I recently sent this quote to a friend who was going through some major life-changing events. This morning I found myself thinking about it in terms of the storm of my own thoughts.
I woke up at 4:30, unable to stop thinking about the number of things I need to do. I have a number of graduate assignments looming over my head, my classroom is a wreck, my house is just a little better, I’m preparing for a particularly challenging school year…..I can’t turn off my thoughts. So I made some coffee, finished one paper, and my browser wandered here. Obviously this is not a graduate assignment, but it may be some much needed therapy for me. If you’re hoping for witty and insightful social commentary, that is not what I’m serving today because I am tired. My sails need adjusting. It may seem a little bit like I’m whining, but I’m hoping to gain some insight while I sift through the thoughts in my head and put them here.
I suppose I’ll start with school. The school where I’m the teacher, not the student. I am overwhelmingly anxious about the new year. This year, I will be teaching a number of classes I’ve never taught, mentoring a novice teacher, and supervising an intern. I will head a program where high school students correspond with primary school students. I will sponsor the yearbook. I will coordinate the 50th production of the school’s beauty pageant. I will dress professionally, have clean hair, and wear makeup. I will not cry. I will breathe deeply and cross things off a to-do list that will never be done. I will be a grown-up. I remember my mother always being really apprehensive as each year began because of the unknown and the stress of getting everyone (self, family, and students) back in the routine. Perhaps that is why I’m so worried? I know I can do these things, and even more, I know I’ll do them well. However, right now I’m struggling to be ready. It’s almost like I would do better if the first day of school were a surprise. “Get up! We’re starting today! Do your best!” It would certainly save me lots of angst over planning. The reality is that I know I’ll be ok; I just need to get started and stop thinking about it. Thinking about it is the worst.
Another reason I’m nervous about school is the departure of my best teacher-friend. He accepted a job across the state for quite a bit more money (thus, my new and improved schedule mentioned above). Combine the fact that I’m not exactly leading the pack in terms of deep and meaningful friendships with the fact that I’ve never taught without him, and this year stands to do quite a number on me. I don’t think I fully realized how reliant I’ve become on him for socialization, so I will really be pushed out of my comfort zone this year. It’s not that I don’t have other friends; I do. It’s just that in Cody I found an unlikely friendship that allowed me total transparency, and I worry about my ability to locate another kindred spirit in the hustle and bustle of work. The bright side to this is that we were given plenty of time to prepare. Working on different campuses last year was probably divine providence to prepare us for total separation this year. However, the lone-wolf feeling I had all year is not something that I am looking forward to at all. Again, I know I can do this. It’s just going to be an adjustment of the sails. Adjustment is hard.
Cody’s move highlights an aspect of my personality that isn’t my favorite. I’m not even sure what to call it, but I think the “lone wolf feeling” I referred to above does a pretty good job. I am pretty seriously introverted. In fact, I am sure I could become a total social recluse if not for the various reasons loved ones give me to leave the house. (Mental note here to research a possible correlation between introversion and excessive worrying. Might explain a lot.) Anyway, when I get out, I always have a great time, so it’s not that I dislike people. It’s just that I don’t know how to seek the events which draw me out; I wait for them to come to me. I think I functioned for a long time under the assumption that I am just aloof and socially selective. It was actually a daily devotional that made me realize this isn’t good for me. We were created to live in community with one another, and friendship is essential to happiness. And I have friends. I do. The girls I went to high school with are so much fun when we get together, the parents of the kids’ friends are some of my favorite people, a random group text with other friends allows me to stay connected to people throughout most days, my church family is a warm and accepting group of folks….It’s not that my life lacks friendship; it’s that I’m never quite sure if I should be doing more to nurture these relationships. Is there an appropriate percentage of the time I’m responsible for initiating plans or conversation? Seriously, I cannot count the number of times I’ve made plans to make plans…..and it never comes to anything. I crave relationship with others, yet I sit back and wait for them to be the approachers. I need to approach. Are there lessons for these things?
I’ve joked lately in discussing my anxiety that Joe needs to teach me not to care. (It was Romeo who said, “Teach me how I should forget to think.” Yep. I’m Romeo. Ugh. What a whinebag.) Anyway, while my own “don’t care” is usually a front, Joe is a rock. He is decisive and confident and basically the antithesis of me. My boss jokes that I stress myself out over what to have for lunch, but he’s not far off. A prime example of this is the recent purchase of our new car. After driving a significantly larger rental for a couple weeks this spring, we began discussing the idea of getting something bigger permanently. We looked casually for a while, and last week we found what we wanted. One would think that the purchase of a new car would inspire excitement and cause for celebration, right? Not with this girl. I didn’t sleep the first two nights. People are going to roll their eyes at us. This is the 8th car we’ve bought in 11 years! How am I going to explain why we traded? Joe kind of had to talk to me like I was one of the kids. He said, “These people do not pay our bills. If we want to trade our car in every month to drive something different, it really doesn’t affect them. If people care that much about what we buy, they have a problem, not us.” And it helped to think of it that way. Why can’t I take a Joe-approach to these things? Why should I worry so much about what others think? If only I could bottle his confidence up and sell it. Joe never adjusts his sails because he never has to. He drives a speed boat straight through the storm.
But I suppose more than my frustration with my own inability to brush such things off is the fact that I even have to worry about it. It seems to me that an easy fix to the problem would be eliminating what needs to be brushed off. It’s so exhausting to me that I feel like I have to justify things to people. Or that people do not realize how their words affect me? As the car is still pretty new, the current count of “You got ANOTHER car?” comments is currently just at 3. Give it a week. People will say things as if they are a stakeholder in decisions that are really mine and Joe’s to make. Why? I realize that many of them are joking, but when a person has been up for two nights trying to rationalize your comment or anxious over future jokes, is it really worth it? Should I have to explain myself ever over something so silly? Could we not just talk about the weather or sports or our kids? Is my car that big of a deal? I should use this to make myself more mindful of what I say to others, even joking. I do not want to contribute to someone’s loss of sleep. But then I’ve created more worry by wondering about things I have said that may have been sensitive topics for people. It’s such a cycle.
I think I’ve illustrated pretty well here how one worry can lead into another creating an out-of-control worry storm. I know the easy answer is probably to seek some kind of anti-anxiety medication. But beyond that, I think that I have to retrain the way I think. Instead of being anxious about the new school year, I should make an effort to be as prepared as possible. Instead of being sad about my friend leaving, I should be excited about the new opportunities he’s seeking as well as the ones he’s leaving for me. Instead of racking my brain about how much socialization is appropriate for a busy mother and wife, I should sit down and enjoy the people I’m around most often and seek interaction with the people I don’t see enough. I should continue to make the best decisions I can in regards to my family and completely ignore comments from others. I should. I should do all these things. And with lots of prayer and effort, I will sleep again at night. But for right now, I’m going to write my final paper and look forward to my vacation, thankful for the perspective that writing this has allowed me. I am incredibly blessed. I am aware of my own strengths and weaknesses. I will adjust my sails.