on calling myself out
People say they like reading this because I’m honest. And if I’m being honest, I haven’t written on here since the big move to Boone because I haven’t really wanted to be honest, plus I believe it was my mother who told me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
I’ve noticed a pattern in the way I write in this thing. It always goes something like this: “I have depression and life is really hard, blah blah blah,” and then months later I’ll follow up with, “Y’all I think my depression is gone!” and then it’s back to “Actually no, it’s back, life is the worst. Jesus, how ‘bout you show up?” Constantly up and down, back and forth. Sometimes I get all self-critical and decide that I need to stop talking about depression because people are probably sick of hearing about it, and then other times I realize that I need to talk about it in order to face it and deal with it, because it’s chronic and real and still alive and kicking for some reason. That’s my life right now, it’s part of this season, and I’m not going to get past it unless I explore it, so that’s probably what the blog will be like for the next little while.
Here’s a short lil update about how Boone has been so far: hard and humbling. And cold. But mostly humbling. The first month or so, I did not want to be here and I didnot try to hide it, either. The “I’m not here to make friends” speech I gave to my roommate one day in the kitchen only reinforced her worry that she’d need to find a new roommate to replace my soon-to-thow-up-the-deuces-and-drop-outta-grad-school self. It was hard for a lot of reasons: missing Wofford, a job that was emotionally abusive, but the biggest reason was my inner sense of panic that I had somehow stumbled into a situation that would eventually lead me into a life I hated. Mind you, this was in the middle of a conversation with my therapist about why I’ve plateaued out on four different medications in the last two years, and that none of them seemed to really work, and that I was terrified that this was going to be my life forever. It wasn’t so much that I hated being in Boone, it was more like an existential life crisis (I have those every few months, it’s fine) and feeling sort of…purposeless. And pretty unhappy about that.
I was talking to my adviser the other day about what classes I’m taking next semester, and when I told her I wanted to apply to take all these extra hours so I’ll graduate in two years instead of three, she made a concerned face and said to me, “Having a 4.0 and being an overachiever is great and everything, but I really want to see you be happy here.” And I laughed out loud. When I thought about that later – why I think it’s a ridiculous concept to prioritize my own happiness—I came up with a couple of realizations:
1. My identity, right now, is completely wrapped up in my academic life, as in grades and accomplishments, but also in where what I’m doing now ranks in the “this is how successful you are” scale. For example, in my mind, going to graduate school for counseling ranks way below where I used to be on the scale, which was on a track toward med school. This is much more of an issue, in my mind, than is my own happiness, sense of fulfillment, etc. (I’m not saying that’s good or true – it’s neither – but it’s the “me before I met Jesus” side coming back out).
2. I’m committed to Jesus, but I’m also committed to a lot of other things, and sometimes my vision gets foggy. Lately, Jesus has been way below most of, if not all of, those other things. Things also low on the list right now: happiness.
Long story short: I get really, really anxious when I think about my life. When I look back, I see a lot of things I wish I had done differently. When I look forward, I see a lot of grey area and things that used to be my dreams locked behind now inaccessible doors. And in between the two, I’m having trouble feeling purposeful, figuring out what I’m passionate about, and am having almost like a “phantom limb” feeling about those two things – I know I used to be passionate about something, I used to do things because they made me happy, but it feels like a dream or something I read in a book one time. Ask me what I’m passionate about, and I’ll give you a blank, worried stare.
I keep waiting for something to speak to me, wishing that something would give me that feeling again, and I keep going back to places where I know I’ve had it. It’s been like that for a while. I visited Windy Gap a few times over the summer, and while it was as beautiful and meaningful place as ever, it seemed to whisper, “This isn’t it anymore. This is an old chapter,” as I stood in the dark on the kickball court waiting for the Wednesday night square dance to start. And that happened again, at Wofford when I went back for homecoming. I don’t know what I was expecting, really. One of the trees to spring to life and tell me that everything is going to work out like it’s supposed to? I went up to the religion hallway, and it wasn’t home anymore. I walked around campus, and as disappointing as this is, it wasn’t home anymore. These are important places in my story, but that doesn’t mean I can retroactively try to squeeze my purpose out of them – I’m not there anymore, I’m in a new season, and I need to embrace that. I need to look for “it” – whatever “it” is – in Boone. I need to figure out how to find “it” and feel “it” here, and now because this is where I am now, and I need to embrace the current season of my life. The thing is, I really, really haven’t wanted to do that until very, very recently.
