Pack Light In Life

by Susan Pogorzelski on September 23, 2008 · 3 comments

When I picked up the phone this morning, Mom’s cheerful voice greeted me on the other end. “It’s your birthday tomorrow!” she sang.

“Yeah,” I replied sullenly, and promptly started crying.

For the past few months, I had been looking forward to turning 25, naively believing that since years 23 and 24 were so rough, maybe there would be some grand transformation, that suddenly I would have direction and prospects and hope, that something would be different.

Nothing is different, I told my mom. I’m out of work because I’ve been sick, I feel physically and emotionally drained, my savings have become depleted, and the job search is hazy at best. And I’m having a difficult time juggling it all.

“Susan,” she said, “you don’t have to carry all that weight — just let it go.”

Mom’s right, of course, but that’s easier said than done.

In the grand scheme of things, when I tell myself to knock it off and stop comparing myself to other people, I know that I’m doing just fine, that I really don’t need to have my life all figured out right at this moment, and that there is room for trial and error. Sure, there have been some unexpected setbacks, but that’s life, as they say. And when I look at what’s important, I know that I have options and, most importantly, I have support. When you’re stuck in what feels like quicksand, however, it’s hard to see beyond your current circumstance, to see all of the possibilities. When you’re going through growing pains, at whatever age, it’s not easy to see the forest for the trees.

“Oh, Susan, what is going on?” Mom’s voice was soothing as she did her best to calm me down and figure out why I was suddenly singing the blues. “I don’t recognize you; you’ve become cynical, you’ve lost your sparkle. I don’t think you recognize yourself.”

Then I started sobbing.

Because that just hit the nail on the head, what’s been the hardest part of this difficult journey — I didn’t feel like myself anymore, and I wasn’t very proud of who I had become. I used to be optimistic, perpetually cheerful, bubbly. Good Lord, I was actually Pollyanna. But for all that I joke about loving puppies and rainbows and sunshine, I really liked that part of me, and I was proud of who I was. I liked being a positive force in people’s lives; I liked making people laugh and feel good about themselves. These days, however, it’s hard putting a smile on my own face, never mind someone else’s. Mom was right again — that sparkle, that shine that seemed so very much a part of me, has faded. Sometimes I can see glimmers of it; sometimes, people can draw it out of me, but it rarely lasts for long. I miss that, and I wish I knew how to get it back.

I do tend to carry the weight of the world — I let things affect me more than they should, although I really don’t mean to. Maybe that’s part of the trouble — I hold onto things, I’m afraid to let go, and I feel things so acutely but bottle them up. It’s a lesson I’m trying desperately to learn from, a part of myself I want to change.

“Susan, why do you want to go to France?” Mom asked me as soon as I stopped hyperventilating. “Aside from the experience, why do you want to go back?”

I told her that I wanted to finish my novel, that I want to begin querying publishers and network with other professionals.

“And?”

“And because it changed my life the first time, and I’m hoping it will do that again.”

As much as I hate to admit it, it’s entirely the truth. I asked my mom if she thought I was using this trip as an escape from my current circumstances — I can’t find a steady job and I have no idea where I want to relocate, so let’s hop on a plane and run away to a foreign country. Great idea!

Yes, my mom agreed, it is an escape, but it’s one that I need.

I want to go to fulfill a passion; I need to go for reasons that are so much more personal. I hold onto comfort so tightly because I’m afraid to let it go. By taking this trip, I’ll have to force myself to overcome obstacles rather than retreating back into my shell and reverting to the comfort that is always readily there. By taking this trip, I’ll be able to prove to myself that I’m capable of anything.

I need to take this opportunity to rediscover my passion and redefine myself, to recharge and step outside my comfort zone, to let go of all of the baggage I’ve been clinging to.

From now on, I need to learn to pack light.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Miriam Salpeter September 23, 2008

Susan,

I feel for you…This is a difficult time, as you make some tough choices and plans for your future. (And get through your health problems.)

It is wonderful that you have a supportive family. I hope you can translate their love and confidence in you into a ladder of sorts that will help you climb back to where you need to go. Ultimately, you’ll be building your own ladder, or laying your own stepping stones, but there is a lot of time for that in the future!

I hope that you have a very happy birthday and that this year is so much better than you even imagine!

All the best,
Miriam

Miriam-Thank you so much for the birthday wish, but, even more so, thank you for the kind words of encouragement. I never expected that I would be where I am or that I would be tackling such difficult, personal challenges. Slowly I can feel myself finding my way back, able to move forward, and it’s true it’s been done with the support of the people around me. Thanks for being one of those, and thanks for your encouragement. – Susan

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BenjaminBunny October 2, 2008

Hey Susan, I came across your blog and think that you have expressed some interesting and commonly held insights. No doubt about it, our own expectations (or plans, dreams or wishes) – about life, work, friends, family – definitely shape how we see ourselves and gauge how the world sees us. We all constantly measure ourselves against our own yardsticks of success. And those yardsticks could and should change as we mature and experience more of ourselves, our abilities, and the world around us.

