Dare You To Move

For whatever reason, Switchfoot’s “Dare You to Move” keeps playing in my head lately. I guess it started during one of the days recently when I was camped out in a cozy nest on my couch, trying deperately to make myself get up and go to the bathroom or the kitchen or get the mail or anything formerly trivial but, since I was essentially rendered paralized by Covid for a week, I couldn’t. It was pretty painful just to exist – even my skin hurt so much that a shirt sleeve rubbing against my arm felt like a million pin pricks. When I walked more than a few steps, the incredible pain in my lower back and legs was both bizarre and overwhelming. It felt like I was made of cement, heavy and immovable yet also illogically wobbly. And it winded me! One day I took out the trash and that 2 minute adventure made me so bloody tired, that I came inside, fell onto my bed with my shoes still on, and slept for 45 minutes. On one hand, it’s a blessing that I lasted nearly three years without getting it and I am eternally grateful that vaccines kept me from experiencing the lung and taste and smell issues of early Covid, and that took the lives of so many people, some of whom I loved and grieved deeply. On the other hand, I wish so badly that I had made time to get my second booster so I wouldn’t have had to experience it at all.

The whole Covid experience is too much to rehash. One of the only comforts was going on Reddit and finding dozens of other people who had the same concoction of bizarre symptoms and in the same nonsensical order, and the same insanely unpleasant side effects of Paxlovid and tips to get past them. It made me feel less crazy and less alone. We all know I love a normalizing moment.

Another comfort though was the number of people who regularly checked in on me. I am not someone who likes asking for help or admitting weakness or acknowledging loneliness to the people in my real world. But I was forced to while I had Covid. It is scary and humbling to live alone when you are so sick. The first two days were so tremendously awful and terrifying that I actually considered whether death might be more palatable. I could barely walk, I had full body goosebumps and tremors even while I was sweating through my clothes, I had too many bathroom adventures to count, my head was full of nothing but snot and pressure, and I nearly passed out in public twice on the day I walked a mile to get a PCR test. I have never felt so small and needy and helpless in my life. And yet, when I called, my friends picked up. They helped. They gave tips from when they had it (Vick’s shower tabs are essentially heaven, btw). They sent Postmates and Instacart. And more than one of them texted. Every. Single. Day. As awful and gross as it was, I also felt loved.

It felt really nice. And refreshing.

It took me a really long time and so much unnecessary frustration to find her but the time that I have spent talking with my therapist over the past several months has almost been worth the struggle to find mental help. Of the many, many things we’ve talked about and tried to unpack and work through, one of the things I am most grateful for is her helping me to be more proactive with my friendships. I am still on the fence on the chicken-and-egg of whether I have always been a loner or, if due to growing up shy coupled with recurring emotional trauma over the decades, my independence and solitude have become learned and protective behaviors.

As I’ve shared a few times before, although I obviously have memories of childhood and high school and everything pre-college, I underwent a significant change in who I am and how I show up in the world somewhere around the age of 21 or 22. It’s difficult for me now, at 43, to remember much about the person I was before that shift. I objectively know that I was shy and quiet and sweet and demure and naive and Christian, and also a doormat. It’s just that I look back on that time, that period where everything shifted, when I found my voice and my backbone and a modicum of self-confidence, and I feel a mixture of both pride and regret. I am proud of who I am and who I have grown to be. While there were obviously external influences along the way, and pockets of rich friendships and formative experiences, I did most of that changing by daring myself to … move. On my own. I did it through conscious choices more than circumstance and, eventually, after I dared myself to speak up, show up, participate, reach higher, engage … eventually, those thoughts became actions became habits became character.

The regret part comes into play, niggling at the back of my heart and feeling a bit too close to shame most times, when I am faced with situations where perhaps I have become too bold, too outspoken, too brash, too honest, too brave, too intense, too passionate, too vulnerable, too comfortable. Sure, some of that is insecurity rearing up from the depths of my past self, an innate self-consciousness that lives vividly within my inner child. She calls out sometimes to remind me of how much I have always craved belonging because I never quite felt like I fit anywhere for the first half of my life. Once I found my place, I am not sure that I fully lived there, at least not to the fullest that I could. But I operated in that space and I did it well.

