Running from the Black Dog

I don’t remember my dreams or even having dreams very often, never have. Maybe I just don’t dream much. There is one dream though, really more of a nightmare, from my childhood still hangs around in my memory. I remember waking up from it a couple times in the early to mid elementary years. I even remember being in the dream and starting to recognize the events that were unfolding, thinking “Not again. No! Not again.” in a dreamy panic but the details are fuzzy. There was a large black dog, clearly vicious, chasing me through an orchard full of gnarled apple trees. It was dark or getting dark and the snarling dog would chase me getting just a little closer as the chase ensued. The fear was visceral. I remember the running, the chasing, tripping and falling down. Knowing the black dog was about to reach me…and then I’d wake up in a sweat, heart pounding in my chest. Thump thump thump. That palpable fear; your body doesn’t care that it’s not real when your mind says it is.

The other day I stumbled across a blog post that talked about the come down after finishing a big race or event. It used the metaphor of the black dog. The author wrote about how the months of training change you, the intense focus it takes to succeed and the purpose that gives you, and the demons everyone who is doing these things are chasing. (Oh the demons!) We train and we chase; we pour ourselves intensely into this one goal, making not only our bodies but our whole selves stronger and more capable. And then the event we’ve been working towards arrives. And we do it. We push through, falling back on our training in the tougher moments, and we succeed. And it’s great. It’s so awesome…for about ten minutes. But then it’s over. And the Now What sets in. It lurks around the edges, like a black dog, hanging about and stalking. Waiting to give chase.

Lately I’ve been in a bit of a funk. It is the time of year for that. At least for me it is. The dark days of February, not as dark as they were a few years ago, are still not the best. It’s not just that though. A couple weeks ago (actually, well over a month now) I got the official email informing me that I did not get into dental school. I hadn’t even gotten an interview. Throughout the process of applying I struggled with a fear of failure that I had never realized was present, let alone so deep seated. And here it was in one email, the fear now a reality, staring me down in a generic, formally worded email:

I’m sorry but we have thousands of qualified applicants and only a couple hundred spots. We have to crush someone’s hopes and dreams. This year it’s yours. Best of luck in all your future endeavors.


Dental School.

And that was it. Failure.

Any small shred of hope I had been hanging onto was gone. Obliterated. Smashed to bits in a few typed lines… I tried and I failed. I thought I was good enough, had done enough, but I wasn’t. And I didn’t.

All I could think was: Now what? What do I do?

And I did nothing. I didn’t quite wallow, it was more of a slumped. A passive sinking into the ground, somewhat less active than a full out wallow. I pretended I was okay with the rejection. After all I did see it coming. And on paper (hypothetical paper, not actually written down. That would be taking at least some action.) I had a plan. A regroup and recharge strategy in case this happened. Time was of the essence in this plan…but all I could do was…Nothing. I just floundered. I sunk into indecision, slumped, and I wavered.

The inclination to settle where I am started pulling like an anchor around my ankles. I questioned my goals and lost direction, not so sure anymore that this hard hard thing is right for me. There are a lot of reasons it might not be. Fresh upon this rejection they seemed pretty valid.

This past summer was consumed by an intense push to finish my dental school application. Cramming for the DAT, the pressure of getting a decent score with only a sad sorry month of studying under my belt, the hundred shadowing hours squeezed in between the demands of my constantly crazy life, the struggle to convey who I am and why I want to be a dentist in 4500 characters. It was a rush, there was a sense of urgency to reach the goal. And then I did, very early one morning  (late one night, really) in August. I submitted my dental school application and felt relief, the swell of victory that comes with accomplishing something challenging.

After that the waiting began. Sometimes it was itchy and uncomfortable but mostly life kept me distracted like it has a way of doing. September and October rolled around, interviews were scheduled. Still no word. November and then December. The chatter was that there were two more interview sessions in January after the initial wave of acceptances. There was still hope. And then January. The first week…then the second…no word. Chances were so, so slim now but the official email still brought a heavy sense of disappointment.

And the now what.

That black dog hanging around, lurking, stalking, waiting for its moment to take me over. It’s the same dog of my childhood nightmare. Appearing less aggressive but really it’s just a little wiser and more patient now.

I know what I should do. This situation calls for perseverance, pick yourself up and try again. Resilience. It’s a thing (a skill?) I’ve developed and honed. It should be fine tuned, sharp and ready, especially after the past five years of my life. But my instincts to grab onto and wield it are sluggish and I’ve stayed slumped. I let the black dog come in too close and thought that was it, the end. It’s not though. Slowly, oh so slowly, the regroup is starting. I put the plan on paper and started the slow, hard trudge of big test preparation..because, in the words of Chumbawumba, “I get knocked down, but I get up again…” Sometimes it just takes a little longer than it should.

