This morning, I was ready to pack it all up and head back to the US. My plan for the day was to sit down and figure out what steps I needed to take to make that happen: sort the dogs' transport (is it easier to fly back into the US than it was to arrive in the UK? which airlines are currently flying dogs?, etc.), re-read my job contract to be sure they can't sue me (even though, technically, I haven't yet signed my contract, due to a printer problem), figure out how to sell the car I just bought not even two weeks ago.
I've had a bit of misery since arriving here. I expected challenges and adventure and more than a few things that I could laugh about later, but nothing like the nonstop deluge of complications and obstacles I seem to meet at every turn. I'll list just a few of them here (though perhaps I'll expand on them later in another post):
-- Thrown into the deep end: My COVID self-isolation ended on a Tuesday, and my new job had me scheduled the very next day, and the two days after that. With the commute from my temporary flat, those are twelve hour days, straight out of the gate. Upon arrival, I walked in and introduced myself to one of the staff who passed me off to the clinic manager. She geared me up in the clinic's mandatory PPE (face shield, mouth mask, gloves, plastic apron) then helped me set my own dogs up in a little spare room in the building adjacent to the clinic. Then she waved me off to "go find someone in the clinic" and returned to her office. I entered the clinic treatment room and introduced myself, again, and was immediately in the fray of a busy vet clinic workday. I was introduced to a lot of people behind masks and face shields and speaking in unfamiliar accents (as, I suppose, was I -- to them). The day was busy and there was a lot of new information thrown at me; basically, how to do every single thing, from logging onto the computer to reading the daily schedule to checking in a patient to entering charges to what the "health plans" offered by the clinic were, to the sorts of anti-parasite medications this clinic commonly prescribes, to what the medications are called in the country and which of those we have in stock. At "lunch" I was pulled aside by the medical director for a fifteen minute orientation into a slew of other protocols. Then the rest of the busy day I saw appointments and tried to learn and reinforce all the things I'd been told, carving out a few minutes to take my dogs out for a midday break. I was too nervous to eat, so there's lunch sorted.
-- The commute: It's twenty-one miles from my flat to my clinic, along a winding narrow two-lane road. Sometimes it takes thirty-three minutes (as predicted by Google) and sometimes it takes forty-five minutes. It all depends on who's in front of you. And I'm not allowed to park in the clinic's carpark, so have to find street parking nearby...ish. I parked on the far side of a large grassy park so at least the dogs could run around as we made our way toward the clinic. But guess what? The park has no lights in it, so when I got off work I found it pitch-black and had to walk the periphery, adding another ten or fifteen minutes onto an already long and busy day.
-- Housing: I've been trying to secure a rental property, but Britain either doesn't trust foreigners or is just a bugbear in general about vetting people. There aren't many options for renting in this fierce competitive market, unless you're willing to move into a "terraced house," which is essentially a row house, sandwiched between a dozen or more others, with no yard (garden) to speak of; in other words, not great for dogs or ex-Alaskans like me. So I'm offering to pay an exorbitant sum to have a nice place to land at day's end, but the rental company really doesn't seem to want me to give them my money to stay there.
There are other things. Many, really. But I've either completely exhausted my brain or have been working so hard to absorb each new hit -- like a boxer in a sparring match -- that I cannot genuinely remember where each punch fell or how many I've had since the match began.
And I don't know if I've mentioned it yet but this flat has no hot water. And recently the toilet broke and won't flush. Being attached to a business, the flat at least has access to other toilets, so I haven't made a big deal of it, trying to show that I'm "tough" and not a "wimpy coddled American." Yesterday they finally got someone in to fix the plumbing. He was able to fix the toilet but not the hot water which he'll work on next week. But, I figured, at least I have a hot shower, which is some weird UK contraption that runs water around a heating coil, so it's not hot water until you turn it on and heat it up directly.
And then: Yesterday I got home from work, eagerly anticipating washing the workday, the workweek, out of my hair and straight down the drain. And found the shower didn't work. I pushed the power button a dozen times, and ... nothing.
