Falso.

Ooooh hiiiii it’s been a minute! Ok. How y’all doing? Making it? Can we have a vacation yet?

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Photo by Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

I’m going to share why I haven’t been writing for a bit because I think many folx will identify with this feeling. I haven’t written for a few reasons, one of which is the academic machine got to me and I needed to sleep and take care of my body. Related to that is experiencing some depression related to anxiety and what people commonly call “imposter syndrome.” I’m practicing self-care and delving into my sitting practice.

A friend told me the other day that she feels like at her job, she’s not really a teacher, but she goes to work and pretends all day. She feels like everyone else is legit. I completely get that feeling. Over the past month or so, it has left me frozen, on the floor in tears, unable to answer a single email in my inbox for days. I write this because I believe many will nod and recognize this.

Imposter syndrome affects many of us- most especially womxn of color, indigenous people, and folx with accessibility needs. The feelings stem from an internalization of fraudulent occupation of a space. That’s exactly how I have been feeling- like I am taking up a space that I shouldn’t because I am not smart enough. Some instances have heightened this feeling. I have been doing some deep reflecting.

One central part of my feeling like an outsider is that, admittedly, academia isn’t my whole life. I really enjoy watching baseball, baking cakes, recycled and vintage fashion, and learning new makeup tricks. I feel a sense of guilt that I spend time on these hobbies. I watch baseball almost every night and play in a fantasy league. I bake something every week. I really like dressing up and do that pretty much every day, along with my makeup. I also really enjoy talking with my friends from college about all sports, going to old car shows with my uncle, and preaching.

In reflecting on these things I like to do, I realized two things. One is that I’m actually pretty good at most of them (not to brag, just sayin’!). This didn’t happen overnight. And I enjoy the process enough that I have improved over time, and will continue to get better. My Fantasy team IS in first place this week. Again, just sayin’. Beyond skill level, each of these hobbies connects me to a person or group of people. I began to see that baseball has always connected me to my dad, who took me to my first game when I was five. I started really baking when I worked in Boston, and my students would stop in my office in between classes to say hello. It felt really nice to offer them a cupcake. My mom introduced me to fashion when I was little- and through my own journey with (a)sexuality, it has made me feel human in many spaces where sexuality is often assumed and projected. And I got into makeup because so many of the badass womxn I follow on social media or in my own life are such beautiful artists, and I wanted to learn from them. I work at the church on campus because I have the skills to hold someone in grief while staffing an event, to give directions while listening to a student, and take inventory of a storage closet while putting a Sunday bulletin together.

Through recognizing this piece of imposter syndrome, I also need to name that there have been times when others enforced this guilt. I’ve been told that baking is enforcing a gender box, and that if I didn’t spend so much time on my makeup I could be more productive. Actions speak even louder than words, and I’ll be real- there are some folx in my community that do not respect me, my identity, and want to exclude me. I don’t write this to call anyone out, but to make myself question when I have made someone feel unwelcome or insufficient. Because if nothing else, I want to be a fire that sparks others’ belief in themselves, not the sand that smothers.

While I’m at it, I’ll mention that the things I like to do also give me a different perspective. Whether it is welcome or not, I engage it because it is genuine to me. I’m learning that gratitude is really meaningful during this rocky time. I made a list of people in my life that are great. It’s a pretty big list! Which must mean something. Not to say I am great- but I recognize who gives me a feeling of gratitude for their continued presence. I am grateful to celebrate marriages and children and new jobs, and everyday wonder. I remind myself that I am enough, and that I want to help others remember that too.

Space

About a year ago, Jose and I packed a burly Chevy Tahoe full of our stuff and set out for home. We took about two and a half weeks to finally arrive in Los Angeles after touring the northern United States. In the weeks that followed, I wrote almost 50,000 words describing our trip- who we met, what we ate, what scared us, what we learned about people who do not live where we do. With two weeks left in the Spring Quarter and what yet again seems like a million assignments to complete, I feel as though that trip happened years ago. Of course so much has changed.

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Photo by NASA on Unsplash

One thing I have learned constantly for a little over a year now is what it feels like to experience both intense depression and despair and genuine joy. I am back in New Mexico this weekend to meet with the chaplains and think toward the future about our field. The upcoming conference and our work feel promising. I find myself immersed in my work at Stanford feeling a real sense of purpose- even enduring the struggle in a way that feels good. My colleagues around the table have expressed that sometimes, the work doesn’t feel meaningful. And sometimes, amidst distractions like email and reports and meetings, the work still makes sense. But the reality is, sometimes what is meaningful changes, and sometimes what is meaningful is not worth the headache. Context matters as much as action.