The majority of the past nearly twenty years have been spent devoted wholly and passionately to my work. I LOVE MY WORK. As a high school counselor for twelve and now as the director of pre-college and scholarship programs for the last five, I have gotten to play the most rewarding and fulfilling roles I could imagine. That isn’t to say that it was easy. On the contrary, there is plenty of evidence in the words on these pages that, in fact, there has been a lot of tribulation and disappointment, a lot of crushing heart ache, and so much literal blood, sweat, tears, and mental and emotional anguish. And YET, at least once a week, I still receive an email or a comment or a phone call that I add to the literal and figurative “smile file.” I have always felt seen, loved, and valued by my students, their families, and a lot of my colleagues, in ways that are unmatched in my personal life by a mile. And I know that this could sound a bit sad, that so much of my identity is bound up in my career, but similar to my penchant for solitude, I just don’t really know how much of it is innate and how much has been a learned, adaptive behavior, born from emotional necessity and self preservation.

That brings me back to cultivating friendships. My therapist and I have talked a lot about grief, loss, and rejection, specifically as it relates to what I experienced with John but also generally as I have exerienced, collected, and kept saddled to my being for as long as I can remember. As a child, several of my earliest memories are of loss. As a teenager, I felt rejection and exclusion so fully that they are like a velcro blanket over that time period, covering and clinging to the memories so tightly that I can’t separate them. As a college student and early 20-something, I felt both extreme lows and extreme highs in terms of belonging and self-identity. And as an independent adult over the past 17 years in DC, I have lost almost every close friend I’ve had to physical distance, marriages, mother/fatherhood, or job changes and, without exception, have been rejected or betrayed by every man I’ve dated. I have never been anyone’s number one, be it romantic, friendship, or family relationships. Every other person in my life has someone who is or becomes more important to them than me. I love that they have that love, but I am also jealous and envious and sad that I don’t. My family is the only true constant, but even some of those relationships have morphed and thinned in ways I did not anticipate, feel regret for not preventing, and wish were like they used to be.

Losses and emotional traumas are the fenceposts between which all the rest of my life has been strung. Some of those distances are spanned with solid, relatively unscathed streches of electrical wire, while a lot of others are bent, broken, tangled and in need of repairs of various magnitudes so that the pulse can flow through them. I think it’s probably possible to mend some of those stretches – at least in the ways that they still affect me. There are some stretches though that are always going to be rough and you’ll feel the jolt of the current if you get too close. I grew up on a farm; fence posts and broken fences and gates left open and electrical shocks were part of my normal childhood days. I know that even when you repair a stretch, it’s weaker in that spot unless you replace the whole damn thing.

Obviously, I can’t get a do-over on this life. I can’t go back in time and make different choices, walk through different doors, choose a different career or man, or see how things could have turned out if I’d been less bashful and more confident, if I hadn’t experienced some of the loss and violation I did as a tiny kid, if my trust and compassion hadn’t been broken and abused by people who should have been better humans. Although I have spent far too much time allowing myself to daydream or wallow in the sliding doors moments, depending on my mood or the season, I objectively know this isn’t possible.

My therapist asked me to write this week about unrequited love. This came from an observation I made after saying how nice it felt to feel cared for by friends while I was down and out with Covid. She asked why I thought it felt like people were more concerned and supportive when I was physically in crisis versus a year ago when I was experiencing emotional crisis. I told her that was an easy answer: I confided in more people. She asked why and I initially said because it’s easy to just simply text someone and say ‘I have Covid, it feels awful,’ when most of them have already experienced it, versus having to have a significant conversation full of emotional landmines and unknowns to explain what happened and formulate words for how it felt to people who haven’t experienced anything like it.

She pushed back because she’s good at her job. Of course my explanation is true but also, a year ago, I did not have some of the significant people in my life that I do now, I wasn’t as close to some of the ones I did have, and I made very little effort to cultivate or water those friendships, new or old.

