Monday, September 12, 2011

Crisis Averted

So I suppose I owe y'all an update after that last crazy entry. Unfortunately, this one is no less tumultuous! The good news is that my many recoveries are coming along.

I am finally done being itchy! It is nice to see that this too does indeed pass. I am hyperconscious, now, of where I am and what I am touching, especially in the garden, but I am deciding to put that focused observation, which can yield great insight, to good use.

Ulcer re-recovery is also coming along. I only got two and a half days in on the cabbage juice fast, but I still think it did well for me. Whenever I fast (and I actually do one-day fasts on occasion), I find it helpful in remembering the difference between physical hunger and appetite, which I think is really important. I don't need to be putting any unnecessary strain on my stomach, and eating only what I physically need and not necessarily what I emotionally want is a big step toward that. I am still trying to eat less and more frequently, which requires a good bit of foresight to bring snacks when I am out and about. I am avoiding spicy and heavy foods, alcohol, caffeine, and sugar, all of which are reputed to be hard on ulcers. I have been drinking herbal teas with a bunch of different herbs indicated for ulcers, stomach, and digestion. Most importantly, I think, I have been (trying to) take it easy. I feel so blessed to be in a space where I can just be "out-of-commission" for a while. Everyone has been so very loving and supportive.

Which is pretty lucky, because I am just turning the corner after a brief emotional breakdown. I am not sure what it was or caused it. I think a bunch of factors all collided for a perfect storm of momentary insanity. But, amazingly enough, I think I have worked through it already. It started on Thursday, but this community holds such a beautiful space for healing that I was able to experience my breakdown, analyze it, work through it, and turn it into a breakthrough pretty seamlessly indeed.

Between the full-body poison ivy and the reemergence of ulcer issues, I was already feeling a whole range of emotions from frustration to fear to anger to inadequacy, and so many more, some of which I cannot name and do not understand.

Then, to add to that mess, on Thursday I started to get really frustrated with school. First off, I am discovering that being a full-time student and a full-time Earthavener are mutually exclusive activities. There simply and literally are not enough hours in the day. Well, maybe if I had the energy to work 18-hour days, seven days a week, it might be an achievable feat – Earthavener by day, student by night. But the simple fact is that I just don’t have that kind of energy (thus the feelings of inadequacy). I could try, but this minor emotional breakdown makes it very clear and obvious that pushing too hard would just be counterproductive. I would just be burning myself out, and I do not believe that that would be a wise decision.

Then this class that I am in, Introduction the Liberal and Independent Studies, keeps asking all these questions like “Why are you in college?” and “What are you hoping to gain from your degree?”

Backtracking a moment to give you some more context: Something that I am learning here is deep and profound honesty with myself and openness with others, which I am finding it very freeing and very healing and very helpful in creating a healthier relationship with myself and others. All those years that I struggled with depression and anxiety, part of the problem was that I was not being honest with myself or open with others. I was not emotionally mature enough to confront my pain and say, “No, no I am not okay, and this is how I feel and why.”

What I have found here at Earthaven is that not only is it okay but it is preferable to express what you are really feeling, to experience it, to share it, to analyze it, to work with it and through it. When someone asks, “How are you?” that person actually expects to hear what is really on your mind. Earthaven is actually home to a new and different (budding) culture of profound emotional health and for the first time in my life, I really feel like the truth is setting me free.

Enter tough questions about my academic and career goals, and two different, emotionally-charged quandaries. First, I was torn between giving a bluntly honest, first-thought response (right now, I am only in college because my family doesn’t want me to drop out... essentially, I am doing the "right thing for the wrong reasons," and I know it) and thinking out the answers that I believe the professor is looking for, which may or may not be what he is actually looking for or would deem acceptable. It doesn't seem like that big of an issue, but when I am newly experiencing the freedom of openness and honesty, it is really heart-wrenching to have to work within the limitations of a culture that doesn't necessarily value that honesty.

Second, being honest with myself about those questions, I find that I am actually very internally conflicted, and frankly, afraid. I am burnt out on traditional schooling and have been for a long time; that is a very simple fact. Another simple fact: I am a radical, and I would never be satisfied with the standard American nine-to-five, which “getting a degree” is supposed to be preparing me for.

