How to Not Vanish

via Daily Prompt: Vanish

There are some places I go where I feel whole, where nothing else seems to matter and I can escape from worries for a bit.  I can be in my own head, alone with my own thoughts.  These are places near where I have chosen to live, out in the country, usually when I am out riding my horse, or on a walk in the woods or hike in the mountains.  Places where the rest of the world just vanishes.

There are other places I go that are the opposite.  These are places that are busy, loud, and usually obnoxious.  Cities and areas with a lot of people, all bustling to their next appointment, all completely focused on themselves, in their own little bubble, not caring about the world around them or the people around them.  It is in those places, although there are so many people, that I feel the most lonely.  I interact with machines more than I do people, as everything has become automated.  I pass by people who do not even look at me, do not see me.  I may as well not exist.  When I am in those places, I begin to shrink, to vanish.

This is why I have chosen the lifestyle I have now.  I work outside in all weather, long days for little pay.  I am not in an area with a lot of opportunity for better jobs.  I would have to move into the city for that.  I would have to get a job where I sit in an office all day, invisible to the world, to the sky and trees and sun.  I would have to sacrifice more than I am willing to: I would have to sacrifice myself and who I am.  I would have to live my life feeling like I don’t exist, like I don’t matter.  I refuse to do that.  I can’t do that.  The person I am now can’t do that, because she would vanish if she did.

So, this post is about self-care.  What places make you feel whole and happy?  What places make you feel like you don’t matter?  Spend more time in the first places.  Because you are real, and you deserve to exist.  You deserve to feel complete, and not vanish in a sea of dissatisfaction.

On Which Track

The more I think about my life, my future, and what I want to do with it, the more I find myself reviewing my past.  Recently I have been thinking about times that I have felt like I was on-track, happy, useful, and successful, versus times that I have felt the opposite: off-track, stressed, disordered, useless, and, you guessed it – like a failure.

I started feeling like my life wasn’t where I wanted it to be when I was a teenager.  I compared myself to my friends a lot, and felt like I was slipping behind.  I was homeschooled, so I could go at my own pace and wasn’t actually behind; I was ahead in some subjects and behind in others, but guess which ones I focused on?  Yup, the ones I was behind in.  So, although everyone said I didn’t need to, I decided to do something about it.  I started taking classes at my local community college, and suddenly I didn’t feel behind anymore.  In fact, the fact that I was taking college classes at sixteen made me feel pretty cool.  I whizzed ahead in math and other things that I cared about, and put myself exactly where I wanted to be.  On track.

When I was in college, I had some major medical issues that sent me way off course.  I had to transfer schools so that I could move home to be closer to my doctors and, honestly, be taken care of.  Instead of take time off school, I stayed in, because I didn’t want to ‘fall behind’ again.  It didn’t matter, though, having a serious illness for years doesn’t let you do anything but fall behind in life, since you are spending most of your energy just trying to survive.  I ended up making myself miserable trying to stay in school while sick.  I took five and a half years to finish, got lower grades than I ever had in my life, and by the end had no direction or passion for what I was doing.  I ended up graduating with a degree I didn’t care about and an overwhelming desire to never be in school again.  Which was a shame, because as a homeschooler I had always had a passion for learning.  Forcing myself to stay in when I was that miserable, just because I thought that was what I was ‘supposed to’ do, had taken that away from me.  I also later realized that in order to do something I actually enjoyed, I would probably have to go get another degree in that field anyway, so all that time being miserable was probably a waste anyway.  Off track.

When I graduated, I had decided that I owed it to myself to do something I really enjoyed.  I immediately got a job with horses, determined to make that my career.  It was a rough, overworked-and-underpaid entry level job, and I worked probably an average of sixty hours a week.  Six days a week I would wake up at the crack of dawn, work outside in all kinds of weather, do manual labor, and stay pretty much on-call at all times.  I loved every second of it.  I learned so much, both with my riding and about taking care of a barn, and got some amazing opportunities to ride some nice horses and meet with the best riders and trainers in the business.  Also as hard as the work was, it was twice as fun.  Most of the time.  I had the rest of my life together, too.  Since I only had a little bit of time to myself, I used it wisely, to clean my place, do errands, etc.  For the year and a half I worked in that job, I got more accomplished than I had in all those years in school.  On track.

When I left that job, it was because of two reasons: one, I needed more money, and realized that working only with horses was not going to cut it at this point.  Two, my horse was lame, and so I was getting less out of it anyway, since I couldn’t ride and get lessons.  Those two things, along with a lot of people telling me that I should grow up and become responsible, led me to the decision that I should get a more grown-up and responsible job.  The problem was, I was underqualified in a lot of areas.  So for the last year and a half, I have tried, and failed miserably, to do something more acceptable with my life.  I tried to work in a vet clinic, which gave me so much stress I started worrying about my health again and quit.  I tried going back to school to be a technician, realized that was not what I wanted to do, and left after one very long and painful semester.  I have cut down on my time working with horses, and have had to move back in with my parents.  I have been searching for something that I can do as a job that would make other people happy, and in doing so have realized something: that is an impossible task.  That is probably why I am still searching after more than a year and a half.  Off track.

