These past four months have been some of the most intense, hectic, stressful, and occasionally boring months of my life, up to this point. Short bursts of intense activity centered around keeping our heads above water, feeding ourselves, getting to class, and paying the bills, followed by long periods of hunkering down with minimal resources and an increasing set of demands – it’s enough to drive anybody a little bit crazy. It’s also enough to give even the most weak-willed, spoiled person a sense of perspective and help them tap into reserves of inner strength they might never have known they had.
I have learned a lot this semester, not the least of which is the information and skills of my new major. In baking, not only am I learning about gluten development, the life and times of yeastly critters, or how to vary the same eight to ten ingredients enough ways to create an unlimited number of delicious baked goods, but I’m learning how to work in a group. I’m learning when to take charge and when to step back, accept somebody else’s superior skills and knowledge, and do the butt work for an hour or so.
But some of the most important lessons, the moments that shine the brightest or throw me into what can feel like the darkest of abysses (that seems like a word which should never be plural), are not about school, although it is through having stepped up my game and making school my absolute first priority in life that has led me to them. Here is some of what I have learned, in list form, because transitions suck:
1. I’m not perfect, but that doesn’t mean that everyone I ever meet is judging me harshly and deeming me unworthy.
It is possible to step outside of your own brain and attempt to interpret what other people think of you, but more often than not, they’re not thinking of you. They’re thinking of the stressful day they’ve had, or the dream they had last night, or the hours they’re not getting at work. They’re thinking about what they’re going to do when they get a moment to themselves, or about how silly or awesome they feel, or the dentist appointment they have next Tuesday.
You’re the one thinking about yourself, and if your thoughts are centered around the idea that other people are thinking awful thoughts about you, that means you’re thinking awful thoughts about you. It’s important to be kind to yourself, not only because it decreases your stress and makes you happier, but because when you’re kind to yourself, it shows. Other people might not be thinking about you, but they are affected by your moods and your attitude.
In a similar vein, doing something that you think is awesome makes you awesome because you recognize it. When somebody else doesn’t see that or praise you for it, that doesn’t mean they’re blind and incapable of seeing how nifty you are. It doesn’t mean it wasn’t as awesome as you thought and it doesn’t mean they’re judging you. Be as pleased with yourself as you like, but don’t expect other people to worship the ground you walk on. It can be hard to admit to being so self-centered as all of this, but it’s true, and the people who are most at peace with their self-centered emotions tend to be most at peace with other peoples’ self-centered emotions, and end up being incredibly loving and peaceful people.
At least, that’s the theory I’m going with these days.
2. No matter how screwed you feel, you still have room to be happy and relax.
I finally got a job late in November. Up until this week, I’ve had between 4 and 8 hours a week (thanks to covering a sick co-workers shift, I got twelve hours this week, and am officially scheduled for 18 hours next week, so things are definitely looking up). My roommate, Metcalf, is in about the same boat, and Jon still can’t find a place that will give him an interview, much less hire him. We’re lucky in that we’re friends with a woman who owns a farm and has irregular work for him to do. Still. We’re behind on bills. We’re behind on rent. It seems like every time we get a little bit of money, it comes in one hand and goes right out the other, and despite the fact that we don’t see it long enough to recognize it’s there and it goes straight to necessities, we’re still in debt. We’re still behind. It’s still not enough.
People around us are unhappy, depressed, and making stupid life decisions left and right. People we care about are behaving self-destructively, and a lot of the time, there is nothing we can do to help them. One of our friends was about to make an incredibly healthy decision to go out of state for help with her mental illness – it was a move we were so proud of her for making. And her insurance ended up not working out at the last minute, and now she’s taken what seems to be a nosedive into destructive decision-making. It’s hard to be angry at and worried about somebody at the same time. It’s hard to be angry on their behalf and at them at the same time. Digression aside, the point here is that…
I am very stressed. Jon is very stressed. Metcalf is very stressed. Hera is stressed because the apartment’s not big enough for her energy. We let her outside as often as possible, but it’s still not enough and it’s not what we want for her. If you can’t tell, I’m stressing myself out right now writing about how stressed we are.
It could, of course, be worse. And counting my blessings is certainly a method I use to relax. But there are other things, too.
We still find time and ways to laugh and joke around, to enjoy each others’ company and enjoy the company of our friends. In high school, when I was stressed, I was stressed. I was obsessed with being stressed, and would find the littlest of reasons to sink into weeks-long bouts of unhappiness and moodiness. At the slightest provocation, my life became a tragedy of the most epic proportions. In short, I wasn’t very pleasant. But it took me an embarrassingly long time to see that, to get my head out of my ass, to even realize that’s where my head was to begin with.
