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Archive for October, 2011

Waiting

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/08/28/my-take-an-atheist-at-aa/

“Proved faithless, still I wait.”
–Franz Wright

Above I posted a link to an article by one of my favorite writers (Marya Hornbacher) about thriving in AA as a nonbeliever and just what it means to be both spiritual and atheist. I’m so grateful a professor of mine recommended her first memoir, Wasted, to me a few years ago. At the time, someone had suggested that maybe I should try to write in genres outside of creative nonfiction, because all of the great creative nonfiction I read was written by people over fifty. My professor had been lecturing me about my lack of confidence, telling me my insecurity hindered my performance. I couldn’t even fake the confidence, so I said, “I’m only twenty. Maybe I’m not mature enough to write in this genre.” Praise Zeus this woman was patient with me, because anyone else might have slapped me. She told me about how Hornbacher published Wasted at twenty-three, and it received all sorts of recognition and awards.

I bought it and devoured it instantly. I also lucked out because only a month after I read Wasted, her memoir Madness: A Bipolar Life came out. I discovered she was then 34, so I got to jump from her perspective at age twenty-three to thirty-four in just a short time. I felt like I got to skip the hard parts, and just gain all of the wisdom she shared about the struggles she experienced in between the two memoirs…That’s why I’m obsessed with memoirs, because I can learn from other people’s life experience. Their lessons-learned-the-hard-way add to my wisdom. I hope my mistakes can somehow provide wisdom for others too–if I ever finish my memoir.

Hornbacher’s latest book just came out this past May. It’s called Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power. When I heard about her working on this, I felt ecstatic and slightly scared. I couldn’t wait to see her tackle spirituality after I’d read so much about her struggles with mental health. I also feared that there wouldn’t be room for me to reflect on mental health and spirituality after someone with her talent beat me to it. Her book only proved to excite me even more about my own project.

I’ve been reading all sorts of spiritual books here. Plus, I go to mass every day. I came in as a pretty confident nonbeliever, but the more I listen to religious individuals with an evolved, well-thought-out spirituality, the less anger I have toward religion. I used to think it was just an exclusive club. They all say anyone can join their religion, but if you don’t believe, what are you supposed to do? Force it? I love that Hornbacher addresses her attempts to find faith, because she thought she was missing something. It gives me hope that she realized the answers and wisdom already were inside of her. It blows my mind that I can be reading a Catholic nun (Joan Chittister) and Hornbacher and feel like I agree with both of them. I don’t really like religious language. Wise individuals like Chittister define “God” in a way that I can get behind. Yet, I’m still slightly uncomfortable with a word that stems from  belief about an angry man in the sky.

This long entry was really just to say that all of the spiritual seeking I’m doing is pointing to nothing more than telling me to keep seeking. It’s about the humility of seeking something greater and waiting. Hornbacher and many other great spiritual writers, regardless of “technical belief labels,” agree on the importance of humility and a constant seeking. The quote from the poet, Franz Wright, is how he ends his book God’s Silence. There were points that the book got a little too Catholic for me. Wright has struggled with depression and alludes to suicide attempts throughout his work. Yet, I still started to disconnect because of his devout faith. Then, he ends the book with that line, “Proved faithless, still I wait.” Wow. What a punch to the gut. I love it.

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Another Rainy Day

I’m ashamed to say I’m still staying at my parents’ house. Getting back is proving to be more complicated than anticipated. The car my sister and I share is getting fixed, so my dad agreed to take me back to the convent today. Twenty or thirty minutes into our drive there, we decided to turn around. The rain didn’t want to let up and my dad had worked late. He decided he couldn’t drive there and back safely. I’m glad he felt comfortable admitting this, instead of pushing through. Yet, I’d prepared myself to return to the disciplined schedule I follow. It takes a bit of mental preparation and courage to go back to a life of solitude. I use the word courage, because I’ve always heard about how courage isn’t the lack of fear, but our decision to stand up to it, and I certainly feel afraid.