She has been challenging me to try to take ownership of both my aloneness and my loneliness by making an intentional effort to be a friend and seek community. Specifically, to be less alone in my world. In some ways, I feel like the timid and polite 20 year old sitting in my Anatomy & Physiology class junior year with a bully of a professor and, exasperated and frustrated by the inequity, finally just daring myself to speak up and stand up and not be intimidated. Now though, I am daring myself to reach out to friends instead of wishing they would reach out to me. I feel like I used to be better at this or at least more natural but, now I actively send up smoke signals in the form of texts or even (gasp!!) occasional phone calls. I check in, I share more things, and I initiate physical time with people I like but also intentionally suggest things I like … concerts, dinner, HH, outdoor things, nerdy talks and live shows, etc. I am definitely one of those people for whom the snarky t-shirts “Sorry I’m late. I didn’t want to come.” exist. Except, I abhor being late and loathe flakiness so I usually either say no from the first suggestion -or- I make myself go but I really, really don’t want to and spend the preceeding days & nights wishing I had said no. If I suggest things I want to do, with people I like, that reluctance and dread leading up to things is much less crippling.

I know all of that is partially anxiety and introversion, but it’s also partly because I have grown so accustomed to being by myself, on my own, with no accountability for my time, that the idea of COMMITTING to something or someone that I’m not jazzed about is really difficult. So, I’m trying to be more proactive and it’s been helpful and, in most cases, enjoyable. When I suggest something and the other person isn’t free or doesn’t want to or flakes or whatver, there is definitely still an irrational level of disappointment and rejection and a reluctance to do it again. And I still feel slighted or excluded when I see on social media that suburban friends are in the city, less than a mile away, with their kids or something and don’t bother to tell me or invite me. I know that’s kind of silly and self-centered and they have every right to do things with whomever, whenever they want but I’m admitting that I still have to work through why it always hurts. I’m trying. It’s a work in progress. I’m daring myself to move. Again.

.

One year ago tonight, probably at exactly this time, I opened this laptop to write in this blog about a man I loved who was (allegedly) suddenly moving to another city and ending or at least changing what I thought was my best, most significant, most loving relationship of more than three years. What I found instead shattered me and blew up all the pieces of my life that I thought made sense. I didn’t know what to trust or believe, including my own mind.

I cannot say I am fully back to good. There are parts of this stretch of fence that will never be repaired without a significant weak point or two, and an electrical pulse that jumps and pops if you get too close, but I am moving. I no longer feel suffocating pain or crushing sadness. I still feel disbelief and anger and I still thirst for retribution and ache for resolution and long for any indication of remorse or contrition. I am less empathetic in some ways and more so in others. I have completed a grad program in management and gained a multitude of new connections, a community in which I not only belonged but thrived, and a couple of GREAT friends I can’t believe that I didn’t know this time last year. I no longer feel empathy for the other woman; I feel pity that she doesn’t respect herself enough to walk away but that is also not my business. I accept now that I did the best I could to help my fellow woman and I cannot fix stupid.

I have dared myself to date, dared myself to trust, dared myself to give men a chance, dared myself to keep seeing men that I wanted to run from too early because I’m scared and gun-shy, and I have dared myself to walk away from (stoopidly attractive) men who were far less than I deserve. I am learning to recognize that what some men give is only crumbs and I do not have to accept it just because I’m hungry. I still don’t like being hungry but I’m trying to find ways to fill the void, even if it’s not through a romantic connection.

I have some renewed insecurities that I thought I repaired a few times before but, again, those repair points aren’t ever as strong as they once were, and there are days when I do not see the point in trying to find belonging and feel overwhelmed by self-pity and hopelessness. And yet … I am also tougher, more discerning, less blindly compassionate, more comfortable being vulnerable (beyond writing in an anonymous blog), and have made a serious commitment to and impactful strides toward being mentally healthy and protecting my peace. And yes, medication has been a game changer.

Heading into another winter, I am anxious and trying not to let the sads creep in just yet. It’s a daily battle this time of year. But I am still here; there were days and a lot of nights in the past year where I prayed that I wouldn’t be. I did not want to be. There are less of those nights less frequently now.

