In the last couple of days, I’ve had the opportunity to handle something differently than I ordinarily would, and so I’m taking it.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with feelings of overwhelming and comprehensive failure. These are feelings, of course, and not rational thoughts; today my mother, with that look mothers get when their children tell them something like this, asked “You know that’s not true, right?” Intellectually, yes, I know that’s not entirely true.  But someone might alert my feelings. They haven’t gotten the memo.

When this happens, when life is like repeatedly playing an impossible level of Candy Crush, I almost always do the same thing: retreat into myself. I recede from connection and from many forms of interaction. When I do engage in an interaction, the mask goes on, with the exception of a very few people I can solidly trust not to be uncomfortable with my vulnerability, or turn the topic around to themselves after what seems like a decent interval, or, worse, actively minimize and invalidate the feelings that are so overwhelming right now.  And I certainly don’t write about it. I’ve always felt an obligation to have things figured out before I write publicly about them, although I’m not sure why. Also, putting something like this out in public invites the commentary of people who are certain they know what the answer is, whether it’s Jesus, or Buddha, or letting go of negativity, or the latest piece of advice that is snappy enough to fit onto a Facebook meme. That’s tiresome.

I spent the winter wrapped up in this kind of ball, and as reliably as I retreat into that shell, the outcome is equally reliable: it makes things worse.

Why I decided to do things a little bit differently now, I’m not sure. Maybe it’s growth. Or it could be a thought I had this afternoon, that perhaps feelings of comprehensive failure are an indication that I should re-examine my values, my expectations of myself, and my motivations for doing the things I’m apparently failing at.  So I did.

I was raised to take care of business. I feel pressure to be a provider, a good parent, a good partner, a good friend, to be creatively and professionally accomplished, to nurture anyone who needs it, and to have a home that isn’t gross.  And I have been working like mad at all of those things, and coming up short on all but a couple.

Photographs? Not good enough. And anyway, where’s that new camera you’ve been saying you were going to get for a long time now?

Writing? I have two half-finished Kindle Singles I’ve been working on since January.

House? Let’s not even get into that.

And as for the provider angle, well – finances have been something I use as a proxy for self-esteem. I think that happens a lot to people who have been fortunate to make a good income. So when that area starts to be a challenge, things get real, fast.

Here is one inescapable truth: If you live long enough, and are at all open to life, you will find yourself bumping up against the wall of bullshit you’ve constructed to insulate you from your deepest fears about yourself. I suspect that might be what’s happening to me right now. So maybe writing about it is my way of not leaning on that wall.

So here it is – the post about something I have not yet figured out. It’s an open question, and I don’t yet know what the answer is. It looks suspiciously like life, though.

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6 thoughts on “An Open Question

  1. I admire you for having the awareness enough, even in misery, to recognize your own patterns and being willing to try different strategies. I, for one, could really use a role model (or at least a brave you-go-first example) of exercising different choices. I hope you find at least some minor successes and, more importantly, that you share them. (Kristy)

    1. I’ll try to keep sharing the results. Twelve hours later, I can report that there’s something about an act of blunt public authenticity that shakes a lot of those feelings loose. I’m starting to suspect that they thrive in solitude, at least for me.

  2. “Here is one inescapable truth: If you live long enough, and are at all open to life, you will find yourself bumping up against the wall of bullshit you’ve constructed to insulate you from your deepest fears about yourself. I suspect that might be what’s happening to me right now. So maybe writing about it is my way of not leaning on that wall.”

    Can I suggest that this right here is the truest of all the things you’ve just written? In the last six weeks or so, you’ve done three things that, to my mind anyway, suggest you are breaking free from patterns you find all too comfortable even as you realize the damage they do.

    That photo shoot. The trust involved in baring yourself to the camera’s eye. Then to publicly post the photos and write about the experience as honestly as you could.

    Marriage. A commitment I feel goes beyond soul-deep for you, especially in light of your frame of reference for what can happen after “I take thee…”

    And this blog post. The refusal to retreat inside the subterranean safe-house until you’ve got a more solid grip on things.

    To my mind, it does look like growth. You stepped into the abyss once, married and had a child and lived in a place where most of your absolutes were met on a day-to-day basis. And that didn’t work out.
    This one is different. A different Jen. Different man. Different child, for all that he looks very much like the one from before. This one feels (from my gleanings of your writing) more like something you’ve put a tremendous amount of work into already. And it’ll be work for a long time to come. Maybe forever. That’s kind of the beauty of a partnership that knows about hills and valleys. About the rubberband that secures you within the relationship.

    But, looking back over a life shot full of failures gift wrapped in my own self doubt and fear, I have to tell you that forgiving yourself for not being perfect is maybe the greatest gift. Learning to accept a person that didn’t live up to the ideal in every single facet of that make believe you.
    When you finally get to that place, Jen, you’re going to love the view.

    1. Interesting thoughts. I find that forgiving yourself for not being perfect is something that takes practice, rather than just a one time, global thing. I think that the intellectual realization of it is hugely important. But when an expectation is so ingrained as to become unconscious, you have to root it out again and again in whatever situation you find yourself in. I think I’m definitely getting better at that, and it both feeds and is supported by the decision to be more open about things and just doing things differently than I have in the past. This may be just another way of saying what you’ve already said, but why not. 🙂

  3. I enjoyed An Open Question. Beautifully written and exceptionally profound to me. I recently started a blog, and my brother-in-law, asked me the same question: Why have you not written anything? I write when I have the desire, thoughts and need to express myself. I’m new at this, but at least my friends on FB do not have to be confronted with my diatribes on any given day. Live well. Abandon hope. I love this. Live well today. Live the best you can regardless of your personal circumstances. What wonderful advice.

    1. Thank you! The funny thing is, I forgot I’d written that. Sometimes I write these posts as if they are this new epiphany I’ve had….and then WordPress reminds me I’ve gone down this road before. 🙂

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