This entry is an introspective look into my professional and personal thought life, a snapshot picture of my state of mind. This entry is about my personality and a very important decision I've recently reaffirmed, but it also reflects on anxious thought patterns I have.
Disclaimer: I hope that by posting this I may encourage anyone who has also struggled with anxious or depressive thought patterns. I want to be SUPER clear and say that if negative thought patterns interfere with your life in any way, you should take careful stock of your situation and be open to seeking help, whether it's counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, or medication. I don't want anyone to read this and think that I'm advocating that people with anxiety or depression can just "flip a switch" and "magically think away their illness" by creative goal setting any more than someone with diabetes can. If you struggle with anxiety or depression, I recommend that you educate yourself about mental illness, but resist the urge to self-diagnose, and instead seek professional help. Mental health issues like these are REAL medical issues and have clear physiological effects on your body. They are not to be ignored, or experienced with a sense of guilt over having them. And you don't have to go through it alone. Seek out trusted friends ... it really is therapeutic to talk about it!
That said, on to the post!
Creative surges and their aftermath
It's very much in my personality to enjoy the process of brainstorming a list of awesome and cool goals that I want to accomplish. I think that's a powerful thing that attracts me to the teaching profession. The pressure's on to think of lots of awesome and cool things to do on a regular basis, because once you've done a few in one lesson plan, you have to immediately make another with more. It's exciting, and the rush is a little addicting! It is even more fun because you pretty much know immediately whether or not the things you THOUGHT were awesome and cool really WERE awesome and cool. For sure the kids let you know, and if you're observant you can see it. So if your lesson plan really wasn't as awesome and cool as you thought it was, you have an absolutely magical opportunity to make the next lesson plan just the way you wanted it.
I love imagining all of the things that I can do and thinking about what they would look like if they were in place.
The problem is ... on my own ... I tend to have a very, very difficult time implementing my Awesome and Cool list. I thrive on feedback, specifically of the positive variety (a scarce and precious resource). In fact after posting my last two blog entries both in one night (here and here) I was very aware of this and how it can be problematic. I had an "embarrassment influx". Writer's version of the buyer's remorse, I guess. I had just put a little bit of my soul on the line, and in the silence that followed I figured that people didn't like it. My trigger-happy finger wanted to go and delete everything that I had written. That's a major reason why I still haven't shared anything that I wrote from NaNoWriMo (and don't intend to until I do some major editing).
This part of my personality has historically been difficult for me to deal with. It's not just these two blog entries. It's been my whole life. It's been work that I do for school, conversations that I have with friends and family, conversations that I have with strangers, lessons that I gave my students, you name it, I've had "Molly remorse". Embarrassment that comes from me ... just being me. Usually, it's thinking that I've done something Awesome and Cool and then realizing that it was quite the opposite. And on comes the wave of negative thought patterns.
Part of this whole thing is personality and I think that it's a good thing (wanting to do things well, wanting what I do to have a positive effect on people, wanting the best for others). Part of this comes out of anxiety (obsessing on negative thought processes, emotional rushes coming out of my body's physiological responses, exaggerated reactions to physical states like feeling sick, hungry or tired). Part of it, frankly, has just been a process of growing up and maturing.
I've tried a lot of things to manage this "Molly remorse," either sporadically or regularly, some of which have worked and some of which haven't, some of which are noble and some of which are absolutely not. Exercise, watching what I eat, seeking out trusted counselors, self help books, breathing - all of this has been good for dealing with anxious thoughts. Codependency, throwing myself into my work, making unfair demands on loved ones - those are less noble ways that I've (unsuccessfully) tried to manage these feelings.
Out of all of that, I've learned a lot about myself. I know my triggers really well. If I get upset, I can usually identify what caused it. I know what situations to avoid and what situations to put myself in to help myself feel better.
Work or stay at home for another year?
My latest significant bout with "Molly Remorse" was reflecting on whether or not I wanted to stay home full time for a second year as a stay-at-home mom. This actually was very closely related with the beginning of writing this blog. As I reflected on how I could use this blog to keep up with some of my teachery skills I remembered how much I loved teaching, and that thought just kept seeping into my everyday life.
