Icebergs and other things

I spent last week at the most important developer conference for Apple’s software ecosystem and met my Apple developer family, including “family members” that I hadn’t seen in years. They all wanted to know how I am doing either because we had a lot of catching-up to do, or because people have been in-the-know about the rollercoaster ride of 2019 (I post pretty much everything that’s going on on Twitter). They REALLY wanted know how I was doing and how I am “holding up”.

It took me a bit to understand that they really wanted to know this because I couldn’t understand how they would ask such a question among the chit-chat of such a large conference. Eventually, I realized that people were actually expecting a long and maybe complicated answer, and I found myself chatting rather lightly about what has been going on and what I’ve been up to. Truth is, I had actually stopped being conscious about my feelings. This was a tough pill to swallow, as I pride myself in being honest to my friends and to myself. For the past few days, I haven’t been entirely sure if my answers during the “dubdub” week have been completely honest.
I have spet this past weekend trying to figure out how exactly I am doing “with everything that’s been going on” and I realized that
a) There is a simple answer
b) It’s sort of an iceberg situation, where you only see the tip of what’s going on and the majority of “stuff” is underneath
c) The question should be “where are you and how do you feel?” and that now is the time to write about 2018 and 2019.

Let’s start with the simple answer: I’m OKAY. Seriously, I’m alright. I’m pretty resilient to this stupid rollercoaster; and it surprises me a bit. It means that the years of behavioral therapy through my 20s, my exercises in awareness and meditation made me a stronger, (mentally) healthy person. This feels very liberating and comforting.I typically — and this is what I often do without thinking — behave according to a “protocol” that my behavioral therapist taught me, and that my wife wrote on a note that she gave to me for my first day on my new job. It reads:

You can do it!

It helps in situations where I don’t feel okay, or where I feel like things are too much. It literally is my secret to being OKAY. Now that this basic information is out of the way, let’s talk about the iceberg’s size below the water.

It’s March 2018, it’s Sunday afternoon, I’m sitting next to my wife in a café in Boston and we’re chatting with a friend of mine that I haven’t seen in almost 10 years and we’re having the best time.
It’s 5 minutes later, and my wife returns form the bathroom, tears running down her face. Her brother had had a fatal accident. I cannot believe it and hug her. It feels surreal.
The next morning, I stand in front of 100+ people on a stage and deliver my talk at an Android developer conference. Nobody notices the iceberg below the water and I’m not sure if I have ever been this lonely.
Two weeks later, I can’t fly to Germany for the funeral because of work and because the flights are really, really expensive. I’m sad and worry a lot about my wife.
The following months are rough. I manage to help her as best as I can, the hardest part is seeing her grief, her suffering and struggle, and I’m not able to do much except having hugs ready for her, and I try to give her a safe, comfy space to grief. I am grieving during that time, too, but it’s okay. I’m mostly strong and a little numb and very sad for my wife and her family. I love them all, just like my own biological family.
4 weeks after my brother-in-law’s funeral, I’m back in Germany for what was supposed to be a vacation. I’m hugging my oldest friend — we haven’t seen each other in a year — and I’m incredibly happy. It feels almost unfair that I can be THIS happy. I’m still grieving and helping my wife. This is one of the weirdest feelings that I have ever felt, this mix of grief and happiness.

It’s August, and I’m unpacking boxes in a new home. A home that needs to be filled with new memories. I have never lived in a house before. I am very, very happy.
Fall 2018 is nice, quiet, boring. Boring is good. I can tell that my wife’s still grieving but she’s recovering. She’s painting and illustrating again. And her stuff is good. I’m so glad, relieved, that she’s recovering, so proud of the amazing illustrations she makes. It’s good to see her happy.
We have an impossibly tall Christmas tree this year — just like the year before — and all we really want for Christmas and the new year is for life to be boring. Boring is good. The wonder glue had barely hardened.

2019 is just a few days old, I’m sitting at our dining room table, and my brain is shutting itself down. I can’t take in more information. I’m preparing for an interview, you see, for a new job. Not exactly what I meant when I wished for a “boring” year, but well, that’s how things go, right?! A door opens and you go through it. I follow a friend’s advice and write a long technical blog post instead of forcing my tired brain to absorb more information. It takes almost 48hrs of writing for the blog post to be finished, but I feel good, empty but in a good way, I am relaxed. I learned something no matter the outcome.
It’s Sunday night the next week, the night before my interview, and I should be sleeping, but I’m absolutely thrilled because of the job interview the next day. I spend the night listing to a Harrt Potter audio book and get no sleep at all. I work out in the morning and spend the day interviewing – 6 hours, 10+ interviewers.
I doze off on the flight home. I am tired and happy.
It’s almost midnight, traveling home from the job interview had been uneventful, and Cori prepares a late dinner for me. We chat lightly about my interviews and my feelings. I just finish my meal when I see something behind her eyes and that’s when she’s breaking down; her mum has leukemia, the bad kind. I’m going numb again. No sleep for the wicked or something. We spend the night awake.
It’s Friday the same week, and my blog post is featured in a very important online newsletter. Instead of a few dozen visitors a month, my blog has several thousand visitors per day for a bit. I can’t handle this situation. It does not fit into everything else that’s happening.
Three days later, we’re in Germany. I’m sitting in my in-laws’ living room and I’m alone. Everyone has left because my mother-in-law is trying to survive and they are at her side because it’s not clear if she’ll survive the night. I’m home, making sure the foster kids can sleep safely in their beds. I have been awake for 30 hours and I feel helpless again. I pause, I breath, but I can’t smile.

Over the past 5 months since the diagnosis, my mother-in-law faces death three more times, but overall the chemotherapy is working and she is improving. I am incredibly grateful for modern medicine and the doctors and nurses in the hospital. But we won’t know if she’s cured for a long time and her treatment needs to continue for months. I’m worrying about her and also about my own parents who are healthy — but you never know. But I’m also grateful for their love and friendship and that they take good care of themselves. But you never know.

It’s March 2019. I need to remember this. Time flies. We have travel plans but someone steals Cori’s wallet, and her green card is in it. I’m scared because this is something entirely outside of our control. I decide to remain as calm as possible because Cori is afraid her mum could die soon and she really wants to see her. In the end, things sort themselves out because we are able to throw money at the problem, so it’s fine. We are running low on savings and that scares me a lot. Pause. Breathe. Communicate. I can’t smile.
We finance a car because we love road trips and I don’t have any vacation days because of the new job and a car enables us to go places on weekends. When we drive it off the dealer’s parking lot, it takes us 2 miles to get a chip in the windshield. I can’t help but cry and laugh at the same time. Even treating yourself comes at a cost these days.

Suddenly, it’s April and I’m starting my new job. It feels more like a side-project on this rollercoaster ride. Like something you see in passing but the car of the ride is going too fast and everything is a blur. I needed to come to San Jose to realize how awesome this new job is. I can see clearly now, the rain is gone…well, something like that. That’s okay. Life is crazy. It’s just too much and things become all blurry.
And right now, I can actually smile.

I’m okay. I have the tools and the capability to weather storms and enjoy the ride. And that, and my smile becomes a little wider while I’m writing this, feels pretty darn good.