Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On What Makes Me Feel Alive

You've seen this quote by now, right? On Pinterest or Facebook or Instagram? I encourage you to read the whole post, but the gist is this:
Being a geek is all about your own personal level of enthusiasm, not how your level of enthusiasm measures up to others. If you like something so much that a casual mention of it makes your whole being light up like a halogen lamp, if hearing a stranger fondly mention your favorite book or game is instant grounds for friendship, if you have ever found yourself bouncing out of your chair because something you learned blew your mind so hard that you physically could not contain yourself — you are a geek.

As I sit on the brink of a time of beautiful, blissful unknown, I'm thinking about these things: What makes me tick? What makes me come alive? What am I really passionate about, as cliche as that sounds?

The answer, it turns out, is starting to take vague form as I spend my Memorial Day afternoon with my nose buried in a book: one of my first loves. In fact, if I had to sum up my favorite childhood memories in one sentence, I would say that I was happiest playing outside at twilight, reading a book, or helping in the kitchen. Is this accurate, Mom? Oh, and if family home videos are any indication, I also spent the majority of the summer of 1992 "helping" my mom take care of my baby brother.

Can that much change? I love exerting myself to the extent that I feel heart-thumpingly alive, gulping fresh air and becoming acutely aware of my own pulse. Twilight leaves me simultaneous happy and nostalgic and makes me long for a backyard to play in. The alchemy and art of baking is my go-to stress relief. Babies never fail to make my very heart feel a little lighter and more hopeful.

The only love I didn't really discover until later was the ocean. My first experience was with the brown shores of the Gulf near Houston and tears, screams, and heart palpitations ensued until my dad picked me up and held me safe in his arms above the dirty water which was surely, in my solidly Midwestern mindset, teeming with creatures who wanted to eat me. The only name I could give them at the time was sharks, which I had little knowledge but great fear of, probably thanks to the fact that The Little Mermaid was my favorite Disney movie. (I even had the accompanying book memorized and I remember telling my friend's big sister that I could read it to her, when really I was just reciting it by heart.)

Then for some unknown reason, I signed up to go to Seacamp in the Florida Keys in high school, saved up my paper route money, and found myself facing the very thing I used to be terrified of. There I found that the more I knew about the sea, the less scary it became. Indeed, I find that an ocean fix every few years reinvigorates me. Few things make me happier than salty air and the sound of waves lapping the shore.

So. Babies + ocean = working as a travel NICU nurse in Hawaii, right? Obviously my dream job. (I wish!)

But really, my interests allow for a lot of interesting combinations.

Biology is beautiful. Few things compare to the lightbulb moment that occurs when you finally glimpse the breadth and depth of the pathophysiologic symphony explaining the signs and symptoms you see in a textbook case living and breathing before you in the exam room.

Literature is beautiful. I recently re-read The Great Gatsby and the great American novelists remind my just how far I have to go to call myself a writer in any true sense. Words on a page hold great power and the true masters have harnessed great joy and grief in black and white type over they centuries.

Life is beautiful. It's no less stunning in the miracle of sprouting seeds able to produce a veritable cornucopia of culinary variety when exposed to sunlight and water, than it is in the first human heartbeat, visible on ultrasound at six weeks. I'm in awe every day that anything ever goes right in nature when growth of any kind requires millions of small and large interactions and reactions and offers thousands of chances for error along the way.

History is beautiful. Anthropology was an unanticipated and enjoyable discovery, threaded throughout my honors courses in college and opening my eyes to just how big this world is. Yet, even a thorough evaluation of your own personal history gives pause and takes the pressure off of every moment of this present life. From learning about your grandma's childhood to tracing your own genealogy to the point at which you can identify yourself with a particular region of the world and a particular combination of genetics and a particular culmination of world events that all contributed to making you uniquely who and where you are today, there's always more to learn.

Finally, I'm happy to digest all things pregnancy and childbirth related. And those NICU babies... the moment I can get a parent to understand the what's and whys of their baby's condition and help them bond in a way they hadn't before... those are the moments that job was worth it.

I'm so far from a personal expert, but these things really fascinate me. Honestly, a lot of the lines between travel, food (from planting to harvesting to rendering edible), writing, giving life, saving lives, and living my own life don't feel all that distinct to me.

My go-to books for leisure reading and re-reading often fall between fact and fiction: Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan, and Bill Bryson take up their fair share of valuable bookshelf space in our one-bedroom apartment. I feel alive, albeit a bit vicariously, when I read their words and feel like I'm a part of their experience. Or when the potential to be a part of a similar experience is re-discovered within me.