I realize, as I return to our roadtrip last year, that sometimes we need to let go of meaning in order to free ourselves of grief. As we drove across the country, I was searching for some kind of closure to our time in Boston- this was “a new beginning.” But it wasn’t actually the beginning, or an end, it was a process of losing and making space to actually begin. One chaplain suggested we must “lean into a struggle when we don’t necessarily know what that means.” When we can’t name what we want, how do we know what to change?

As we navigate the joint conference between the two chaplain organizations, we must lean into the struggle to define our joint meaning. I realized today that this poses issue in “trivial” things- like where people pay to register, or what the schedule of conference sessions should be. All of this plays into a larger question about what makes this experience meaningful enough for people to come- the small struggles illuminate larger convictions about why we work through them.

A year ago, I felt so empty of meaning. The job I loved for many reasons also caused me deep strife, and I had failed to find a genuine sense of community outside of work. I didn’t know what I wanted, exactly- but I knew I needed the emptiness for a while. The long drives gave me more than enough time to reflect, but the discomfort in visiting places that I did not know opened a space to think about crafting a new purpose.

 

 

The Longest Loneliness

PC: Nathan Anderson

I have felt lonely all my life. Lonely as an objective feeling, not necessarily good or bad, happy or sad. Loneliness is a part of who I am and will be, perhaps forever. I decided to reflect on my loneliness this week because it has been contributing to some deep depression and anxiety, and writing usually helps me practice mindfulness toward my own experience. So I write this week not to complain or whine (though I apologize if it seems that way) but to contemplate what loneliness really is, and wonder when we might use it to help ourselves and others. 

Yes, there have been times in my life when loneliness dug at me like a metal spoon scraping the bottom of an empty ice cream tub. I saw my classmates, teammates, and peers develop close relationships with people whom they could essentially treat like siblings. My own sister has been best friends with 3 people since middle school, one since kindergarten. I certainly have experienced deep friendship at times, yet have never truly shaken the feeling of being alone, isolated. 

There have also been moments when loneliness has made me feel special and distinct. When I was little, my parents worried that I wouldn’t recognize how smart I was. They feared I would fall into complacency with school work and sports and Girl Scouts and whatever else was on the docket, only to find myself in the throws of mediocrity. So they reminded me constantly of how smart and talented I was, compared to my classmates. They spoke about me being the best softball player on the team as if it were fact. I began to believe that my loneliness was a sign of greatness: if I were so much more talented, intelligent, and “better” than everyone around me, no wonder they didn’t understand me! I was too much for them. 

As I grew this constant distinguishing caused some deep harm. I became a perfectionist. Anytime I performed below expected on a test or in a game, my instinct was to find an excuse. My parents helped me assuage the feelings of failure. “You weren’t feeling well today,” “that was a fluke,” “its because she’s jealous of you, that’s why she graded you harder.” I found my middle school self drowning from feeling both extremely confident that I was smarter, more talented, more perfect, and terrified that I would mess up and someone else would experience the glory of getting the highest grade on a history test. And I was lonely. So unbelievably lonely. 

I used to dream that one of the most popular boys in our class would talk to me. It wasn’t a particularly sensual fantasy- in fact, what I wanted most was to be welcomed in to his friend group by association. I imagined myself standing next to him, listening to one of his friends tell a joke, and laughing, really laughing. That fantasy has never completely left my consciousness. In my quest to constantly prove my parents’ opinions of me (and my own) as a unique, brilliant young person, I found deep down a desire to simply be the same as everyone else. 

I believe everyone experiences some form of loneliness throughout our lives. The popular movie motif of the “nerd” sitting by themselves eating lunch in the bathroom feels relatable to most of us in one way or another. And yet, I believe loneliness differs from feeling “alone.”

We combat loneliness by connecting with other people. We join clubs, play on sports teams, go to church or temple or the YMCA. We join a community. Feeling alone, even among members of a community, is not so easily shaken. The “aloneness”, I believe, stems from a fear or uncertainty about one’s purpose, namely, that perhaps there isn’t one. 

Have you ever felt as thought the more accomplishments you add to your resume, the more limited you are in your ability to find purpose? That sounds and is coming from a very privileged position, one I feel the need to honestly assert. Feeling alone has driven me toward the work I do now, supporting students in their quest to find community and to state their purpose in this world (hopefully combining their skills and interests). If I’m honest, I myself have not yet fully realized my own purpose. Feeling alone in the world may posit a real challenge, but the benefit is the motivation it sustains in me to keep working. I may not demonstrate my appreciation for every person I meet that teaches me something extremely well (and given the right mindset, this can be every person), but I do appreciate them inside. I cherish connection because it does help me feel the slightest bit less lonely and for a moment, not completely alone in the world.

I know many of us feel alone, and it can be near impossible to discuss, given our circumstances. It is my hope that the quest to end loneliness by seeking out community also moves us toward recognizing how not to be alone, or at least, that being alone does not have to freeze us.