When Life of Pi saved me

It’s 4 a.m., it’s dark, and I’m having trouble sleeping.

Eighteen weeks ago I dropped out of sight.

“Overboard!” I cried.

My head was fuzzy. My shoulder hurt. I bobbed around in the dark waters.

As the ship sailed away, they dispatched a mediator to check on my situation.

“Ms. Gulens, how are you feeling?” he asked from afar.

I’m floating in the water on a piece of debris, I thought.

“We await your medical report!” said the mediator before signing off.

It’s day 119.

“Enjoy the butterflies in your garden,” M texts me.

There are no butterflies.

Clearly I need to speed up my story, or establish where I am, before going on.

For the record. Today is Friday, September 22. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, I do “work conditioning.” I commute to somewhere in Toronto, most often a library, and practise working and building up mental stamina. I’ve been doing this for weeks.

I return to work next Monday.

Will it be overwhelming? Underwhelming? How will I preserve the good things (yes, the good things!) I’ve learned along the way? How long until I get back to 100%? What will normal look like?

pirate ship

But back to the other night.

The worst-case Pirates-of-the-Caribbean back-to-work scenario is playing out in my head.

The people who stood in for me are thrown overboard. I’m back in place as an oarswoman.

“Faster!” yells the captain. “Stronger!”

Some rowers look up and mouth the word “higher.” A few manage to give me “you’re back!” hugs with their eyes.

It’s what returning to work looks like when you’re having a bit of a nightmare. Paddle faster. Row to save your life.

Then, at 5 a.m., Life of Pi comes to the rescue.

I took in the TSO’s Opening Night performance earlier this week. The crown jewel was Mychael Danna’s specially commissioned adaptation of his movie soundtrack from Life of Pi.

Canadian-born Danna was present for the world premiere. So was director Ang Lee and the extraordinary lullaby vocalist Bombay Jayashri. The Indian percussionist blew my mind!

The night was to die for. (The Toronto Star agrees.)

I lie in bed, full of angst about going back to a job I love.

Wait, I think. I’m deep into a book about writing to reframe trauma. I have Life of Pi on my mind.

What if I look at this differently and rid my mind of the pirate angle? (“Most of our fears are imagined,” said my friend S as we discussed her recent return to work.)

What if the ship is a beautiful cruise ship?

What if my waterlogged piece of debris is a speedboat?

In fact, I’m about ready for some normality. And my transition back to work will begin with reduced hours to make this return safe and sound.

life-of-pi_1920x1080 (1)

I fire off an early morning text to one of my concussion sisters.

“Positive thoughts!” she writes back. “Life is a performance, not a sport!”

In fact, I misread her response. She actually wrote: “Life is not a performance sport!”

I both don’t completely understand her and think either version works.

While I’m still a bit anxious about returning, I feel a lot better now that I’ve assuaged the pirate-ship fear. As for the tiger…

5 thoughts on “When Life of Pi saved me

  1. I fully understand the overwhelming feeling of returning to any routine state. Somehow, once your foot touches the ‘work ground’ you get a feeling of empowerment and feel you can do this! I too, had some setbacks while at work but I had to think of how far I had gotten from the initial incident that made me question how I would function in my daily routine. Somehow, we manage to conquer the beast that makes us doubt and things work out fully over time….Good Luck Mara! You can do this!!

  2. If you can write this beautifully in your compromised state, you can do whatever you want. It will be fine. Let someone else steer that cruise ship for now and take a plunge. The water is fine. Easy does it.

  3. One of the most amazing discoveries of my life (quite recently) is that you can actually confront or stop your mind when it goes into those fear and negativity spirals. When I became aware of what was happening, I thought I faced years of meditation and re-programming, lord knows with what kind of therapy, a prospect eliciting a new round of anxiety. One day, the usual started, and I said – nope, we are not doing this, we are not going there, stop it right now, and it said – oh, ok then. Amazing! There are many of us looking out for you!

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