America is an individualistic society. That’s not news. The Bay Area helps lead the nation in this habit of ‘can do’ attitude–we’re dripping with educated, hungry twenty somethings from all over the world. I know because for the last four years I’ve lived in Silicon Valley where there is a wunderkind around every corner and startups hold business meetings at Starbucks as if it’s a great adventure and not at all inconvenient. Apart from inspirational memes and posters I see one large piece missing in this wave of positivity: what are we supposed to do when the work is hard? Resilience, the ability to come back from struggle, is an ever burgeoning and valuable field of study that I would not want to discount. But as I understand resilience studies, they are about what to do to come out of the difficulties. The growth mindset fad is similar in its ultimate goal.
What do you do before you bounce back, before you breakthrough to that next level, after the illusions are evident but before they are dispelled? I’ve heard it called liminal space, or limbo for those of the Catholic persuasion. To me it feels like you’re not supposed to talk about it, that’s what. Or maybe, because ‘the work’ is so different, so personal for everyone, it is hard to generalize. I can see the book title now: What to do when things suck and you are worn out from working on your shit. I don’t see it being a best seller. And this wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that we’re always in transition between old and new, at least for those of us who are attempting to keep learning and growing.
So I ask again, why the hell isn’t this a huge and readily accessible conversation?
The work for me recently has been, among other things, trying to be my honest, fluid self, not a role or a set of habitual responses. In my last post I hopefully gave you an idea of the role dance plays in that goal, and how beautiful and soul wrenching that practice can be. After Saturday’s class, I spent most of the day in what I like to call hidey-hole mode. This consists of reading, Netflix, naps, junk food, and a variety of other introvert-tastic activities. I still did some chores and some writing, and despite the fact that I cried during multiple Sons of Anarchy episodes, I called it a good day. I got up Monday exhausted. I pushed my meowing cat out of bed and said, “If you’re not going to learn to speak English, I really have nothing else to say to you.” I taught commentary, usually one of my favorite lessons of the year, with almost zero motivation. By the time we were halfway through dance that night and a song came on about a beautiful stranger, I felt more alone than I had in a while.
Yesterday, I woke up and called in sick, hoping that heartsick was implied under the sick leave tab in the drop down menu. Maybe I had not applied myself to Sunday’s hidey-hole day vigilantly enough. After all, hidey-hole day used to be a fail safe cure for days I was spent. So, I slept in later, ate more junk food, took more naps, cried and watched more episodes of SOA. I literally got off the couch to pee, to eat, and to let the cat in and out. This morning I woke up, not jubilant and refreshed, but hung over–more exhausted, more anxious about managing demands. Clearly, hiding out for the day doesn’t do shit anymore. I know Dr. Estes and many others would say that I need to refill the cup creatively to keep going, and in theory I agree. However, how do you do that when the circuits are so fried that walking twenty feet to get the mail is difficult? Conversely, when I do open up to the drop kick of beauty, how do I then find the motivation for the laundry and the grading and calling of Sprint to complain for the hundredth time?
In short, it’s the same dilemma I always have in limbo–which is why I used to avoid it–holding both the mundane and the magic strips my resources till I feel I can’t adequately hold either.
And I don’t have an answer for my question besides ‘keep practicing what you’ve learned,’ which is wholly unsatisfying when you’re in it, and in fact I want to punch myself a little even as I type it. Clearly I have not been practicing anything in the midst of this week of worn-out-itude. The only other thing I can think of that might help? If regular people would be more honest with their own struggles as they’re growing. I know this is asking a lot. I know that I feel more comfortable than most in broadcasting my life, but….pretty please? Because right now the main broadcasts I’m hearing don’t have much to do with me. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the hell out of people who work for themselves, people who have earned a fortune honestly, people who have raised their children well and are still actively creating their lives. But when those without bosses, those without significant money worries, those who have someone else to do the laundry or the dishes tell me to just “sit with the feelings of sadness and exhaustion, let them teach you what they have to teach you,” well then I’m back to wanting to punch things.
I have a few of those people to remind me that it’s normal to get worn out along the path: my vegetarian friend who says that sometimes she will just chow down on a burger, my dance teacher who will come in from a frazzling day and put her frustration into a frustration dance, and even a friend who will make her FB status about not properly feeding herself that day because of the brainweasels overpowering her knowledge and common sense. When it’s hard, at the very least, we need to know we’re not the only ones it is hard for, the more reminders the better.