Avoiding the Stall

I have been stalled the past few weeks.

Oh, I have managed to get my commitments done. I have met with clients and done the work. I have paid the bills and each Sunday, I have had a shiny new sermon ready to go. The house is, well maybe not Better Homes and Gardens clean and straight, but it’s far from the place where I need a bulldozer to clean. So the basics are in place. But the other side of my life, the creative, the stuff that fuels me, has languished.

I know the reasons. I am making changes to my work. I have recently added to my ministry responsibilities. My 17-year-old son’s moving to Vermont has disrupted my quiet time, my down time. It’s not that he’s around all the time, but he’s constantly in and out of my life and work. Because I process slowly, the constant interruptions always set me back to where I was as I was thinking and feeling my way, and so I rarely get to the inspired place that lets me do my best work. It’s crazy frustrating and I have felt very out of sorts the past few weeks.

I don’t begrudge him the time. Not in the least. I love his energy. He’s contagiously positive most of the time. And quality time is one of his love languages. Add to that the fact that he’s made a big move choosing to move from Virginia, where he has lived the first seventeen years of his life and so right now, it’s particularly important that I be here for him, and there are tons of reasons for me not to mind.

Still, I have a hermit side to me. I process feelings and ideas slowly. Unlike the way I think, which often resembles a madcap ping-pong ball in the middle of a tornado, I struggle to deal with feelings. I could go into all the psych stuff that three plus years of counseling taught be about the whys, but they are unimportant to anyone except me and two or three people who are very close to me. The point is, I can either bottle those feelings up, or I can sit with them for longish stretches, and let them seep out via writing (mostly poetry) or art or photography, all of which allow me to say things that I sometimes have trouble getting out in other ways.

I was brought up in a generation, and in a household (read: My father) who diminished feelings. I was taught that when things get tough, you just bull your way through them. Maybe taught is too weak a word. Let’s say it was beaten into me. EVERYTHING was more important than feelings. It was a constant battle between my dad and I. Back then, I didn’t realize where the struggle came from. I just knew we were always at loggerheads, that he and I were always like two bulls facing off, ready to charge into each other.

Getting away from home, and going to college, was a revelation to me. People actually cared about feelings “out there.” I began to let them out again, tentatively at first, then wildly, exuberantly. Maybe I put too much emphasis on them, but it was glorious in its way.

Years later, though, “real life” kicked in (Don’t you just hate that phrase?). Jobs. Marriage. Kids. Church. Responsibilities. The normal crisises of normal life. I was good, very good in fact, at juggling, adding thing after thing to my circus act of living. But eventually, even the best juggler hits their limit. Something had to go. And what else other than taking the time to process feelings? And giving them outlets? In the struggle to hold things together, my childhood training kicked in and I began to do to myself what my father had never been able to completely do to me – I slowly stopped creating.

Yeah, yeah, Big fat hairy deal, I told myself. It’s not that important. All these other things are more important.

Boy, did I ever have that wrong.

What happened was a long, slow erosion. By the end, I was in a serious depression place. And it got worse before it got better. There were a couple of years where I barely functioned on any level. I became so not myself that I eventually put myself into counseling and began the long, slow, painful journey back.

One of the things I learned (and there a lot of others) is that I needed that time to ruminate, to sit with things, to talk them out, either with some very patient person, or within myself. And I needed those creative outlets to get things out. And despite my father’s voice in the back of my head, putting the feelings side of me in a closet was a deadly idea. I could not afford to do that again.

And so I began, years ago, to schedule thinking time and writing time into my life, just as firmly as I schedule time with my clients. And it’s worked out well. I am way, way healthier and happier now that I was a decade ago. And my work, be it poetry, fiction or art, is far better (that whole practice thing).

Yes, I am a slow learner, but I got this one.

So here I am, in the midst of another major set of changes in my life. My wonderful, active son in the house. Changes in my work. A new ministry. A beautiful new relationship. So much to do, to sort out. Practically and emotionally.

I am not allowing myself to fall in the same trap I did before. I don’t let life just happen anymore.  I refuse to surrender to “that’s just the way it is.” Instead, I have become proactive in carving out time for my heart to catch up with my brain. For instance, while I used to spend entire days (when I wasn’t traveling to see clients) at my desk writing, I now often slip out to the local diner/coffee shop and sit for a few hours of uninterrupted time to think and write (I am there now as I write this in fact.). I moved some furniture around so I have a place upstairs next to my bedroom to retreat to now and then when I need to get way from the TV or You Tube.  My son, bless his heart, understands my need for this time, and he’s worked with me as we both adjust and reset our lives.

He does this because we talked about it. And will continue to talk about it. We have a vested interest in each other’s sanity after all.

The point of all this, which began as a journal entry, is this: We deny who we are at our own risk. We can tell ourselves that we’re being thoughtful and caring when we sacrifice who we are at our deepest level for other people, but we pay a price for putting aside our basic and true needs. The cost, eventually, will be terrible. And not just to ourselves, but to the very people we are sacrificing for.

It’s not an either-or thing. There’s plenty of ways to carve out the life we want, the things we NEED, without harming the others in our life.

When we get on an airplane and the attendants take us through the safety instructions, one of the things they tell us is that when the air mask falls, put your own on first, THEN help the others. Because without air, you will not be help to anyone. The same is true with our hearts.

Be well. Travel Wisely.

Tom

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