I have been reading C.S.Lewis’ book A Grief Observed. This is a wonderful book of compiled essays written after his wife died. In one of the essays he talks about the “laziness of grief” the way that the grief or in my case depression overwhelms me and makes everything seem useless and therefore I do nothing. This of course only lasts so long and then I have to clean the house and organize the things around me. While I am there I find that the lack of movement makes me more depressed.
I have found myself lately to be in the “coming away from that feeling” part of the cycle. I have found that I have surrounded myself with way to much stuff., Of course I look at all the things that are around me and think “I need all of them. I need all of this stuff.” Which is so very untrue. I just think that I do. I remember when I was a teenager and the clutter in my room became too much for me. I would stay up all night cleaning the room. Even vacuuming at 2:00 am to get it finished. Then it was finished and I would fall into bed happy. When I woke up the next morning the room was clean and the whole way that I was experiencing life was different. I felt better. I felt freer.
Spring has finally reached me here in the north. I still have snow. And the darkness of the winter months has changed to the longer days of spring. I am finally feeling free of the oppression I felt over the winter. And as I look around I am seeing the clutter and chaos that collected over the winter. Remembering the feelings of freedom and peace that the lack of clutter brought has inspired me to have that feeling again. No matter how much I am going to ache in the morning I am going on a cleaning spree.
I know that in my room there is a desk. I know this because the papers and books are not really suspended in mid air. Which means that the time really has come and today is that day. The day that I clean out my bedroom of the extra stuff and the extra furniture. (My husband and I have a very small bedroom so this should make a difference.) The only problem is I have to get past that need to hold on to things.This has always been a problem for me because I found while I was growing up that things don’t leave you.People leave or abandon you. So hanging on to stuff at times has been a problem for me. This is one of those coping strategies that no longer really needs to be there. It doesn’t need to be there because I have found that the people who I need to have in my life are in my life and are not leaving. Others have come and gone. But the important ones are still here.
Ultimately that seems to be the deciding factor to whether stuff stays or goes. Whether I feel as though without it I would be lost without it is a big factor. Today I feel strong and I think I will be able to let go of stuff. Reading about other people clearing the extra stuff out of their lives has been inspirational.
Therefore, much to the annoyance of my children, today has been dubbed “Clean your room” day. I shall do that myself. And perhaps I will find that those books and papers have been magically levitating all along.
Sometimes when I have a lot on my mind I talk to myself. If I am alone I will talk out loud to myself. Sometimes I think better when I hear they problem spoken out loud. Like those moments when you start to explain a problem to a friend only to figure out the answer half way through the explanation. And when I have something that requires me to bounce a lot of ideas around, I talk to Oprah. Actually I pretend to be interviewed. This way I can say the question or problem and then answer it. Just writing this makes me think I have truly lost it. But it works.
Once I engage my imagination I can figure out and understand most of the problems I am working on. And there is no way I look any stranger talking to myself as I drive down the road than the guy belting out a song in the next car. Besides, I am being way more productive.
While I was growing up my imagination kept me sane. When I was scared or nervous I could pretend to be someone who was brave and fought off monsters. Or the character from one of my favorite shows. I can not tell you how many times the Green Hornet and Cato came to my rescue ( this was the cool show with Bruce Lee as Cato). I remember hiding from a particularly scary person behind the couch thinking what would Captain Kirk do? You get the idea.
But now I pretend with my children. Not as much anymore as I used to when the older ones were young. But I think it is time. I have not had a lovely imaginary tea part in forever. Or gone for a walk to find the illusive pink T-Rex. I have been very fortunate to have children that like to pretend.Yes, I think a magic tea party is in order for tomorrow. Perhaps it will have to be fancy dress, you never can tell. And I know that I will feel much more relaxed after a nice cup of imaginary tea.
About twenty years ago I was a totally different person. I worked basically on a survival mode. After years of taking care of myself and keeping myself safe I let go. I was and am in a relationship that was safe and healthy. I no longer had to be on guard against someone trying to hurt me for the first time in my life.
Over the years I have healed and grown and changed. I have developed coping strategies that cover such a wide range of situations. Creating those strategies took time and was a slow process. And over the years as I healed and grew some of the strategies became unnecessary. Some, though unnecessary, are still hanging around.
I guess the purpose of this post is just a way for me to mark the growth that I have experienced. It has been awhile since I sat down and truly looked at how much I have grown and changed. As I start down the path that is a new semester in school, one filled with tasks I am unsure of, I needed to see how far I have come to be able to see how far I can go.
The shadow of fear as well as the fear of being less than perfect is a hard one to move out from under. It seems to follow you. My goal for the foreseeable future is to find a way to stand in the sun. To feel the warmth of possibilities and the glow of attempting to do those things that scare me. And to begin to become on the outside the person I have kept safe on the inside. As well as to accept that there are a lot of people around me who have already seen that person and are waiting for me to realize that she is already here.
The residency at the college is winding down. All my course contracts are in and approved. Now I just need to go home and accomplish them. That is the hard part.
