Tag: Anxiety

27Apr

Dear Nearlywed

Dedicated to sister-friends M and B. I love you both.

~~~

To you, dear one, with the new ring catching light and the Pinterest folder of DIY centerpieces and the momentum of happily-ever-after already spinning you off your feet:

This July, I will have been married for nine years, and my mind is already clicking over, imagining our tenth anniversary with the same bewildered wonderment I always attribute to our future together. Marriage holds its own kind of time warp for me, I guess; our years together have flown by, but I can hardly remember a time when we weren’t each other’s flesh and blood. Even before I met my husband, all the way back to those starving junior high nights, I was fingering the edges of the soul connection that would one day be ours. His and mine, ‘til death do us part.

Only, engagement was the thing that almost did us part. We loved each other, no doubt. Shortly before getting engaged, we had to be in different parts of the country for three weeks, and I discovered just how unwilling I was to live without him. He had my “yes” long before he asked. But then doubt kicked in as if set to activate at the pinnacle of my happiness, and this is why I wanted to write to you today.

Nobody told me how to handle doubts about getting married. Premarital counseling seemed designed to scrutinize us for incompatibilities and then issue us a pass or a fail stamp for our upcoming nuptials, but compatibility wasn’t the problem in our case. My idea of marriage was. I’d always been taught that marriage was a permanent, divinely-sanctioned contract, and in my mind, the divine sanction aspect implied that God had tailor-made one person specifically for me. This idea had been reinforced by everything from church programs to fairy tales, and I didn’t realize until the diamond ring slid onto my finger just how terrified I was of accidentally marrying the wrong man.

It made me dizzy with unknowing. What if I hadn’t been home the day he came looking for my roommate? What if my roommate had been there? What if I had chosen to attend a different university altogether? What if I had gone with my impulse to travel for a few years first? Was the real Mr. Right waiting for me on one of the parallel paths I hadn’t taken? And what if it went back further? What if my father’s first real romance hadn’t ended in tragedy and I’d had a different mother? What if his father hadn’t gone through the same? How many threads of my divine narrative had already been tangled, snapped, or grafted onto divergent storylines? Or… was God really orchestrating every heart-wrenching moment just so I could land safely in the arms of my own personal Prince Charming? I had no idea.

Under the wind-whipped froth of doubts lurked my real fear: If I marry the wrong man, I will be doomed to the wrong storyline for the rest of my life.

I wanted desperately for someone to sit me down with a bullet point list and say “This is how to be sure you’re making the right decision.” Alternately, I would have taken a voice from heaven or a soundtrack every time we kissed or a glimpse of Cupid’s backside flitting away, some kind of unmistakable confirmation of our love. I had no justifiable reason for breaking off our engagement, but I came to the brink several times, my voice shaking as much with the fear of losing him and with the fear of a mistaken marriage. The happiness of planning our life together was offset by the heavy clamor in my mind. What if? What if? What if?

Our wedding day came as a relief in more ways than one. Once I’d pledged my vows and been pronounced wife, my burden of indecision lifted; I was committed now, for better or for worse. That sounds theatrical and bleak, I know, but the sense of finality I experienced was nothing like the heavy cloak of doom I’d expected. It was actually incredibly freeing to stand beside the man I loved and know that I had the universe’s permission to love him and to continue loving him over the course of our lives. I had never been so happy.

However, my doubts didn’t evaporate along with my indecision. Though I was happy, I wasn’t sure if I should be, and every newlywed misunderstanding brought my questions into sharp focus. If he were The One, we wouldn’t be struggling to communicate, right? If he were The One, I wouldn’t dream about old boyfriends or swoon over chick flicks… right? I didn’t feel like I could share my concerns with anyone; I didn’t want to hurt my new husband, disillusion our friends, or invite criticism over my failings as a wife. I didn’t really know what I wanted beyond peace of mind.

Dear one, I’m writing this letter today because I wish someone had written it to me nine years ago. Your story is uniquely yours, and I don’t presume to know what you are going through just because we’ve both been a fiancée. However, I don’t think I was nearly as alone in my doubts as I felt at the time. I don’t think I’m the only woman to have experienced a centrifuge of turmoil beneath her bridal glow or the only one to have woken up beside her new husband wondering if he was the man meant to share her bed, and I want to offer you this assurance:

