I love how people use funny little innocuous phrases like “going through a rough patch” to describe some horrendous experience they’re going through like the end of their grandparent’s 80 year marriage because grandma confused the antifreeze with lime Koolaid. Or when your friend’s only son comes out as a cannibal and she’s all like “I’m terrified to invite him over for dinner anymore because I hear they’re harder to feed than vegans!” Or when the entire left side of your body gets ripped from your body in an accident with a cotton gin (is that even possible?) and you’re like, “I’ll be fine…just going through a rough patch.” What is this all about? Why do we do this? Are we in a pissing contest with the universe when it comes to suffering?
I went through my own “rough patch” recently and I can tell you it involved a lot of crying and Ben & Jerry’s. Among other things. Gratefully no cotton gins. It began with the decision to go back to school to finish my Bachelor’s degree. Which came from a long line of decisions like quitting school to get married, have kids, run a business, move to another state, get divorced, realize that life has gotten super expensive, attempt to find ways to make more money.
And so I applied to college, was accepted to college, and had the pleasure of talking to a counselor who thought I was not myself, but a robot version of myself powered by an Energizer battery that has no qualms about taking 15 credits at a time, working nearly full time, and raising three children. I’m sure she meant well. At least I’m fairly sure.
Needless to say, I started all three of my online classes feeling nothing but positivity. O.k, that’s not entirely true. There’s this other thing I failed to mention. Lets just say that I’m someone who suffers from occasional (daily), mild (crippling), bouts (ok, who am I kidding, bouts doesn’t quite give it justice) of anxiety. I hate change. I fear new things. I suffer from self doubt. I am an anxious person. I wasn’t like, oh hey, why don’t I go back to school, it totally makes sense. Going back was a last resort, a hail mary. It came from this place in me that was so tired of never knowing if I was going to make it month to month even after picking up extra hours wherever possible. The decision opened up all the anxiety soaked places I try to keep hidden. Would I be able to handle school after so many years? Would I be able to juggle work and kids and classes? Was I getting in way over my head?
There’s this myth that taking classes online is easier or that you can go at your own pace. I would love to find the person perpetuating this myth and write them a strongly worded letter. My classes were anything but easy or paceable. One class alone required 25 hours of work a week. I quickly realized I was so over my head. I tried to drop one of the three classes but had missed the deadline. And then I discovered that my financial aid, the only reason I could afford to take the classes in the first place, required me to take at least 12 credits. I was stuck. I worked my butt off. I ate Ben & Jerry’s for dinner many nights. I put off housework, paying bills, feeding my kids dinner. It was brutal. My brain was in a constant fog. I felt both sad and angry but was too tired to express either successfully.
I quickly realized there was no possible way I could keep this up. I had put all my eggs in one basket and then proceeded to fall face first on the basket. I had egg on my face.
You know how sometimes doing something isn’t really about doing that thing? Going back to school wasn’t just about going back to school for me. It represented my ability to provide for my kids.To give them a better life, to give them security. I had to make it work.
Some people know what they want to do with their life from the time they’re five. These people are terrible annoying. The rest of us are still reeling over the fact that we grew up despite the fact that we don’t know what we want to do yet when we grow up. So there was that aspect haunting me too. That feeling that I was all grown up and still didn’t have my crap together.
Having school unravel so quickly for me was the worst. I felt like I was failing everyone. Everyone who was so proud of me for going back. My kids who need me to support them. And myself for not being able to pull myself together yet again.
And it was right about this point I had an epiphany, and thank god for epiphanies, right? Because they tend to put an end to unhealthy downward spirals. For starters I realized I had been providing for my kids all along. Finishing my degree will be a great thing and will help me find a better paying job. But it won’t be the start of me providing for my kids, of being able to care for them. I’ve always provided for them. They’ve always been cared for. I’ve had help along the way. but’s that’s ok too. No man is an island. Accepting help when you need it is still a way of providing for those you love, isn’t it.
The other thing I realized was that I need to stop beating myself up for completely insane things. Like feeling like I’m drowning and I should be better at it. As if there’s a right way to drown, and I’ve somehow failed to figure it out. Which is insane, right? Being in distress, feeling overwhelmed, suffering in any way is the pits. It’s awful, plain and simple. There’s something wrong with anyone who says they’ve gotten good at suffering. We shouldn’t be good at suffering. It should feel miserable. Because we’re not meant to stay in those times. We are not meant to stay in prolonged periods of distress.
Sure, we endure. We push through hard times somehow and come out the other end. But good gravy, I’m done trying to get good at drowning. I’m done telling myself that I should be better at it. That’s hogwash.
I recently applied for a program where I can take classes part time and still get financial aid. It sounds way more doable than what I was doing. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, I have to believe that people are proud of me no matter where my efforts take me. I have to believe that my children will always feel provided for. And I definitely have to stop trying to be good at suffering. There are so many other things I’d rather be good at.