How much it hurts

I just want to wail, over and over, “I just want to go home, I just want to go home!”

I ran a little experiment and tried to post about what things are like for me right now on my family public blog. I just feel like a lot of my writing over here is of good quality, and I keep thinking I should go back to writing where my family can see it.

But the whole reason I started this one was because so much of what I’m feeling is emotionally complex enough I can’t be blunt and honest about it with my family. And there it is again. I started trying to write the first sentence I started this post with, over there, and I couldn’t do it.

Because it seems too melodramatic, and I find myself trying to tone it down for them. Because it is true, but if I said it to them, it would make people too upset. There’s nothing they can do to help me. So I share, but somehow I can only share so much. Maybe just because I have learned how terribly uncomfortable tears make them feel, and so I find myself trying to spare them of that? Because it’s not that I don’t want them to know I’m homesick. I just don’t want them to know that I’m finding tears rolling down my cheeks nearly every day now.

I can’t do this.

I want to go home.

I can’t do this, but I have to.

I want to go home.

I want to go home.

I want to go home. . .

Know Me

It used to be, when someone told me I was sensitive, I was frustrated and, well, hurt. Sensitive seemed like a bad word, an insult, and something that made me immediately defensive. I’m not sensitive — you’re just INsensitive!

I still think it can be hurled like an insult. Almost anything can, if you use right derisive tone of voice and a condescending glance. But after a few years of relative isolation and feeling unknown, I am now finding a new response to “sensitive” — relief.

Oh, good. You know. You understand. You see me. You recognize that this is an area to be careful around, just a a finger that has just been smashed in a door jam is sensitive and needs a little extra protection.

I am home sick. Literally, almost to the point of nauseousness. There are other things contributing, too, but the homesickness is more intense than it’s every been, and the tears hover very near the surface. I keep trying to explain away my problems, rationalize my situation, talk a good stiff upper lip into myself, drag myself through these next several weeks.

“And also, the landscape was more homelike. You are strongly affected by such things.”


More than yes. Absolutely, completely dead-on.

My surroundings must take care of me. And if they don’t, I have to change them. I cannot, unfortunately, change the landscape of the biggest mountain range on the continent. And so I feel oppressed. I’m not speaking in hyperbole. I do not just feel uncomfortable, or out of place, or disconcerted. I feel, literally, oppressed.

I am sad. I hide in my room. Even though there is sunshine and fresh air outside. It is not okay. And I can’t fix it. I can only endure.

My brain, it feels like mush. My laptop is here, but it, too, seems to be functioning improperly. If I get home, when I get home, I’m going to have to ask my brothers to look at it, but my current guess is that the operating system is now too much for my puny, cheap as I could get computer. It keeps updating itself, and every time it updates, the computer is less and less responsive.

I asked the tow truck man to get me some water. I almost didn’t, because there is water from the tap, and it won’t kill me. I justified it to myself in the moment that he really wants to help, and I should find some way to accept his help. But in retrospect, I am feeling sad and lonely and wouldn’t mind seeing a familiar friendly face, and I asked for the water more for a chance to not be alone for a few moments. I suppose I could go talk to the motel owner, but I get more the impression that I make him uncomfortable. It’s not that I have anything to say; it is only that there is only so long you can go without even seeing another human being without it being distressing. And by seeing, I mean be in the physical presence of. The digital age, with all it’s wonders, cannot replace that.

I’m an introvert. I’m not afraid of being alone. Sometimes I am desperate to be alone. But in times of life crumbling rapidly into the surreal, being alone can be hard. Having other people around, even if just to share the experience, makes life seem less real and more concrete. It may not mean doing anything or needing anything. But it’s still a peculiarly strong sense of deprivation to go through unsettling things alone.

It’s not a matter of “can you.” Or of “needing assistance.” It’s just a question of wanting to feel like a human being, and the more isolated you feel, the more you feel ostracized from the entire human race and therefore inhuman.


And for me, this is barely writing. I feel like my faculties are strangely inhibited, and I can’t figure out why.

This goes nowhere

Late last week, I suddenly realized I looked haggard.

This was distressing. You can look “tired” if you stay up too late the night before. You can look “exhausted” if you’ve just finished a whirlwind week or two and have spent out your temporary reserves. But if you look “haggard,” that’s a chronic condition of a life hard-lived.

