When I moved into my new apartment I had to learn to get used to quiet again. The first night I was here, it wasn’t my apartment that was loud; it was the silence. Even with the hum of the fan that was cooling off my exhausted body after a day of moving, I could feel myself growing more and more anxious. I could feel my body tensing up.
Not from being alone in a new place…
Not from the reality of the changes that were happening in my life…
I was anxious and tense with anticipation.
As I laid in bed, I kept waiting for the clatter of dumpsters, the sound of a car zooming down the street, the nightly song of the ice cream truck, the echoing laughing from the alley, the neighbors playing music at a ridiculous volume. Instead, all I could hear was the fan and the sound of my own thoughts ringing in my ears as though someone had shouted them through a megaphone. It took a few nights before I got used to the silence. Now I get into bed and that physical tension is gone, but laying there in the silence still causes an internal tension.
It has taken me a while but I realized the other day that for the last few months I’ve been in a state of constant tension, always ready to react to the slightest change, determined to not be caught off guard by the next series of unfortunate events. Yet, the last few weeks have been full of so many positives. A new apartment. A new job. A new computer. But that tension is still there. I haven’t been able to shake that anxious anticipation. To be cliche, I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Over the years, I ingrained in myself the idea that I should never expect good and always be prepared for the worst. It is part of the reason why I struggle so much to trust people and why it hurts me more deeply than it probably should when someone breaks that trust. But it also means that when things seem to be going well in my life, I start becoming anxious and start constantly looking over my shoulder, metaphorically, just waiting for the first sign that things are about to go downhill… As a result, I am terrible about just living in the moment.
What goes up, must come down, and if the piano is going to crash down on my head, I’d rather see it coming. Unfortunately, this also means that I am actually more accustomed to living in tension, living in that anxious anticipation of the next roadblock or falling piano, than I am at enjoying the good of the present. And more unfortunately, there have been enough truly negative experiences in my life that I can somewhat justify that manner of living, but truthfully it is not how I or anyone else should have to live.
For tonight, though, despite my best efforts, I’m living in the anxious tension and it sucks… It really sucks… But even with the internal tension, I am grateful for the calm and quiet of my apartment. I am grateful to be able to sit in my chair or lay in bed and have a quiet physical space as I work to bring the shouting in my head to a mummer. And I am especially grateful for the quiet that lets me write, something I haven’t been able to do for a long time.
What goes up, doesn’t always come down. At least not right away. Sometimes unexpectedly getting hit on the head with an apple is worth soaking in the beauty and joy of the present moment. And even though my head is craning up toward the sky, I’m working to bring my gaze back to the world in front of me.
Well, it’s been a while since I’ve logged into my blog, much less written anything. My summer has been… more chaotic than I was expecting. This is the “here’s the update on my life for the people who are curious” blogpost since there’s been a lot of change in my life in the last few months.
First, I’ve moved into a new apartment. It wasn’t something I was expecting to do at the beginning of the summer, but it happened and it was a major financial drain and stress inducer at the time. I’m living alone (adding to the additional finances), but my apartment is decent, my rent is as affordable as you can get for living up here, and I’m re-adjusting to living on my own again. For better or worst, I’m still in the same neighborhood as before (Rogers Park), though I’m in a residential parking zone (hello additional $25 expense a year), which has made my Rogers Park parking issues mostly go away. I haven’t had to park more than 2 blocks away from my apartment since moving in and 98% of the time, I’ve gotten a spot directly in front of my apartment building. So, that’s made things feel a bit safer when parking at night. An interesting surprise since moving in has been my inability to sleep past 6:30am, and really most mornings I’ve woken up anytime between 5am-6am. Don’t get me wrong, I still need a strong cup of coffee before anyone would want to speak with me. However, it has been nice to be able to sit and watch tv for a bit, or get a few things done in the morning before going to work.
Ah, I should probably also mention that I have a new job.
In an attempt to shorten a long story, with having to move semi-suddenly and then having my computer die (more on that later), finding a way to supplement my income became a must. As it happened, the person who was serving as the assistant to the Communications Office and Alum Relations Office (1 full time job working part time in one office and part time in the other), took a job at another institution. Originally, I applied for the full-time position, but before it got to the interview portion of the hiring process, the supervisors made the decision to move the job into two part-time positions. At that point, I did the obvious thing – I applied for the part-time position in the Communications Office. If you didn’t know, I’ve been the student worker in the Communication’s Office since I started seminary in the fall of 2010. Saying I’m familiar with the office and the work it requires is an understatement.