(And now some memes to drive the point home…or possibly water it down. Whichever.)

micheal jordan failure meme.jpghenry ford failure meem.jpghomer failure meme.jpgbatman failure meme.jpg

A Loss of Life Expectancy

One of the hard things about divorce is the loss of what you expected your life to be. I hear this happens around the time you start to realize it’s over: your marriage is ending. Or maybe it sets in as hope that the marriage might survive exits.
I’m not really sure.
It didn’t really happen to me, this sudden loss of the expectancy of a long and happy life with my spouse. Maybe I realized well before any separation talk took place or divorce papers were filed that that just wasn’t going to happen. Maybe I knew deep down inside that eventually the differences and the ill treatment and the unhealthiness would just be too much for this marriage to survive.
I know what you’re thinking, call this self fulfilling prophecy if you want. It’s always hard to say with those but I’m fairly certain this is not one. History, my version of it (though surely not the one he would give you), shows that I really did give it the old college try, that I stuck it out and tried to make the best of a bad decision for a long time.
A very long time.
When the shit hit the fan I wasn’t really surprised. There was none of this grieving for a life I thought I would have. I read what others wrote about the loss of life expectancy so to speak and thought “Well, at least I’ve been spared that particular pain. That’s something.” Because when shit’s flying around the room at a rapid pace are you really that surprised when it does hit the fan?
Nope, not so much.
But I was wrong too. That pain of grieving, that sudden loss of the life I always just thought I would have, it turns out I wasn’t spared that. It just took a different form for me. I can even pin point the exact moment it happened: it was my daughter’s birthday. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. How could I? That half hour or more I spent on the bathroom floor almost passing out because I could barely breath is riding at the top of my Worst Moments Ever list. I hadn’t even read all the way through the Friend of the Court investigator’s report. I just couldn’t do it. I got the gist of it and that was enough for me to know that this too had not gone as I truly thought it would.
Even though the process had been long, terrible and full of procedural faux pas I still thought it would be okay in the end.
Maybe I believed in Fairy Tales more than I realized.
I don’t any more.
I thought at some point someone would see through his charade and that bad dream would have a decent ending. After all he was doing all the things they say you’re not supposed to (in addition to he years of absentee parenting). He didn’t go to any of the recommended court education sessions. He started dating, introduced her to the kids, and moved her into his home in a matter of three months. He told the children inappropriate things about me specifically to damage their opinion of me and my relationship with them. There are things twelve year olds just don’t need to know, he didn’t care. He even blatantly disregarded court orders.
Surely this wouldn’t all go unanswered for. That is what the system is there for isn’t it?
My faith in “the system” is at an all time low. It’s hovering just above Absolute Zero , you know, where Bose-Einstein condensates form.

Suddenly my life is something I thought it would never be: missing my kids fifty percent of the time. That loss of time with them, the emptiness they leave behind, this sudden displacement of the purpose my life has always had leaves a bloody, gaping hole inside me. I lost a part of my self, a piece of my identity.
Suddenly what I did, what I’d chosen to do with my life, that thing I decided to devote my time to instead of higher education & a career, was just gone half the time. Poof! Gone…nothing there. A void.
I wasn’t prepared for this.
But here I am. This is the reality of my life.
Six months later I’ve adjusted but there’s a part of me that’s still not okay with how things are, that still wants to fight to change it even though right now it would be fighting a losing battle.
I definitely don’t need more frustration in my life. Maybe this is one of those things they talk about, the things you should accept because you just can’t change them. Accepting feels like defeat though. Can I live with defeat? How much choice do I really have in the matter?
Most of this is probably some part of the process of coping with a change in my life’s reality. It is called grieving but what am I really grieving over?
Basically just an idea, a perception of what I thought the future would be. But we don’t have the future. It’s not a thing we posses. So how can we lose it?
I thought I would continue to have my kids with me for the majority of their childhoods. But all I actually had was the time we were in and our past together. Sure there was an assumption that the present would continue on as it was but that’s just an assumption. I lost an assumption, an expectation. I didn’t even lose a real thing, just a perception of a thing.
It’s as if I was looking down at my reflection on the surface of a lake and I thought the person staring back at me was real. But she wasn’t, she was only my reflection. I’m sad because I thought I had a friend but I didn’t. There was never really anyone there.
Life is like that on a daily basis both on a small and large scale. You think it’s going to be one way then it’s not. Expectations and reality are rarely the same.
I look at my life now and mostly it feels “normal”. The kids moving back and forth from one parent’s to the other’s week after week has a rhythm to it now like the ebb and flow of waves. I still don’t like it all that much but I look around and realize this is my life, it’s just the way things are.
I’m thirty-four years old. I have more grey hairs than I’d like to acknowledge, more than is feasible to pluck out and pretend I didn’t see. I’m usually tired and can never seem to get as much done as there is to do. Most the time there’s a sense of being completely overwhelmed lurking in the back of my mind. My house is always hovering on the brink of disaster; life is always chaotic. I suck at making phone calls, mailing things (even important things), and the library books are always overdue. My kids are only with me half the time and in never feels like enough. There are unfinished projects piling up, things we wanted to do or make but didn’t get around to. We never quite have enough time to do everything we want to and we’re almost always running a little late.
This is life. This is just the way things are.
This is my reality.