Waking up

I’ve never been a sleepwalker. I occasionally mutter things in my sleep, but I don’t wander around doing things of which I have no recollection.

Or at least that’s what I thought.

Then yesterday I woke up and found I was in the middle of something that I hadn’t even realized I was doing.

For months, I’ve been operating in survival mode – just getting things done, wondering how I was going to get it all done and when it would be over. I was riding out the storm, buffeted by waves, being pushed and pulled by the currents. I would call for help, and someone would throw me a line and tow me away from the most dangerous rocks amid churning sea. At least, that’s how it felt in those moments.

But then something I did yesterday awoke a new understanding of those days and months. I submitted my passport application. It should have been a perfectly ordinary task, mundane and bureaucratic. I took the forms and documentation to the local post office. I had my picture taken. I signed in the designated box. I wrote out a check to the State Department. I left with  a small thrill of excitement and anticipation of getting that little blue book in the mail and the opportunities it will open.

Then another reaction hit, one that’s difficult to fit so neatly into specific emotional boxes like “excitment” and “anticipation”. As I meandered to another part of the city to complete some other errands, I realized that I did this. There was this thing that I’ve wanted to do for a long time, that I wanted to do for me. A few months ago, I decided I was going to get it done this year. I pushed through all the things that needed to get done immediately, things that required time and money and emotional reserves – I found a new apartment, I moved, I filed for divorce… And then I did this thing for me. I had dreamed and planned; then I had the means and the freedom to follow through. Suddenly I understood that I had done this. Not just a simple passport application, but all of it – the things I needed to get done and the things I wanted to do. I had plans, and I executed them.

There was (and, in many regards, still is) a storm. But I did not simply abandon myself to its mercies. The waves crashed, the winds howled, the currents raged. But I did not quiescent. I acted. I did what was necessary to steer safely through to the horizon. I have had incredibly supportive people in my life, but I never surrendered control to them. They have been and continue to be invaluable, illuminating the way, helping me see that the storm will not go on forever, reminding me of my own capabilities and strengths. I have not gone through the experience alone, but I have made my own choices and, perhaps at times rather stubbornly, have done things on my own.

I find it amazingly easy to accept the burden of “failure” but often find it difficult to accept ownership of my accomplishments. This week, I ran up against stress and anxiety about basically everything – professional prospects, finances, social life, family demands, etc., etc. Some anxieties were legitimate, some habitual, and some simply irrational. In other words, I was a mess. In the midst of it, I had no sense of what I’ve achieved, despite someone reminding me. To then comprehend what I have done, to understand that I get to take credit for it, was overwhelming but important, as if I’m waking from the fog of a long sleep.

I am not caught in the currents, being pushed and pulled with no contol.

I am not being towed, leaving control to others.

I am making my own way. I am at the helm.

I get to take ownership of what I have accomplished.

And that is a very powerful feeling indeed.

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10 Responses to Waking up

  1. sciencegeeka says:

    It gets easier. I remember looking around at my house and suddenly feeling like it was home, and my home. I remember not having to remember to breathe all the time.

    I have one small thing that I need to do leftover from the divorce. I want to have my PhD diploma redone with my last name on it. I’m waiting only because I’m going to get another diploma in 2014, and I want to have all of my undergrad and grad school ones framed at the same time. I waited to change my name, mostly because I had spent so much time on something bad, that I didn’t want to spend more time, my holy, precious time, on that period of my life. And then I got pissed that you can call a credit card company to tell them you got married and they’ll send you out a card, but get divorced and it’s 2 months of paperwork to change your name back to the one you originally had.

    Here’s the thing to remember: you aren’t just going to get back to the same point, you’re going to bypass that point and be better.

  2. psycgirl says:

    Awesome realizations 🙂 When I am going through really tough times I remember my divorce – if I can take control and get through that, I can get through anything

  3. doctorpms says:

    Thank you for posting this! I believe I am looking forward my waking up time when all will be finally over for me too. This made me look forward that and keep moving on!

  4. chall says:

    I second the other commenters. I also remember the wonderful feeling of getting my new passport, the one with my maiden name only (not the double-married-name) after my divorce. Since I was on a visa to the US it took a number of years to change the passport (beauracracy sp!) and therefore I had that name on paper for another 3 years. It’s funny, especially now, since my friends didn’t really understand the pain I had all the time travelling with that passport “you are divorced, it’s just a piece of paper” – although, every plain ticket had to be with it since “ticket must be as passport” and every checkpoint was Mrs XX but I wasn’t that anymore. When I got my new passport, looking at the name made me feel so relieved, so ME. Silly maybe, but true. “I’m back to normal, the new normal” was my thought.

    It gets better, every day. Although, I still have times when I realize how scary it was at that time. I never want to go through that thing again… but as you so eloquently put it; “I have had incredibly supportive people in my life, but I never surrendered control to them. They have been and continue to be invaluable, illuminating the way, helping me see that the storm will not go on forever, reminding me of my own capabilities and strengths.” it’s the reminder of your own strenght and that YOU can do it – with the help and support from the sides, the heart mends and brings the brain with it.

    I’m so happy you feel better. I’ll be here when you want some Europe travel plan suggestions/ideas 😉

  5. You are awesome. 🙂 And I think everyone above is right.

  6. Trista says:

    When you allow yourself five minutes, grab a beverage of your choice and enjoy the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley.
    Congratulations 🙂

  7. pielcanelaphd says:

    The feelings of failure take some time to go away. It helped me enormously to have people around me who kept repeating that just because the marriage didn’t work out I wasn’t a failure. It’s incredibly hard to go through the grad school to postdoc transition at the same time that all this is happening. For a few months during this transition, I was a bit of a hermit, while I eased into the idea of what the future did and didn’t look like. You’ve overcome this incredibly difficult time and are now stronger and more enlightened; his can only lead to great things (and awesome travels).

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