I guess I really like the comfort of my own internal waste system, because I still find my head in my ass quite often. This life, though, has made it a lot easier to recognize the smell of excrement. Despite my brain soaking in a hot-tub of cortisol, I am one happy camper. I am in love. I have incredible friends, an incredible major, and an incredible family. Nothing helps you see that more clearly than some time in the pit of poverty.
3. Being in love and effectively loving somebody are two entirely different things.
I have been in love a couple of times. In high school, I loved Tristan Butcher with that aching intensity that makes you think, what with your head being up your own ass and all, that you’re the only person ever who has truly loved anyone. Then, I loved Krista Haman. I learned the taste of unrequited love and became so enamored of it that, quite frankly, I lost sight of my best friend and drove a wedge between us that is still there to this day. Later, I loved Devin Webb. I bought him everything. I spent so much money on him I could have fed a family of four for a year and a half with his gifts. After that, I loved Jon.
I was with him for a year and a half, though, before, with wide-eyed naivete, I began to think to myself, Oh, I love this man. Maybe I should go to extra mile every once in awhile to think about his point of view and try to figure out what makes him happy.
So, yeah. Sometimes I think about what might have happened if I’d never come to understand the difference between being in love and actually expressing love effectively. My inability to understand this concept for so long has distanced me from numerous family members and friends. In trying to make up for it, I am sometimes boggled by the immensity of the task before me. The damage I might have caused had I not opened my eyes, the damage I might still cause just because habits are so hard to break… it’s mind-boggling.
And it only takes a simple thing to make you learn the lesson. We’re dead broke, but Jon’s childlike happiness and ability for immense joy in his hobbies and activities led me to genuinely, truly, always want to see him happy. All it really took was that special gleam in his eyes, and my whole world-view changed. (Actually, that lesson was sparked just a year ago, but the ramifications are still reverberating throughout every area of my life today, and have been especially important these past few months.)
4. Every decision you make will cause you doubt. There is no path you can take with 100% certainty – definitely not when you’re a person like me.
I used to think that if I searched hard enough for the right passion, that if I tried enough things, that I would someday, eventually, find the pursuit that would be my true and lasting joy. I still don’t think this is a bad idea – but to me, the way I believed I would know the accurateness of the path would be the absence of doubt.
I’d take up a new hobby, switch my major, wobble back and forth over whether or not I was with the right person or had the right friends, over whether I was going to the right school or eating the right way or dressing the right way or… whatever, and I’d believe that someday I’d come upon the perfect combination of activities and methods of life and I would stop doubting anything, ever again. (At this point, I ask everyone to take a moment of silence for anyone who has ever loved me – these people are brave and amazing in so many ways. That they have put up with me for so long, while I’ve been so blind and childish, fills me with warmth and the desire to give them everything. There are no words to express how incredibly patient and tolerant these people must be. xD)
Of course, this isn’t true. Especially when my ‘doubts’ come at just about every moment I don’t do something 100% perfectly. I gave up writing for a long time after somebody told me something my English teachers never had – that I had a shit ton of room to grow. I was used to being told I was the best in the class. So the first voice of reason stopped me in my tracks, and I threw away writing like it was a grenade in my hand. I doubt myself in baking when I have to throw out the creme anglaise and start again – creme anglaise having an incredible precise temperature range. I doubt myself when Jon and I have a fight, and our lack of perfection as a couple punches me in the face. I doubt myself when I’m not 100% sure about somebody’s tone.
In short, I’m one of the most highly sensitive people you will ever meet.
I can’t change how sensitive I am. However, I can work on being able to tolerate doubt, and move forward in spite of it. I doubt, often, that I am going to get out of Ohio, or that I am going to find any semblance of a life in which I am happy. But the thing is, I’m happy now, and if I can be happy when I’m under this much stress, I believe I am capable of learning how to be happy in any situation. Maybe that’s a big claim considering life could be a lot worse, but I do believe it. And when I have doubts… well, I can tolerate a little bit of doubt.
It just comes down to making a decision and sticking with it.
So that’s a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about this semester. I’m not great at sharing details and stories from my life, but this semester has had such an incredible impact on me, I thought I’d at least try. So, I guess the main thing to carry away here is…
Try not to live with your head up your ass. It gets lonely up there.
Edit: Oh jeebus effing Christ on a stick. I tried to post this, and it was GONE. I spent about five minutes wibbling at the screen, then another three researching to see if there was anything I could do to save it. Thanks to WordPress’s WONDERFUL ‘Screen Options’, I was able to find previous drafts that had been autosaved and save the post. So, thank you WordPress, for not putting one hell of a damper on my afternoon. : )