How is it that Michael Pollan can make gastronomic anthropology so easily digestible, as it were, for the general consumer? And how, exactly, can Bill Bryson cover the vast domain between a Midwestern childhood, travel writing, Shakespeare, and, in fact, a Short History of Nearly Everything (quantum physics and all) and manage to make me laugh out loud while reading? These are people who truly love what they do and do what they love.

I don't know if these passions can culminate into one amazingly fortuitous and prosperous career. I don't know that they should, really. It's just good to remember sometimes. (And if I could just manage to find some sandy shoreline near all the people I love, everything would be even sweeter.)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Hope Does Not Disappoint

Oh hey. What's that? Sunshine? Thank God.

So jeez. It's May. In with a few snowstorms, out with 90 degree weather, that's what I always say.

Oh man, I need a vacation.

Life. It's happening.

I have all these things I have wanted to blog about, but haven't. Why not? Exhibit A: my ridiculous schedule. (I keep thinking I can do everything. And I. Just. Can't.) Exhibit B: this. (Read it).

Depression is a sneaky little devil. I found myself blindsided with hopelessness this spring. Genuinely doubting that God was/is good. Truly believing that life was/is nothing but a struggle. Fearing God. And then slipping into a weird zone of self-preservation that hurt me more in the end. Like the aforementioned blog post says:

At first, though, the invulnerability that accompanied the detachment was exhilarating. At least as exhilarating as something can be without involving real emotions.

The beginning of my depression had been nothing but feelings, so the emotional deadening that followed was a welcome relief.  I had always wanted to not give a f*ck about anything. I viewed feelings as a weakness — annoying obstacles on my quest for total power over myself. And I finally didn't have to feel them anymore.

But my experiences slowly flattened and blended together until it became obvious that there's a huge difference between not giving a f*ck and not being able to give a f*ck. Cognitively, you might know that different things are happening to you, but they don't feel very different. 

Well, yes. I couldn't have said it better myself. So I found myself trying to climb out of this deep dark hole, and I couldn't. I just simply couldn't. I couldn't muster up the desire, the willpower, the energy, the optimism... nada. I'm slowly starting to see daylight, but I've needed an emergency airlift to get there.

See, while I think this author has eloquently yet humorously described depression to a t, I do respectfully disagree with her on one major point. She says, "And that's the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn't always something you can fight back against with hope." I would beg to differ. Indeed, hope is the only thing that can combat depression.

I mean yes, by all means, eat more vegetables. Start exercising: endorphins really do make you happier. Rekindle a beloved hobby or creative outlet. Yet one day, in the throes of it all, you may realize not even those things help. And in that terrible moment of realization, you also realize it doesn't hurt anymore. Nothing makes you happy, but nothing makes you want to cry your eyes out anymore, either. You're apathetic. Detached. Distancing yourself and putting up walls has removed you so far from the pain that you feel nothing. It's safer that way. Also, even more depressing.


If you get to that point, see a doctor who can evaluate your need for medication. But even then, medications can be a big band-aid if you don't address the root of the problem. (Please know I'm not bashing antidepressants. Been on them. Loved them. Currently loving life without them.)

Ummm my point is... hope. Hope placed in Jesus never disappoints. (I know, I know, you saw that coming. But hear me out.) Everything else will fail you. Has failed me. Everything else disappoints. Jesus it the only one who can keep every promise. The only one who can dry every tear from every eye. The only one who can give us the grace in which we stand and remind us of the hope of the glory of God.

Since Jesus suffered separation from God-- a true agony I never have to know since he bore it for me-- he can rightly encourage us to glory in our sufferings, because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame. (Romans 5:5). I don't have to hate or fear God every time I suffer, because God is actually good.

The Lord your God is with you, 
the Mighty Warrior who saves. 
He will take great delight in you; 
in his love he will no longer rebuke you, 
but will rejoice over you with singing.
(Zephaniah 3:17)

I'm not sure how to say that without sounding like a naive goody-two shoes. I just know in my heart of hearts that it's true. And if you've ever been paralyzed at the bottom looking up, maybe you feel it too. You need something bigger than yourself.

I don't have much to say besides that.  

Hope does not disappoint.

I'm re-learning who God is the good old fashioned-way: by reading my Bible.

And, you know, I guess I'm back to over-sharing on the world wide web :o)