the 700th shoe: let's all stop believing that our lives are going to turn out to be awful
I move apartments in about 2 weeks and I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that I've been in Boone for almost a year. We've named the new apartment "The Castle" because it has a giant spiral staircase in the middle of the living room and also a private deck/balcony thing just in case I ever want to reenact Rapunzel or Romeo & Juliet. (Note to self: grow out hair.) Not too shabby. The kitchen, however, is about 1/5 the size my current one. I could maybe cry about it. (I have.) I had to make a kitchen appliance hierarchy according to frequency of use and the KitchenAid mixer didn't make the cut. Neither did my spice rack. I can't. The Keurig, toaster, and blender took the top 3 spots, and the mixer, waffle maker, and quesadilla machine are safe and sound in my old room (aka guest room and storage facility) at home. There may have been tears. (There were.)
In other news, I’ve been in a reasonably good mood for the past 3-4 months, save a couple of hours here and there. I'm talking like, really really happy. People have commented on it. People have also asked if I'm taking too much medication (trust me, if I was, you would know it because I would be asleep all the time). I haven’t had a streak like this in a while, and to be honest, I'm sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop. My roommate is sort of apprehensive about this too, I think. She once told me that walking with me through the first 6 months of living in Boone was sort of like a continuation of that Series of Unfortunate Events book series where bad things just kept happening to those kids for no reason. She did literally everything in her power to make sure that extra sadness did not creep into my life somehow. (Looking back now, everyone was doing that. I have a lot of guardians.) I told my mother that same thing, about the other shoe, and she thinks I'm silly and that the first shoe never dropped to begin with. I told her that I'm actually just hanging out in a pile of shoes and that "other" ones drop all the time, and that I'm used to it, so what's one more? I don't really understand that saying fully. My family plays a game at holiday gatherings where they make me drink (a lot of) wine and then guess what idioms really mean. My hallmark moment with this one was when I explained that "egg on your face" means that you're pretty and have been using liquidy egg stuff as a skin treatment. It does not mean that at all. It means that you have embarrassed yourself. How fitting.
Anyway, my point is that I am never this nice. For this long. (For the record, I’m told that I’m a lot nicer than I think I am). It is sort of freaking me out. Another shoe did drop a couple of weeks ago: the Serious Letdown that preceded my trip to Charleston and forced me to whip out the "WTF?" billboard prayer. I'm not quite ready to go way into the intricacies of Serious Letdown, but the anatomy of it was this: it looked like a really good thing was going to happen, my fans and cheering section were all very excited and rang out with choruses of "It's about time!" and "Finally!" and then right when I let myself get excited, the possible really good thing changed its mind and decided not to happen. Imagine being conditioned to believing that possible really good things are too good to be true, fighting for a few years against that conditioning, finally somewhat kind of overcoming that, and then having the rug ripped out from under you. Again. For the 700th time, probably. The 700th shoe.
But what I do know is this: your life is not going to be hard forever. It isn't going to be easy forever, either. You also, I am unhappy to report, can't earn yourself your way into either one of those. Believe me, I have tried. I always let people merge in front of me on the interstate and I recycle and I try very hard not to say bad words and I water my plants and keep up with my own taxes and don't eat too much sugar. And bad things still happen to me and my life is still hard. But not always. That's the important part. Sometimes I am in a foul mood and I treat people like they are disposable and an inconvenience and I try to totally shut God out of my life, and I still get blessings and people are still patient with me and God is still like, "I'll be over here when you're ready to talk." It's not a points system. It's not a game show. There are not, I don't think, hidden rules that are designed to make you stumble. I just don't think that's how God designed life, which I am thankful for, because He knows me very well and could do a very good job orchestrating those stumbles.
I also don't think that God operates under a strict "If you're well behaved, I'll give you good things. But only if you're good enough and hit the mark and don't fall back below it." That actually goes against everything I think about Jesus. Now, I know that I have some very theology-savvy friends who could probably chime in with a, "Well, actually, Amanda..." here and that's perfectly fine with me. I don't know everything, and what I think about life and God are simply that. What I think. I have no interest in arguing about who's right and who's wrong with their personal theology. I have no interest in being the most enlightened or most fluent in the actual meaning of things in Greek, but I have a lot of friends who are really good at that, and I think that's cool and intimidating and important. That's not really my arena, though. I'm more into my own relationship with God as I know and experience Him when things are really, really hard (which is often) and trying use that to get through the really, really hard things and tell stories about it to help other people get through really, really hard things. That is very much my arena, and I am happy in it.
