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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: July 2009

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Alive and Messy

A friend of mine knocked on my door last Saturday, hoping to have my ear for a few minutes. She was struggling with a decision about what kind of help to seek for herself. She was in the middle of a self described "mid-life career crisis." She was in pain over it.

Her husband is not a very motivated guy, and while he brings home a decent paycheck, he is not interested in advancing their financial situation. If they are going to be able to help send their two kids to college, or stay in their house long term, it would, seemingly, be up to her to pull in some extra bucks.

This part she did not have a problem with. She has long since accepted that her husband is not a ladder climber. A self described plodder, he is not enough in touch with his own aggression, or blocks to it. He is not going to lead the way financially. He is (often irritatingly so) content with his desk job. My friend, however is a bit more driven. She has a host of anxieties, and more than a few hungers. While this has sometimes gotten her into trouble in the past, by way of untamed addiction and restless indecision, she is successful at her day job. Though she herself feels like she a bit of an under earner, and now has a real wish and drive to overcome it.

She is altogether too sleepy at her current job, she tells me. And she is now ready to deal with herself and her own quest for something more. The director of student programming at a prestigious private high school, she wears many hats. But she has been doing it for a long while, and she wants a change. She wants to be a writer. Her dream, she tells me, is to quit her job, and immerse herself in the world of the written word. She wants to hammer away at the keyboard and put all the things she has been doing and teaching and experiencing with her students these last 15 years into articles and essays, reports, reviews, stories and poems. She wants to see her name under titles, on glossy pages. No Internet publishing, she wants to feel the page with her name on it between her fingers. She wants to be read. But she has no idea how to do this without tossing her current income out the window.

Yes, she knows she could start slow, but she does not want to. She wants to quit and run. She wants a total, abrupt and jarring statement about who she is and what she is going to do. She wants her desire to lead the way. And it she does not mind if it will be messy.

What does she want from me? She just wants someone to know that she is thinking about this. That she may actually do it. She may leave her kids to find scholarships. Maybe the house will have to be sold and replaced by a nice little apartment. She wants to know that she could do this. She does not yet know if she should, but she could.

And she wants to live her life fully aware that she has choices. That she knows what the choices are. She thinks there is freedom in this. That there will be relief of some kind for her emotional pain. The pain of feeling trapped, stifled and not creative. Of not accomplishing something that she really wants to accomplish. And the pain of not feeling like she has possibilities. Somehow, again, knowing she could seems to lift the heaviness, open up the ceiling and see the sky.

And she wants to know that I don't think this is crazy. And that I will help her to tolerate all the feelings that may come along with tossing her stability in the air and changing up her life. Of course she knows that her actions will effect others, that she may not exactly really want to act recklessly in regard to her marriage, or her children's future. We are not talking about the mid life proverbial race car purchase, after all.

No matter what she chooses, there will be feelings to tolerate. Big ones, at times. Down any road, there will urgencies and disappointments, loss and fear. She knows that some of these feelings are familiar themes in her life. That somehow, even in their difficulty, the bad feelings have kept her feeling some kind of safe. But now she wants to talk about a new script. Perhaps to learn to tolerate new feelings, some glorious, some not. She is not sure. And that too will have to be tolerated...the ambiguity of it all.

There is much hope, I tell her. Its good to be with her in her confusion. Its okay with me.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Toward the Pain or Living the Life I Have Always Wanted to Live

The most exhausting thing in life is being insincere
~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I recently had the (good?) fortune to run into an old friend. We got to chatting, caught up on where life has taken us these last few years, and where we would like to be. She told me that finally she feels happy, joyous and free. That she is living the life she has always wanted to live. Her kids are growing up, requiring less of her than they used to. No diapers to change or baths to give. Meals run themselves pretty much and the sports schedule is at a minimum.

She is working for herself now, consulting and freelancing, with plenty of time to write, her passion, as it turns out, and take long walks with her husband. For about 39 seconds (okay, 2 minutes and 23 seconds) I was rip roaringly, unabashedly, wholly and completely jealous.

What does this mean, I am wondering. "Living the life I have always wanted to live." I wanted to know. Does this mean she is happy, like, all the time? I, who, am in the business of understanding people, helping them understand themselves, their desires and wishes, hurts and fears, and unpack what it is they want in life, from life, was baffled. (As well as momentarily green.) Does this mean that she has very few obligations, or financial worries? Or that she does not mind the ones she does have? Does it mean that she does not struggle with any bad feelings, have any difficult relationships, or questions yet unanswered about herself that keep her up at night?

Does she get along well with everyone in her life? Is she no longer burdened by other people's pain or the troubles of the country or the world. Is she not worried about the two journalists who are trapped in North Korea or Gilad Shalit? Is she free from addiction? Has she accepted her vices and made peace with her limitations? Does she no longer look at herself in the mirror with a critical eye, or lament that she may soon be going grey? Are her current accomplishments satisfying enough, and future ones only icing on an already rich cake? Did she have a gratifying and satisfying sex life? And a spiritual fitness that meets her own ideas of connectedness with the Gd of her understanding?

Or is it all false evidence appearing real? Am I comparing my insides (and almost everyone else's I know) to her outsides? After all, its not often someone tells you that they are feeling so well, overall, and specifically. Its not often I meet up with someone who seems so, well, determinedly content.

I did not get the idea she was being casual or conversational. Or boastful. I really thought she meant it, deeply. So I asked, and she explained.

She said that she has always had a difficult default setting in her brain. Her thoughts, feelings, ideas, always seem to go toward the pain, toward the fear, toward the not. It was wasn't so much a glass half empty problem, or an issue of not enough gratitude. Nor did she feel she had a block against focusing on the solution rather than the problem. It was, she explained, an historic comfort, a familialiarity with sitting psychically in some sort of deprivation, loneliness and sense of being misunderstood and unsupported. Perhaps because of biology, even. If not also family history.

She said that she has become aware of this, and of her own resistance to letting go of what does not work in her life, and going toward what does. She said that she became willing to take a good look at what her motivations in life were, and what she was really aiming for, and in small ways, she said that she has become a lot easier on herself and those around her. And that she gave herself permission to figure out what she wanted to be doing with her time, and makes sure that she does at least some of those things each week.

I know, it sounds a bit self-helpy. But I felt better after hearing it. I had started to think she found the golden ticket, and that it was the only one.

I think that when you are hurting it can look like the whole world is living the life they want to live, and you are stuck in the dense fog of pain and hopelessness. But I think we can spin our stories to end better. We parted in good spirits, my old friend and I, after a somewhat heavy street corner conversation. But I was glad she was feeling good about her life. I know she did not always have it so easy. And that there is something to be said for finding yourself and gracing yourself and saying so.