A new direction

You know those times in life when you feel like you’re drowning in activities and responsibilities? Like you’re just barely holding on and honestly not sure how you’re going to stay afloat and get everything done?

That’s where I’m at right now.

For the first time since my gap year before grad school, I am working a full 40 hours (43 this week, to be exact).

Four days at the popcorn shop that I just got hired at a few weeks ago, and two days nannying – and then I somehow squeeze in voice lessons and practice, blog writing, career coaching meetings and homework, church growth group meetings, hangouts with friends, dinners with family, laundry and cleaning, and maybe a little self-care sprinkled in here and there. It’s been a challenging adjustment, but I’m glad to be working again.

And though it’s far from my ideal job situation at this point in my life, both of my jobs are ones that are active and I’m good at, and they put me in positive, healthy working environments. I feel like I’m contributing (albeit, in very small ways) to the world again, and they get me out of the house and making some money (which I haven’t done consistently in over a year).

Most importantly, though, they significantly decrease my free time. Free time in itself isn’t necessarily good or bad, it’s just neutral; however, my experience of free time isn’t typically positive because free time often invites overthinking, rumination, and the intrusion of self-defeating thought patterns. For months, I had way too much time on my hands to get into my own head, tumble down into the Rabbit Hole of Despair, and remain stuck there for days, rooting around my own self-loathing to indulge whatever masochistic side of me seems like me living down there.

And I’m going to guess that I’m not the only one who’s experienced this. We’ve all had those moments, right? Those periods of time when our boredom gives way to the temptation to indulge our insecurities and fears? And the more we think about those insecurities and fears, the more we seem to spiral into a hopeless, anxious, depressed state?

Maybe it’s just me, because I’m weird, but I’m going to bet I’m not the only one. So for those of you who join me in resonating with this experience, you know what I’m talking about and how incredibly painful it is to get stuck in that boredom-self-loathing cycle – and how hard it is to get out.

Unfortunately for me, I’ve been running this up-and-down loop for a year now, and that year’s worth of free time has not only pushed me down my rabbit hole over and over again, but it has helped me uncover the quickest and most efficient route to get me straight to the bottom of it in no time flat; in fact, all it takes anymore is a mere passing thought about the disparity between the current circumstances of my life and the life I dream of living, and WHOOSH – whether I like it or not, I’m rocking and rolling like Alice in Wonderland until I swiftly hit the bottom, where I hopelessly bide my time until the emotional powers that be float me back up to the surface.

You can imagine, per its name, that the Rabbit Hole of Despair is not a fun place to be; but be that as it may, I try to make my time down there worthwhile. And that’s because I have learned something important about my rabbit hole over the years: much as I hate being down there, the emotions I feel in that chasm are valid. Those feelings are rooted in something, and they are very real. So why not take the time to figure out what they’re all about, right? (After all, if I’m going to be down there anyways, I might as well be productive about it.)

I know from my most recent tumble that the root of those ‘too-much-free-time’ feelings of despair, hopelessness, and depression, is grief. I’ve lost more than I ever could have imagined this past year, and almost all have been intangible, nonphysical losses – my hopes, dreams, plans, and ideas for my fresh start, my new chapter. And that has given way to a yearlong process of grieving; that grief – and all of the stages and feelings that come with it – are valid, understandable, and will subside with time. But right now, they are currently taking up quite a large residence at the bottom of my rabbit hole

So when I’m down in that hole, I’m learning and processing and expressing, trying my best to uncover what’s down there. Which, like the feelings that reside down there, is valid. There is great power in naming the pain, the feelings, the struggles. And so I dig around when I’m sitting at the bottom, trying to learn more and understand myself better.

Writing has been immensely helpful in helping do a lot of that processing work because it gives me the space to put words to my experiences. In fact, most of these blog posts have come from that rabbit hole. I’ve written post after post related to some aspect of my grief and the emotional struggles of where my life has taken me over the last year, and then published them here. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know, but it’s certainly helped me manage my emotions and understand myself better.

However, I discovered something last weekend following my latest tumble down the Rabbit Hole of Despair:

I’ve spent too much time down there.

At this point, I’ve processed my grief ad nauseum; I’ve fallen down that rabbit hole again and again, to the point I can knock myself down there in one fell swoop. And because discussions about my two current part-time jobs take me to that very thought, my impulse while I’m writing this very post is to go down that fun little Rabbit Hole of Despair so I can lament my woes and express all of the self-loathing, spiritually faithless, and genuinely hopeless sentiments that I hold in my heart right now.

But I really don’t think being there is of any value to me anymore.

Has processing from my rabbit hole been helpful to me? Yes, absolutely.

But has it necessarily been healthy for me in the long run?

The processing, yes. But generally being in the hole – no. Because once I’m down there, it takes days of sitting in that depressive quagmire before I can find my way back up and out. It’s exhausting, and the benefits of going down there no longer outweigh the costs of my energy, my well-being, and my faith.

So for the sake of my health, I can’t go back down there again, nor do I actually want to.

I want to continue processing my emotions, but I want to try doing so in a bit of a different way – one that still provides an outlet (because keeping the feels in and/or ignoring them is not helpful for me) but also gives me a little bit more distance so I don’t get stuck in said feels.

In drama therapy, we call this concept ‘aesthetic distance’ – finding the appropriate ‘distance’ for processing and healing so that you are neither too emotionally close to the issue at hand (for me, going down the rabbit hole), nor are you too emotionally distant (ignoring them or pretending they don’t exist). Just wanted to throw this quick exposé in here, and if you’re interested in hearing more about aesthetic distance in healing, let me know and I’m happy to share more with you!

So I want to try something with my blog – I’m still committed to my yearlong weekly posts, but I want to switch up what I’m posting a bit.

The posts I’ve been writing this year are both helpful and challenging – helpful in processing and putting words to my feelings, but challenging in that they are highly emotional, and they are quite vulnerable to post in such a public way. I feel comfortable and safe enough posting for my subscribers right now, but I would like to see my blog grow eventually, and I feel less safe sharing my stories with people I don’t know. This also goes hand-in-hand with wanting to expand the scope of my writing to reach wider audiences.

So in order to both give myself more emotional distance when processing my feelings, and to start to steer my writing in a less directly personal direction and towards a wider audience, I want to use this blog as a space to write more metaphor-based stories.

I still maintain my commitment to using my own feelings and experiences as the foundation of my storytelling, because I’m not qualified to (nor do I believe in) telling anyone else’s story but my own; moving forward, though, I’ll be experimenting with telling my stories in less straightforward and literal ways.

This is my twofold experiment over the next few months, and I’ll be honest, I’m terrified because I’ve always insisted that I’m horrible with writing in metaphor.

My stories might be cheesy. They might be cliché and hokey. They might be unoriginal and boring, I don’t know.

But if I’m still being honest, I’m also excited. I know I want to try this because this is how I push my own limiting beliefs and grow my skills as a writer, and I need to start somewhere. And I believe that if I’m feeling afraid, then I’m doing something right because it means I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone.

You all have helped me create a space where I feel not only safe enough to share my rabbit hole moments, but now also to risk falling flat on my face with my writing by trying something new.

So with that, here’s to my Rabbit Hole of Despair and the ways it’s helped me learn about myself over the past several months.

And now, here’s to the unknown, to pushing my limits, and to crossing my fingers that I can keep up with it all – even in the midst of 40+ hour workweeks.

I wish you the happiest of Aprils, and I hope you all do one thing that scares you.

Because that means you’re doing life right.

… … …

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Photo credit: Benjamin Voros from Unsplash