Waking Up to Reality: Accepting the Burdens that Wake with Me

When I awaken this morning, I think that I am a murderer. The remnants of the dream dissolve in the warm morning glow, but my subconscious keeps spinning for minutes. Did I really commit the crime? If I did, how could I forgive myself? I eventually become awake of a cat between my legs, a second purring on my chest, and a jaw locked tight to hold back some vague fear. I always hope to awaken to a bright morning with hope and optimism. But more often I awaken to burdens that seemed to have increased through the night, dreams that leave a foul taste in my mouth and an stiffness brought on by attempting to not squish the cats.

My boyfriend’s alarm rings for the first time and he swipes snooze. I also don’t want to leave the bed. For one, that would dislodge the cats. The swim back to reality rarely brings any illumination. I remember that I still don’t have a paying job. I feel unresolved emotions dancing across my tongue. I hold my tongue to the top of my mouth to keep them from escaping. As the world clears before my eyes, nothing actually becomes clearer. Each day looks different from the last. I have been working hard to resolve some of my unfounded fears, like the belief that any criticism is a poke at my intrinsic worth. As the blinds of fear fall away, I awaken to different colors every morning. My list of jobs that seemed so golden begin to lose their shine. Without the false light of fear, I see they are not a good fit for me. Other options previously invisible spring into focus. I am lost in the constantly changing world around me and the confusion presses me deep into my covers.

Although the crushing confusion seems unpleasant, it’s far better than the way that I have awoken for the previous twenty years. I used to wake up in the midst of writing a to-do list. Actually, it was more of a do-this-to-avoid-feeling-like-a-failure-today list. If I checked off everything on the list, the clutching self doubt that whispered that I was not good enough would stay at bay (waiting, of course, until I didn’t make everything on the list). I used to leap out of bed in the morning as the anxiety sent sparks up my spine, already panicking about everything I had to get done.

My boyfriend’s alarm trills a second time and once more it is pressed into silence. As I lie there half-awake, I think that being pressed into the covers is preferable to my shooting anxiety, but not perfect. I want to awaken to golden shimmering light, a purring cat pressed against my face and the thrill of being alive. I want to awaken like I do on the second day of a long vacation, swollen with the freedom of an empty day – ready to be filled with lying on the beach and exfoliating my face with sand while bodysurfing. Despite the openness of my unemployed days, it’s not vacation. Although the hours are technically “unscheduled,” I know that from 10am to 3pm is “freak out about making money” and 3pm to 5pm is “apply frantically to any job that I may qualify for.” I long for that vacation feeling as I watch the patterns of sunlight play across the ceiling between my boyfriend’s snoozed alarms. I force my jaw “relaxed” and pretend that I am far away. My body feels even heavier. This forced pleasantness soon swims away from my consciousness – as unreal as my dream of being a murderer.

As a cat stares me down and demands food, a new thought lightens my leaden body. Maybe it’s not possible to wake up happy and joyous every morning While the need to make money presses down on me now, when it fades, there will be others. It’s quite possible that there will be a new discomfort pressing my jaw tight and my tongue against the roof of my mouth every morning. For weeks, I have fought these feelings. I wanted the hope and joy, manufactured though it may be. The frustration with my inability to maintain these false feelings might be a part of what’s dragging me down now. I still awaken trying to push away the uncomfortable thoughts of dissolving dreams of murder or the pain of a locked jaw. What if there’s another choice?

When I inevitably awaken with a jaw locked in fear and a stomach roiling with anger, I hope that someday I can respond with kindness. Perhaps my most wonderful morning is not awakening free of every discomfort, but accepting of whatever is residing in my body right now. I feel the 7 mile weekend backpacking trip pulling at my hip flexors and tightening my back. A perfect awakening seems unlikely to me.

My boyfriends third alarm goes off and he shuffles to the shower, leaving me alone with my thoughts. While I might not spring from the bed with happiness this morning, I can slowly ease my aching limbs to the ground. I can revel in the feeling of stretching my sore feet, pressing my toes into the floor as I rotate my heel in midair. Instead of swallowing hard, I can gently brush the teeth that have been locked in battle with my anger all night. I can relax my poor tongue and let the anxiety its been holding back surge through me as I drink a comforting cup of tea. I might not be able to awaken totally light and free, ready to take on the day. But I can awaken in my own skin with the burdens of life pressing down on me. And, like the furred warmth that locks my legs into place, the familiar weight of my problems can be okay.

Fear and the Couch Potato

Have you ever played an unfortunate game with your friends or significant other called “what do you want to do?” In this game, you go back and forth saying “I dunno” because you a) really don’t care, b) want the other person to choose because it’s easier, c) are afraid of voicing your weird choice or d) (some reason that I have not thought about yet). The game ends when someone gets exasperated and makes a choice or you both end up staying home.