Where I am is supposed to be easy street. I’m not supposed to be in a “hard place” right now. The roof is given over my head, food is catered to my place at the table, the work that I do during the day is rewarding and helps other people, the people I work along side of are kind to me. “Haggard” is not the look I expected to see on my face.

But I checked multiple times throughout the day, and the next day. I can still put a brilliant smile over “haggard,” but “haggard” it is. It’s almost more sad to me than discovering my first grey hair (I did that at age 16). Haggard is supposed to be for when you have 6 kids and a husband with cancer. Haggard is supposed to be for when you are trying to figure out if there is any way to care for your loved ones, to keep them safe. Haggard is not supposed to be for common, everyday living.

It makes me feel insufficient for life. I am not equal to the task. But it also. . .I don’t know. Makes me wonder if I’m doing it wrong? If I had made different choices, different priorities, would life had made me look “haggard” by now? Did I make myself “haggard” for good reason, reasons that mean a worthy sacrifice has been made, or was I just stupid? And, perhaps most unsettling, if I’m already “haggard” now, what happens next?

You know, in the stories–pick one, I don’t care — there’s the “struggle” for the “cause.” The conclusion. The “that was then, this is now. . .see where it all got me.” The struggle, the hardship is for a finite time, and the point is to get through it to the other side, which is the payoff, the fruits, or at least a relenting from the hardship. Cinderella scrubbed floors for a time, but by all accounts, she wound up happy. Reading books has a nasty habit of making you think life should follow the same parabolic plot lines.

In real life, despite our reference to “chapters” and “new journeys,” things rarely make a smidge of plot sense. There may not be a time of relenting, of arriving, of seeing why it was all worth it and what it accomplished.  And we tell people quite frequently that they “need to put in their time” or “pay their dues.” The idea is, if you work really hard when you’re young, everything will gel together happily. But that is a story, and maybe it doesn’t and maybe there’s no going “through.”

People told me when I was at my most sick point to not worry, that I would “get through it.” I thought that was a stupid thing to say. Chronic diseases happen all the time. What does “through” look like in that case? People tell you you’ll get “through” school, “through” bad job situations, “through” all kinds of stuff, and the implication is, after all is said and done, you won’t have any regrets. But maybe you will. Maybe you’ll carry scars. Maybe you’ll be in mourning the rest of your life. Maybe “looking haggard” isn’t a “rough spot” that you’ll pass through with victory; maybe it’s a sign of things to come. Maybe it’s a sign things aren’t to come.

But I guess what bothers me is the nagging feeling that people were right when they said, “after a certain age, a person IS responsible for how their face looks.” That character shows through, and decisions and choices and trials. If I can’t figure out how I got here, how am I supposed to make a difference on tomorrow, next month, a few years, a couple of decades? And I don’t like that characters in the stories know what it is they’re struggling for, and I don’t. I can’t tell you, really, that it will all be worth it in the end, or what I will get out of all of it.

What do you care?

There is something uniquely gut-wrenching about watching a grown man cry.

It seems almost too private to write about, yet has unsettled me all day and so I feel the need to work it out.

A patient who had been to the clinic for a long time passed away last fall. Now, her family was back in the clinic, giving an hour long presentation that was half a memorial, half a thanks. The clinician I was with that day was — is — a man’s man. More fit than a fiddle, broad shouldered, narrow waisted, tall, handsome, charming. Spent his stint in the army. Loves his outdoor sports.

I kept glancing across the table, wondering if he’d crack. The rest of the (mostly female) department was audibly sniffing. He was still doing his tough guy stance. But when they got to the part they were specifically thanking him and relating stories of the times the patient had spent in our department, he was doing more than wiping a few tears.

As soon as the lights came on, he stood up, all official and business-like, and went to his desk. As a person who has lost her tears in public more than once, I knew he was business-like scrubbing his tears as fast as possible. Patients in 10 minutes.

In 10 minutes, I couldn’t find him. I went up to bring the next patient down. I was up one flight of stairs,  when I heard (but couldn’t see) someone entering the stairwell. I heard him crying up three flights of stairs. Actually, I heard him stop in the stairwell to do his crying without an audience. He’d have easily overtaken me on the stairs if he had any intention of climbing them.

