Too often, our self-image rests solely on an evaluation of our past behavior, being measured only through a memory. Day after day, year after year, we tend to build our personalities upon the rubble of yesterday’s personal disappointments. –The Search for Significance
WHAM! In these two succinct sentences lies the knot of my angst, but I’ve been working in recent weeks to untie that knot. (And, as with a physical knot, I am finding that things are much more complicated and extensive than I thought.) Here is a bit of that infinite thread…where it leads I do not know…
TIME published an article at the end of May titled, “The Optimism Bias,” which is defined as “the belief that the future will be much better than the past and present”. I think that I am rather too neurotic to count myself as a true optimist, but I do have a persistent idealism that may have some survival value, as it turns out. The general premise of the article is that those who think the future can be better will have more motivation to make that better future happen, sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. The part that really interested me, however, was about memory:
Scientists who study memory proposed an intriguing answer…. the core function of the memory system could in fact be to imagine the future — to enable us to prepare for what has yet to come. The system is not designed to perfectly replay past events, the researchers claimed. It is designed to flexibly construct future scenarios in our minds. As a result, memory also ends up being a reconstructive process, and occasionally, details are deleted and others inserted. (emphasis mine)
Memory loss terrifies me. Few things can make me feel crazier than not remembering where I put something, or what I intended to do today, or whether I left the stove on and will come home to a smoking ruin. Part of this is due to my mother’s merciless (and rather ironic) intolerance of memory lapses dating to my childhood; and given my nearly-nonexistent Perceiving preference and Sensing function, my memory for physical details is admittedly on the shabby side. But when I start having emotional amnesia–whether it’s jettisoning the positive points of a situation and shriveling into bitterness, or glossing over the difficulties that sent me on a sneaky hate spiral and blundering blithely into the same deranged pattern–then things start to get really ugly.
I think my meltdown of two weeks ago was triggered by a failure of the reconstructive function of memory. All of my [perceived] failures from the past year welled up at once, and I couldn’t bail out fast enough. I was absolutely convinced that I was in for another breakdown no matter what I did, so I just did nothing. (Well, not nothing: I cried a lot, stomped around my empty house like Godzilla, and did a suitable impression of the Phantom of the Opera dumping my frustrations on the piano when I wasn’t curled up in bed wondering how much serotonin was necessary to trigger serotonin overdose. All I ended up with was restless legs syndrome.) I pulled myself together enough to decide that what I needed was a clean slate: more school and a change in course away from K-12 education. I started applying for the clinical counseling program at Ashland Theological Seminary, but felt somewhat stymied by the essay questions. Did I really feel “called” to seminary, or was I just running from something else? (Do I even believe in such thing as a positive calling anymore?) Was I giving up the vocation for which I’d trained out of humility or humiliation? In less erudite terms, what the hell was I doing with my life?
I got a call from Prince William County Schools in Virginia on Friday when I was [gently] storming around Meijer looking for milk in the cereal aisle. (I was still basically a lunatic at this point, though no longer a patently self-destructive one.) I almost didn’t call back, but something told me to just go ahead and do the stupid phone interview for shits and giggles. There was no way I could move again, I babbled to a kind and very tired friend over the phone that night. What if I have another nervous breakdown?! In the silence that followed, I realized, That’s totally up to me. I chose to do a lot of things that made life difficult for myself, but I can also choose to make life easy. That led to the grudging admission that I didn’t try to like Lima very much at all after the first few weeks, which led a few days later to the realization that I did not like my job, and that’s why I couldn’t stay. Not because the entire universe was conspiring to keep me from being happy, not because Lima was designed to destroy my soul. I chose to continue being afraid. Aw, shit.
Fortunately, the theme of encouragement and perseverance ran strong through the weekend. Madeline and I talked for a long time about difficult seasons, and in my own ruminations I realized that my idealism often has an unexpected and somewhat counterintuitive effect. Right now I’ve worked myself into a lather searching for better, or perfect circumstances, rather than working to be content with what I have. When life doesn’t meet my [often unrealistic] expectations, I want to jump ship right away, even though I’ve tried to heed admonitions that the first year sucks for everyone and that it will get better. Madeline pointed out that perhaps 90% of following God is in prayer, meditation, reading the Word, worshipping, and just being with Him, while the other 10% is what we do for Him. I think I’ve allowed that proportion to flip and unbalance, which is what causes me such anxiety. I also feared that I was often too quick in trying to move on with my life after a crisis because I am so uncomfortable picking up the pieces and I’d rather just start over. And perhaps that is why the crises have gotten more frequent and furious as I try to scoot more debris under the rug without actually cleaning up after myself. So was I right, then, to decide to take a bit of a break for a year?
At some point over the weekend, I got the picture of a racehorse in my head. From my childhood fanaticism for horses, I knew that the best racers need to be pushed. They have so much heart and energy that if they’re not allowed to run, they get mopey and listless, which is exactly how I was starting to feel. I knew that I probably wouldn’t be happy as a substitute teacher, and that might be even more stressful than having my own classroom. I’d left the interview at the retirement village feeling…deflated. I didn’t really want to play Bingo and go to the grocery store every day. In other words, I didn’t feel like I was meant to be a draft horse, working day in and day out, plodding steadily along, of which little greatness is expected (though much care is still given). Somewhere in the rubble of my spirit, something stirred that was hungry again for challenge.
On Tuesday I talked to the PWCS principal, who told me that the position was primarily for teaching AP Bio, and that something twitched even more restlessly. I wanted this position, if not this location. Then I went to the south side of town to interview with ECOT, the largest online school in the state. Even as I talked up (probably too much so) my experience working with at-risk students–and if a kid is doing school online by the time they’re freshmen, it’s usually because of negative circumstances–I couldn’t help thinking, “But I want to work with children who aren’t pregnant or going to jail or bringing knives to school!” I know it’s not all about what I want, but at least it was nice to want something. And in general I feel less fraught, more courageous, and a bit more rational about going back to the classroom. Even my hesitation about moving met with a rejoinder: The fact that Lima was so close to home meant that I never really had to work hard to meet new people because I could go home any time I wanted. If I moved 6 or 7 hours away in either direction (because I also applied for a school near Chicago where a friend teaches), I’d be forced to sink or swim. Which still scares the daylights out of me, but maybe not the living daylights.
This stream of thought is literally endless, so I’m going to arbitrarily choose to end here. Soooooo…now we wait. And apply for more jobs. (By my cover letter count, I’ve applied to at least 17.) And say, “Bah!” to all this and go to Puerto Rico for four days.
A few scriptures I’ve been chewing on:
Psalm 18:29 – For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.
Romans 8:15 – For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”