You are not alone. You are not defective. Your marriage is not doomed.

Here is what I’ve come to believe about marriage since that shaky “I do”:

Prince Charming is a fairy tale. Not to detract from the delicious moment when Cinderella is swept off her feet by her one true love, but Mr. Right is a fictional character born of wishful thinking and our perception of happy relationships. The key word there is fictional. As a girl who inhaled love stories by the dozens, I wanted Mr. Right to be true with all of my heart, but in retrospect, this damaged my own romance more than anything else. Over the years, I’ve started to realize just how unfulfilling it would be if my husband were custom made for me. I want him to have a life purpose outside of our marriage and a personality all his own (even when it clashes with mine… though please don’t tell him I said that). Beyond this, the element of choice is enormously important in keeping love alive and healthy over the long haul. When you remove destiny from the equation, everything hinges on choice; you choose each other, and you continue choosing each other, and nothing in those fairy tales comes close to the romantic depth of being chosen again and again by the person who knows you best.

Conflict is not spelled D-O-O-M. I’ve watched a heartbreaking number of friends go through divorce within their first decade of marriage, but I’ve also seen the alternative—couples who have stuck together through betrayals, affairs, and seemingly irreconcilable differences and forged an intense love for each other that they would never have dreamed of in the beginning. I know you’ve already heard plenty about marriage taking work; before our wedding, it seemed like people were falling over each other to dampen our happiness with warnings of the hard, hard effort to come. Now, though, I see the idea of marriage taking work as brim-full of hope. It means that conflict is something to navigated through, not something to be feared. It takes the power away from circumstance and puts it into our own hands. You can’t live with the same person for years in close quarters without running into relational problems—it simply isn’t possible—but it helps to see those problems as a bridge to cross with your spouse rather than a roadblock to your marriage.

There is no manual for choosing the right partner, but… well, as they say, bullet points are an indecisive girl’s best friend:

  • Do you like each other? I’m not talking about fluttery feelings here (I assume you already have plenty of those). What I mean is, are you friends? Do you genuinely enjoy spending time together?
  • Do you share a direction in life? Do your own, individual, heart-felt goals get along with each other? Plans will change plenty of times over the course of your lives, but it helps tremendously if you start off facing in the same direction.
  • Are the loved ones in your life behind your relationship? I don’t believe that anyone but you should have the final say on whether or not you get married, but the support of your community can make a huge difference… and it helps to have outside confirmation of your relationship when you’re feeling uncertain.
  • Okay, this is probably a no-brainer, but I’ll ask it anyway: Are you attracted to each other? Yes, in that way? (Don’t worry, I’ll stop there.)

If you get along well and can talk excitedly about your dreams together and have the support of your friends and can’t wait to jump each other’s bones and have made your decision with careful thought (and prayer?), then you, dear one, can be unequivocally happy. You’ve chosen well, and the inevitable rough patches of marriage will be all the easier to work through because you’ll have not only a lover but a friend by your side.

Now comes the part where I tell you how wonderful marriage is and you roll your eyes because I’ve just spent 1,600 words talking about disillusion and difficulty and telling you that your beloved is not, in fact, Mr. Right… but my point is that he doesn’t have to be. The two of you will experience priceless companionship, passion, and loyalty together. In working through hard times, you will knit forgiveness and redemption into your story. You will be given the honor of choice as long as you are together, and you will feel the soul-swelling gift of being chosen by your spouse even after you’ve seen the worst of each other. Marriage is absolutely worth it.

So my last advice to you, dear one, with the Operation Wedding diet plan and the girlhood mementos sorted into boxes and the whispers of uncertainty coming at you from every side of this great new unknown, is this:

Don’t be afraid.

15Mar

For Blunderbuss Weeks

“I blundered into creativity as blindly as any child learning to walk and see. I learned to let my senses and my Past tell me all that was somehow true.”
~ Ray Bradbury, from the introduction to Dandelion Wine

