Friday, November 28, 2014

Thankful *and* Wanting... Ugh.

Ed's doctorate was in psychology. The branch of psychology he subscribed to was cognitive psychology, which basically means paying attention to how we think about things. Ed used this approach to fuel his philosophy that we get to choose how we feel about everything, that the brain is a mental muscle and the more you choose good, the  more you see good. Yeah, sure. I get it. It's all about the "it's not what happens to you, it's  how you react" approach to life. In theory, this makes sense. And most days I convince myself that mental will is what will keep things moving forward. But, I'll tell ya, when the winter holiday season settles in, I have all but used up my mental resources. Usually, it's all I can do to write the bills or finish the laundry, let alone be a model for being positive. The last few years at this time of the year,  I've fought my negative tendencies and pushed through, gritting my teeth, forcing a positive outlook. I can only imagine how confusing that must be for Jack and Reese: seeing mom clearly frustrated with tears in her eyes saying "We'll have fun today!"  This year, I'm not forcing anything. Which means, veneer pulled back and honesty revealed, I am a grumpy goose.

I blame Ed. He set the bar way too high. He couldn't just be happy with the basic American dream: steady job, family, friends, house. Nope, he wanted more. He wanted to be fulfilled, find meaning and richness in all of these. It's why he decided he needed to move us across the country and take on more debt right when we started our family, a year after Jack was born, to pursue his dream job by getting a doctorate to practice sports psychology. He was almost careless in the risks he took to find richness. Or knew what most mattered and was worth the risk. 

Of course, Ed's drive is one of the reasons I wanted to make a life with him. I have a similar affliction: this need to secure meaning and connection to work, family, friends.... daily life. I call it an affliction because it's incredibly easy to fall short of the high expectations. Lately, I've been thinking  if I had lower expectations, I could be content with what I have, appreciate all the goodness around me and my kids. To my dismay, I'm realizing, though, that there's a difference between being content with what I have and being true to myself.  I wrestle with the tension between these abstract realities so much I'm exhausted. It's why my liquor cabinet needs stocking. 

Concretely, the wrestling manifests itself in everything: how I view relationships (current and pursuing new ones), parenting and work. On paper,  I have a great job for someone in my circumstances. I work close to home which means I can maximize all the hours I need in the day to get things done. It pays well enough, so I can pay my West Seattle mortgage and send my kids to private Catholic school. I am fairly autonomous, which means I get to decide -- for the most part- what I focus on each day. On the other hand, the job is remarkably taxing and overwhelming; it is sucking my soul and pulling me away from all the reasons I thought I wanted to move into college administration. Of course, if I didn't have the expectation that my job should be fulfilling and have meaning, I wouldn't be so miserable.

I read too much about "simple steps" to a living a full life and then counter that with articles on being realistic about what that really takes to make the life happen.  Ultimately, I often don't have the energy to sustain the expectations Ed and I set for life before he died. Of course, I also don't have the constitution -- based on my nature and the nurturing of a marriage and life that pushed for greatness- to accept a mediocre life. In short, I'm trapped by what I have trained my gut and self to know is fulfillment and what I can physically accomplish as a single working mom of two grade school children. 

I am pretty sure there are many people who have their basic needs met who have similar mental struggles. I'm also sure that it doesn't consume them the way it seems to consume me, or maybe they don't say anything because they will feel like I do now (self-centered and ungrateful). So, I write. I write to figure it out. I write to articulate what are the core challenges. I write to more contently walk the tight rope of gratefulness and seeking what truly resonates. I write to not make a martini before noon the day after the start of the holiday season.