He joined me in the patient’s room a few minutes later, no trace of tears on his face.

And I was angry.

Not that he’d cried. Not that he’d hid his tears.

That this place is so far from home.

I finally found a place that seems to care about human beings the way I do, and it’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of miles from home.

fighting against the dying of the light

It’s so very hard to rest. A good deal so, I think, because first you have to admit how very, very tired you are. This feels like a failure already.

“I shouldn’t be this tired.”

“What reason do I have to be this tired?”

“I didn’t used to be this tired.”

“I must be getting old.”

“I must just be a wimp.”

I was kind of trying to get my dad to think about this very thing this morning. I asked him if he thought maybe he was over-training. He said no, he thought he was just getting old. I really had to try hard to not point out that part of getting old was not being able to train as hard, and maybe if he was getting older he was over-training.

But really, the same is true for me. I had so many ideas about what I was going to over this long break. It really is long. “Working people” would give their eye-teeth for it. I should be able to just bounce back and go, and get so much stuff done. Instead. . .hah. And it makes me mad, a bit, because I don’t want to accept the fact that maybe I was just that worn out and I really did just need that much time to heal and recovery and try to store up all sorts of reserves for the next 9 months. In short, I want to be omnipotent.

The weird thing is, God is omnipotent, and He went ahead and rested anyhow. My best guess is, we not only want to be omnipotent, we’re afraid of how we’re not. Afraid we’re going to run out of time, afraid we can’t do the things we want to do, afraid that even now we’re in the process of failing. With not confidence in our power, we feel driven to make up for it by effort.

It’s kind of pathetic, really. We’re still the toddlers fighting our naps. Or, I am, anyhow.

Like a little knife

Their little legs were covered in mud, due the wonderful summer-time pleasure of catching frogs in the swamp. A spray with the hose had already been employed, but it was clear more serious measures were needed. I filled the tub with a few inches of lukewarm water, and had them strip off their shorts. Once they were sitting on the edge of the tub, I gave them both a washcloth and soap, and then took a soapy cloth for me to help them finish off the job.

It was the easiest, most natural, instinctive thing ever. . .checking behind the ankles, cleaning between miniature toes. It was relaxing and calming and obvious. The strange thing was really how normal it was. They’re not my children.

I can feed sticky toasted marshmallows to children lacking the eye-hand coordination to get it there themselves. I can get two 7-year old girls to successfully share one large ice cream cone, without it melting all over the picnic table. I am a master with mittens and boots and coats. But they’re not my children.

I’ve changed diapers, coached with walking the first unsteady steps, learned to eat with one hand with a baby on the knee. But not with my children. I’ve helped those same children learn how to drive, helped them pick out their first suit, and prayed over their interviews. But they weren’t ever my children.

I don’t want to be a teacher. I don’t want to work in “peds.” I don’t want to run a daycare, or be a nanny or an au pair. I don’t want to open an orphanage, and I don’t want to raise someone else’s child.

I want my own.

I want my own.

I want my own.

Discipline and Disciple

My first thought is, “Oh my gosh, this is going to take so much discipline.”

To not worry.

To not pack the knapsack the the night before, not double-check the school website, not insist on writing that one last email before bed. To stick to the new diet when it feel so odd and seems to be so expensive. To go to bed with the sun when the to-do list isn’t done. To not panic when I see that class is half an hour earlier than I thought it was.

I apparently have a hair-trigger on panic right now. Everything seems like a crisis. I have to remind myself again and again, “God has a plan. God already knew that. There’s still plenty of time for God.

But my second thought is, “Wait, discipline?” I’ve felt for  a long time that it bodes very ill for my internal state when I catch myself thinking “I’VE worked so hard. . .” I’ve? “I’ve” means my head isn’t screwed on straight. It means I’m still thinking it all depends on me. What does discipline mean? At first blush, I thought it was just a fancier word for “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” Come on; be disciplined! Do it!

But I wonder. The word “discipline” and “disciple” are so similar. They both have their root in being taught. I think that is the thing that I need to keep in strong focus. It’s not about what I’m learning, but who I’m learning it from. Going to bed earlier doesn’t do a thing to make me righteous. The act is in no way morally superior.

But to go to bed earlier, I have to trust that the things that weigh on me are smaller than God, and that God is more well pleased by my rest than by my anxiety. It’s not the act that matters. What matters is that it is an act of faith.

