I haven’t been working as much lately. I cut down my restaurant hours to make room for a freelance job and to apply to graduate school. Now the freelancing has ended and the school application has been submitted, but my restaurant schedule remains unchanged. This means a lot of time at home by myself, during which I should be writing, working, networking, improving myself in some measurable fashion. Instead I have distracted myself with errands, half-interested reading, cleaning, avoiding the hard stuff. I have shrouded myself in self-care practices: yoga, walks, runs, podcasts, silly shows on Netflix, quality cuddles with the cats. I have written a bit (here and in my journal) but it doesn’t feel like enough. I don’t know what enough feels like. I don’t know what would make me satisfied. A reply from the admissions department of the graduate school to which I applied, of course, but what then? I have no plan, for either acceptance or rejection. All I have is endless amounts of self-care and a refusal to deal with the complicated emotions elicited by my decision to attempt a return to school.
I applied once before, on the tail-end of a divorce. I was massively unhappy and unsure of who I was. I did not like myself much, and I still believes my ex-husband who told me no one else could like me either. I also believed him when he told me I could not survive graduate school, that I needed to be in a job with a boss to tell me what to do, that I could not thrive with independent work. I think he thought he was being helpful, truthful. He told me nothing I had not told myself before; he mimicked all the horrible voices in my head. When I left him for good, I moved across the country and tried to prove him (and the voices) wrong.
Unfortunately, they were all dead right. I was rejected from school. I could not find a job. I could not pay my rent. I was a failure.
Fast forward six years, and my life (and self-image) is dramatically improved. I am happy, most of the time, and confident in many of my life decisions. I no longer believe (thank goodness) that I am unlikable. I have friends, a job, a home, and a stable partner. And so, I decided it was time to revisit the graduate school decision.
I am confident in my choice to return to school, but now that all the hubbub of applying has died down, the old doubts are creeping back in. Am I good enough? Do I deserve success? Will I survive rejection? Or will I convince myself all over again that I am the most horrible person on earth?
To deal with these questions (read: block out with so much other stuff they cannot be heard) I am cramming all the reading, exercising, cleaning, avoiding I can into each day.
This is not as satisfying as I’d like it to be. Which brings me to the next set of questions:
Can there be too much self-care? Is it possible to become preoccupied with feeling good? With making yourself happy? With managing fear and anxiety? Is there a moment when enough is enough? When it is time to force work? To force routine for the sake of routine? Does that moment come naturally? Does it announce itself? How do I know when to work on my self and when to focus on writing, on networking, on making the next big plan?
In my life, the time to change from almost obsessive self-care into productivity usually does come naturally. I move from needing all the time to myself, avoiding socializing, avoiding anything that isn’t pleasurable, into creativity. Plans begin to form. The next step becomes clear. Ideas and opportunities become unavoidable. but usually it does not take this long to shift.
This time, however, I do not trust myself to emerge, creative and energetic. I am afraid that the safety of self-care is a mask for depression. I am afraid I am losing myself and my passion and I don’t know what to do. I am afraid of what rejection from graduate school will mean. I jumped into this without a backup plan. One school, one program, one path.
I cannot relax in this waiting-pattern. Fear of the unknown has brought with it a return to traumatic memories. I have had a panic attack and an unstoppable fit of crying. Neither was without reason, but neither would have happened had I felt more secure in myself and my purpose. The thought of returning into the person who is ruled by the cyclical pattern of panic and by self-soothing is terrifying. I did not like being that person. I do not know if I am strong enough to prevent her return.
The only solution is difficult, almost beyond my capacity. It entails sitting with my fear, my uncertainty, my doubt. It entails letting my tumultuous emotions be okay. It entails deep breaths and patience. To move through this period I must trust myself to survive and thrive and maybe even fail a few times along the way.
I have made it through worse shit than uncertainty.