Living with my parents makes the anxiety worse because of their unhealthy work habits. They work hard, and I’m thankful they passed on such a strong sense of work ethic to me. That being said, they compromise their health and happiness for work, and I’ve been struggling to unlearn this for a while now. They think I’m lazy, because we value different things. Reading, writing, or having some sort of new epiphany doesn’t impress them much. I understand I’m not a conventionally practical person to have around. I don’t clean or cook. I can see why they get frustrated when they are stressed to the maximum, and I’m doing everything I can to learn how to avoid stress. I know a person can’t entirely avoid stress, but there’s plenty of times we can control it or minimize it.

My stress related health problems in the past came because I had unrealistic expectations for myself and used to believe everything that came up came down to life or death. I now try to live by the “five year test,” meaning I ask myself how important the event/decision that is stressing me is going to be in five years. The wonderful nun who set me up with my living arrangements reminded me to go easier on myself when I return to the convent. Instead of feeling like a failure for not making much progress on my book, she said I should just soak up the experience. She thought some of my current health problems could be stress related. When I told my dad this, he laughed and said, “Yeah, what do you have to stress about? You don’t do anything.” I called him out on the fact that he can’t do what I do. If he has time off, he’s restless and looking for something to work on. I don’t think people appreciate the work involved with attempting to be a conscious being. It’s much easier to live asleep.

I feel like I’ve been given a second chance to change how I think about this great opportunity I have to live with nuns. I’m going back with a new enthusiasm, yet a humility I lacked before. I thought I could dive into writing hours every day, and felt awful when I couldn’t produce what I thought I should be able to. I need to lose the guilt about these imaginary expectations I have for myself and do what I’m there to do: learn everything I can and love life.

I’ve been especially bad at keeping up with messages during this tough time I’d been going through. I can’t thank you all enough for the words of encouragement you provide. They seem to come just when I need it the most. I’ll try to be better at blogging and answering messages when I go back to the convent on Friday. The kind words keep me going. Thank you.

Pain

I’m sitting on my parents’ screened in porch. I haven’t been able to appreciate this nice weather much due to experiencing some health problems. It seems to be mostly abdominal and lower back pain. I’m also having stomach problems too. I don’t think it’s anything too serious, but it’s enough to keep me in bed, drinking tea all day. I drove back here to my hometown yesterday so that I could see my doctor this morning.

It’s hard to say how I feel mentally. Being stuck in bed for extended periods of time can make anyone feel down. I even wondered if this might be my body telling me to go easy on myself until I molt this layer of skin. I’ve accomplished very little writing lately. I’m slowly investigating graduate schools and getting my portfolio around. It seems strange that I’d feel sick after doing so little. I’m thankful to have the sort of lifestyle where I don’t have to “suck it up” in order to go to work or school. If I don’t feel well, I can cancel almost all obligations to take care of myself. If only everyone had that luxury.

It’s a shame how we are trained to ignore our bodies. There’s over-the-counter meds for any ache or pain you can think of. We just keep popping pills and pushing on. I’m just as bad–still unsure how to trust myself without fear I’m exaggerating my pain or acting like a hypochondriac. In sports, I learned to play with the mindset “no pain, no gain.” What an awful thing to tell kids. Sure, I think it’s great to push ourselves physically to improve, but it’s also important to treasure our bodies.

I blame my lack of confidence and inability to trust my own body  for many things. First and foremost, I didn’t think my depression was as serious as it got both times. I thought I was being “dramatic,” so I kept pushing myself until I had all sorts of physical symptoms surfacing. I also blame my inability to validate my pain (physical or emotional) for the fact that I went around using a broken wrist for a month. I waited to get x-rays, because it didn’t feel broken. Three days after I fell, I agreed to go get x-rays because the swelling had not gone down much. They told me it wasn’t broken, so I went back to using it a week later, trusting them more than me.