Well, I’m happy to say that this past Monday, I started as the Communications Coordinator for the Communications Office at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (longest. title. ever.) I work three days a week, earn more per hour than I did as a student worker, and I get some vacation and sick days. I’m very excited about my new position and not just for the pay. I’ve loved working in the Communications Office the last nearly four years and this position will let me do and learn more than I could as a student worker. I am, now, a part-time staff member of the seminary, complete with a staff ID, my own phone number, and keys. My supervisor is also fantastic and we’ve worked really well together for the last four years. While a full-time job would have been great, a part-time position works out well, not just for the office, but for me as well. It will be much easier to stay a full-time student with a part-time job than it would a full-time job. What that will mean a year from now once my course work is finished is a problem for a year from now.
And now we segue into my academic life.
I don’t know how many actually knew this, but last Spring I had to unexpectedly change advisors. During my MDiv, this wouldn’t have been a big deal, but when your advisor in the MTS program is also the one who works with you on your thesis (big, super important paper), it is a very big deal who your advisor is for that process. Because of how sabbaticals were working out for the theology faculty, the advisor I was assigned to – who is fantastic and I would enjoy working with – will be on sabbatical this coming Spring, which means she would not be the one who would read my final version of the thesis and approve it. The difficulty with working with different people at different stages of your thesis is that the suggested edits and resources by one professor would be different from another. Every faculty member has their research passions and inevitable, those passions influence their suggestions and recommendations for their advisees thesis or disseratation. Normally, this is great, but that is not always the case when you have to take on the passions of two different people are two different stages of your thesis process.
The plan my current advisor and I had devised was that I would spend this summer doing all of my research and outlining, so that when classes started I would be able to do and finish my writing before she left on sabbatical in December. That was a very doable plan and we were both confident, though she was a little more so, that I could do this successfully. Then summer happened. When I found out I was going to have to move, all of my energy went into finding a place to live (which proved more difficult than I wanted). During this time, my computer died and since money for moving was my top priority, I couldn’t afford to replace it right away. There was also a number of things that were happening at that time which took away my focus and energy. Needless to say, nothing was done in the way of researching and outlining my thesis. It is only just now where I am finding myself in a space physically and mentally to be able to give my academic work the attention it needs.
I met with my advisor yesterday and she was very understanding of my situation and since there was never an actual requirement I finish by December, this wasn’t the end of the world. We sat and talked and reevaluated things in light of my new job and the reality that I am very burnt out academically. The plan, as of right now, is that I’ll begin to do my research, outlining, and all that good stuff so that I can still present a thesis proposal this semester in MTS Colloquium and my current advisor will continue to work with me as I refine research and begin outlining. I will get a new advisor in the spring, and I already know who that person will be, though since they are currently on sabbatical, I won’t be able to speak with them until January about my thesis. And for those counting, that will mean I’ll be on my 3rd advisor since starting my MTS. Oi vey.
Now, the big, semi-scary part of this. I’ve been clear to myself and others for a while now that I would not be applying for PhD programs right away. After graduating with the MTS, I was taking at a year, if not more, off to give myself a break and focus on working, paying off student loans, and finishing up the ordination process. What this means for my thesis is that I am not in a rush to be able to graduate in May 2015. The MTS program allows a person to finish all their coursework, which I will this year, and then you can write your thesis during the next year. It wouldn’t be any extra hours that I have pay for, though I would have to start paying back student loans and obviously I would be working full-time (most likely my current part-time job and I would take on an additional part-time job). However, it would also mean that I could spend that year focusing on getting my research done and be able to adjust my research and focus based on my new advisors suggestions in the spring without the pressure to redo everything in a few weeks times. My new advisor would also be able to work more closely with me on the writing process during that year. In summary, this means that I would graduate in May 2016 with my MTS.
