on safety nets and waiting

waitingThe waiting times
I’ve heard
are lessons
to learn – so far
I’ve learned:

uncertainty is hard.
It wears at the
netting that holds us
Above that infinite
chasm of ultimate
un-knowing.

I scribbled down the poem above in my journal a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to reflect on the ruthless anxiety that has spread out and seeped in over the past, seemingly endless few weeks. We were waiting to learn about job opportunities, grades, financial provisions, and family health concerns. We were waiting to see how much we’d have to change to accommodate all the changes we couldn’t control. And just as the pieces started falling into some sort of order, my car broke down – and we’re waiting for rides and parts and final bills.

Waiting is inconceivably difficult. You have no central control. You make decisions and ease transition by doing an awkward, breathless, side-stepping dance around the resolution itself.

I went through a period of waiting before where I practiced repeating:

Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart, and wait for the Lord.*

I don’t remember what I was waiting for. I only remember the verse. It’s a brilliant phrase for us, the waiting ones, because it gives us back a sliver of control: You have to actively respond to a command. You get to take a deep, heroic breath, hold your fist out in an intimidating pose toward the empty air in front of you and press on. You are legitimized in your struggle by the implication that waiting does take strength and willpower. Your internal voice that incessantly nags, “What are you whining about?” gets a hand held over its mouth and, for the second you’re reflecting, you feel strong again. You feel ok.

So you repeat it like an incantation. You redirect your waiting. You wait for the Lord to show up, God-willing, and work toward believing that the rest of it will show up, too.

*Psalm 27:14

image source: Waiting by Dr. Hugo Heyrman

follow through

Dry-and-Dying-Flower

My single greatest weakness is an inability to follow through.

It’s not apathy or distraction or immaturity. It’s debilitating fear.

I hate to do things I’m not good at. And if you tell me I’m not good at something, I have an unhealthy tendency to agree with you and shun my own perception.

Examples:

I love(d) to sing. I was in choir, sang at church, competed at vocal association conferences, toured with a high school worship band, and participated in my high school pageant. But then I didn’t get into my college’s school of music. And I wasn’t selected for the co-ed a Capella group. And the first church I attended in college had an inhospitable-bordering-on-hostile worship team. And the community choir was full of prima donnas and angry old women. And it slowly faded away until I stopped thinking of myself as a singer, until I started telling people, “I used to sing” and “this is what I did.” All in past tense, a resignation.

I like(d) to write poetry. It began in high school and grew wild and frequent by my sophomore year of college. I received positive feedback in my intro to poetry class. I published regularly on my blog. But then I didn’t get into poetry workshops. And I was convinced if was because my poetry didn’t stack up. And I write now, a little, but the inspiration comes slow, painfully, with trepidation. With boundaries and boxes and prompts only.

I like(d) customer service. I was great at small talk and banter. I was intuitive, useful, understanding. I recognized the challenges of navigating interactions with strangers in an environment of economic exchange – how awkward it can be to maintain politeness when you feel you’ve been wronged, embarrassed, treated inhumanely. But then I was told I wasn’t happy/charismatic/friendly enough to do customer service. That I was hard to read and seemed unenthusiastic. And it flew in the face of everything I perceived about myself in the context of my work environments. And it challenged my social relationships. Do I make a bad first impression? Am I awkward or hostile or pessimistic?

It seems that the problem isn’t fear of failure alone, but fear that the negative feedback I receive is beyond overcoming. I want to succeed. I want to be a success. And the best way to do that is to prune away at my failings, to stop growth and redirect that energy to making myself look better elsewhere.

But the more I prune away, the less I’m left with. I’ve cut off all the buds before they’ve bloomed and I’m left settling into a darkness of my own making. And I’m browning and wrinkling and crunching under the feet of those who tread on my aspirations – my delights – in the first place.

I’m afraid of not being good enough. So my ears are trained on the voices that tell me what I fear. You can’t sing. You can’t write. You can’t interact. You aren’t happy. You won’t ever be good enough.

But I’ve freaking had enough! And maybe when I think about follow through I should imagine pushing through the brambles of criticism instead of resigning myself to an innate weakness. If I fail at the very end of that path to success (and who can determine an end anyway?), I’ll still have overcome the roadblock set before me by my critics.

I’ll still be better than enough.

image source

I have a 20-something brain

For the past couple of weeks, I have found myself barely able to keep food down.

I vomited, inexplicably, last Thursday. In the middle of each meal, I have to stop eating, faced with another wave of nausea. This morning, I’m pondering whether to drink my coffee and attempt to get on with my day or go back to sleep to ease the discomfort.

I know the source of my physical pain is anxiety. A big, overwhelming pile of it. About finding friends, navigating this town correctly, finances, performing well in my new job, hearing word about the other job I interviewed for, finding a lasting and meaningful career, feeling content, maintaining intellectual drive, making the most of things, staying in contact with the ones I love, learning an instrument, singing again – getting to a point where I feel like a success rather than a confused, dead-beat, disappointment.

I know that nothing is resolved by worrying. I know that my current circumstances are much more positive than they could be. I know that nothing is actually wrong. But as much as I tell myself that, as much as it has become my internal chant – my prayer – the physical signs of stress won’t leave me.

I read an article this morning about the developing, 20-something brain, which relieved my mind (to some extent), though not my stomach. The adult brain doesn’t fully develop until the mid to late 20s and there are much higher rates of anxiety, suicide, and general recklessness among early 20-somethings than in most other age groups, likely due to increased expectations to succeed as a well-formed individual in adult society while still trying to connect and disconnect synapses, take in information, and, in a cognitive sense, find oneself.

There is a scientific and social cause for anxiety at my age. But it doesn’t make it easier to bear. I face my own high expectations and negative self-talk on a daily basis. It’s time to practice being content with daily success, no matter how small. Of course, saying it and doing it are quite different things.