Because the thing about being a stay-at-home mom is ... the things you do, yes, are Awesome and Cool, but very quietly so. And the feedback that you get doesn't come right away like it does in teaching. It comes slowly. Your newborn's first smile and any culturally recognizable signs that he likes you don't even come for months. And yes, it's satisfying the first time your year-old son actually starts turning the pages of a book after several months where all he wanted to do was eat books and slobber on them ... but during those munchy slobbery months it's really hard to keep reading to him even though you should because "it's an Awesome and Cool thing to do." I'm really looking forward to when our son will really enjoy story time, although I know it's not going to be any time soon.
So during my first year and a half of being at home full time (since I resigned from my teaching position that ended in May and my son wasn't born til late fall - thus I was home and pregnant for awhile) I've had my fair share of struggling with what at first was downtime, and now is tedium time. I absolutely love my son but frankly it can be boring to pay the Awesome and Cool amount of attention to him that he deserves. So at the end of last year's school year, I began to think about returning to work part time. I went through the steps of applying for jobs and got called for an interview, but it wasn't a good fit, and after that the desire to return to teaching diminished from a loud distracting cry to a low background hum. It didn't disappear, though, and I still had a job hunting website send me regular updates for open positions that fit what I was looking for.
And there it was in my email box one August morning, a part-time position that looked exactly like what I was looking for. They were looking for a teacher just a couple of weeks before school started. I immediately applied for the position and started to do some serious soul-searching to think about whether or not I should return to work. I had a long list of Awesome and Cool reasons on both sides of the decision, actually, but was definitely much more excited at the opportunity to go back to work part-time than I was of staying at home full time. Then I got the call, and went in for the interview.
And I absolutely loved it. From the interview I got an overwhelming sense that I would enjoy working with the staff and students, and that the school's philosophy and foreign language department's philosophy and interactions were an environment in which I would thrive as an educator. Because of the short notice, I was told that I would get a call that afternoon if I was to be called back for a final interview the following day, after which they would make a decision pretty much immediately. That didn't scare me because I've always been someone to make decisions right away. I felt good about this job and thought that it would be an excellent professional opportunity. But I was conflicted. At the same time that I was super excited about this job, I had another thought welling up in me and I couldn't define what it was until later.
I was honest at the first interview, telling them that I really was excited to return to work but was undecided on whether or not it was the right time for my family. But I needed to make a decision before I got any kind of call back. I wouldn't feel comfortable going on the final interview unless I was sure I'd take the position if they offered it to me. Because of the short notice and the need to get a good candidate in quickly, the last thing they needed was a wishy-washy candidate ho-humming along in their final interview taking up the slot of someone else who was truly interested.
So I journaled, I prayed, and I emailed back and forth with my husband who was working, I talked with a good friend, and I talked with my step-mom, a retired teacher. I was secretly hoping that I wouldn't get a call-back, because then it would take away the need for me to have to take action. That in and of itself should have been a clue to me of what the right decision for me was.
I went through a whole long process of thinking about the logical reasons to take or turn down the job, but what it came down to was reflecting on how I approached all of those pro's and con's. The reasons to take the job, ultimately, felt like justifications. I felt I was making excuses (more money, more adult conversation, easier entry into full time work when it's the right time, it would be fun, etc) for doing something that deep down, I knew I shouldn't do. The reasons to stay home felt like convictions, like deeply held beliefs that were valuable and important (the value of staying at home with my son). Ultimately, because of this soul-searching into my motivations, I decided that I would not attend the final interview if the opportunity was offered to me.
I'm glad that I applied for this job and went on the interview, because beforehand, I wasn't sure that being at home was really the right thing for us right now. I thought, "I'll go and maybe the job will be perfect and it'll be something that I can't turn down because of its awesomeness." It wasn't until I went on that interview, and saw how fun and awesome the job was, that I knew. The thing was, the job really was nearly perfect. It was our situation that wasn't. There was nothing they could have told me at the final interview that would have made me want to take the job more than I already wanted to take it. I already felt its amazingness and awesomeness. But ... this feeling didn't go away, the uncomfortable sinking feeling like I would be giving up something precious if I took it. And that's what ultimately made me say ... for us, the right decision is for me to stay home.
I still kind of hoped that I wouldn't get a call back, because I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to resist and would say "Sure, I'll go on the final interview!" even knowing that it wouldn't be right, because I had every intention of turning them down if offered the job. Or (arguably) worse, going and getting offered the job and then actually taking it even though I was convicted that I shouldn't. See how my mind runs in circles?