Graduating in 2016 is, in the big scheme of things, not a big deal. It is actually a fairly common thing for MTS students to do their thesis after they finish their coursework and utilize that extra year to focus intently on the thesis. What I have to work through for me, is not taking this is a sign of failure on my part. I’ve always a been a person who turns her work in on time. Who finishes things at the time she plans to finish them. I did my undergrad in the traditional 4 years. I did my MDiv in the traditional 3 years. I had every intention of finishing the MTS in the tradition 2 years. But in many ways, I have done those things on time with a sense of urgency. I wanted my BA ASAP, I wanted my MDiv ASAP, because, when I was UMC, the sooner I had those things accomplished, the sooner I could be ordained and do the work I felt called to do. What I’ve had to learn in the last year and a half is patience. My UCC ordination has many time requirements. One year of membership. Two years as a Member in Discernment. It doesn’t matter how “quickly” I finish my paperwork or how soon I do CPE, I am not eligible for ordination until, at minimum, two years from when I’m granted Member in Discernment status, which won’t happen until this fall at the earliest.
When I was talking with my advisor, I realized as I proposed graduating in 2016 and using the 2015-2016 academic year to work and write my thesis, what I was really wanting was the ability to slow down. To be able to spend this coming year working and enjoy work. To research and enjoy researching without the ungodly pressure to get. it. all. done. now. Because the truth is, I could get it all done, not by December but by May. I could write a thesis that would be approved, but I know I wouldn’t be happy with it in the long term. It wouldn’t be my best work. And if I’m going to spend the time writing an 80 page thesis, it is going to be my absolute best work. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve turned out really good work at the last minute. I’ve thrived on that for pretty much my entire academic career. For whatever reason, I can write good quality work under immense pressure and little sleep. But I don’t want my thesis to be that way. I want to write high quality work with the pressure that comes with writing something like a thesis, but I want to be able to enjoy it, to sit with it and mull over it, to be able to get feedback and do rewrites. I don’t want to write it all the week before it’s due. I want this process to stretch out so that I have room to breathe in the midst of all the reading and writing.
All of that said, if I have learned anything this summer, it is that plans don’t always work out the way you expect. Things change. Sometimes they suck but turn out better than expected. Sometimes they seem great and turn out to be a terrible thing. Sometimes they suck and continue to suck and sometimes they are great and continue to be great. But things change. Another thing I learned this summer, is that how you handle change tells you a lot about yourself. While I haven’t always handled change with grace, I learned this summer that when change happens, I’m no long afraid to ask for help. When change happens, I’m stronger than I thought I was. When change happens, I can come out of it with a few bruises and scraps and even a wounded heart, but I’m still standing, ready to face my new reality.
Today, things feel stable. I have an apartment. I have a job. I even now have a new computer. I’m ready get to work, in all the areas of my life. And inevitably, things will change, but I feel confident I’ll be able to face those changes and roll with the metaphorical punches.
When we last met our heroine (back at the end of November – seriously, I’m terrible at updating this thing), she had reemerged on the social media scene after a short absence. We’ve returned a few months later to find her… Okay, I’m done with the 3rd person. Hi, y’all. How’s everyone doing?
So, I’m still not going into tons of details about last semester, but I am in a strong enough place to say that I was very, very depressed and that sort of snowballed into the giant mess that was last semester, of which I am still feeling/dealing with its nasty after-effects. BUT, and perhaps this is the most important “but” in this blog, I am doing so much better now. Even if people can’t see it on the outside, internally, even though I’m probably just evening out on the emotional level most people function on, I feel like I’ve just won tickets to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter with my closest friends who are also obsessed with Harry Potter.
Okay, maybe not quite that much excitement, but it is sort of like an adrenaline rush after doing really well on a class presentation, only all I actually did was get out of bed after achieving a full night’s sleep. So, on the one level, that may give you a gage for how crappy I’ve felt for the past 4-5 months, but on the other hand, yay for being able to feel positive emotions again (!), even if what would normal level happiness for most people is feels double that for me right now. When you’ve been that low for that long, a 1 on the happiness scale feels like a 5 until things level out.
However, here’s how I know my depression is actually, really getting better -with the help of regular therapy and a wonderful support network. For the first time… well… ever… my thought the last few weeks or so when I’ve being treated or spoken to in some pretty hurtful ways was, “I’m worth more than this.”
If you know me at all, you know that I NEVER think things like that, no matter how terrible I am being/have been treated. So this isn’t a prima donna, privileged ego trip. Seriously, this is growth for me… And hopefully, eventually one day, I’ll get to the point where I can actually harness that belief, and verbalize my feelings out loud and not allow myself to be used, treated poorly, and run over by people… But baby steps, people. Baby steps.
