Writing Through an Existential Crisis.

I had every intention of blogging every day in 2016, every intention of tracking all my media consumption, every intention of writing my second book. Like decent baseball players, I batted .333 last year for those goals (yay, NaNoWriMo!), but now it’s a new year and time to reassess.

I haven’t had much of a focus on my blog ever. It started as a place to review movies on the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time, then morphed into a place to vent during grad school, then shifted into a bit of a diary with some educational pieces thrown in from time to time.

I’m not sure how to rebrand at this point, or if I even want to. As a memoirist, this has been a space to force me to craft snapshots of my life in a way that might engage readers, perhaps even make them think. It’s been a place to rant about everything from religion to politics to feminism to mental health to education. But recently, I’ve been wondering if those snapshots reveal too much. When someone googles me and this is the first hit, what can someone learn about me in mere minutes? I always assume the only people reading are my mom and Stueve, but what if they aren’t the only ones reading? Then again, with the sheer volume of content available online, isn’t my little corner of the sky just mostly static?

I’m not sure what the answer is, if there’s an answer at all. I know I love writing. I know my writing is not a hobby. I know I need to write for the same reasons I need to breathe–it gives me life. I know I’m working on a sustainable schedule for blogging this year, something that might strike more of a balance of sharing those snapshots of my life with a dash of restraint. I know I hope to have that schedule ready to go this weekend.

So as the trite writing advice goes, I’ll just write what I know, and hope from there I can figure out what needs to happen next.

If you have any ideas, I’m all ears.


A Summer Lesson.

I begin another year of teaching this week, full of ideas and goals and…fears. Last night I dreamed I was being beaten by someone I did not know, and the dream was so vivid, I finally forced myself awake so I could slow my heartbeat and feel safe again. This post is not about dream analysis, though–it’s about something I learned this summer that I hope to carry through my school year:

I have lots of time, and I don’t always use it well.

I realized that on the days I get home at 4 p.m., I have six or seven hours to use. Too many times, I fall into the social media wormhole and I emerge, bleary-eyed and despondent, six or seven hours later with literally nothing to show for it. This summer, I learned that there is time enough for all the things I want to do, if I make time for them to happen.

So today after meetings, I went to the library and checked out some books for this challenge. I came home and started to read one of those books and felt sleepy. So I laid down and rested for 20 minutes. I checked in on social media for 10 minutes, then I made dinner, did dishes, made lunch and breakfast for tomorrow. I watched a movie. Now I am writing with the Olympics on in the background, and I will exercise for a bit and probably read for a bit longer.

I have read contradicting pieces about work-life balance. Some argue that it’s imperative to establish rigid work-life balance practices. Some argue that life is just life, and trying to achieve balance is pointless. I know there will be days I have to work a bit longer hours than I did today. I know I will have days when the pull of my couch and Netflix is just a bit too strong. But I also know that with a bit more focus, more of my time after school can be spent purposefully enjoying things I value.

I’m guessing it will also help me sleep a bit better, too, knowing my time is well spent, rather than beating myself up over time wasted.

Existential Dread.

I’ve been in a complete writing slump this summer, not blogging, not working on a book, hell, I’m barely composing text messages and emails these days. The words just aren’t happening. A couple of weeks ago, someone at church asked me if I’d spend some time during a lesson talking about examples of greatness in my life.

“Because you are so good with words,” she said.

I laughed nervously and replied, “Not lately…”

I had an appointment today and someone asked how I was doing.

“Oh fine, just the regular existential dread,” I responded.

He laughed uncomfortably, and I don’t blame him–what is the retort to ‘existential dread’?

When I shared the dread with my parents later in the day, especially concerned that within the next year I will lose my job and the entire U.S. infrastructure will fail, leaving me homeless, my dad comforted me: “We’ll set up the Marriott tent in the backyard for you.”

(The Marriott tent is a giant two-room tent, in which one room accommodates a queen size air bed. Not air mattress–air. bed.)

As I was having this conversation with my parents, my five year-old niece, visiting from out of town, was cuddling me, occasionally interrupting the grown-ups to tell me my eyeshadow was pretty or my lip gloss was shiny. She’s so adorable and has no idea what’s currently happening in the world to have her Aunt Julie considering Ham radio classes and beefing up her food storage.

I envied her, and worried about her at the same time. What opportunities will she have in 15 years? Will she even have access to any education beyond kindergarten? (That’s the dread speaking, not logic or rational thought.) And is there even anything I can try to do at this point?

Anyway, I am starting to realize that my writing issues this summer stem from two problems. First, I’m giving in to my existential dread. I’m entertaining my worst-case scenarios. I’m anticipating a complete collapse of the comfortable life I enjoy right at this moment. This is somewhat unlike me–at school I’m often the voice of optimism, the person who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt, the lone herald of “everything will be fine!”

Second, I’m not writing about the issues giving me existential dread. I’ve been mostly silent on Trump, Brexit, rape culture, religion, patriarchy, and a pending bond issue that could determine whether I end up in that Marriott tent.

So fair warning: in the coming days, the blog might get a bit ranty and political. You might disagree with me, and as long as you don’t troll me or tell me to leave the country, leave comments and let’s discuss (as best as comments on blogs count as discussion). But I can’t allow myself to fall prey to my existential dread for the next month, because come August, my students will deserve a teacher who isn’t quite as hopeless and cynical as she is right now.

