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.
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.)