After a month of pain, I went back to the doctor. They told me not to worry and sprains can take up to two months to heal. Luckily, they sent me for x-rays again just in case. They called me that night, telling me I needed emergency surgery in the  morning. My wrist was not only broken, but it was cutting off the blood supply and starting to crumble. The surgeon feared I’d already done permanent damage. I should have gone back to the doctor sooner. Luckily, my wrist is almost 100% these days. The thought I could have done permanent damage scares me, though

Similarly, I shouldn’t have let them discharge me from the psych unit so early each time either. I thought I must be exaggerating, so when they suggested I might be ready to leave, I agreed. Maybe I wouldn’t have had to be hospitalized as many times if I’d stuck around and gotten it right that first one. I don’t want to sound like I have regrets, because I learned from those experiences. I just want to voice my frustration, because I still don’t trust my body. I wasn’t going to even come home to go to the doctor this time. Luckily, friends and family suggested it could be serious. Plus, it’s nice to have my parents and pets around if I need something. I hope to go back to the convent tomorrow. Maybe then I’ll actually have something worth blogging about.

Fighting Negativity

It’s finally starting to hit me that I live with nuns. When I tell friends or family stories from my day, they all comment on what a “weird” and different life I’m living compared to most people. Overall, I’m happy with my decision to do this. There are certainly hard times. Lately I’m struggling with a lot of negative thoughts about my writing. I’m getting kicked down by thoughts like, “You’re not disciplined enough to write a book,”  “You’re not talented enough to publish a book,” or worst of all “No one cares what you have to think or say.”  Needles to say, it’s hindering my productivity. That sort of negativity is a downward spiral. It prevents me from writing as much as I’d like, but then I feel bad about my lack of writing, so the thoughts get worse. It doesn’t help I get a lot of comments like, “What do you do there?” when people ask me how writing is going, and I answer honestly.

The other night, it all got to me. It’s a good thing Laura, one of my best friends, is down-to-earth and patient with me. I complained about my lack of success and said, “Maybe I am lazy. And I’m probably not disciplined enough to write a book. What DO I do here?”

She answered rather quickly, “Well, this week you did: an hour of yoga every day, attended daily mass in addition to a separate daily prayer time, got trained to work at the front desk, worked at the front desk, reflected a lot, blogged, stayed in touch with people, read insightful articles and books, had 3 meals a day every day– which involves socializing for extended periods of times with people 4 times your age, AND you still managed to write some. I think that’s a lot.”

When she put it like that, I felt better. It’s hard for me to remember I’m living a completely different lifestyle than I’m used to. It’s not the sort of life where I am conventionally successful. It’s teaching me to look for value in other things, which is proving to be great for my healing process.

I’m reading all sorts of deep thoughts that I’d never made time for. It amazes me that more people don’t read. I feel like I gain so much wisdom by having access to thoughts and life experiences by some of the greatest minds of all ages.

The grounds I live on are phenomenal. When I’m blue or lonely, I remind myself I’m living every writer’s dream. In fact, I recently found out a brilliant writer/nun, that I’d once heard speak on NPR, stayed on these same grounds for 6 months to write a book. This inspired me to check out more of her work. I’m reading one of her latest books called Welcome to the Wisdom of the World. She takes texts from five major religions and uses it to reflect and advise readers how to live a spiritual life. I’m a bit star-struck that this woman, Joan Chittister, stayed here to write. She’s such a wise individual. I’ve been writing quotes down as I read (normally I underline them, but I’m borrowing this book from the library, so I actually have to write them out).

Here’s a thought that stopped me in my tracks. I’m doing a lot of reflecting on it:

“Life, we think, is simply a series of tasks to perform, a list of things to do: get the job, buy the house, finish the degree, have the children, do the work. It takes years to figure out, if we ever do, that life is not a task at all. Life is far more difficult than that. Life is the process of coming to see what is not seeable, to hear what is not said, to become what we are but never knew we were” (Chittister 45).

I learned this, without being able to articulate it, after my three hospitalizations and two separate partial hospitalizations due to depression. Losing my health (and mind), made me realize I’d been working my ass off all my life without knowing why or what for. I’d been under the impression that if I got those degrees, published a book, got married, had and/or adopted kids, and just lived life according to this imaginary plan, I’d be happy. I’m thankful when writers like Chittister can help me articulate thoughts I didn’t know how to express before. In retrospect, it’s interesting, because I read insightful articles and listened to wise people speak long before my hospitalizations. I technically knew that life is supposed to be about the journey and not the destination, but somehow I couldn’t believe it with every part of me. Glad to know my head and heart are starting to agree on things.