[Excerpts 7 & 8. These two essays are from Cycling in the City — How I Got My Confidence Back, Book 2 in the Burnout to Bliss series. Book 2 is about a first step in recovery after intense burnout. It was designed to be a guide for anyone wanting to make any kind of change in her life. “Part One: Cycling in the City” is my story, sharing the process of making a huge personal change — healing myself and reclaiming my confidence and self-esteem. “Part Two: Thoughts About Making Changes” explains why making change is so difficult; it addresses the different kinds of changes we make, the mental games we play, and the essential key for success. The book is $.99 for a limited time. Buy it here.]
Excerpts 7-8 from CYCLING in the CITY:
When Mom flew in to visit my brother, I was invited over. I told them about my tentative intention to study massage therapy. It wasn’t a commitment. It just was still on my mind from those meetings with the masseuse and the psychic in the last semester at the college. I guess throwing it out there was an opportunity to see first-hand how family would respond.
I was shocked but relieved to hear Mother’s response. “Whatever makes you happy, Honey. Massage sounds like an interesting choice.”
I hoped no one noticed how my jaw had dropped to my lap.
We continued chatting, and she made no reference to my losing the prestige or security of my current teaching job. And that was huge, considering that I’d endangered my position by leaving.
Was she sensing my impaired emotional state from the last year at that job? There was no way to know, and it was never mentioned. Either way, that chat was the best conversation we’d ever had. And I left feeling so grateful I’d had the spunk to tell her I was considering an alternative to my current job.
My days seemed to fly by, but whenever Catherine would come home and ask what I’d done, I could only report, “Same old, same old – wrote some letters and studied lessons from A Course in Miracles and my correspondence course in metaphysics, Builders of the Adytum (B.O.T.A.).”
While she could not imagine doing that all day long, I could not believe how quickly the days flew by! I had set up a small table and chair in the garage, where it was cooler, and had spent my entire day reading about and meditating on the concept of forgiveness. I still felt frustrated about my job situation, the unfairness of it all, and my resulting victim consciousness. “Help me see this differently,” (my paraphrase of ACiM Lesson 21), became my mantra.
Catherine was obviously concerned about me. As a very active, involved person herself, she could not fathom spending whole days “doing nothing.” But she never ragged at me to get a job, which I would later understand is quite unusual for an intense working personality when someone close to them is going through “meltdown.”
But if someone has actually come to that point, “meltdown,” then doing nothing is the most they can do!
In my defense, I did actually do a few social things. In the first month of living in California, I had been to the coast twice, San Francisco twice, and camping up north (Scott’s Flats Landing) once with my brother’s family.
I even drove to San Francisco for a dinner party given by a former student who was then writing for a computer magazine, mostly because I wanted to meet his family and to congratulate him on his new book.
That was a huge stretch for me. I wasn’t the “dinner party type.” I seldom went to a dinner party even in Purgatory! I simply had never been comfortable in that kind of social setting. And it wasn’t about my dance with depression.
Over the years, I had noticed how people responded to my bouts with depression. Being around a depressed person makes most people uncomfortable, and they want to “fix it,” make the pain go away, perhaps because it threatens them in some way. They end up saying, “Shape up! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps! Be positive!” Huh. If it were that simple, I reckon there would be no depression on the planet.
But that wasn’t true for Catherine. Despite her concern for my lack of doing anything, as in going out into the world, she allowed me to be and do whatever I felt like being and doing, without comment. She repeatedly reaffirmed my choice to come here instead of melting down somewhere else.
And it wasn’t long before I did feel like doing something. I had, after all, brought my bicycle, a wonderful Ross mountain bike I had only “gently ridden” like the futon advertised as “gently used” on Craigslist. It was a gift from a darling boyfriend who had dumped me for a look-alike ten years younger than me.
Was I ready for that? Cycling? In a city? There was only one way to find out…
My first bike trip consisted of walking and pushing my bicycle halfway around the block.
That was another indicator, another glaring sign that helped me realize just how “sick” I was. I had to admit that the counselor was right. Taking time away from work, leaving Purgatory, and doing nothing was probably all I could do…
But something inside me objected to that prognosis: “One block? Walking and pushing a bicycle around one block? Is this the woman who, not long ago, had regularly ridden uphill to work during summer school at high elevation?”
What had happened to me? Why couldn’t I ride?
It clearly wasn’t a lack of physical strength or desire. It was something else … something caused by my burnout experience … something disguised as fear.
It felt … really basic, low down, at the base level of instinct. Curiosity about this situation put me back into my professional role. I began to mentally see myself as a client, as in Fritz Perls’ technique of using an empty chair to explore your issues or dreams.
I had done that technique many times in graduate school, and not only as a student of that technique. I used it also in trying to understand why it took me so long to leave the man I lived with, who thought it was important to sleep with other women while we were in a relationship.
In my mind, I imagined two kitchen chairs facing each other and me, sitting in one of them. In the other chair, I saw myself as a little girl. She was cringing, terrified. I asked her why she was so afraid, and then took the other chair.
“I don’t feel safe,” she said.
“Why not?” I said.
And she responded with something like anger. “You want me to go out there where it’s not safe! This is where I feel safe! I don’t want to do that. I’m not going to ride in this strange place!”
She was afraid to get more than a block away from her security!
Some part of me had not fully surrendered to the new program of trusting that I would be okay – no matter what. Some part of me resisted what I’d learned from chatting with that tiny desert lizard in Mexico four months earlier. Some part of me was still “back there” with the old program, screaming, “I should never have left my job!”
My mind replayed the scene back at Mount Purgatory College, when I had gotten an unpaid leave of absence to come to California. I heard again the administrator’s warning loud and clear: “We can’t promise to hold your job.”
And I envisioned myself pushing a grocery cart around town with all my belongings in it.
And just like that – snap! – I suddenly realized where I was and what I was doing. I was still standing on the sidewalk with my bicycle in front of a stranger’s house!
I rushed back home, stashed the bike and curled up with my books again – safe and secure in the little nest I’d built in Catherine’s garage to escape the awful heat.
Till next time, please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows. ~Tzaddi