness she thought had gone away, but in fact it had not. It had just buried itself under layers of denial, covered up by medication and the need to forget. Surrounded by people who were trying to change her. Telling her what to do and how to do it. Unwanted opinions that hurt rather than helped.

And then The Dysfunctionals started arriving. The first one, the main one she had to get away from, showing up on a regular basis and calling as often as he had visited before. Slamming her with criticisms and unreasonable demands. Trying to control her every thought.

He was the worst, the deadliest. It did not matter she was over three thousand miles away, he still came for her, often. Filling her head with guilt, shame, and insecurities. Taking her down one notch at a time until she was a puddle on the floor. Words were his weapon of choice. And as an authority figure, his words hurt. It only ever added to everything else and left her in a permanent state of survival.

The missing of home was now replaced by one simple thing. Survival. There was no room to think of anything else. It changed her. It damaged her. And when the rest of The Dysfunctionals showed up it got a whole lot worse. Because now there was the threat of violence as well as words and criticisms. Now there was a physical threat. An abusive threat.

Now you would think The Dysfunctionals would prefer to mingle amongst themselves, however this is not the case. It would seem The Dysfunctionals prefer to be amongst the regular people so they can try and recruit you. Their insecurities and narcissism directed at you to make them feel better. They are a crazy bunch.

Cat was already under an unbelievable amount of stress. Pain and suffering she had tried to run from but had followed her. She was constantly missing her home but had no way of returning home. No money and no way to return safely without alarming The Dysfunctionals that would most certainly find her.

She was under attack from every side, every angle and they were tearing her apart piece by piece until…she was empty. There was no one to help, there was no one to protect her. She was the target of sick games and twisted ideas. Manipulators and con artists.

There was still that lifeline though. That one little glimmer of hope in the corner of her eye. After years of defending herself, after years of abuse, after years of engaging The Dysfunctionals thinking she could outsmart them. She suddenly knew what it is she had to do.

There is simply no way to deal with toxic people when you are not skilled to do so. And one day Cat realized something. She realized it was pointless to continue engaging these Dysfunctionals. They were enjoying it; she was dying from it. She knew the best way was to cut them off completely and it was not going to be easy.

Changing the perspective. That’s the realization she had. Rather than always lowering herself down to their level, she knew all she had to do was change her perspective. To view things as they were, from an outsider’s point of view. But first she needed to clear out the clutter. The borderline eruption.

Do you know how long it takes to change your perspective? Especially while you’re still fighting Dysfunctionals? Years. Six years to be exact, of intense trauma therapy. That’s what it took to give her back the strength she needed. To get these horrible people out of her life.

It was one hell of a fight, exhausting too. It even got to the point on many occasions where police had to get involved. But Cat was determined to change things, she was determined to send these Dysfunctionals away for good. They were of no use to her. Only detriment.

They did not leave willingly; in fact, they didn’t leave at all. But when Cat stopped caring, they lost their steam. That is not to say they don’t still try. And Cat can stand her ground, but years of this still took its toll. There was still something missing. She knew what it was, but she didn’t know how to get it back.

She had successfully turned the tables and blocked the Dysfunctionals. If they tried anything, violent or otherwise, she was prepared, and she wasn’t scared. But she was still sick, fat, still just doing busy work. She couldn’t write, she couldn’t play, and she couldn’t remember the person she really was. That person had gotten lost, and she was trying to find her.

One day in January of 2020, Cat got sick. I mean, hospital sick. The doctors had no idea what it was other than it was acting like a pneumonia but with a lot of other symptoms they couldn’t explain. It was scary for a while. A week in isolation, with no familiar faces, not even a phone call and she had her phone.

But she was used to that. She always had to take care of herself, but this was scary. She had never been so ill and even when they sent her home after a week, it still took another seven weeks to recover enough to go back to the couch.

Word of the pandemic was soon spreading, and she knew she had been part of it. Extremely fortunate as well. The hospitalization had been a wakeup call to a certain extent. It was touch and go for awhile as to whether she was going to make it out at all and that scared her.

She made promises that if she was to get home again, if she was going to survive, she was going to do things differently. And she did. She started seeing people the way she used to. With compassion, with love, while still watching out for the bad ones. There was still so much she wanted to do but it was still difficult.

The pandemic has made a lot of people re-evaluate their lives as to what is important to them. For Cat, she really wanted to play music again, she wanted to write again, she even tried painting again. She just couldn’t get past that block though. Her heart wasn’t in any of it.

So, there she remained, on the couch. Wake up time was whenever, get the busy things done without thought, then sit down because she was tired and sick. Watching too much TV because there was nothing else to do. Then trying to sleep without being tired before doing it all again. The same routine every day.

She had resigned herself to this life. That this was all that life had to offer her. No romance, no friends, no music, no writing, no art. This was her life now, dead, or at least slowly dying. She had lost herself and had no idea how to find herself again. Even therapy couldn’t help that. What she was told though was one day she was going to realize exactly what she was missing and that it would wake her up.

Slowly, over the course of the pandemic lockdowns, Cat started reconnecting with old friends from home. Everyone was home so it was a chance to catch up. She noticed after these conversations and interactions, she felt better. But she would soon return to her usual once it wore off because the interactions were so short lived, and these people had lives of their own.

She was still missing home but didn’t see much point in thinking about anything more. What was the point of going back if everyone was busy with their own lives? She might as well stay put. She really missed it though.

And one day the light came on. A message from someone who had noticed her. Someone who reintroduced her to a part of herself she had lost for so long. She woke up. It was if she had been sent an angel, a gift of a second life. A second part that was going to be so much better. And for the first time in years, she was happy.

It was as if someone had removed all the weight, all the sadness she didn’t know she had. It was a gift of giving her back herself and she was incredibly grateful. The block was gone, the fear was gone, the sadness was gone. And in its place, was Cat in all her glory, just as she was meant to be.

She started writing, playing music, writing poetry and songs and it wasn’t stopping. Years upon years of creativity that had been so stagnant, was now flowing steadily. And the work was good, she was proud of it. She wasn’t going back to that couch. There was a part of her that was afraid to.

Now she was awake there was no return to the life she had. And soon after she realized something else, her homesickness. It had returned and that’s when she realized all these years, it had never left. That’s what was slowly killing her. She didn’t belong here; this was not her home. She had known all along she didn’t fit here.

It’s funny how you think your life is going to go in one direction and then BOOM! There’s a detour. You realize it’s just what you needed, without knowing you needed it. The blinders were off, Cat now knew exactly who she was, she had found herself again, and she knew exactly where she needed to be.

She was stuck though. Obligations and limitations. Even to go home for awhile, back to the tribe, was becoming a problem. She had finally realized why she had been unhappy for so long and didn’t know it. She needed her tribe. She needed her home. And it was so far out of her reach it was killing her.

The deepest of sadness crept up on her and Cat felt the pull of her old life. She knew it was what was best for her but how was she going to do it? She had to do this, she had to do this for herself, for her health, and she needed to be with the one who woke her up. He was special, and he was back there.

Cat decided the best thing was to keep creating, keep writing with the intention of making money. Enough that she could at least go back and forth until she could finally return home for good. And maybe she could convince others to come see her? She had so many hopes, entwined within the deepest despair of being so far from home.

And there’s that detour. The one that woke Cat up and made her realize her potential again. The detour she would be forever grateful for. She didn’t want to be alone anymore, she couldn’t. And she knew this particular detour was special, unlike anyone else. She had to be there. This was her destiny. This was the detour to put her on the right path and she wasn’t going to let anything stop her. She was going home.

Suburban cabin fever. Short stories, poetry, editorials and musings.