Writing will help make sure that gets fixed.



Olympic Dream Analysis.

I’m standing on the side of an Olympic-sized pool. I have a swimmer’s body, and am wearing a blue racer suit. I’m dripping wet and holding a towel. I’ve just finished a heat at the Olympic swim trials and I’m talking to a friend when I hear an announcer over the PA system:

“And in lane 2 of the final heat, Julie Rowse.”

I start to cry. I tell my friend I don’t want to be in the Olympics, and I can’t figure out how I keep swimming fast enough in qualifying heats to make it to the final race.

And then I wake up.

Same dream, five times in the past two weeks, and only when I fall asleep in the afternoon.

I’ve been lucky throughout my life to have dreams that speak to me, dreams that I remember. I’m even more lucky that my friend Marya helps me make sense of them. I told her this most recent dream at lunch today.

“So what do the Olympics mean to you?” she asked.

“Exhaustion,” I said, without skipping a beat.

We exchanged glances that said “Oh, obviously.” We are down to single digit school days. Exhaustion is a given.

I reminded Marya that I don’t know how to swim–something that she said needed to change, and she’s probably right.

“But in my dream, I am good at swimming, even though I know I’m not really good at all. I keep succeeding,” I tell her.

She told me about a friend of hers who often feels like her success is unwarranted. There’s a name for that: impostor syndrome.

At the end of this school year in particular, in ways that I can’t recall ever experiencing before, I am definitely suffering from impostor syndrome. People tell me I am good at what I do, and I just don’t believe it. I have enough evidence to the contrary–students who are failing, a journalism program that I didn’t manage correctly, content that I just didn’t have time to get to, plus politicians  and ed reformers who constantly remind me and all of my colleagues just how big fat failures we are–to convince me that in the pool of teaching, I’m middling at best.

But more concerning to me is the part of the dream where I say I don’t want to go to the Olympics. If Marya’s interpretation is in the ballpark (and there’s no reason to suggest it isn’t), then what is my subconscious telling me about my career?

Or maybe it really was just a dream about being exhausted, or even just a nonsensical dream, or maybe I’ve watched that Michael Phelps Under Armour commercial one too many times.

From The Other Side.

Shared in solidarity with my dear friend Kirsty, who is always much braver than I .

Spring Break is half over, and I’ve completely rearranged my furniture, seen a handful of movies, read a couple of books…and today I hit my boredom point. I know I hit this point because I dusted.

I never dust.

And as I dusted and rearranged the configuration of my entertainment center, I thought about last year’s spring break.

‘Twas grim, friends. ‘Twas very, very grim.

I had been careening toward a depressive episode for months, I’m certain of that as I look back. And something about spring break last year tripped the land mine and before I knew it, everything around me exploded.

I held on for a month–that was the soonest I could get in to see the therapist I wanted to try–and I really believe that the only thing getting me through that month was knowing I was 30 days from help. Then 29, 28, 27, and, well, you get the picture.

It wasn’t until this past January that I knew I was healthier. At the end of my session my therapist said, “When can I see you next?” and I replied, “I want to try and not schedule an appointment and see how it goes…”

I will never forget the smile on her face, how happy she was that I was better, or as I like to say, in remission.

Because one thing I know about having depression is that it can always come back. I worried about that as spring break started–what would trigger another depressive cycle this week?

I didn’t think it would be something as lame as having a couch delivered, but today I learned just how life looks on the other side of successful cognitive behavior therapy. See, I had measurements for the couch that it would fit in my living space, but I did not take into account how the couch would actually get into my apartment. So when the delivery guys showed up this morning and tried for 20 minutes to get it in the door, I said, full of shame and self-loathing,”Just take it back. I’ll take better measurements and get a different one.”

And both of the delivery guys said, “Oh no. We can get this. We just need to get creative.”

So they did get creative, for 25 more minutes, and I’m writing this from my new couch (which is quite comfortable). But I apologized over and over and felt such shame and idiocy–the exact feelings that triggered last year’s breakdown. But this year, I had tools. I knew what I needed to do.

First, I took a deep breath. Then I challenged all the self-talk that bombarded my brain. That didn’t work. So I allowed myself to be vulnerable, and I “reached out.” I texted a few friends, chatted with some pals on Facebook, explained the horror of what I was feeling. I wrote a little bit in a journal that will be buried with me, then I took another couple of deep breaths, and within a couple of hours, the shame was no longer there.

A year ago, that would not–no, could not–have happened.

I know some people might think that something as trivial as a couch delivery can’t possibly trigger a depressive episode, but I’m telling you, it can. That’s how cagey depression is. It will look at any possible break in resiliency and pounce, regardless of how inane it might look to someone on the outside.

Because even though I’m on the other side of my most recent bout, I will never be on the outside of depression. I will always be aware that I could be sick again, so I refuse to take for granted small and large victories, such as not spiraling into the darkness when a couch delivery took longer than expected.

A year ago, I was really quite sick. I almost can’t believe how sick I was, especially knowing how healthy I feel right in this moment. The “other side” is a lovely place to be.

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression and is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.