28 December 2017

How Lyndon B. Johnson Ruined My Childhood.

When I was in elementary school, my absolute least favorite  activities involved the Presidential Physical Fitness Test. It was something President Johnson created in 1966 to ensure that generations of American school children were "physically fit" and dreaded gym class. I mean, seriously, fuck you Lyndon B. Johnson and your push-ups and curl-ups and sit-and-reaches and mile run. Want me to sit with my feet against a weird little wooden box and see how far I can stretch forward over my toes? Fine. Ask me to run a mile? Less cool, but I'll do it at a brisk walk. But demand that I pull myself over a metal bar in a curl up? Not going to happen. Even by the ripe old age of seven I knew upper body strength was never going to be my thing. Somewhere in my sixth grade year the tests were supplanted by the ominous climbing rope. The day that thing unfurled from the ceiling of our gym I lost a little faith in God. I don't remember ever climbing the rope. I don't remember even touching the rope. I'm sure my sadistic sixth grade teacher must've made me do it at some point, but apparently my brain has buried that trauma under the sweet fog of amnesia.

I wasn't strong. And I'm using the past tense pretty loosely there.

Thankfully, it turns out my adult life has had very little to do with climbing ropes or pulling myself up repeatedly over a metal bar. Go figure.

Adult life does, on the other hand, have a great deal to do with strength. It has a lot do with pulling yourself through things, with climbing and endurance. I might not be running around the lake by my high school, dodging goose poop, but I'm going to be honest--the metaphor is a pretty apt one for what it feels like to be a human in 2017, at least from this end.

At long last the year is drawing to a close and I've found myself thinking more and more about what it means to be strong. It's been on my mind mostly, I suppose, because this is a year in which I've felt incredibly weak. Things that normally wouldn't get to me somehow crushed me. Things I never struggled with became insurmountable. Habits I thought I'd kicked long ago resurfaced with startling intensity. And try as I might, I just couldn't get a handle on it all. There were days where I watched my life--and myself--spiral out of control and I was speechless. I watched myself make mistakes I knew would be disastrous. I watched myself do the very things I knew would push a person away, start a fight, or make me anxious. I did them anyway. Comments I normally would've brushed off--you're messy, you're over dramatic, you annoy me--I internalized. I let them break me. Instead of getting mad at other people, I got mad at myself. I apologized endlessly to everyone, often for reasons that were totally unclear in my mind. I was just sorry. All. the. time. For everything.

This year I disappointed people. I annoyed people. I lost the respect of people. And that sucks. But ultimately, what sucks more, is that I disappointed myself. I annoyed myself. I lost a lot of respect for myself.

This year I wasn't the person I wanted to be. I wasn't the person I've been in the past. And--I hope--I wasn't the person I am going to be next year. I've felt tired. Stupid. Weak.

So what I'm trying to tell myself as I stare down the last few days of 2017 is that I'm strong enough to start over and try again. I can't fix all the mistakes I made. I can't un-annoy people. I can't take back the one-too-many-texts, the comment that came out passive aggressive because I was in the middle of an anxiety attack, the long silences I inflicted on people who overwhelmed me. I can't fix those things. But I can stop carrying the guilt and shame of them. I can move forward and accept things happen that we regret but can't change. I can accept that maybe, just maybe, I'm strong enough to carry that burden and keep going anyway.

It's not a magic formula. I'm not going to wake up tomorrow and blithely be okay with all the mistakes. I'm not going to wake up tomorrow suddenly feel like a new person. I'm too old to think things work that way anymore. The truth is, I'll wake up tomorrow--and everyday for the foreseeable future--and feel a little heavier than I would like. I'll feel weaker than I would like. I'll carry more guilt than I would like, let my mind obsess more than it should, replay conversations that I could have salvaged but didn't. I'll beat myself up a little bit. But I'll keep going. I'll do better at reminding myself, as I told one of my students last week, that sometimes just surviving is enough. I'll do better at acknowledging the strength it takes to accept mistakes as a part of me without letting them become me. I'll just do better, day by day.

