Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Midnight Thoughts, November Musings

It may not be evident from the posts, which are somewhat scattered and bemused, much like the tumultuous thoughts that created them, but I am on a journey. Quest. Thing.

Hard for me to stay serious, and yet I am very much so. This week I received news that a good friend of my parents has esophageal cancer tumors which have spread to his lymph nodes. Previously we knew he had cancer, but of a different type and we believed him to be done with treatment. There's nothing quite like a shock to remind me that my parents, too, are aging. As are my grandparents, who are all still alive. I have yet to taste real loss and grief, but this is a reminder that it touches us all at some point. Suffering is part of life, and death is inescapable. Inevitable.

I hate to make this at all about me, but I have to say I am coming to terms with death. At this point I feel proud of my life thus far, warts and all. I know my husband, relatives and friends would do their best to protect and raise my children. I do not want to die! Neither do I believe in fate, or passivity in the face of it if it did exist. Aging and illness, on the other hand, still disturb me deeply. Suffering. I don't like to see my parents suffering from sadness and grief even as their friend still lives and gathers his spirits to fight for more time.

Like I said, I don't want to make this about me (even though I already have) because I am struggling now at what I very earnestly believe to at last be the turning point of a major path in my life's journey. No, not finding a new job. Not exactly to do with death or illness or aging, not exactly to do with age. Call this an intuition, or an epiphany.

I have been seeing a therapist for the past several years for what originally appeared as a vague anxiety and a procrastination block around grading student papers when I was teaching classes at San Jose State. The type of therapy he uses is called Narrative Therapy, and focuses on externalizing problems using language and then re-telling the story, using different choices and paying attention to things that the person is perhaps unconsciously missing. This is gross oversimplification, of course, but is enough to put what I am saying in the proper context.

Over the course of the two years, I have come to view this therapy as a journey that I am on from the depths of misery and loneliness, to the opposite place of happiness, inner peace, joy, and connectedness. Several months ago my therapist made some indications that he thought I was doing alright now, and asked me what I wanted to work on next, given that the original problem seemed to be gone. I have changed careers, no longer need to grade papers, and no longer suffer from the kind of fear, doubt, or shame about my job performance that originally drove me to seek help.

I surprised myself (and him, I think) by absolutely panicking at the thought that therapy might be over. Later I told my good friend, "Here is where I started. Here is where I want to go. I am only HALFWAY THERE." It's not enough for me to not be miserable. It's not enough to not be ashamed. It's not enough to be doing "Just OK." I downright, flat-out refused to settle for humdrum. I wondered if I wasn't just being melodramatic at the time, but at the same time I felt just the tiniest touch of pride. That's right, pride- the opposite of shame. Shame was at the root of my problem, and when I refused to settle for ordinary unhappiness, I think that was the start of truly changing direction. I am proud of myself for asking for help. I am proud of the work I have done thus far. And I will not back down halfway to happiness. No way, nohow!

So this was a couple of months ago, and yet, things seemed back to ordinary again. I'm doing my job, loving my children, staying connected to my husband, keeping up with my family. I've been reading books and writing in this blog and then in August I joined Twitter.

Nothing seemed to be happening. Nothing seemed to have changed at all, not for better, not for worse. Then something did start to happen, but it's been so gradual and imperceptible that I have hardly realized it was happening. The little touch of pride started to grow, and to turn a little more solid, day by day, week by week. It's like before I was standing on sand that kept shifting under my feet. Sometimes it would be still, and then without warning I would slip and slide. Now I feel like something has firmed up underneath me. There's this little bit of stability and every time I reach in and touch it, I touch joy, and peace, and happiness. Doesn't that sound strange? I can hardly trust it yet. I still feel a bit delicate, like I'm not sure any of this is for real.

But I was lying here listening to heartbreakingly beautiful music tonight, and something just happened. I looked back. I looked at where I was two years ago. I looked at where I am now. And I realized I am MORE than halfway there. I have successfully turned the ship and pointed the helm in a new direction. And you know what? I'm not afraid. Scared, but not bad scared, good scared. Butterflies in tummy scared. Stage fright scared.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that this is going to be easy! Wherever I am going next, it has taken me two years of hard, hard work to do this. This is what I am proud of. Not giving up. Not giving in. So I know the way ahead will be plenty hard. In fact, I think I am just about to start working harder than I ever have before in my entire life! Because I know now that this little fragile bit of stability is just the beginning. Now I have to take this little piece of self and jump right back off of it again to move past the self, through the pride, and on to reaching out to others. The sooner I have the full self the sooner I can find the strength to really change the world.

How's that for ambition? Good night, universe. If I'm going to start changing the world, I better start by getting  some needed rest!

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