I wrote this Thursday night. I’m posting it now to push past my sudden fear of writing anything for public view. Maybe if had been a post on antiderivatives and integral Calculus I might not have been as nervous. 😉
I am a 50-year-old single-mom and a college sophomore. Actually, this is my second term as a college sophomore. It was supposed to be my last term at Junior College. I was supposed to graduate next spring then head off to the school of my dreams to finish my bachelor’s. Instead, I have spent the summer making up a class for my major that I flunked last fall when I had a mental breakdown.
The breakdown was pretty severe. I won’t go into all the details here but the fallout was that I couldn’t remember that 9 x 4=36. Of course, that’s not entirely true. In my mind I could see very easily that 9 x 4=36, but I couldn’t tell you the answer if you asked me what 9 x 4 was. Something had put a block between my mind and my ability to communicate any knowledge I might have. Considering I work as an embedded tutor in Algebra and that school requires the regurgitation of knowledge, you can imagine it was really bad.
It has taken me a mere eight months to go from an F in Calculus because I couldn’t remember how to take a derivative (truly the easiest thing in Calculus) to an A during an intensive 6-week summer course.
In those eight months the biggest change in me is, as I’ve written previously, my acceptance of reality. I no longer simply expect that things will go just because I put in the work. I know that there are other circumstances in play in my life that I have no control over. I can’t control what my ex does, or what happens to my kids. I can’t control the fact that I have no support and that the kids and I have no real say in where we end up whenever I do finally graduate. And I cannot control that all of that puts an incredible amount of stress on me.
Whenever I mention these facts to my friends or therapist, I am met with a reaction that reminds me of when I was expecting my second child. He has a severe birth defect and had only a 50% chance of living. I would tell people that there was a chance he’d die, and they would chastise me and tell me not to talk like that. It was as if they believed that it wouldn’t happen if I just didn’t talk about it. I found those people to be shallow and, to be honest, when I needed their help after my son did live, completely useless.
Facing reality, in K’s case, saved his life. Facing reality meant not giving up. It meant educating myself so I could get the best care for my son. It meant standing up to doctors and fighting the insurance company. It basically meant kicking ass. Which is the exact opposite of what people think it means.
I was reading Subliminal by Leonard Mlodinov this summer. It’s a great book and I highly recommend it. At the close of the book, however, Mlodinov’s conclusion is that people who see reality for what it is (pretty bad) and themselves for who they are (not good/perfect) are the ones with psychological problems like depression, but that people who have a higher view of themselves than is realistic and “keep on the sunny side,” are “normal.”
I’m not going to say I’m not depressed, but my depression doesn’t stem from my view of life. It stems from my PTSD, which in turn stems from a half-century of abuse. My view of life was always positive throughout the abuse. I always imagined that “tomorrow” I would finally figure out how to make my parents/husband love me. It was that unrealistic belief that finally made me depressed. That idea was based nowhere near reality, and when I finally realized that, I began what turned out to be a four year descent into my breakdown.
It took some time to recover. I had only seven units last term, no math and science, and continued to work less than part-time. But somewhere in that term, things slowly came back online. I was able to recall math facts again and remember the entire periodic table. The PT happened in Target while explaining the table to J one morning. I just started rattling off all the names of all the elements as if I had never forgotten them.
The human mind is wired to fight for survival. It is a primal instinct and most people will do whatever they can in order to survive. For most of my life survival required me lying to myself and everyone around me about my life and about what was going on at home. I hated it. Lying is something that, to be frank, I suck at. I can’t remember all those fake facts and keep my story straight. I’d make a terrible con-person (and maybe that’s why my parents didn’t like me…FYI, that is actually what they do).
After I had kids, I learned to fight in better ways. Eventually, the lies didn’t work anymore, the rosy outlook faded, and reality broke me because I denied it. But in fighting for my kids, I learned to finally fight for myself. In facing the reality that there is no god coming to save us or change us, I’ve had to deal with the fact that it’s all on me. And, yes, at first that is what finally broke me.
Now, though, seeing reality is what makes it easier to deal with the difficulties. Looking at things realistically helps prepare me, but, more importantly, it helps me find solutions to the problems, or at least to look for those solutions. As I said, I cannot wait around for a god to save me when there obviously is not one.
In Subliminal, Mlodinov mentions how Steve Jobs was fired from the company he started and came back. Mlodinov said that it would require an incredibly high view of himself to do so. I don’t know anything about Jobs. He was a celebrity, therefore I don’t want to know anything about him. But I’d like to imagine that what he actually did was what most of us are forced to do when we hit rock bottom: Took a good, long look at himself and found several things wanting.
In many situations it can be true that when one hits the bottom, the only way is up. But that way up is not an escalator. Up is not easy. It’s brutal and you have to ruthlessly fight for it. Many times you fight your surroundings, most of the time you fight yourself.
Tomorrow morning I’ll walk into my Calculus class and have yet another battle with myself and with my past as I attempt to pull myself up. I’ve studied, yes. I’m mostly prepared. But that doesn’t mean my mind will cooperate throughout the entire test. It still likes to short out on me when I am stressed. I will fill out the self-assessment form at the end and indicate that I think I earned a B on the exam (not the class, that A is mine). I’ll assess the situation as realistically as I can.
Then I’ll walk to my car, turn on Audible, and start studying for the Chemistry class I have to make up next term. I won’t assume that just because I study and just because I attend class that it will all be rosy, or that my mind will be whole enough to ever just simply be. I know there is too much still in there, like the muddied water holes up in the mountains after the fires last year. But now I expect it. And when it happens I try to find a way around it for the next time.