Oh, Life

I’m feeling broken and small right now, and I feel the need to write through it.

I wish I could give a grand reason for it. Well, insert jaw dropping tragedy here just happened, and I am devastated, but bravely trying to cope. Chin up, lip tremble. Everyone marvel at my courage and resiliency. But none of that is true.

I think that sometimes I dismiss my own life happenings too out of hand, though. Sometimes I need other people to point out the obvious for me, but there is no one here right now, so I must point.

* my grandfather did die just a few weeks ago

* I did find out I will have to move, and I don’t know where to

* I am trying to switch churches

* my friends are all out of town

(wow, saying all these things out loud is hard)

* my clinical rotation is very difficult on me, emotionally and intellectually.

* I am about to turn 30, and I do feel like I’m mourning the dreams I never knew I had

(that’s a hard one to say out loud, too)

* I have not been able to pursue my own interests in months

(that’s a really hard one to admit)

* I feel like I have no control over my day-to-day life

* What I think I want most out of life is not in my control (my own family; relationships are not purchasable nor manufacturable)

None of these things are in my control, and many of them I do not anticipate changing. I admonish myself to cope better, but I think of “coping” as “muscle through life anyway” and maybe what I need to do better is consciously grieve so that I can move on. I just feel like a wimp, because it feels like all around me, other people are carrying heavier burdens more graciously. I know that I have been blessed a million times over, and yet still I’m crumbling. I feel like this is shameful, so I don’t want to talk to people about it. I have so much, and still I’m not happy? How ungrateful!

I’m sorry.

But I am crumbling.

It says in the Bible that He is mindful that we are but dust, that He knows our frame. I try to take comfort and courage in that.

But I am a fixer, and I want to fix things. I want to not wallow in misery, but make corrective changes and move on. I want to be stronger than the things that make me want to hide in my room. I want to go to bed every night satisfied, not frustrated, not discouraged, not self-berating, not dreading the next day, not feeling abandoned or forgotten or dismissed.

Many people seem to be able to present themselves well, to tell a good narrative of their story. I know that doesn’t tell what is going behind the scenes. And I know I shouldn’t be comparing myself to them, anyhow. But when I try to speak a narrative of who I am right now, it reads like one big pity party, and I shy away from speaking it out-loud. So speak it I must. . .

A woman who is terribly out of shape and very self critical is introverted and overwhelmed. She is getting older and older, but her introversion and lack of trust makes it hard to make friends, especially of the opposite sex. She is so overwhelmed by the banal things of life, like grad school and finding a place to stay, which makes her hide away from everyone. In her mind, she lives well–accomplishes many things, and forges the quiet but fulfilling lifestyle that she craves. But in reality, getting up every day is a huge task, and it’s hard to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. She is sitting in a kitchen lit only by the cloudy light coming through the windows, unshowered and still in her pjs, even though it is well after noon. She is writing into the void, to hear her own echo, and bracing herself for the renewing trial of life, Monday. She does not admire her own behavior, and so cannot imagine anyone else admiring it either. No single part of her life seems to make any sense at all, and life for the next several years seems only to be a thing to be endured.

Sometimes people talk about depression like they’re shocked to find out some people are depressed. What I always wondered is, who isn’t? And what’s their secret?

I think some people are less worried about me now, because I have a more “normal” life. Going to school is normal. Looking for a place to stay is normal.They can comfortably assume that after I graduate, I will continue to be normal, and get a normal job. What I don’t think they realize is that normal is excruciating for me. So what they see as a normal progression, I see as a crushing yoke I am desperate to get out from under. They think that after I graduate, I will re-join the world of 40 hour + forced labor. I am turning the Rubik’s cube anyway I can in an attempt to find a way out of that, including praying for mercy.

In terms of mourning dreams, some part of me assumed that by the time I was “grown up” – and surely 30 is grown up – I would be married and living in a little old farm house, or maybe even a cabin. It was okay to diddle around in your 20s; false starts and minor jobs are an acceptable part of life. But it was just obvious to me that obviously, life was about joining with someone in lifelong partnership and raising a family together. That was Life. That was the story I expected to be told in my life.