Do you see the pattern?  I don’t know why I didn’t see it before.  Every time I try to live my life according to what I think others want from me, to succeed by their standards, I fail.  That is not because I am a failure, but because I have been setting myself up for failure.  I have been paralyzing myself by listening to every single voice other than my own.  The times I have gone after what I wanted to do, despite what others said, I ended up working harder, caring more, and becoming genuinely happy and successful.

So, my point to this is simple: I truly believe that the key to success is to not be afraid of failure; to listen to yourself over others and do what you want.  This does not mean that you are lazy, or stupid, doing something wrong, though that’s what many will tell you; it means that you are brave, and willing to work harder than ever for something you sincerely care about.  Passion leads to success.

The Strength of The Small

I cried again yesterday.  After sparring, as I was changing for jiu jitsu.  I took those few minutes while I was alone in the changing room to secretly let out the frustration I felt, burying my face in my sweaty shirt as I pulled it off over my head.  Just for a moment, to wipe away the silent tears so no one could tell.  My ankle hurt and was swelling from where someone had blocked one of my sloppy kicks.  My nose was throbbing and bleeding a little again, having still not fully healed from getting busted a few weeks ago.  My muscles and joints ached, and I felt the bruises already starting to form on my skin.  And I was already freaking exhausted.  But it wasn’t the physical discomfort making me cry.

No, the reason I was crying was from a much deeper feeling, one of discouragement and inadequacy.  One that told me that all that pain was for nothing, that I wasn’t getting better, that I wasn’t ever going to get better, that I just wasn’t physically cut out for this sport.  I am small, short, 125 pounds, and female.  I always tell myself that none of those things matter.  Then I try to keep up with the other people in class, and repeatedly prove myself wrong…in almost every aspect of training.  I am not in great shape, I have a hard time running, I am an embarrassingly slow sprinter, I have no reach in sparring and can’t seem to connect punches, I can’t always see punches coming and even when I do I don’t dodge or block them well, I get tired and flat-footed, I can’t seem to get the bad habits out of my kicks, and when I roll against bigger people I still get crushed, even if they are a lower rank than me.  Yet I still go to training every day, because I keep telling myself it will get better.

Though yesterday, I stopped believing that.  Just for a little while, but it still scared me.  I am afraid that the pain, discomfort and frustration will all become too much and I will let myself give up.  I don’t want to.  I want to get good at this.  Or at least adequate.  It’s just…so unbelievably hard.  Especially for someone at such a big disadvantage – and I hate to admit it, but yes I do have a huge disadvantage because of my size.  (And honestly, I think because of my sex – not physically, but because martial arts are not set up to be inviting to women, and society doesn’t lead women to believe they are cut out for such a sport.)

Since then, I’ve tried to make myself feel better.  I’ve had talks with my friends, and looked at a bunch of motivational memes online.  Somehow it’s helped, but I still feel myself dragging this weight around that has been getting heavier every week, every time I struggle, and especially since getting a bloody nose the other week and feeling like a complete joke.  When it comes down to it, I just don’t like being this bad at anything.  I do wonder why this means so much to me, and why I chose a sport so difficult for someone like me to get better at.  I think I believed in myself at the time – believed in my motivation, and athleticism, and thought that I could easily prove everyone wrong who thought that someone like me couldn’t really do it.  But I would dare say that even I, with the martial arts experience I do have, and by all means should have known better, completely underestimated this sport.  It is damn hard.  I am only about a month and a half in to sparring, and looking forward I am thinking the hardest part is going to be the motivation.  I’m already having a hard time with it, and I am literally at the very beginning.  I honestly don’t know how I am going to keep it up.

That is why I am writing this.  Because, this struggle, this discouragement, I think is a crucial moment.  I am not going to say I have a decision to make, because that decision was made a long time ago.  I have always known that I am a martial artist, I just need to prove it.  Even if it’s harder than I originally anticipated, I still don’t have any choice but to face that and move through it.  No, the crucial moment is in the frustration itself.  I want to remember this feeling, and any feeling I have that is even lower than this, so that I have something to look back on and be proud of overcoming.  I want to remind my future self that this was not easy, and that a lot of people would have given up.  So, despite where I go, how much better I get (or not), my victory will never be based only in winning or losing; my victory will be that I just didn’t quit.  That is a kind of strength that not everyone has, no matter their size.

Now, I have to go.  I’m off to spar again.

 

 

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with dirt and sweat and blood, who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotions and who spends himself in a worthy cause; who, if he wins, knows the thrill of high achievement, and if he fails, at least he fails daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

~Theodore Roosevelt (quoted by William Manchester in The Last Lion)