A Quick Study

Must Learn Fast...Two years ago, when the signs were becoming clear that my marriage was irretrievably falling apart, I turned to several friends just so that I could talk about what was happening. In listening to what I had to say, one of those friends remarked, “You know, you’re a really quick study.”

Already at that time, I could look beyond individual incidents and analyze their effects — the intended and unintended consequences of certain actions. “Some people can endure stuff like that for years even though they know they shouldn’t,” my friend said. “They would deny it to themselves. But already you’ve come this far.” Yet one feeling I couldn’t shake off was guilt, although guilt for what I couldn’t put into words. It wasn’t as simple as guilt for a failed marriage or for what transpired in the few days immediately following the decision to separate — a separation that quickly turned into a total estrangement.

So, as any other certifiable workholic would do, I buried myself into my work. A few weeks later, I was awarded a huge prize at my job — a Caribbean cruise the following January with peers from around the world — and it reinforced my dedication to my work. But it also gave me an “out” from addressing what needed to be addressed in my personal life. And then when the atmosphere at work soured a few weeks after I returned from that cruise, my satisfaction with work fell apart and I began feeling physically exhausted and guilty all over again.

It took me a year to admit to myself that I needed help, so on those grounds, I felt that describing myself as a “quick study” was grossly inaccurate. However, just a few short months after getting help, the optimist (if not the realist) in me is starting to think that it IS an adequate description.

Yesterday I had my second and possibly last appointment with Gary — last unless I feel the need to call upon him again later. While I definitely intend to continue working with Lucy for a while longer, I confided to Gary that the time off so far seems to have had the intended results: I am truly feeling that I’m finally silencing the superfluous noise around me, and the episodes of dark, surreal and detached mood have become much less frequent. As a consequence, I am believing once again that I really AM a quick study after all.

As I wrote earlier, I didn’t think I would be where I am right now. But to some extent, that’s irrelevant. I don’t mean that in the sense of “non-significant”; rather, I mean that whatever constituted the lightbulb moment is irrelevant as long as I’ve actually reached that lightbulb moment.

Somehow, all along, I have had the clarity of mind to recognize that the consequences of my actions and inactions brought to the fore of my mind my specific brand of shutting down. I quickly came to describing those consequences as noise which prevented me from getting to the causes. And to me that’s fascinating and encouraging.

Going forward, I’ll always have to face my fear of confrontation, be it big, small or imaginary. I’ll always have to question my impulsion to tackle bigger projects and ideas than most other reasonable people would. I’ll always have to probe into my motives behind setting myself and my needs aside so that I can come to someone else’s “rescue” — both literally or figuratively. But now that I’m recognizing those factors, I can stop making flip, self-deprecating jokes about them. Now I know that I need to learn how to recognize the triggers so that I can take a pause before running in the direction I’d normal run — “Stop and think first,” as Lucy put it towards the end of my last visit with her.

I seem to find encouragement not only in the fact that it looks like I’ve come quite far fairly quickly, but also in the fact that I’ve always been stronger at thinking rather than at acting (or not), which too often is laded with too many emotional impulses. It’s often said that we must learn to pick our battles, and until recently, that saying struck me as a justification for selfishness and self-centredness. But now I’m seeing it more for what it is, namely striking a balance.

My earliest experiences in life crafted a deep sense of outrage toward injustice. In my case, there was no “just” reason for being rejected and made into an outcast by other kids. So when I would see or learn of injustices upon others, I related. I still do. And I probably always will. I get pulled by someone having difficulty keeping up, or completing a task, or learning new notions. But no one individual can carry, either actively or passively, the burden of everyone else’s difficulties. So, seen from that optic, learning to pick one’s battle is finally NOT coming across to me as selfish and self-centered.

I’ll probably again try to “rescue” people. But I think I’ll choose better. That way, I won’t try on those who don’t deserve it or, more importantly, don’t want it. Until recently, I thought NowEx deserved but didn’t want it; now I realize that if I had paused and thought much harder, I would have concluded that he neither deserved nor wanted it. So, the lesson learned is not about him — I truly hold no rancour — but much larger: Keep the outrage and the open heart, but learn how to direct it better.