This semester I have stepped out of my comfortable zone of read all the material and then write a paper. With two of my courses I have opted to do something different. Things that are not necessarily hard but are definitely not my usual methods. This is the hard part. The fear of failing somehow. And that brings me back to my fear of not being good enough. Of not being perfect.
My papers are far from perfect and I have accepted that part of me. It doesn’t mean that I don’t try to write good papers just that I understand my limitations. But these other projects require more of me than I usually give. What if I fail?
That is the far reaching question. I am putting more of myself on display than I have in a very long time. According to others who see more of me and what I can do or have to offer this will be wonderful. For myself who only sees her world through the lens of my mistakes, this is scary. I am afraid to begin down this journey. I know that this journey will be a wonderful learning experience that will give me either success or failure to build from.
I am hoping for success.
I am at school. I am at the residency that happens before the semester officially starts. It is like a stressful vacation. Stressful in that there is a lot to do in a very short time. I have also decided to let go of some of the control I try to exert over the universe.
At residency we meet with the mentors who will be working with us for the semester. We plan our course work and make contracts for what we will be doing and when it will be due. Usually when I show up I know exactly who I will be working with and exactly what I will be doing. This time when I showed up I knew who I was working with and the courses I would be working on. I usually know what books I will be using and what I will be doing for products. But not this time.
I have no idea why, but this semester I just did no prep work. And even now I have no real idea of what I am doing for most of my courses. Am I ok with this? No, not really. Am I having panic attacks? Yes, frequently. Is letting go of the need to always “know ” what I am going to do a good thing? Yes!
I am trying to let go of the almost epic need that I have to control the things that go on in my life. I am trying to loosen the reigns on things. Not let go of them because that is just crazy. But, I am trying to give myself room to make mistakes and to find a more organic flow to learning. I am trying to become what someone in my advising group said this morning. I am trying to become a “learner” and not a “knower.” I am learning to experience and not just plan my life. I am learning to “Trust the Process” in my life and education. I am learning. And that is a good thing.
It was not that long ago that my main goal in life was to be invisible. If no one saw me than the chances of getting judged, hurt, embarrassed or any other negative social encounter were minimized. This however,much to my disappointment, never worked. I am basically a friendly person and though I try to be quiet and nondescript it does I am not invisible. Being invisible meant that there were no expectations on me. I could do nothing and thereby not make any mistakes.
Making mistakes gets you noticed and it wasn’t perfect. I have no idea when the need to be perfect popped into my life, I just know that it did. There were many opportunities that I have passed up because I was afraid that I would not be able to do the task well or I was afraid that I would have no idea what to do. Going to school is hard. I tend to want to know what I am going to learn before I get there. That way I can coast through and, you guessed it, not make a mistake.
One day I decided that enough was enough. It was okay to not know the answer. I hated being called on in class, even if I knew the answer I froze up and could not remember it. The world was not going to end if I turned in a non stellar or non perfect paper. And it was also not earth shattering if I didn’t know the answer. This was one of the hardest things to do. It also caused me to shut down and hide the first time I turned in a paper that I knew was not going to be that good. I dreaded seeing the advisor that got that paper when I went to the next residency for school. I lived in fear of her shunning me or thinking how unintelligent I was or any number of other things.
And then the big moment. I went to the next residency totally dreading seeing her. Feeling beyond any doubt as though I were the least intelligent person on the campus. And walking up from my car who was the first person that I saw? The Advisor. She greeted me with a hug asked how I was and was genuinely glad to see me. There was no animosity or reason to fear. She had returned my paper and told me what I needed to fix. And that had been the end. I was not perfect and the sky did not fall.
I have since then used that as an object lesson for myself. I do the best I can and the world does not end. It goes on. I do not fall apart. I grow. So even though it is still very very very difficult for me to try to do something that I do not know from the outset that I will succeed, I am trying new things anyway.
For the last twenty years I have lived in a very small house with many people. Generally this situation works fine. We all get along and there are many places that people can go to be alone. There is the walking spot, a path made in the woods from people pacing on it over the years. And there is also the small bedrooms that people have. However there is also a lot of chaos.
It would be hard for there to not be some chaos when everyone is home. But generally that is only in the evening and on weekends. It has been hard for me to find a peaceful place in and among the chaos since I am the mom and everything seems to involve me, even when I don’t want it to.
I don’t do well in unrelenting chaos. I don’t think anyone does. But lately it has seemed to bother me more than usual. I find myself more depressed or trying to escape more often than I did before. And that is not good.
I have started to the to do list again to keep me on target. I have my daily and long range goal list. When I feel overwhelmed I fall back on my lists and the order that they bring to my internal self. I do not know how much order they bring to the external world I live in, but my internal world feels better. My lists are usually long and detailed. This way I get to cross a lot of things off the list and feel like I am doing something toward creating peace. There are things like; get up in the morning, make bed, have breakfast ( this last one is a big one since I usually forget to have breakfast and my daughter spends the morning harassing me until I do eat.) this way I can check things off and feel like the day was successful. When I get past my overwhelmed state my list tends to shrink back to the ordinary things.
Making peace with chaos and finding a peaceful place in chaos is difficult. Lately I am just trying to make a peaceful place. It is harder than it seems.