I mention this game as an example of how difficult it can sometimes be to know what you want to do. It should be a simple question with a simple answer, but it gets complicated. Emotions get in the way. Old beliefs get in the way.

Since I have learned to be more aware of fear (thank you, life coach Noe Khalfa), I have been able to see how it can obscure what I want to do. First, I get scared – this morning I didn’t do the dishes because I was irrationally afraid that this would somehow make me a housewife. Then, I can’t figure out what I want to do – which scares me further. I envision myself becoming a couch potato because I can’t figure out what I want to do.

It’s a cycle.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to break it.

Yesterday I had some success with a simple fear. I am afraid of riding my bike by myself. With others, I am a fearless biker and happy to lead the pack. But I don’t like riding on city streets (even in Seattle) without someone else to watch my back. Instead of staying home (and inching closer to couch potato status), I went for a bike ride anyway. My whole day was improved by going on that bike ride.

Yesterday was like vacation. I felt pretty good!

Today I feel like I need to get to work .That is a bit silly, since I have only had a four day weekend so far (not a long vacation by any standard). But I think that is what is making it difficult for me to figure out what I want to do. My wants are clouded by my belief that productivity is essential to every day. I have a hard time when my boyfriend asks what I did that day and the answer is ‘nothing’. I need to have a list of accomplishments. But I want to be able to relax and follow my heart. My belief in productivity makes this difficult.

The irony is that I’m so scared of not being productive that it makes me a couch potato (but a stressed one). I am so scared of not being productive, that when I ask myself what I want to do, the answer becomes “nothing.” So I do nothing, but I’m stressed about it.

Either way, it seems I need to overcome my obsession with productivity in order to follow my new direction (doing what I truly want).

Changing Direction (again)

Once again, knkelley.com is changing in parallel with the changes in my life. A few months ago, I tried to write about projects that I was trying to do outside of work in order to find my true calling. Work unexpectedly took over my life and I was forced to abandon my projects. Now I have abandoned work (i.e. I quit) and I am prepared to be totally consumed by projects! This is where I plan to document my adventures, projects and discoveries about myself.

One reason I’m doing this is because I love to write. It’s a compulsion that I have been trying to squelch for too long (in favor of a practical and financially stable engineering career).

Another reason is to show potential employers that I did more than lie on the couch, watch Netflix and send out resumes.

But the main reason is to keep me honest. I have one major goal during my time of unemployment. It is to pursue what I want to do. This notion means a lot to me because I have spent my life until now pursing what I could do. Planes and spaceships are cool; I could be an aerospace engineer. I could be practical and financially sound for the rest of my life if I get a degree in engineering. These are my past thoughts. Oddly enough, I never asked myself what I wanted to do. I never thought about what work would be so interesting that I would want to do it for the rest of my life. Now I’ve decided to think about it and doggedly pursue what I want.

The thing is… I’m not sure what that is yet.

Rationally, I’ve tried to piece together what job would “check all my boxes” (as my dad likes to say). My boxes, or requirements, would be flexible workdays, travel, some sort of writing involved etc. I have come up with some ideas, but I’m not pursing them doggedly. Why? Because they are ideas for jobs that I could do. My mind has a hard time thinking past what qualifications do I have? Is it in the right city? The ideas that my mind comes up with are limited by these restrictions. Plus, I don’t feel excited about the ideas that I come up with.

For example, I have thought that technical writing would be amazing. I have a background in engineering. I can write. I may be able to telecommute. I could travel. I like defining processes. But no matter how hard my head works to sell this, my heart isn’t in it. I like it; I could do it, but I don’t want it. I don’t want to be a technical writer badly enough to succeed at becoming one.

So I’m taking the (rather extreme – for me -) step of letting my desires guide me. Do I want to spend all day in the library? If the answer is yes, I will. If I end up wandering down the fashion section and finding it fascinating, I’ll read it. While I’m not sure what the destination will be, this method makes the direction clear.

Let me explain – in this exact moment, I can tell you what I want to do. I want to finish this blog post and go for a walk. It’s simple and clear. Do I know what I’ll do after the walk? No, I have no clue. The destination is a mystery. This method is in sharp contract to the way I’ve lived my life to this point – which is, find the destination (the analytically perfect job) and stubbornly stick to the course despite all obstacles. The issue is, if I pick the wrong destination, I’m screwed. This is what I’m realizing now (after four years of college & three years of working). It makes selecting the “right” job stressful and does not allow for changing life conditions. It all hinges on making one analytical choice correctly, which leads to a lot of spinning in my head. Was this right? Is there a better choice? Should I change my boxes?

It’s a lot simpler to just trust that I can follow my desires to an appropriate end destination. It’s not necessarily easier for me. I have to trust my gut as much as my head. I have to live without the compulsive planning that I typically do. It’s not easy…so that’s the main reason that I’m keeping this blog – to hold myself accountable to following my heart instead of my head.

I hope that some readers will enjoy taking this journey with me.

Kaitlyn