Lose the Baggage, Keep Your Sanity: Ending the Year on A High Note

by Roki Prunali

It’s December 14th and so my inbox is full of motivational newsletters about how to tackle the usual end of the year stressors.  The one I read most recently was from the lifestyle site goop, and for the most part, the problems at hand felt pretty standard – “too many holiday parties to attend!”, “end of year work deadlines!”, and just the genera burnout we all feel come December. I was drawn to the title because honestly, my year’s end has been an absolute disaster, and possibly finding out how others were coping piqued my interest.  My life was recently turned upside down in the space of a week – a decade’s worth of challenges in just 168 hours. Forget “too many gifts but, not enough time” – how do you stay sane through the most difficult of life’s challenges?

Here’s a quick recap on the events at hand:

Thursday, November 8, 2018

I woke early out of horrific jetlag while we were visiting Los Angeles from our home in Milan. My period was about five days late, and as everyone knows we have been trying this year for our second child, so I figured it was time to take a test.  Alberto, my husband, couldn’t sleep either, and when he got out of bed to search for me, he opened our bedroom blinds to find a coyote sitting right outside our window. He knew something was up. Meanwhile, in the bathroom, there was no token, slow-moving wait for my pregnancy test results; it was almost instantaneous. I was completely shocked, because I was honestly beginning to question my ability to remain pregnant for the second time, but man was I excited.

I had a college friend visiting us in LA for the weekend, and I was looking so forward to a weekend of relaxing, sharing the new news with her and toasting with my ginger ale (already so desperately wanting tequila). That night, we stayed in and made some dinner at the house. An eerie feeling came over me, as the infamous Santa Ana winds had hit us and hit us hard.  When those winds start up, nothing good ever comes out of it – even if it is just horrible allergies. But this time, the winds combined with the amount of dry brush, and the Malibu, Thousand Oaks and Westlake was just a ticking time bomb.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A knock on our front door at 5:30 woke us – this could mean nothing good. Our neighbor had been informed of a possible mandatory evacuation. The night before, we all fell asleep unaware of the strong Santa Ana winds stoking the brush fire. Clueless as to the protocol in these kinds of situations, we just started packing our bags. Not sure if it was just the positivity I try to project in every situation or sheer naïveté, but I felt in my heart we were eventually coming back to our house. With optimism as my due north, I packed one pair of jeans and two white Hanes t-shirts. Glued to the news, waiting for any kind of instruction, the headlines read “Mandatory Evacuation for Malibu”. That was it, no waiting – we all got the hell out of there.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

We had postponed our son’s appointment with a Neuropsychiatric Pediatrician, since we were displaced and had no idea what our next moves would be. A meeting with a speech therapist had raised some red flags, and she recommended we see someone else for an evaluation. That day, we received news that no parent wants to hear: our 22-month old was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. I had been concerned about his development, but my mind had never ventured down the path of autism, and suddenly I was going through all the emotions – blame, guilt, sadness for the future, pity for our son. But it was all short-lived, we were dealt this hand and now we need to move forward. It was difficult for my husband not to dwell on the would of, could of, should of, and so I took the situation in my own hands and just got the ball rolling. There was no time to dwell, and I processed all those feelings rather fast. There is no way out but through.

About an hour after receiving this diagnosis, we got word that our house had burned down. A handful of neighbors had stayed back to protect their homes (a senseless but rather courageous act), and a few pictures and word of mouth circled confirmed that our home had been taken by the fires.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

We relocated to my husband’s office downtown Los Angeles. Luckily, the office has a two-bedroom loft that could accommodate all of us until we figured out our next steps. Downtown has grown exponentially from when I lived there ten years ago, but that sketchy, always-looking-over-your-shoulder vibe definitely still exists. That night, a man had broken in through the front gate and found himself in the parking lot in front of the loft, right outside our bedroom window. We called the cops immediately, and then waited in anticipation and utter fear for what felt like hours before they materialized in the flesh. Thankfully the intruder was spooked and he ran away, so when the police showed up 20 minutes later we had nothing to show for the experience.

The boring cliché “when it rains it pours” never felt truer than this rollercoaster of a week. Honestly, one of the things that kept me sane was just watching myself handle everything that I handled. The exhaustion that could have taken me down turned to delirium and energy. There was so much to deal with, but each thing that came at us just made us that much stronger. The number of times I laughed during that week was noteworthy.  It was as if I was purging all the old, negative excess, and starting fresh and new.

What I have come to understand is that the path to end-of-year sanity is through steadily trying to stay sane throughout the year. There is no reason to try and scramble and get your emotions under control, especially not during a time of year when emotions are running at their highest. Tamu reminded me that in this tragic moment, she is so grateful that I have done so much work on myself this year, because that is truly what gave me the ability to cope. Years and years of pent up emotions – extremely raw ones that I had hidden from rather than dealing with them – were tended to and resolved this year, and it made all the difference.

Self-care is the true answer to staying cool, calm and collected. Now, self-care has a plethora of meanings, everyone has their “thing.” But it’s not just talking a bath with salts, getting a massage – those are just the basics. Get down deep on the inside to make the big changes. Whether that means energy healing (the path that has worked best for me), meditating, or good old therapy – whatever your outlet may be, find it and dig in. Release that energy to free yourself, rather than holding yourself to even crazier standards of perfecting your life in the last few days of the year.  

No one’s problems are better or worse than other’s. We all have different methods of coping and staying sane, whatever the size of the problem. I believe I was able to confront all these situations because I was ready to take them head on. Hiding from dealing with your emotions may be the way we find ourselves at the end of the year, asking, ‘How do I stay sane?’


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