That was it for me. Anger, frustration, tears. And such a wave of longing for my friends and family came crashing over me, I couldn't bear it. The dam broke and all the things I've been holding in since I arrived, all the frustration and doubt and fear and loneliness just came barreling out. I can't do this. Why did I ever think this was a good idea? Why would I come here during a pandemic when I stand no chance of meeting people on my (few) days off? And the one that never fails to dissolve me in a fit of tears: What will happen to my dogs if something happens to me, if I get sick or am injured?? Nobody here cares about me -- who would take care of them?
So I woke up this morning with the plan to leave. To head home. I haven't found a place to live here yet (the clinic's flat is temporary until I find another place), so I won't be violating any rental agreements. I'm still in the probationary period at work so I can give notice any time (or they could fire me), without consequence (other than paying back the visa fees, which is still cheaper than paying out a tenancy agreement).
But first this morning I needed to drop off some medications I brought over from the other clinic, to the downstairs receptionists at this clinic branch. And the receptionist was just lovely. Beyond lovely. She cut right to it, "You don't like it here," and said it in a knowing and compassionate way, rather than the "I can't believe we waited all this time for you and now you aren't even going to stay??" As the clinic wasn't yet open, she & I talked for about half an hour. She offered me a cup of tea (the standard comfort here). The vet on-duty came in about midway, and she was also lovely, sympathetic, sad to think they were letting me down -- which is the first bit of genuine social niceties I've experienced in the workplace here yet, in part because (I'm sure) the main clinic is so busy there's no time for social niceties, we're all running so hard all day. And it warmed my heart a bit. Why couldn't I just work here, I wondered, in a small quiet little place instead of the frantic four-doctor main practice twenty miles away?
My next errand was car-related. I've been having car trouble with my tires (tyres), so phoned the local tyre shop to see if they could squeeze me in. I was told to pop by. The guy came out and looked at the tyres and said they were fine, that I just needed to reset the pressure warning light. No charge. Helpful. Lovely.
And at the grocery, where I'd stopped to pick up a bit of cake for the gracious staff downstairs who listened to my sob story this morning (with a few choked up moments if not actual sobbing), I heard the automated voice from the checkout stand next to me, "There is a surprising item in the checkout area," and I couldn't help but smile. This is why I'm here, after all. For love of quirky civilities like an automated voice correcting someone's improper grocery checkout. "Surprising." The Anglophile resurfaces in renewed delight at the language here, so much more refined and charming than brash American vernacular, which would probably shout a warning of impending doom than to calmly and politely suggest you perhaps hadn't meant to park an elephant on top of your milk and eggs?
So now it's about five hours into the day, and I just don't know what to do. Am I just panicking at the newness of everything, or am I correct in predicting my ongoing displeasure and poor quality of life should I choose to remain in this system: this house, this job, this community. Some of my biggest fears are genuine: If something happens to me, there is realistically nobody to help me take care of my dogs. I don't have any friends here, and it's going to be difficult to meet people, what with COVID shutting things down every few weeks or so. All my decades-long friendships (and sisterhood) are thousands of miles away. None of those things are going to change, save returning to Alaska. Is that just the best option, or is this just fear?
Any psychologist will tell you that an anxiety-laden mind does not work properly. Anxiety hampers memory and logical thought but also affects decision-making. Deer-in-the-headlights isn't because deer are stupid but because they're terrified. So instead of choosing left or right, they stand still and get run over.
So that's me, then, just now. Deer in the headlights. Unable to decide. Unable to assess whether my feelings and thoughts are "legitimate" or exaggerated, due to fear. Or maybe it's years of experience and knowing myself, crying out to be heard and honoured.
Whiplash between the good moments and bad. Rollercoasters of persnickety real estate agencies and charming bucolic countrysides. COVID versus the charm of centuries-old architecture.
Unable to think, unable to decide. Time for a cup of tea.