~~~

It’s been a blundering sort of week on the creative front. I’m wrapping up one project and halfway through another, and blank lines are morphing into monsters before my eyes. It’s hard to recognize my love of writing on a week when every other word comes out kicking and screaming. (Or maybe my children are the ones kicking and screaming? Everything sort of blurs into chaos when one’s husband has been away on business for two consecutive weeks.)

It’s hard for me to do this, to care deeply for my work while taking all the little demands and frustrations of life in stride. I want to WRITE, damn it!, and devour novels and watch TED talks and do yoga to meditations by Anne Lamott and immerse myself fully in the artist’s life… but every few minutes, it’s supper time again, and we have no instant food in the house (curses on nutritional menu planning), and my husband is three countries away, and the girls are murdering each other in the next room, and the house is a natural disaster in and of itself even though I just finished cleaning it, and I’m shaking with what I can only assume is hunger which makes no sense because I could swear that we in this house eat without ceasing, and once we do manage to scrounge something edible into our mouths, it will be time for the hour of brutal physical labor known as Putting The Girls To Bed, and afterwards I will be too tired to remember that I, too, need sleep, and I will stay up far too late writing emails and worrying about everything I can get my mind on, and the entire next morning will be doomed to a kind of zombie torture experience.

(I blame the horrifying length of that sentence on just having proofread a business plan. My right brain needed to stretch.)

Here’s what helps, both for my own future reference and for anyone else chafing under the interruptions of Real Life:

Permission to leave the dishes in the sink.
Forgiveness for missing the deadline.
An extra hour on the alarm.
A third coffee. With cream.

When it feels like life is pulling at me from all directions, the best thing I know to do is to cut myself some slack. Grace has a filter-down effect, you see, and the girls are much less likely to wring each other’s necks when their mother isn’t wringing her own. Along with the domestic murder rate, wailing and gnashing of teeth drop significantly when we have a package of possibly-fish sticks in the freezer. And more often than not, when I remember to let creativity down off its pedestal, it has a way of blundering straight into truth.

14Dec

A New Way

It’s twenty to midnight, and my footsteps are splashing far too loudly on the asphalt. An urban legend I once heard about attackers hiding under cars with razor blades sweeps over me as it does every night when I’m the one locking up the offices. It won’t help to worry, but I grip my car key with bone-white knuckles and don’t breathe again until I’m on the road, headlights washing over empty parking lots and prostitutes with umbrellas. Their eyes haunt me all the way home, my prayers grounded with exhaustion. I pull myself upstairs, peek in on my sleeping daughters, and set an alarm to startle my next workday into motion six hours later.

This is not the way.

[Join me over at The Sacred Life for the rest, would you?]

11Dec

Out of Hibernation

The sun is channeling her inner bear these days, rising in a fogged stupor to growl at the world for a few hours before slinking back to her cave. Even the rain is half-hearted, and Christmas decorations are trying in vain to look like they belong.

I need to stop letting December catch me off guard every time, but this year is especially disillusioning. Dan’s switch from a salaried position to freelance work has been a wonderful thing, and we’ve watched a series of small miracles unfold over the last few months as he’s been offered projects that make him light up. However, we went through a hell of time to get here, and we still haven’t found stable ground. The last thing I want to do is throw a pity part when we have so much to be grateful for… but not being able to attend family Christmases or shop for gifts this year makes me want to join the sun in hibernating.

Of course, I’m still a mom and a wife and a teacher and notably not a woodland creature, so the mark of this December is putting one foot in front of the other in the dark dawn to the leaking coffeepot and then inhaling cappuccino steam with a cinnamon candle if I have time or scalding sips with a hairdryer if I don’t. (Usually the latter, but only because I love the snooze button too much.) It’s taming the school-traffic-work blitz with Sufjan hymns and baking cheese bread with my girls when I’m inclined to despair. It’s training myself not to panic when I check the mail, intentionally setting aside the problems I can’t fix. It’s fiercely loving this little family of ours, stumbling into prayer, and trusting, despite the impossible view from here, that we’re on the right path.

And sometimes, it’s taking a Sunday morning to catch up on desperately needed sleep, play Legos with the girls, sneak handfuls of caramel corn when no one’s looking (shh!), and remember to come out of my cave walking on my hands:

What does your December look like so far?

5Oct

Duck, Duck, Release

More Portugal soon, I promise. Right now, though, there is only this moment and the simple task of putting one foot in front of the other, seeping thanks for every bite of food, remembering to breathe despite rapidly shrinking headspace.

Impossibly, the sky hasn’t stopped breaking apart over our heads. Every umbrella we own is mangled from the fallout, and I no longer know how to process what seems to be a viral strain of bad timing and worse luck. This autumn couldn’t get any crazier, could it? (Here is where my husband groans and begs me to stop asking please before we actually find out.) No need to spell out the details; I’ve worried over them enough in my own heart.

I keep trying to tie a peppy ending on this, but the words come out flat and false. Yes, we have much to be grateful for,  but we also have much to feel wronged over. My optimism is stranded in the cavern where religious platitudes used to roost (“God’s in control” is decked in so many layers of complication that I don’t even know where to start), and I would have to silence my authentic voice to pretend that everything is positive when I’m too disoriented to tell whether we’ve already capsized or not. I’ve been cussing a lot, whisper-flung prayers.

At the same time, my biggest adversary right now is nothing any more tangible than worry… and considering the way my skull keeps compressing valuable real estate, something has to go. It might as well be this. I wasn’t wired with all of the necessary release valves, but I try anyway, and it often looks like putting one foot in front of the other, seeping thanks for every bite of food, and remembering how to breathe. Also making frequent appointments for what the girls and I call Jovanotti therapy:

“I have two keys for the same door
To open to courage and to fear…
Everything is illuminated
And I no longer feel the need to suffer.”

