During the fall of 2013, I resigned from my role as acting head of UxD at a firm I consulted at in Torino. I had been consulting there 2.5 years, full time onsite. I had the pleasure of working with an amazing and talented group and they felt like family. Though, I was already exhausted and chronically stressed when I arrived in Torino in 2011. I pushed through those Torino years nearly destroying myself in the process.
My projects in Europe were increasingly large, complex, high pressure and high profile. The last project I worked on was the digital strategy for FIFA, for the 2014 World Cup. We got as far as initial approval on the concepts and I could see all too well what would be coming. I knew I could not withstand leading another project of that scale. Thus, I resigned with the plan to work again at the studio in Stuttgart instead of offsite with clients. We rented a 2nd flat in Stuttgart with that in mind.
Once we arrived in Stuttgart, I worked maybe 2 weeks before simply collapsing. It was near Christmas, so we drove back to Berlin. We bought our flat here in 2010 and, if for no other reason, it is considered home.
The first couple months, I couldn’t leave the house except for therapy. Joel took care of food and basic necessities. I filled the void with all the fiction I never got around to reading from my library. And Netflix around the clock.
I watched every possible serial TV program available on Netflix at the time. From the brilliant to the mediocre, it didn’t matter. Before Joel started commuting to Brussels for work, he’d watch some with me, then when he needed to sleep, I’d go into the bedroom and watch more. My sleep was not regulated yet, so I’d be up late and sleep at odd hours.
I was so completely and endlessly empty and blank. I found there was one old, unexpected TV show that was somehow comforting, oddly. This was Angela Lansbury’s Murder, She Wrote. At first, it was because it reminded me of my late stepfather. Though he was a comedy writer, he loved murder mysteries and would zone out to this show whenever it was on.
Then, it was the formulaic predictability of the narrative. The scenes and styles of early-mid eighties in a small fictional town in Maine. The grandmotherly feel of Angela Lansbury. The only thing that provided some solace. So I continued watching for several weeks, into the small hours.
From that Christmas 2013 to February 2015, I’d go through phases of voraciously reading (both fiction and non), or watching and re-watching serial TV.
I was able to do one thing a day, apart from very short walks with my dogs. These things were just to get groceries, go to the drugstore, etc. Though, miraculously, I was able to push myself to the gym a few times a week. That definitely counted as the one thing that day.
I was deep in the Soprano’s run. I got hooked on some breakfast cereal and lived on that during this period. The Fuck You Santa! scene resonated the most. I could laugh at both the humour and irony.
During this time, November 2014, my beloved dog, Raster, died suddenly.
We had just returned home from a simple vet visit regarding a broken claw. We were in front of our apartment building, Raster lost balance and fell over onto his side. I brought him inside, tested his balance by staging him between my calves. He was going to fall again without any reflex to stop. And, we go!
Not unlike the story with Dolph in San Francisco, I found myself speeding through a city to an animal hospital with my dying dog, next to me on the front seat.
When we arrived, I carried him into the ER. The receptionist demanded I enter the form while I was holding Raster, who was clearly barely hanging on.
Luckily a doctor saw this, ran over, put a pad down on the floor of the waiting room and laid him down to exam him right there. Seconds later she rushed him into the main doctors visiting room. I followed.
Straight away she said that he wasn’t going to make it. “Look at the way his eyes are rolling up, moving from side to side. He’s having severe neurological problems. We can’t do anything.”
It was like being punched in the stomach, relentlessly. If there was any improvement of my own health before that, it was completely extinguished after this event.
So it wasn’t surprising when this drawing came up, like a reflex.