(Excerpt from CYCLING in the CITY: How I Got My Confidence Back, Book 2, Burnout to Bliss series.)
My last academic year as a professor in a small college in Colorado was a bloody nightmare – literally. Sure, the work situation was intense. Yes, my best friend betrayed me. You’re also right if you think I was alone, that I had no partner. I also had seriously overextended myself financially. Adding the fact that I was a spiritual seeker trying to understand my situation and getting nowhere at all resulted in frequent thoughts of suicide.
I was so miserably unhappy that I wanted to die. I even planned a few suicides involving my truck and some pretty scary mountain passes.
That’s when my subconscious, that blessed servant ever willing to please, conjured up some really creative escapes.
I was murdered at work with a machine gun held by a stranger in the doorway while I was lecturing. I was stabbed to death in my own bedroom, where my blood spattered the walls. A large SUV ran over me in the parking lot on campus on my way from my car to a professional meeting downtown.
The psychiatrist called those experiences “night visions,” even though they happened any time, night or day. He added, “Some part of you is really unhappy.” But he gave me a prescription that I only had to take for a few weeks, and Voila! No more murders!
The psychologist said I had extreme burnout and was courting a nervous breakdown. He made it clear what my options were.
“You either check yourself into some kind of recovery clinic, or just get the hell out of Dodge for a long vacation – preferably for at least a year.” That he would state it so emphatically when I knew him to be a mild-mannered man who did not use curse words made a big impression on me.
But I did not have the kind of insurance that would pay for a fancy recovery place with grassy lawns and art lessons. I did not have money for a long vacation. In fact, after buying that money-pit house I couldn’t afford, really, to go anywhere at all, for any length of time – not even a day trip!
I felt like a beached whale: stuck. Only a miracle could help me now.
Days later, a former student phoned and asked if I would go with her to California. She was working in Denver, and whenever she would come back to Purgatory, she’d call or stop by. My cats loved her, and I considered her much more than a wonderful former student. We were about the same age, and she had been my friend since she graduated. Catherine had an interesting offer.
She said she was quitting her job in Denver and moving to California to be nearer to the man she’d decided to marry!
I love that about Catherine. She always seems to know what she wants, and she goes for it. No fear. No hesitation.
When she called and asked me to come along for the ride, I jumped at the opportunity. It would get me out of Purgatory and give me a breather. Being in her powerfully positive presence would be a refreshing vacation for about a week. I could also be of service, and help her find her new home.
I drove to Grand Junction and joined Catherine at her parents’ home for the departure to California. It was about a 4-hour drive, time enough to chill. I’d brought a box of favorite cassettes for both listening and sing-along. “Best of the Blues” was the top choice for about fifty miles. Then it was singing along with B.J. Thomas, Linda Ronstadt, The Beatles, and The Eagles.
When I arrived in early afternoon, Catherine introduced me to her mom and then asked me to walk the property with her. They had a fence that needed fixing. She asked if I could do that and I said, “Probably, if I had my tools. Here’s what I’d do.”
She knew I’d been taking care of the rental property back home, where I’d lived in the attic for about ten years. I fixed minor things, including a little carpentry, stucco repair, painting and sometimes even electrical stuff. I was no expert, but I did once have a boyfriend who was a carpenter, and I had spent weekends watching him work.
When I told Catherine how I’d fix the fence, I was guessing that’s how he would do it. But she didn’t actually ask me to fix her fence, and I didn’t offer. It was just one of those “mystery moments” we have with people. Because I’m fairly direct, I tend to expect other people to be, and she always was. My imagination said she was asking to get a sense of what was involved so she could share that with her mom.
The next morning, we left in her Toyota station wagon, fully loaded down. I left my vintage Saab car parked at her parents’ house.
Along the way, on the “loneliest highway,” we laughed out loud and did those girly things I had missed by being a “little professor” at age 12. She guided me as I gave myself my very first pedicure with her toys while she drove. We talked about her new job in California. We squirted each other with our poor man’s “air conditioner” – a plant-mister filled with water.
We stopped half-way at a campground near Ely, Nevada, to sleep under the stars. Except for my recent vision quest in Mexico, camping alone under the stars anywhere was not common for me, but it was for her. I continually marveled at her ability to decide what she wanted and then do whatever it took to get it. She just naturally seemed to expect nothing but the best, maneuvering around obstacles as effortlessly as water flows around boulders in the river.
We were reversing roles. That she was becoming my teacher, was evident even to me.
When we reached Sacramento, she bought a newspaper with ads for rental houses. I played navigator with the map while she drove to all the listings in her price range that were close to her job. She settled on a two-bedroom house in Carmichael, a suburb of Sacramento, and then dared me to move there with her.
“I can’t just take off like that,” I said.
“Why not?” she said.
I sputtered a slew of excuses.
“You’ve served your time there,” she insisted.
“They’ll never give me a leave of absence.”
“How do you know? Have you asked?”
“No,” I admitted.
And just like a thunderclap in a summer rainstorm, I realized this was the test to see if I had actually learned from my camping with shamans. Did I still believe my job was the source of my sustenance? Or was I ready, finally, to trust that God (or The Universe, if you prefer) was the Source? Did I really believe that all my needs would be met before I even knew I had them? Could I actually break away from that job, trusting that I’d be okay with no plans and no clue what I’d do when my last paycheck ran out?
There was only one way to find out.
I had to jump off the cliff like The Fool in the Tarot deck. I had to let go of my well-worn trapeze before another one showed up.
I had to surrender my will. Oofdah! My ego screamed, But I’m the one who can do it. I’m the one who has always been in charge!
“Yes. And look where that’s gotten you,” I said out loud.
I returned to Purgatory, asked for the leave of absence (unpaid), and I got it! Yikes! But could I really leave, now that my once-secure position had been made crystal clear?
I recalled vividly what the dean had said.
On my drive home, my inner adult noticed that I wasn’t actually surprised. Why wouldn’t they give me leave? I was doing them a favor. Enrollments were down, so they wouldn’t have to replace me. They would save money by not paying my salary for a year. But the assertion of power over my life made by the dean with his final comment lingered in the air. It really forced the issue: “We can’t promise that we’ll hold your job for you.”
I had to choose between staying in my secure position and leaving to take care of myself.
My ego was taking a huge hit and felt threatened.
But then I recalled my chat with the desert lizard on my camping trip with the family of shamans in Mexico. He had assured me that surrendering to Source (or God, if you prefer) was not a risky proposition at all.
My mind tossed the seeming contradiction into the air, and it came down to these questions: Do I have faith or not? DO I have faith? CAN I live in FAITH?
And the answer came just as quickly. I DO! I do have faith! And I CAN! I can live in faith! Because the lizard talked to me! And because I believe what he said was true for him! And if it is true for him, then it also must be true for me, because it had already been proven to me that We Are All ONE! (And ‘We’ means everything that exists!)
“Hell yeah! I’m going!”
Cycling in the City is $.99 for a limited time. Buy it here.
Till next time, please be kind to everyone you meet for we all have our hidden sorrows. ~Tzaddi