What I really, really know is that I spent most of 2008 - 2013 being either very sad and depressed or in a bad mood on purpose, and so I'm choosing not to question this good streak anymore. A friend of mine said way back in January that she had a feeling that my "rough patch" was over, and I laughed and told her that she was nice and sweet and also wrong. I said that my life was a permanent rough patch. But there's a difference between what I meant then and how I see things now. For a long time, I decided that it was safer to just assume that my life was going to be terrible. And that I was never going to be happy. Ever again. And that I wasn't going to enjoy things as much as I had before I got sick, and there would always be some kind of oppressive darkness present, and that I should never get my hopes up, because I was probably wrong. And as a result, I never got my hopes up. About anything. Because then, when the other shoe dropped, it didn't suck as much if I planned on that happening.
I feel so disconnected from that mindset now. Praise the Lord. When the Serious Letdown happened, when the possible really good thing didn't happen, I noticed something really important and really different. I was sad because I let myself feel the sadness that was present and come to terms with it. But I didn't bow down to it. I did not crawl back into my bed and I did not go back to square one and think "this is how the rest of my life is going to be. I am never going to figure out how to get to happiness."
The other day, I had to go on a mindfulness nature walk through campus, which basically means that I had to walk at a snail's pace and look at grass and not talk to anyone. This is part of the artsy, expressive, touchy-feely, "go outside and find a stick that speaks to you" part of my program that I thought I hated. Until this week. Our walk ended up at this creek that flows through campus, and so I went and sat on a big rock and put my feet in the water and started to write a letter to myself. I was feeling particularly "crossroadsy" in my mind, very "well, where do I go from here?" and this is what I wrote down:
You are going to be okay because that is who you are. You are resilient and you will find a way. You mourn your losses but you don't let them keep you down. You will find happiness because it is not in your nature to give up the search for water when you find yourself in a desert.
This is not at all how I would have described myself a few months ago. And yet, this felt so good and true and refreshing sitting out there on that rock. I spent too much of my life feeling defeated and pessimistic because I felt like I had to to do it by choice anymore. I can't stop bad things from happening to me, but I can choose to keep going and keep searching and searching for happiness in spite of that. The darkness may come back. In fact, I know it will, because it is stubborn and forces its way in just when I seem to have recovered from its last visit. It knows me well, but it is no longer something I'll just lay down and take. It always leaves, eventually. Bad things will probably keep happening to me. I'm betting that I'll have a really hard grown-up life and marriage and all that because God knows that my skin is thick and I can take it (and I'm sort of honored and excited about that. What?). Bad is not forever. Spring always comes. Something good always comes of the current bad thing. Possible really good things fall through for actually really good reasons, even if those reasons don't seem decent or fair at the time. They fall through even when I let old people cross the street at a not-crosswalk and overtip, but what's truer is that all of this current mess that I find myself in is sort of exciting because for the first time, in a very long time, I am bouncing back from sadness as quickly as (gasp!) normal people! I am not falling apart at the first sign of trouble. I am not accepting hard and bad and dark as forever things that I need to get used to. I am telling them to get lost, please.
I threw another dinner party the other night. Italian herb chicken alfredo with roasted rosemary potatoes and green bean casserole. Not fancy, but a crowd favorite. I got to cook for 6 of my Boone Guardians and it was a tiny dent in the "thank you" parade I owe them, but it was a very fun dent and I smiled a lot instead of worrying about whether the potatoes were overdone. It is hard to mess up potatoes. Maybe the other shoe will drop, or maybe my mother is right and it won't. Either way, I'll be ready. I am not where I was and I am not who I was and I breathe easily these days and I am so thankful for that. I am thankful to finally claim my identity as someone who is not easily defeated by sadness, who does not accept loneliness as permanent, and who sits beside creeks and reminds herself that she is strong, who does not assume that her life is going to turn out to be horrible.
So, cheers to my nice streak. May it continue. (Pretty please, I like being nice.) And thank you to my guardians. I've got a lot of dinner parties to throw. Bring it on, shoe #701. (It is good to be back.)