This was my sweet husband's response when I emailed him a loooooooooooooooooong explanation of my thoughts that day.
That is really well thought out and I appreciate that a lot of thought went into your decision. I support you 100%. I can see both sides but I think you made the right decision. The part that strikes me the most is: I can't see what I'm doing at home with David. I probably won't see it in a year. But in 10 years ... maybe that's when I see it. But if I'm too busy working all the time (and if I start next year I'll probably want to continue indefinitely) then I'll miss those 10 years. They'll just go by in a blur. And I'll miss my son growing up. I think that is precious and something to not give up easily. Thank you for recognizing that. It means a lot to me (and David!).
And there it was - my thriving on feedback - thankfully I have a husband who can see this need and speak encouragement into my heart.
I got the call, and I turned it down. They were understanding and pleasant. I went through a little grieving process. Turning down that final interview was a small death for me. There was one path my life could have gone down - one that seemed exciting and full of light. And there was another one - an uncertain one. A faintly illuminated one where I'd do a lot of work and not see the benefits right away. Don't get me wrong. It's not like I expected that job to be all sunshine and roses. I knew that if I took it I'd have to occasionally fight the intense "Molly Remorse" that comes when inevitably I had conflicts with co-workers or students made it abundantly clear that they did not like me. But the thing is I really wanted to return to teaching, and I decided not to because for me, for my family, right now, I didn't think it was the right decision.
The thing is, I need more time to deal with this "Molly Remorse" phenomenon. I told my husband, I can't just continue on my life as a stay-at-home mom the same after this. I was really excited about that job, about teaching, and now there's a hole in my heart where that used to be. I stopped the job-hunt website's weekly updates about open positions, but it wasn't enough. I needed to fill up that hole, otherwise, honestly, I'd get depressed and resentful at my son for taking that away from me.
So I decided to fill up the hole with discipline.
Here's the thing. I love work. And I don't just mean teaching. I mean, doing stuff ... that's good, for me, for my family, for others. I think people will be working in heaven - real work, good work, awesome work that just fills them up and makes them satisfied. But work is hard. I love the process of planning how I'm going to organize my house. But then I walk into the office that has papers strewn all around it from a project I worked on months-ago sorting those papers and it's overwhelming to me. This comes back to what I said in the very beginning of this blog entry. I love the brainstorming. The ideas creation and revision. But I don't so much love the follow through. That's why participating in NaNoWriMo was so good for me. That's why I loved the constant little regular deadlines and new beginnings (units, lessons, years) that teaching imposed on me. I love starting things.
But that's also why some parts of teaching were really hard for me. I felt so bad about how sometimes ... it would take me forever to finish grading a set of projects or a test. I'm really sorry to my students that sometimes I got back assignments to them way to late for the feedback to mean anything. And even sorrier that sometimes I never even got assignments back to them. Regular feedback is so important for students. Somehow, knowing that doesn't make it easier to actually stick with it. Seriously, guys, I'm sorry. I thank you for sticking with me even in the moments when I slacked off as your teacher. I'm still sorry even now thinking about it.
But the projects and assignments that I had to get back to the students eventually because of deadlines ... as a stay at home mom, I don't have those deadlines. The things that I want to do with my son, around the house ... I can get by quite well just doing them whenever I feel like it. And I can let the "Molly Remorse" stop me from doing anything when it's particularly intense. I've never been really good at self-imposed discipline. So when I turned down the invitation to the final interview for that job that I really wanted, I said, this will be the year of discipline.
I mean, I want to do this parenting thing right. I want to actually be the person that I say I want to be – someone who will be better than who I am today. If I can get better at being self-disciplined, imagine how much better I can be when I finally return to teaching after my stay-at-home mom years, if God so wills. I want to be faithful in little things so I can be faithful in larger things.
And not just self-disciplined in actions. Immediately after turning down that final interview, I decided that I would start training for a half-marathon. I even posted my plans on Facebook. But running hurt in a way that it didn't hurt before my pregnancy, and I began to feel that the six weeks I had given myself for training were not enough, and that if I continued training I'd probably injure myself or make my anxiety worse. When I started to think about that in the second week I thought, "But discipline!" and kept running anyway. But in the third week I still felt the pain and said, grace, it was a good effort but this is just not happening. So I don't look at my deciding to not run the half-marathon as "giving up" but as making a wise decision and being gentle with myself.