As people gently try to point out to me, turning one year older does not suddenly make all possibility of that happening simply evaporate. I know that, although that doesn’t stop the panicky feeling of time slipping away. But if that is how you’ve always (albeit subconsciously) viewed life, what sense does graduate school make? What sense does a 40 hour work week make? What sense does finding a place to stay make, when you won’t be nesting a family inside of it?

I am desperate not to have a meaningless life, so while one definition of Life is slipping through my grasp like dry sand, my other hand is scrabbling to find something else to hold on to. If I could just have a good enough goal, a good enough reason, to shoulder the burden one more time because it would all be worth it in the end. . .but what I have instead is two more years where I am essentially a slave, to exhausted to pursue what I want after doing all the things I seem to have no choice or control in, and after that, a giant, looming void. Nothingness.

I scrabble to fill that, because nothingness is terrifying. But shoveling rubbish or random things into a sinkhole does not cause it to make functional sense. When your one thought about “after graduation” is “please don’t make me work full time, please don’t make me work full time,” there is little to look forward to. What will you do, then? Anything! And I can come up with a long list. But the real problem is still that Life is not making any sense to me.

I catch myself scheming in my head that I will tell people it is part time until I am less burnt out. Part time to take care of friends and relatives, part time to create things. And then part time to teach classes and start my own little non-profit to help those who really need help. And then maybe to create my own little homestead. But what it really comes down to is that I’m trying to find meaning. I understand the meaning behind making a house a home. I understand about sweeping floors and little hands. And there is a sad part of me that realizes not everyone gets what they want out of life, but if I can’t have that, then I have to struggle to find some other little piece of meaning. And when I look at the hodge-podge of little pieces of meaning that I think I understand, I realize that even if I did all of those things. . .it would still be a plan B.

I don’t want to say it out loud, but today’s theme is “Say It Out Loud.” I was going to be an awesome mom. I was going to be an awesome wife, too, but I assumed I knew less about that, so the picture was harder to paint. I was going to be that person who was always there for you, who knew how to make you feel safe and cared for, who gave you the support and encouragement so you could go and do hard and amazing things. My life was going to be about loving you, all of you. All the skills that I had were going to be used to do that better and more. Without you as my purpose, what use are my skills?

One time I thought I heard that God only takes something away if He replaces it with something better. So if He really is taking away this dream, it will only be to replace it with something better. So I strain my brain, trying to understand what could possibly be better.

And I can’t do it.

It’s hard to both come to grips with what you most want, and have to mourn it at the same time. There’s no way I can reach out and take that.

Frankly, I’m scared of my future. There doesn’t seem to be any good choices, and I don’t know what to do. I’m afraid that no matter what choice I make, I’ll regret it.

Part of me is trying to figure out how to rebuild my broken idea of just being a humble country person living a simple life, and the other part of me is trying to figure out how to be brave enough to recognize I’m being asked to do more and to follow that. Part of me is vying for control, and part of me is mourning the life I thought would be easy to keep. But mostly, I am struggling even with the idea of tomorrow.

The Conclusion of the Matter. . .

So I don’t know what I want.

Is this really an uncommon problem? I can’t imagine it is, but time has shown me again and again that I do a terrible job of imagining people different than me.

I didn’t know, for years, what I wanted to “be”. You know–job, career, occupation, defining title, all that stuff. One of the frustrating iterations of that uncomfortable topic, I believe I told a friend that I was quite confident I could be anything I wanted to be, I just had no idea what I wanted to be.

I am not so very much sure how much has changed. I guess (1) I appear to know what I want and what I’m doing in a much more socially acceptable way now, and (2) I’m no much less sure of my ability to make what I want happen, once I do figure it out. Yay for growing up?

Growing up also means that I can now say – if mostly only ever to myself – that what I want most is a family. Not a career. You can plop yourself on a career path with reason and logic and planning. A family requires another person, especially when you mean “family” not “kids”. I want the whole deal, not pieces of it here and there.

Some people then delicately say, “well. . .are you looking?” Um. . .no, I’m walking around with my eyes closed? Yes, I’m looking! I’m looking inward at myself and outward at the people around, and distantly toward what might be, and backwards at what was, and scanning around the present wondering what I will see in retrospect and wonder why it wasn’t more obvious at the time.

