I hate transitions. Especially big and weighty ones. This, of course, comes as no surprise to those who know me well. “Anticipation” may as well be a synonym for “anxiety” as I await transitions between life phases that I cannot fully predict or prepare for.
Arriving a few years ago, this realization has not made my life any easier. While I used to think the dread signaled enviable failure, now I know it simply signals my distaste for uncertainty. I don’t fear failure as much, but I also know there is little I can do to assuage the creeping anxiety that smothers me for months ahead of big change. So I choose not to think about it and struggle through it as best as I can.
It was par for the course, then, as I awaited the start of my graduate program. I chose to think about it as little as possible, prepare best I could, and await the storm that I knew would arrive in the first few weeks. And yet, for all that knowledge, the feelings of inadequacy, fear, and self-loathing still took my by surprise. It felt entirely unanticipated and completely impassible. And yet, in the back of my mind, I took small comfort in the faint hope that those feelings were expected and they would pass. I tried to remind myself that they were unlikely to be mutant breeds, novel and unstoppable. I would get through it. I’d find my rhythm and I’d be okay.
And now, two weeks from the end of the summer session, I’ve found a rhythm. I feel okay. More than ok, actually, I feel like I can do this. Despite my laundry-list of shortcomings, I also come with a formidable list of strengths, not the least of which is an ability to adapt and innovate. I started therapy nearly two years ago and starting this program has felt like a dry-run testing all my progress and new skills. I’ve made friends! This does not come easily to me and feels like proof that it’s working. In many ways, I feel triumphant. At least for now. They keep reminding us this next year will be
I’ve also been deeply reflective lately. This program has been good for me, both as a future teacher and as a human being. It’s also been immeasurably helpful in this lifelong process called, “healing.”
Since returning to school in 2009, I feel as though I’ve been “under construction.” The challenging nature of school, along with supporting professors, therapists, and friends, has give me the opportunity to see myself from more realistic perspectives. I’ve been able to dismantle many the lies that J ingrained in me as a child. I’ve found compassion for myself and, consequently, more resolve to do the best with what I have. I’ve shaken much of the fear. And I’m more ready to take calculated risks, rest in the solace of others, and accept the goodness of life.
This is continuing in the graduate program. Learning, systematically and largely impartially, about children, their needs, and their abilities, has allowed me to find more compassion for my younger self. It also takes down, in large and impressive chunks, the lies (spoke and unspoken) that formed the basis of my entire life.
“Your only job is to learn things. That is the most important thing. People are not important. You can learn about how to get along with them later.”
“You should be able to do this.”
“Do I have to teach you every damn thing? Can’t you reason and use common sense?”
“You should just know this.”
“People are dangerous.”
“No one wants to hear from you.”
“You tell lies so well you cannot even tell what is truthful. You cannot be trusted.” See: gas lighting
“No one wants to be around you.”
“You are wrong, in every way.”
“You eat too much. You are fat. And no one likes people who are fat.”
“If you go to college, the professors will want to have sex with you. And if you deny them, they will fail you. You have no choice.”
“You are a girl and your job is to be beautiful. But you will never be beautiful. Too bad for you.”
“People like you don’t get good jobs or have fulfilling lives. Get used to being miserable.”
Now that I’ve spent several months learning, among other things, about the cognitive capacities of children, the incredible importance of social development, the subtle and powerful effect of expectations, the unarguably powerful role of socio-economic status, I can see those lies for what they are. Lies. Powerful, nasty, debilitating lies, but lies nonetheless. And then their powerful grip on my reality falters and collapses.
I’m beginning to separate J’s voice from my own. I’m beginning to tease apart my mom’s unhealthy ideologies and more fully adopt my own.
“I am healthy and lovely, just as I am.”
“Children deserve love, attention, and respect for their feelings and experiences.”
“We’re social creatures and social skills are just as important as academic skills.”
“I am who I am, and that’s okay.”
“People love me, just as I am.”
“There is always room for personal improvement, but that doesn’t negative any fundamental value.”
“I deserve compassion, but not pity.”
“I am capable and smart. I can make my way in life.”
“I can trust my perceptions, my ideas, my feelings, my friends.”
“It’s okay not to know something.”
“Mistakes are okay.”
My life has been full of unparalleled, exhausting, unclear transitions. No wonder I dread them so. But it’s a relief to know that all that introspection, moving through change, and trying to find a new way has been successful. I’d much rather life under my ideologies than those under which I grew up. While transitions make me anxious and tired, they often lead to great places. I am trying to look forward to where this path leads next.