I'll keep doing my best. And sometimes, sadly, my best is pretty disappointing. Sometimes my best is hanging limply from the curl up bar, waiting impatiently for my teacher to recognize a lost cause and let me slink away. I'm strong enough to accept that my best, occasionally, isn't really all that great. And I'm strong enough to say that's okay. It takes a lot of guts to hang there helplessly in front of a crowd, weakness on display. It's not a type of strength that gets measured on the Presidential Test score sheet. It's not the type of strength that's going to win me accolades. Or friends.

Or forgiveness.

But it's strength. I'm embracing it because it's what I've got right now.

I still can't do a curl up. Or a push up. Or run for very long... or at all. And I will never, ever be able to climb that damn rope.

But I'm done calling myself weak.

24 December 2017

Bone Weary

I've been listening to Christmas music for a solid month now, and I've come to one very important realization: there are only actually about six Christmas songs and all of the good ones were written before 1962 (except for "Christmas Eve in Sarajevo," but that's okay because that one just replaced the super rape-y "Baby It's Cold Outside" so it's an even swap). And my all time favorite song is "O Holy Night." To be fair, "O Holy Night" doesn't really hold up the same way "Carol of the Bells" does, but it has one solitary, beautiful line in it that helps it secure the number one spot: "A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices/For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn."

"The weary world rejoices."

Y'all, let me tell you. I am weary this year.

2017 has, without a doubt, not been my year. Rehashing the myriad of ways people and circumstances have clobbered me this year isn't really the point, so let's just suffice it to say that I won't be sorry to see the back of 2017 in a week. I am tired all the way to my bones. Too often this year I was in survival mode--I was in "just get through this day" mode. I survived, but with far less grace and dignity than I would've liked. I suppose we can't have everything.

And also--I don't think it's a coincidence that this douche of a year coincided with Trump's first year in office. That guy ruins everything.

I woke up Christmas Eve after a fitful night sleep, eyes a little red from crying, chest tight, stomach knotted. It wasn't how I would have chosen to start my holiday. But as the year draws to a close, I'm forced to look around, accept that this is where I am, and start focusing on where I want to go. I'm weary and a little broken, but I'm ready to pick up the pieces and move forward. I've been spinning in place for too long. I've put off doing things that are hard, but that I know are right. I tried too hard to mend things that couldn't be mended, to please people who simply can never be pleased, and to live up to expectations that weren't my own. I've tried too hard to be who someone else wanted me to be, as a result, I failed both myself and them. 2017 definitely has brought me to my knees.

And that's what Christmas reminds me of--that's why I celebrate--because sometimes we need a reminder that we can be tired and still find joy. I'm not religious, so the reason for the season around here is family; hope in darkness; rejoicing in weariness. It's a lesson worth learning for me this year. Even in our darkest moments, there is light. There is hope that life can start all over again. That we can be better, stronger, and more resilient. It hasn't been an easy year, but it hasn't won. I'm still here, maybe a little bruised and battered, but whole and looking forward.

So I'm ready for 2018. I'm ready for a year of healing and positivity. I'm ready to find my strength again. I'm ready to laugh again. I'm ready to let go of things--people and feelings--I've held on to for too long. I'm ready to lay down the burdens I've been carrying, feel the weight in my chest finally loosen, and look forward to a new start. I know the world is wonderful. I'm ready to see that wonder once again. And Christmas--with its relentless lights and magic--reminds me that wonder is always around us. Beauty is always lurking. The days are getting longer now, a new start is just around the corner. It might take a few extra swipes of makeup to conceal the puffy eyes, and I might need to do a lot more yoga to lift the weight from my chest today, but I'm done clinging to the past, to things I can't fix anymore, to people that don't want me. I'm ready to let go and start again.

Some day I hope I can look back at 2017 and appreciate some of the good that happened because even in my current mindset, I see so much beauty. I spent a week in Birmingham with one of my all-time favorite students and watched her rise to tenth in the nation. I spent two weeks in Italy with my husband. I reconnected with friends that I'd missed too much. I survived.

I'm still here.

I'm weary, but I'm ready.