I bought new lampshades and a giant ceramic rooster and vase arrangements and fake hydrangeas and rugs to make my apartment look cuter or whatever. I spent four hours the other morning rearranging the living room and putting up the Christmas tree, analyzing ornament placement and blasting Christmas music and drinking hot chocolate with cinnamon and nutmeg like they taught me to make it out in Colorado. I get all of the dishes into the dishwasher before they can even think about piling up in the sink, and I picked out the cutest yet most sophisticated skeleton key doormat in all the land, and made sure my living room looks like Pottery Barn and Martha Stewart had a child in the form of, well, a living room. None of it helped. I mean, the apartment looks great, but I’m not any more fulfilled than I was before I did all that damage with my credit card.
What I’m looking for, I think, is reassurance. I’m looking for something, anything at all, to tell me who I am and what I’m supposed to do and where I’m supposed to go and who I’m supposed to be and when and where and why I’m supposed to be it. Mostly I want to know if I’m going to be a cat lady.
I’ve been staying busy. I’ve been buying a lot of stuff. I’ve been putting way more effort into my school than I should be, scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush instead of just getting out the Swiffer WetJet, if you will. Don’t worry, that’s an analogy; I’m not actually that concerned about the degree to which my floor is clean.
I have tried everything that’s supposed to make me feel better. I have been clinging, and I’m talking white knuckled death grip, to my Starbucks cups and my overpriced J. Crew cheetah-print pants and my Harvard sweatshirt and my GPA and my “but I was supposed to go to medical school” façade, and yes, my Wofford degree.
Call me crazy, but I don’t think I’m the only person doing this. I haven’t wanted to talk about it because it’s embarrassing and I’m supposed to be a spiritual role model and stuff, but the not talking about it for three months has caused it to fester and start to rot my heart. Dramatic? No, not really. And I don’t want to be a role model for that. For stifling conviction by buying sweaters and fancy water instead of repenting and coming back around to the grace of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t care about how many sweaters I have or if all my ducks are in a row. Let’s be real, my ducks have never been in a row, and they’re never going to be, and my running around and thinking that I can get them all straight has distracted me from the fact that I can’t do it.
And oh, once I remembered that, I wrestled with it. I’m still wrestling with it. I love control. I’d marry it if I could. I had a plan, and it was a good plan. Harvard, med school, saving lives and stuff. I loved the plan, I believed in the plan, probably more than I believe in God at times, if I’m being honest. And now I’m off the plan.
That verse in the book of Luke, something about speaking from your mouth what’s in your heart? That’s really, really true. If you’ve had a conversation with me recently, you’ve probably heard me say that I’m not going to be okay unless I marry a rich guy, and that I don’t think I’m at all valuable, and that the combination of those two things means I’m doomed to a life of unhappiness. I’m serious. The common thread there? Insecurity. Because that’s what’s in my heart right now – insecurity, fear, cynicism, but value, hope, and trust in the Lord’s promises are nowhere to be found. I told you, rotting.
The thing is, I don’t want this to sound all whiney and negative, because that’s not the whole story. I am finding things here that are pulling me toward better ways of thinking and doing and living, things I know I need to do in this season not only to take better care of myself, but squeeze every ounce of life out of these days.
What’s holding me back is my own criticism and negativity and stubbornness and refusal to relinquish control and my reflexive tendency to rely on myself and not on God. That verse, “I lean not on my own understanding” – well, I for one absolutely do lean on my own understanding, and that’s exactly what has fed my insecurity and doubt and fear and unbelief.
What’s bringing me back to truth is a combination of therapy and learning how to forgive myself for not measuring up to my own standards, but mostly getting to be around the Young Life community (man, more on that later. what gems…). And also making a conscious effort to dig back up all the things I love about life. Jazz on vinyl. Strawberries with sugar. Singing in the car — so, so loudly — with the windows down. Baking and writing letters and having Panera for all three meals in a day. Driving for hours. Dancing — oh, I love dancing. It is absolutely the way to my heart. Ballroom, shagging, figuring out how to swing dance to “Shake It” or the doing the electric slide with a glass of wine in hand — I love it all. The last time I danced, I mean really danced was the night before graduation at my last Wofford band party. I wore an orange dress and stayed until 2am and ran around twirling and singing to Don’t Stop Believing and Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy, of all songs. I love it, I love it, I love it.
So this is all just a long-winded way of saying that I’m trying to embrace the current season of my life, bloom where I’m planted, all that stuff. Yeah, sure, at first all I wanted to do was turn up my nose and be a diva and wear Lilly Pulitzer to WalMart, but that didn’t make anything better. It just made me feel conceited and pretentious and not at all like the kind of person I want to be, and I’m sorry for that. I don’t know what it’ll take to get to “happy,” but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. Which is a good mindset, because I used to just want to be stubborn and stomp my foot and set the bridge on fire.
Sorry (I’m not sorry) about the short novel; it just feels good to write again. I’m not even sure if this had a coherent point; I’ll try to do better next time. And I’ll also try to see to it that “next time” happens before the year 2013 arrives…