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.

Sincerely,

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

Advertisements

Just Don’t Suck!

It’s one in the morning and I just finished this….

I call it the messy fishbowl.

If I was Chris Hemsworth people would be raving  about what a good parent I was, making my kid’s birthday cake myself even if it’s at 1 a.m. If I was Chris Hemsworth’s wife those same people would be tearing me apart for not planning ahead and making the kid’s cake earlier or, better yet, not being organized enough to order my precious offspring a fancy cake that probably cost more than some people’s cars. Luckily I’m neither. I’m just your basic Midwest mom with blue teeth (throwing frosting away is a cardinal sin even when it’s blue, a little too thin, and from a can).

There was a time when I was the mom who made this…

cake

The not-so-messy fishbowl. Back when I put real effort into making my kids’ birthdays awesome. Okay, so that’s not the actual cake I made. I didn’t do the whole Jell-O water and fish jumping out at the top but it was pretty damn close. My then-young kids were thrilled. I was an awesome mom back then, even my kids thought so, but then again they weren’t teenagers. Things were different then.

In my defense, the current fishbowl cake was sprung on me this afternoon and I didn’t have to wait until this ridiculous hour to decorate it, I just procrastinated via a beer and Netflix (aka solo Netflix and Chill). This one is for my nephew whose sixth birthday is tomorrow, actually today now. My sister just had a baby a couple days ago, her fifth. (Yeah,that’s a thing in my family. I totally started it though). She was having a rough day so I went to help her for a bit and came home with the task of making the birthday cake. I figured I could do that before picking my own kids up from school for the evening but that didn’t happen and here I am finishing a cake after midnight on a weeknight. It’s not beautiful but it’s not terrible either. In other words, it doesn’t suck.

In three days I’m taking the DAT (dental admission test). It’s a big deal and I’m more than a little worried about it. I really haven’t studied enough; I am not ready for this. As I’m writing this I find myself wondering if I can move my testing date back. I doubt I can and I know that’s a bad idea. I shouldn’t even be wasting time thinking about it. The dental school application process is time sensitive. A couple thousand people apply; early applicants are processed first and given interviews first (if they’re chosen to be interviewed). I need to take this test now and I need to do…. average on it.

Yup, you read that right average. Although right now it doesn’t feel like that’s all that easy (#selfdoubt). I’ve been trying to maintain the ideal balance between terrified and self assured here but as test day approaches the scales are tipping towards terrified. There have been many pep talks interspersed with moments of panic. My perfectionist’s heart is struggling in this situation because I know I am not going to do great. But, like I said, I don’t need to do great, just okay.

See, all the other pieces of my dental school application are already complete or on their designated trajectories. The DAT is the only unknown piece. I’m pretty sure the rest of my stuff is looking good, very good, and overall I think I’m an excellent candidate for dental school. I’ve got a pretty good gpa with high grades in all my math and science classes (except that one C), I have years (like six) of dental field experience, my required 100 shadow or volunteer hours are in progress….(there’s more but I’m not going to bore you with all of it) As long as I do okay on the DAT I’ll be good.

I’m a big fan of mantras and lately mine has been “You just have to Not Suck. Just Don’t suck!”

Much like the cake I was making when I should have been sleeping or studying a few days ago, my test score doesn’t have to turn heads and wow people. It just has to NOT suck.

Scan_20160526 (2)This IS the actual, nice and neat fishbowl cake I made for my son’s birthday ten years ago. Those black dots on the fish are gel icing carefully applied to Goldfish crackers to look like eyes. I took the time to put eyes on Goldfish crackers. I curled Fruit by the Foot like fancy party ribbons. The little half smile on my five-year-old’s face (and the fact that he let me take a picture) show how excited he was that day and how utterly satisfied he was with his special cake. My nephew had a similar look on his face when the messy fishbowl cake was set in front of him. He didn’t know or care that his cake wasn’t perfect, it was his and it didn’t suck.

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos and TED talks by Brene Brown. She’s a social researcher and author who talks and writes about fear, shame, and vulnerability. Fun stuff, right?  Much of what she says about perfectionism resonates with me. I’ve realized that the past few years of my life have been a slow, arduous march towards self-acceptance. I’m not totally there yet but I’m getting closer. Things like this dental school application process take me back a little even while they’re showing me how far I’ve come. I feel the old bend towards perfectionism wanting to take over but also don’t feel like it’ll crush me if I don’t measure up get in the first time I apply. At one time that would have been the ultimate failure. Now I’m pretty sure I’d just do a little better at whatever needed improvement and try again. So my goal this week is to do the best I can and just not suck. It’s the antithesis of perfectionism: Just don’t suck!

I’m pretty sure I can do that.