At the same time, even at Earthaven or in a similar community, it is not (yet) possible to entirely disconnect myself from the money economy, no matter how much it conflicts with my ethics and values and philosophy of life. So when I see people with BAs unable to find work (except at Wal-Mart), it scares the shit out of me. It seems that these days you have to have a BA to be a checker or a waitress! The economy is so terrible and jobs are so scarce that people are competing viciously over the previously undesirable jobs. While I don’t want to have any part of that culture of scarcity, I still have to recognize that I have to figure out a way to get by while creating a culture of abundance. And while I would be perfectly happy to live on the “economic fringes,” making just enough to get by, it seems that even “just enough to get by” is becoming less and less attainable.

So, yes, it would be a damn good idea to go ahead and get the degree. But, I am still faced with same problems. I am still burnt out. I feel it acutely. I absolutely dread working on my class work, despite the fact that I know that a lot of it is very interesting and engaging. So, despite the above, no amount of fear and “shoulds” are relighting that fire.

What is relighting my passion for learning is experiencing learning at Earthaven. I learn so much every day just by living here. I am not taking tests or writing essays, but I am learning and deeply integrating skills that I believe will be very important for my future.

Fortunately, as a result of all this agonizing, I think that I have figured out an acceptable course of action. Essentially, I am going to finish LIS 301 (Introduction to Liberal and Independent Studies – the course where you design your Liberal Studies degree) and see what happens.

I could continue as a part-time student, taking one or two classes at a time (like Saralin). I already have that independent study on anarchy with Richard Gilman-Opalsky (best. radical. philosophy. prof. ever.) scheduled for next semester. I think that I could handle being an Earthavener and doing a couple of free-form independent studies each semester until I finish my degree. That way, I could be a student and live in a way that is in keeping with my values and ethics and philosophy of life.

I could go back to Springfield next semester and dedicate myself to doing nothing but finishing my degree. If I did that I would graduate at the end of next summer. They might even let me walk in the spring, if I only have one summer class left to finish up. Then, once my college trauma, er, experience, is out of the way, I would be really free to come back to Earthaven and focus completely on being here. However, that doesn't address the burnt-out-ness...

I could take a break next semester and dedicate myself to doing nothing but being an Earthavener and getting myself settled in here. Then, once I have secured a sure place for myself here, I might find myself able to be an Earthaven and a student after all.

I am leaning, right now, towards the first option, but I think my best bet is simply to allow the course to unfold and see where it takes me.

But getting back to my emotional breakdown/breakthrough, I guess what happened was that my issues with school dredged up fear, doubt, insecurity, and pain way beyond the scope of not knowing how to answer a particular question. In fact, it opened Pandora’s box of existential crisis, and I had to face all of the terrifying things that came out. Fortunately, there was hope in the bottom, and that hope is the beautiful community that I am becoming a part of.

My community has been so good to me! It literally brings me to tears just how amazingly blessed I am. Here I am; I have only been here for, what, a little less than four months? I am having these crazy health challenges followed immediately by an emotional meltdown, which have made me (in my estimation) totally useless for weeks. And yet, I continue to feel boundless love and support from my "extended family." They understand and they care and they want me to do whatever I need to do to take care of myself, despite the fact that that means I am not able to be working on certain projects. They keep telling me that they are happy that I am here and that they want me to be part of their tribe. Here I feel like I am so clearly demonstrating that I can’t pull my own weight and that I wouldn’t make a reliable team member… that I am inadequate. I guess I was projecting onto them this (unfounded) idea that they would be better off without having to deal with me and my emotional breakdowns. But when I think about it, if I were in their shoes, I wouldn’t just write someone with so much potential off because she needed healing. If we wrote off everyone who needs healing, who would be left?

And still, finding love and support and understanding where I was afraid that I would find rejection and loss is in itself incredibly healing. I feel so blessed to be here, so blessed to be among people who understand, who love me, who see my potential, who want me to be part of their tribe. Wow.

Well, I guess that is enough for now, huh? It has taken me all day (literally) to digest and process this into something resembling communication, but it has been time very well spent. Eventually, I will tell the story of the crazy events going on all around me in the external world while I was going through the heart of this breakdown/breakthrough. (In short, I was forgotten in town, spent a night at an Asheville community house, then came home to a delightful celebration of Founding Day... on September 11th. It is, in hindsight, a great story, but it must wait for another time.)

P.S. This might look really neat and tidy now, but know that it is the result of several days spent in emotional turmoil trying to figure out just what the fuck I am doing with my life. Breakdown, breakthrough. Praise the Goddess for the cycles of life.

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