9Sep

Basta

Autumn has taken over the evening shift for the last week, slipping into the dusk while I teach and then gusting the scent of dry leaves across my headlights as I steer home. The girls go back to school in three days. For better or worse, this summer has packed its bags, and oh I haven’t finished editing our photos from June, and oh my inbox is breathing Darth Vader-style down my neck, and oh there are so many fall courses to schedule and prepare, and details are beginning to riot, and the waves of time I glimpsed shimmering into distant horizons have evaporated, and it’s suddenly September, and how can it be September, and will the seasons ever, ever line up gently with the timeposts in my head?

Basta, as we say in Italian. Enough. Because as behind as I may feel at… well, basically everything, I really just want to sit down and tell you about our epic summer camping trip and pen a few letters and read myself hoarse with the girls, and I am sick of letting responsibility dictate my every breath.

I’ve been listening to a book which talks about letting small, bad things happen so we can achieve big, good goals. This particular wording has penetrated a part of my mind that endless priority evaluations haven’t been able to dent, perhaps because it acknowledges that focusing on what I want to do will create problems and that they will suck. This rather baleful assurance is the realistic coating which helps me to swallow the truth: that I need to start operating very differently than I do now.

I am both hard-wired and programmed to take responsibilities life-and-death seriously, which explains why it can take me days to pack for an overnight trip. I’m a good little automaton, following whatever marching orders my mind conjures and then worrying endlessly when I can’t keep up with them all (see: most of this blog to date). It will come as a surprise to no one that this does not improve our quality of life. When I look around the carefully labeled mess of my days, I see small, good things necessitating big, bad ones on repeat x infinity. For example, I get up in the morning and immediately start tackling to-dos rather than charging my batteries with some much-needed soul attention. I start dinner on time instead of committing a sudden burst of inspiration to paper. I help the girls clean up rather than play with their toys. I say yes to every job that comes my way and subsequently miss weeks of family evenings. I keep house instead of finishing my book, organize files instead of connecting with friends, and pile so much pressure on myself that I can no longer unwind at the end of each day. This is my routine, my parasitic pace, and how the hell can I stay so loyal to it?

The smug satisfaction of dutiful living does not equal joy.

So enough. Enough trying to find balance; no such thing exists. Enough putting those concerns which suck my soul dry at the top of my priority list. Enough sacrificing my “one wild and precious life” to feed a compulsive busyness disorder. Enough expecting perfection from anyone, including myself. Enough worrying what people will think about the way I choose to live (much, much easier said than done but probably the most liberating decision I could make). Enough grasping at work-beaten paths. Enough wallowing in the future and missing all the beauty in my here and now. Enough worry. Enough envy. Enough minutia. Enough needless stress. Basta.

What “basta” will look like in practical terms, I’m not quite sure yet… only that leaving a dirty kitchen to its own devices in order to unravel this post is a pretty good first step.

1Sep

I Was Born Not Ready

I was going to start with It’s Thursday; how did this happen? when I realized that the last official month of summer had slipped out of my open window during the night, ergo…

It’s September; how did this happen?

Last week was a long blur, some moments punched into sharp focus by worry or hope over our shapeshifting future and others stretched timelessly over evenings at the table with friends. This week, Dan is off bringing possibilities into the present tense, my worry has officially lost out to hope, and I should be floating now that the weight of so much unknown is out of my arms. In reality though, I’m simply feeling heavy, fingers numb.

Though it seems incongruous with the adventurous streak that trotted me to this corner of the globe in the first place, I always have difficulty adjusting to new circumstances, so this lull… okay, funk is probably just the natural result of my perspective playing musical chairs. Combined with my introvert personality and social opportunities overlapping without recharge time,  it’s made for a bewildering week so far. The space-time continuum is dragging against my feet like gravity, and despite a light work load, I’m plumb worn out.

That justifies singlemouthedly demolishing half a pan of Rice Krispie Treats, yes?

I’m not ready for it to be Thursday, and I’m certainly not ready for it to be September. I’m not ready for the early work morning tomorrow or for the day trip on Saturday or for church on Sunday. (I think my reluctance over that one is especially justified considering last Sunday when I, unwillingly presiding over the piano, butchered a hymn request. In my defense, the song was an unforgivable 9/8 time signature with meter and tempo changes halfway through, but I was clearly spattered with gore by the end. This may also be a contributing factor to the dearth of Rice Krispie Treats around here.) I’m so very not ready for the deluge of personal expectations waiting for me once the girls start school the following week, and it’s all compounded by the list of things I planned to do ahead of time. (I know summer break looks long and carefree at the start, but seriously—what form of substance abuse inspired me to promise the other moms I’d plan a group picnic???)

Incredible disappearing Rice Krispie Treats (Probably this kind.)

All this to say sorry for mybusily-out-of-sorts radio silence, and please, if you have any idea how it got to be September, let me know so I can bribe it back into hiding until I’m properly ready.

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