I don’t fully know what is different this time around (though I have a few ideas). However, I do know the stars and planets have somehow aligned and I’m apparently doing the right combination of things with the right people to actually make genuine progress in my mental health. This is not to say I don’t still have my bad moments or days, because lord knows I do. But for the first time in a very, very long time, I feel like I’m in control of my depression and not the other way around. Everything about right now feels different from all the other times I did therapy and tried to get a handle on things. Though, to be honest, a part of me is wary of saying that just in case things suddenly start going downhill and I crash and burn everything and everyone around me (again)… Okay, obviously I still have a lot of work to do in the positive thinking department. Remember. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.
For now, though, I’m in a really good place. Things are still stressful, as per grad school usual, but this time around I know I really have a safety net below me and harness attached to my body. Even if I fall, this time around I won’t be crashing so hard, because I have people who love me that are watching out for me, I have weekly therapy so the net is there and ready, and I’m really starting to believe I deserve* to be safe, happy, and healthy.
* FYI, if you’re someone who doesn’t think I deserve** those things, please see your way out of my life… Does this count as standing up for myself, even though I’m like 95% sure anyone reading this would not be in the category of people who don’t think I deserve happiness and health? #babysteps
** Okay, yes, there is an entire philosophical/theological/ethical debate that could be had around if anyone “deserves” anything, especially happiness (Christian Moral Theology, coming back to haunt me again), but let’s just operate under the assumption that by “deserve” I mean that you don’t think I should be in a constant state of crippling depression, thus making my and others lives infinitely more unpleasant. If you do, please see asterisk 1. :)
I had written out a really, really long blog post explaining why I had deactivated my Facebook and withdrawn from social media, as well as withdrawing in “real life.” And then I slept on it and realized that if someone wants to know the reasons why, they can ask me in person. At most, I’ll say that this hasn’t been an easy semester, for a number of reasons and on a number of levels.
What I do want to say, since it is Thanksgiving, is that I’m grateful for the patience and compassion people have shown me during this time. I know it has been an especially frustrating time for a few people close to me who knew what has been going on and I owe them so much for sticking with me until I was able to get myself to the point of reaching out for help.
The last couple weeks have been me trying to take those slow, painful, first steps towards getting “better,” which now includes reactivating Facebook and being present again in the lives of my friends. I know that I’m not at 100% and won’t be for a while but I’m learning that being honest about where I am and how I am feeling is much more helpful than withdrawing or lying about how things are going.
On a related note, today I finished Allegiant, the final book in the Divergent trilogy, by Veronica Roth (I promise it’ll make sense in a minute and there are no spoilers) and there are three quotes from it that stuck with me. They are sort of like my reminders of the how and why I’m trying to get better:
There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone have you ever loved, for the sake of something greater
But sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.
That is the sort of bravery I must have now.
“Yeah, sometimes life really sucks,” she says. “But you know what I’m holding on for?”
I raise my eyebrows.
She raises hers, too, mimicking me.
“The moments that don’t suck,” she says. “The trick is to notice them when they come around.”
Since I was young, I have always known this: Life damages us, every one. We can’t escape that damage.
But now, I am also learning this: We can be mended. We mend each other.
You can partially blame Zayna for me coming back to social media since she introduced me to this series and it was when I finished Allegiant that I decided it was time to “be brave” and reactive my Facebook and swallow my fear of being present, and therefore vulnerable, with people again, both online and in real life. So, to everyone, I’m sorry for my absence, both virtually and in real life. I am truly grateful for each one of you and Happy Thanksgiving, friends.
God, grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change,
which is pretty much everyone,
since I’m clearly not you, God.
At least not the last time I checked.
And while you’re at it, God,
please give me the courage
to change what I need to change about myself,
which is frankly a lot, since, once again,
I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.
It’s better for me to focus on changing myself
than to worry about changing other people,
who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying,
I can’t change anyway.
Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up
whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter
than everyone else in the room,
that no one knows what they’re talking about except me,
or that I alone have all the answers.
grant me the wisdom
to remember that I’m
- James Martin, SJ, “A New Serenity Prayer”
I figured I need this after the last few particularly angst-filled posts on here… Lord in your mercy.