I think people don’t really mean “looking,” though. I think they really mean “hunting” or “pursuing” or “barging forward head on.” Usually, they mean a variant on “loosen up with alcohol and see who still texts with you when you’re both sober” or maybe even “you stupid girl, have you not yet learned how to flirt?” (Or maybe those are two of the same things?)

Well, what happens if I’m not interested in a guy who has to get at least half drunk in order to talk to me? What happens if I think flirting is a stupid way to interact and honestly, an inappropriate way to act with someone you hardly know? Yeah, I’m boring/not fun/take life too seriously/whatever. That wouldn’t change on the other side of drinking or flirting.

People say, “just live your own amazing life, and the right person will come along at the right time.” Yup. Or not. Not hunting people down doesn’t automatically turn you into a magnet, but being a chaser can often work to push people away.

Since clearly when people say “look” they mean something much less passive, I just really wonder a girl is to do. A girl who really does take life seriously, and commitments. A girl who is passionate about what matters most in life and about caring for people. A girl who does think life is full of many more important things than the pursuit of “fun” – fun is good and all, but it’s not a high and lofty goal. A girl who would like to just sit quietly together on the couch, not Go and Do, but just Be. A girl who doesn’t want to be a wife to be a princess, who doesn’t want to be a mom for the sake of cuteness, and a girl who would rather cook in than dine out any day of the week.

Be true to yourself, they say. Well, myself isn’t gregariously moving through a multiplicity of social circles, sifting for potential prey–or partnership, or however you mean it. Myself isn’t a drinker or a flirter; myself thinks that by the end of the week it is necessary to quietly withdraw and spend time patching up the inside of me so I can handle Monday when it comes around. (And I do handle Monday, thank you very much, but if I don’t spend the time patching me up on the inside, I probably will be in tears by Friday.) Myself loves to create, which is frequently a solitary occupation.

Look, you say? What do you mean, look? Look where? Where do you find people who find it endearing that you frequently curl up and hide from the world? Expand your social life, they say. Well, yes, leisure time is lovely for those who have leisure. And money. And enjoy the company of those with money to blow, I guess. Hey–I’m sorry. It’s just that a lot of the more affluent people I’ve met are boring. They’re more caught up in the Doing and Going and Spending (and Drinking) and seem more confused and bored by the Being and Making.

There are things you can do socially besides drinking, they say. Sure. I want to go to this Vocal Ensemble concert this weekend. I will show up in time to get a good seat. And sit. And enjoy it. And go home. Another solitary endeavor. I wouldn’t mind enjoying it with someone else, but the someone else to enjoy it with has yet to materialize. They say, get involved in your community. I’ve been trying for half a year to start volunteering at a shelter, but it has been excruciatingly difficult to mesh my school schedule with that. Join clubs, they say. Because even though you hate playing clubhouse, you might meet someone else who also hates playing clubhouse but is doing it anyway? And the main goal of churches is heating up pews and handing over cash.

Do I sound bitter? I don’t want to be bitter, whether I sound it or not. But there is a certain amount of frustration of wondering what you are supposed to do to “meet people” while being “true to yourself” when you are “intelligent, introverted” and alternately “sweet” or “a real firecracker”. And plus also, a point in your life when you have very little time and even less money. Seriously: how do you make lemonade with those lemons? More to the point, how do you make lemon meringue pie, or those awesome lemon custard shortcake bar cookies or lemon cake with raspberry filling and cream cheese frosting? I’m trying to take stock of realistically what I have and where I am in life, and honestly wondering how to break outside of your own little world while still not destroying yourself in the process.

I could make a self-congratulatory list of all I think I have to offer. I could making a tentative, querying list of what I was hoping to find. But I guess mostly I find myself pretty confused by the mechanics of the whole thing. How do find someone you would like to walk the rest of your life together with? The trite answer is by living the life that you want to be joined in living, but when that life doesn’t take you (much) into the circle of others’ lives, the finding seems pretty improbable.

And partly I’m wrestling with suspicion that there really isn’t much that can be done; that “finding” is just one more illusion of power that is really outside of our control. Like the endless sales of variously flavored snake-oil, if there was “a” way, it would be well documented by now, and this post would not be a tired re-hashing of the wails of countless single people who wish they weren’t. Mankind – generally – learns how to solve the problems that are solvable.

What we are left with is heartache, because heartache is generally unsolvable.