It isn’t perfect. I still feel many of the emotions I felt on this night a year ago, but most of them are relatively dull more often than not. There are days when I am proud of me and there are days when I feel like the climb is too high.

But I wake up every morning and I dare myself to move.

“I dare you to move
I dare you to lift
Yourself up off the floor

I dare you to move
I dare you to move
Like today never happened”

Dare You to Move – Switchfoot

Spring in these pale blue eyes

Not all days are cloudy. This has been a gorgeous weekend full of sunshine, blooms, reconnecting with old friends, and peace.

Wildly entertained by these too-tall irises
😌
Cannot get enough of these bursting roses & ranunculus

I wish there were more of these soft and sweet days and that they could last longer. I know that’s the nature of life – the ebb and flow. Every spring, always after the spring solstice, when the evening walks home still have bright rays of daylight and then some, there is always a point when I can almost viscerally feel the fog clear. The clouds break. The warmth of the sun penetrates into my soul and allows me to take a deep, cleansing breath. It isn’t permanent. It still takes a while to get back to homeostasis, to a more constant state of “up,” but there is nothing like that first deep, unlabored, freeing breath.

In these mellow, reflective, grateful moments, especially after a period of being sucked so far down into the grey depths, I think of that old Velvet Underground song.

“Sometimes I feel so happy

Sometimes I feel so sad”

Music for the Mood: Pale Blue Eyes – The Velvet Underground

Beauty in the cold

I don’t see the point of cold without snow. Even the grey days have a bit of beauty when everything is covered in white. Sunny ones are always better. These are from my folks — not exactly my DC view. I don’t mind longing for the cold and often endless grey of this place, because it envelops me with warmth.

Remember when the perfunctory doldrums of winter were the only things I had to write about? Never dreamed I’d miss those times.

Music for the Mood: Cold Weather Music – Muddy Waters

Christmas Eve will find me

Where the love light gleams. I’m home for Christmas, that part is true. But it does feel a bit like a dream. I’m not completely here but I’d really like to be. After all, time is precious. I want to soak up the time I have left with my parents. All of it.

I sat in Christmas Eve church with my parents this evening. I believe in g/God about as much as I believe in elves at this point in my life but I went because it’s tradition and, although technically unspoken, very evident that my mother’s Christmas wish includes going to Christmas Eve church with whichever of her children may be home. All of four people in a congregation of about 150-200 were wearing masks, and two below their noses. This is a redneck (and red), steel mill and farming town. The virus is wholly and completely political here. It’s maddening but it is what it is. I was prepared for this earlier when I pasted on a smile, put down my book, curled my hair, and agreed to get in the car to go along.

My brother is also home this year, which is always welcome, but was doing husband duties with one of the three houses required in his in-law-visits any time they are home. Marrying a gal from our hometown when he lives 10hrs away should/could have been great but, a gal from a split home, with a grown brother who is also a single dad … there’s a lot going on. And those obligations always seem to get priority. We are an accommodating family by nature. So we take my brother when we can get him. It’s been eleven years. We are used to taking the leftovers and being authentically grateful.

Christmas church (like Christmas songs and movies) makes me nostalgic rather than joyful. And I always tear up during the service more than once, regardless of heartache (past or present). The poinsettias on the altar are always “in memory of” my grandparents and my uncle. I have no memories of my grandfather, who died the year I was born, but my grandma and my uncle were a daily part of my life until I left for college. We all lived on the same farm land. I saw them every day. And in 2002/3, I lost both of them, on that farm, within six months of each other. I have no shortage of childhood emotional trauma. But I was in my early 20s then and those losses felt different than the things that had come before. Insurmountable, really. I also lost both of them mere months before my first heartbreak. 2003 was an awful, awful year. And I cannot help but reflect on it every time I’m sitting on the hard, wooden church pew on Christmas Eve, looking at the flowers in honor of my family, staring up at the rafters of a beautiful narthex that served as backdrop for so much of my formative spiritual and social development, and listening to hymns that I can still almost viscerally hear my grandmother singing next to me. Though I haven’t actually heard her voice or felt her arms in nearly 20 years.