I have been on a mini vacation for the past few days. I had the opportunity to stay in a beautiful cabin by myself. I promised myself that I would bring no work with me. I would only bring things that would help me relax. And i did.
It was hard. I had my computer with me and my e-reader. I brought my idea of comfort food, since there was a full kitchen. And my comfy clothes. I spent time relaxing. There were a couple of times that I caught myself from doing things that were even remotely non relaxing. But I held fast. And I began to relax.
Here is the thing. I don’t relax. It is very difficult for me to let my body relax. For years my body has been in a constant state of preparedness. Prepared to do battle and to defend itself at a moments notice. Relaxing is a thing that very rarely happens. For instance I am sitting with my youngest watching a very calm movie and yet when I thought about my body I realized that I was completely tensed. All my muscles were tensed and ready to spring. They are almost always like that. Even when I sleep. If isometric movement could make someone really buff I would be. I wake up with all my muscles tight, I stretch to get them to release. So relaxing is a BIG thing,
I decided that the best way to go about this was to learn from the relaxation masters. My cats. They sit in the sun, warm by the fire, eat and sleep. So that is what I did. I sat in the little sunlight that was there. I took naps and ate. I also went online and did fun things, like fill up my pintrest page and look at what everyone else was doing. I did not read the news articles and I did not do anything that would not add to the relaxation. And it worked. Somewhat. I have my doubts as to whether there will come a day that I will be at complete relaxation but this was close. Even my shoulder which is so tensed from stress it has been pulling my arm out of socket, eased.
In the morning I go back to my life. A slightly more relaxed person. I have found that I need to create the place to relax. And to do so without the guilt that I should be doing something productive. It is time to take my relaxation seriously. It is time to stand down from all the things that kept me ready to fight. Because those things do not exist anymore. There is no good reason for me to be battle ready at all times.
So, tomorrow when I start back into my life I will do so with a little more peace and the knowledge that I can in fact relax and that i do not need to fight those monsters anymore. I will learn to be a master of peace and relaxation. I will learn to be a cat.
Over the years I have found that my brain has become very hardwired for disaster.I am not sure what the scientific studies have to say about it but I know what it feels like. And what it feels like is that sometimes when the little stuff comes around, it feels like the sky is falling.
There was a time when I did not understand what was going on. And sometimes I forget and let it get away from me. What I mean is that when I have a large crisis to deal with I can handle it just fine. But when the small stuff comes, I have no operating plan. I always thought that it was because all through my developmental years, basically from birth, I have had to live in life or death situations. So working out those types of issues are easier for me than the fact that I just got a flat tire. Or I am out of eggs and really need them for the recipe I am in the process of making.
This also comes into play when things get overwhelming or if sad or bad things happen. I can at times forget that it really is just a bad day and the sky is not falling in on me. But with all things it is a learning event. Remembering that it is just a flat tire and not the end of the world can sometimes be difficult. And that I do actually know how to change a tire and I do not have to panic. Or that it is just a sad day and not the beginnings of a great depressive event.
I think sometimes I make things big just so I can work the problem. It is easier for me to see the solution to a crisis than just a bad day. Luckily, I am noticing that happening a lot faster than I used to and head those scenarios off.
So, though this morning was not a great one I at least know that the sky is indeed not falling.
I like to escape into a good book or even a good movie. But sometimes that escape becomes something else. It becomes more than a reprieve. It becomes hiding and numbing. The desire to numb and distance myself from perceived darkness is sometimes a real problem.
I am much more aware of the lure of escaping to deeply. Of trying to numb myself out of what ever I am feeling. When I first started going to college and attending residencies four years ago hiding was high on my list of needs. At the time I did not handle being around large groups of people very well. (I am still not comfortable with it but I can stand it longer than I could then.) After about an hour it would feel like there was a hive of bees in my brain all buzzing simultaneously. Thinking, let alone responding, was always difficult. To keep the bees to a minimum I would hide in my room. I talked to friends and my beloved husband on the phone so that they could talk me through the darkness. And I hid in television shows I could watch on the internet. I spent the first residency reliving a good part of my childhood by watching the old Dark Shadows.
The next residency I came out a little more often. But managed to watch all of the first season of Bones. The following semester it was another show. I didn’t really get to know very many people. And very few people got to know me. Which was unfortunate since there were so very many wonderful people to get to know.
When I started the Psychology program I was going to do better. And even though I was fairly locked away during the first residency and didn’t talk to very many people I was definitely more present than I was before. After the first residency I made a decision to stop hiding and escaping and be with people. That was a very hard thing to do. The lure of escape is strong and overcoming it was really hard. But I did. I talked to people and did not hide in my room as much and actually ate with people in the cafeteria and talked even more. WOW! It was amazing.
I still want to go run to my room and hide and not talk to people and the bees still show up. But I am not hiding as much in the rest of my life as well. I am trying to be present. To allow others in to my life and be open to new experiences. As long as I have chocolate nearby I think anything is possible. Perhaps I should work on my dependency on Chocolate next? Nope, I think that one stays.