Contemplating Something Big (part 1)

Regret can be crushing and fear can be paralyzing. How I’m coping with them.

For years I’ve suffered under the crushing weight of regret. Regrets both big and small tend to drag me under, all while I smile and pretend they don’t bother me. I act like I don’t care what people think of me, that regret is useless, and since nothing can be done to change the past I don’t dwell on it. Those things I project outwardly, but for the most part they aren’t my truth. Things I did in my teens still haunt me even as I careen toward 40! I have more regrets than I can possibly write about. But there’s one big one that has been nagging me more and more frequently and more and more forcefully: Never getting a college degree.

Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future. –  Fulton Oursler

All through grade school and high school I was an excellent student but things got really messy senior year. Due to various circumstances I ended up with a GED instead of a diploma and after high school I starting at a two year college instead of university. I won’t recount all the details of my ensuing college experiences but needless to say they never amounted to much. I’ve gone to community colleges several times but never walked away with anything more than one fully finished term under my belt. My focus vacillated from journalism to nursing to business….

During much of this time I was in and out of destructive relationships, partying heavily, aWoman and drops of rainnd dealing with my ongoing mental health issues without effective treatment (or any treatment much of the time). Eventually I did find the wonderful man that became my husband and he has been a great influence on me. Over the course of our 14 years together I have certainly settled down, grown up, and sought treatment.

Never has my regret about being uneducated and having zero professional skills or experience been more glaring, frustrating, or embarrassing to me than right now. Although I’ve always felt shame surrounding these issues and a theoretical desire to correct them, I’ve never felt really driven to remedy them. And perhaps as importantly, never felt I had the ability to do so. Some of the obstacles that have been apparent are of course easily measured such as monetary concerns or our continual geographic upheaval during my husbands time in the military on active duty.

I think, however, the things that have actually held me back the most cannot be measured in dollars or miles. My lack of confidence, limiting perfectionism, past inability to follow through and stick things out are a few glaring concerns. Tack on a low tolerance for stress and uncertainty about my emotional well-being and you have a pretty compelling argument against any action. I mean really, who would bet against those odds?

Grunge American flag

So why am I even thinking about such things now? A few reasons. The most tangible is that I feel REALLY driven to DO something now that our country seems to be in mortal danger. I feel like it’s a combination of patriotism, motherly protection, and self preservation that is driving this desire. I am a firm believer and defender of democracy, the concept of our nation as one of inclusion, and of our place as a leader and model for the world. I truly feel like all of those tenets are in peril.

Education is the development of power and ideal. – W. E. B. Du Bois

The fears arising are spurring me toward more action and interest than I’ve ever felt before. I know I can be helpful in small ways to fight for better outcomes but those limited tasks and gestures, as worthy as they are, don’t feel like enough for me. But I lack the education and credentials necessary to fulfill my potential. Without additional education, I’ll never be a campaign manager, run for office or be a congressional staffer or researcher. I’ll never become a journalist or analyst or have any meaningful position in a not-for-profit or community organization. In essence, my ambition is stunted.

The other reason I’m even letting these ideas rattle around inside my head now has to do with where I am in life. I feel I’ve been undergoing a transformation for some time now. Little things have started to improve and I’ve made some positive changes. I love my current therapist, my current medication routine seems to be working well, and overall I just feel better somehow, despite all the shittiness in the world and the inevitable anger and sadness that causes. In fact, my current soundness undeterred by the soul crushing world we’re living in shows progress.

I’m not sure how to accurately describe what I am barely able to recognize myself, but indeed it does feel like something. Perhaps it is a maturity of sorts, a growing into oneself that just naturally happens as you are approaching 40. I’ve been trying to do more lately, more things that scare me, more things that are outside my wheelhouse, things that generally I wouldn’t have the fortitude to try before. It’s not as if I’m feeling an abundance of confidence right now though. It’s more a drive to do things despite not having a ton of assurance. I suppose what I’m feeling now is simply more courage as opposed to confidence. Since there are still fears, the fact that I’m trying them anyway seems more courageous than confident.

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear. – Mark Twain

I’m certainly not “cured” of all my neurosis and I definitely still have moments and mini breakdowns. I do feel a much greater drive though to keep going, keep trying, and I want to translate that into something real and tangible. I know trying to get a college degree right now will be immensely difficult and has so many obstacles in it’s way that I may not be able to overcome them. But I’m not going to let myself drop the idea without at least exploring it. I’m going to keep thinking about it and pursuing information. I’ve already begun some research and plan to do more.

I’ll be using this topic as a regular feature on the blog and hope it’ll be an interesting journey to take. Whether it dies in 3 weeks, 3 years, or lives and succeeds, there will be stories to tell.