I also look around at all the familiar faces, but with more wrinkles and inches and shades of grey. The couples I remember as a child — often now permanently missing one part of what I always assumed would be an eternal pair. And “kids” who were toddlers when I was in youth group, are now balding, with beer bellies, mirror images of their dads & moms, with adolescent and even teenage children of their own. It’s always a little bizarre. As if I’m in some Scrooge-like vision of the future, only, I’m no longer a teenager or even a college kid. And yet, I’ve been experiencing this same future version of actual reality since I was in college. As if I’ve been watching life go by as reflected in everyone but myself, one Christmas Eve service at a time.

Sure, I notice that I am older. Obviously I see that I am 42 when I look in the mirror. And it is never lost on me that I am still “the single kid” tagging along with my parents to Christmas church, to family functions, to everywhere. I hate it. I’ve always hated it. I’ve always felt like an other. The years have passed but that feeling hasn’t.

It was so hard seeing the family of distant cousins in front of us, the parents about 15 years younger than mine, their three children, who farm the hillside across from ours, all married within the past five years, all with small children of their own. And tonight, the two boys, both with new baby boys of their own, only a couple months apart. We watched them coo and gurgle and smile from a few pews away. It makes me feel guilty not to be able to give that to my parents; they would be the world’s greatest grandparents! I think they were born for those roles. And yet, my brother and his wife seem content with just their dog. And me? I’m not content right now but I am trying to be. I try to play up my career and the fulfillment it gives me and downplay the singleness in any given year, but especially this year. This most recent bout of unbelievable betrayal is kind of too hard for me to fake.

I am grateful to be home, surrounded by people I love. But I am struggling a bit. I’m struggling to keep the melancholy at the periphery, to stay present, to stay gracious and patient. At this, the “happiest” time of the year.

Is this what he wanted? Is this the end game he hoped for? To shred the confidence and certainty and trust of someone who selflessly gave to him, and then when the illusion is broken, when his façade has been stripped away, he takes comfort in knowing that somewhere, two months later, that other someone is still sitting around wondering how they could have been so blind? Why they are spending yet another Christmas alone? While he’s spending his first Christmas Eve as a married man, to a woman I never knew existed.

If only in my dreams, right? That’s how the song goes so maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and it will have all been a dream. Maybe, like Scrooge, I’ll get to wake up tomorrow and it will be twenty years ago and I’ll be able to get it right this time.

Music for the Mood: I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Michael Bublé

The good prevails

It’s during times like these that I wonder what my life is about. I work. I come home. I walk, I watch tv, I listen to music, I cook (sometimes), I play mindless games on my phone, or I read. Occasionally I go out with friends. But mostly, I feel like I just exist.

Tonight I got a text from a former student. One of my favorites. I have so many, really. But this one … he has continued to make me proud from nearly the day I met him. He makes me feel grateful.

Grateful to have an impact on the lives of young people. Their success is my success. I receive so much joy from watching them grow and stretch and become who they want to be. If I can play any infinitesimally small part in that growth, I am immeasurably happy. These are the moments I need to hold on to.

Throughout my career in education, people have told me time and again that it is a thankless job. That you rarely, if ever, get to see the seeds you plant grow & thrive. I have never felt that way. I have always felt loved, appreciated, and valued by my kids. I have so many “smile file” memories and moments. At least monthly, even though I haven’t been working in a school in four years.

There have been tragedies and unspeakable things, and always the routine frustrations and bureaucracy of a school and the American education system. But even in the trenches, you have a family. A cadre of educators who are all fighting together for the collective good. Some better than others. But for me? I always felt like I mattered.

Outside of my work, I can scarcely remember a time, maybe with the exception of my parents, when I have felt that same level of value, of importance, of significance. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all do that for each other, in all contexts?

That’s a world I want to live and love in. Where good always prevails.

Mood music: Times Like These – Foo Fighters (acoustic)