Because it's not just "doing things" that I want to be disciplined at.
I want to be disciplined at showing myself kindness. When I mess up, I want to have the attitude of "That's okay, you learned a lot, you're empowered for next time" instead of "You are an awful person because you didn't do that awesome and cool thing."
I want to be self-disciplined at listening to myself. To my body, to my heart, to my convictions. To my reactions when I'm talking with someone who offends me or upsets me in some way. Instead of thinking about how awful they are, or even how awful I am for getting upset so easily, I want to do better at separating actions from self, even passing thoughts from self.
That hole is still there. I used the half-marathon to fill it after thinking that a job might fill it. I think often now that maybe writing will fill it. Ultimately, I look to God to fill it, and I find that it’s much easier to allow him to do so when I focus on the things that I know He wants me to focus on.
That’s why I want to be kinder to myself this holiday season and beyond. God is kind to me, so why shouldn’t I be kind to me? J Here is my Action Plan for this continuing season of my life as a stay-at-home mom.
ACTION PLAN FOR MY YEAR OF DISCIPLINE
Or, Dealing with Anxiety that Keeps Me From Doing Awesome and Cool Things
(A) For myself:
- Move from a desire to be self-disciplined into an active effort to be self-discplined. The most practical way I am going to implement this for the next few months is to write regularly. I’ve identified it as something that I enjoy doing and that makes me feel fulfilled, and marked it as an important thing to do to increase my well-being.
- Know in my anxious moments (when I’m angry, mad, resentful, impatient, irritable) that it’s okay. My feelings do not define who I am. Recognize my historical tendency to feel guilty for these negative thought patterns and not allow that guilt to have control over my thought patterns.
- Know that I can’t just stop an old pattern (of thoughts or actions) and expect to be successful unless I start replacing it with a new and better pattern. So, I’m on the hunt this year for good patterns of thought and behavior.
(B) For how I relate with others, I am reflecting on how I’ve been a stage of life recently where I am particularly sensitive to criticism and unwanted advice. It seems being a new mom brings a lot of this on. Instead of complaining about this and those who do it, I am going to:
- Identify areas that I want to be disciplined in out quiet times with God, self-reflection, and feedback from my husband, rather than relying excessively on feedback and ideas from other family, friends, and the outside world (i.e. Facebook and Pinterest).
- Focus on working on myself instead of trying to change others, and therefore showing more kindness to those that are close to me, especially when I’m mad at them. For example, I can’t stop the criticism and unwanted advice, but I can change my demeanor when I’m receiving it and focus on how the person is just trying to help and means well. (And if they don’t mean well, then I can just exit the situation gracefully.)
- Recognize, validate and appreciate differences of personality and preference so that I can have more reasonable expectations of what and how much feedback I’ll get from my loved ones about who I am and what I do. Not everyone is like me – not everyone will think that what I think is awesome really is. And that’s okay, and doesn’t mean I should stop trying! Our differences are what make us wonderful and beautiful and fun to hang out with.
In conclusion, I’m focusing in so I can focus out when the time is right. That’s why I’m happy with my decision to stay at home, because it gives me the wonderful opportunity to do just that. I’m very thankful that I even have that opportunity right now because I know that in this economy many people don’t.
I am going to focus inward this year so that I can more effectively focus outward. I am going to work on being more comfortable in my own skin. Not arrogantly comfortable (plenty of stories there), but not depressingly negative either (which the "Molly remorse" sometimes brings on). I am going to work on myself during this time of being a stay-at-home mom, so that when my kids go to school and I consider returning to the workforce I’ll be that much more grounded and able serve my future students. I am going to focus on myself so that I can reach my full potential as an excellent wife and mom, so that my husband is encouraged and my words and actions build him up and not tear him down … and so that my son knows how deeply loved he is by his parents and by God, and is empowered to enjoy others and serve others himself when he’s older.
Do you have an Action Plan for the holiday season and beyond to deal with negative patterns you’ve had throughout your life? Is it related to your professional life? To your personal life? To your thoughts, actions, or both? What does it look like? I'd love to hear from you so we can encourage one another!