Who among us hasn’t taken stock, seeing how we stack up against a friend (jealously often rears its ugly head), a sibling, a spouse/significant other, parents’ wishes for us, etc. What is the life that YOU picture for yourself? Is it a realistic one? Is it achievable? Secretly I wish I had a Porsche, played for the Phillies, could lift 250 lbs., have six-paclk abs and a babe on each bicep – no kidding, just like when I was younger, I thought I’d be a firefighter. Too bad I have asthma.

I’m just saying that sometimes our plans for ourselves are so grandiose that they can bring us down rather than lift us up and motivate us to do better and be better. And facing the cold harsh light of reality is always a big slap in the face, no matter if you’re 25 or 45 or 65.

You seem so … unglued. I am wondering how such a smart, pretty, savvy person as you could feel so hopeless and helpless. I am wondering if you, as the “baby girl” in your close, loving family were coddled and indulged more than your brothers who, no doubt, were expected to fend for themselves and make their own ways when they reached the age of emancipation. What really helped me in my “quarter-life funk” was cutting the cord, taking the leap and depending on myself. Politely declining the help my cherished family offered, which, in the end, I see now, only weakened me and made me doubt my own strength, my own abilities. I had to grow up and recognize that I couldn’t always have things MY way. It was hard and I did it. You can too.

I was struck by your comment about how you used to be “perpetually cheerful.” Neither end of the emotional spectrum is easy – neither perpetually cheerful nor perpetually pessimistic. It’s balance we need and balance we seek. Maybe you are just recognizing that life is all a balancing act and that we choose only our response to it. When life is all lollipops and kittens, with Mom and Dad providing a warm nest and with the widdle girl only needing to twirl around to delight them, of course, it’s rainbows. But people grow – up and out. It’s magical and scary and empowering. You have everything within you to succeed. You just have to believe it. And be brave enough to take off the training wheels so you can pedal at your own pace!

Finally, I gently want to suggest that perhaps this cloud, this miasma that you seem to be swimming in might be depression. No kidding. No fooling. When the blanket of stifling, suffocating depression lifts, you will be amazed at the energy you have and the things you can achieve. And you won’t need to run away any longer.

Your friend,
Benjamin Bunny

Benjamin Bunny (great name!) — I want to thank you for your incredibly insightful and honest comments; it was a pleasure to read your take and I do agree with most of what you have to say. That being said, please bear with me over the next day or so as I formulate a proper response. I appreciate what you have to say and want to devote my full attention to its response. Thanks! – Susan

Updated: Thanks for bearing with me; I wanted to take the time and give your comment the response I felt it deserved. I very much appreciate your words, especially your insights, and I want to explain a bit in response to them…

A lesson that I’ve been learning, indeed, is that my dreams change and that such a change can be entirely OK. Certainly what I wanted now isn’t what I wanted as a kid: when I was younger, I wanted to teach; when I was in college, I wanted to be an editor. Only one dream has remained true to form: I wanted to write. I believe that when you grow up, the people you surround yourself with (parents, teachers, friends, mentors) encourage you to be anything you can imagine, only the reality is that it’s a much harder path than was once believed. I’m sure when you were a kid and wanted to be a fireman, people patted you on the head and nodded and said, “sure, of course you can be a fireman.” But whether certain circumstances prevented you from doing just that (your asthma, as you explained) or your options expanded or you just plain changed your mind, the point is that you’re finding another path to take — and finding that path is sometimes difficult.

That’s where I am at this moment — I fortunately (unfortuately?) have dreams that might be a bit more attainable (I *know* I’ll never bench 250!); for instance, I’ve always dreamt of being a writer and am currently following that dream, but there are other dreams that coincide with that (editor) that I’m not sure is right for me anymore. And it’s always hard to give up on your dreams, whether it be working in publishing or playing for the Phillies, no matter what else there is in store for you, because a dream is something that you hold very dear and, more often than not, it’s something you’ve worked for.

So that was the life I pictured for myself, and I know that it can become a reality and that it’s achievable if I work towards it — my question is if it’s what I really want anymore. The hard part absolutely is coming to terms with that — but it’s something I agree you need to do in order to move forward.

You say that I seem unglued, and that is the perfect word for how I’ve been feeling. I really couldn’t have put it better myself. However, I also hope you understand that at the time I wrote this, there was some reason for it, as many events had factored in to my emotional state: I had been ill without a proper diagnosis for two months and had been unable to work, my grandmother had major surgery, I’m moving at the end of the month, and I’m going out of the country for three weeks. I think that the stressors of these things can make anyone feel unglued! I don’t want it to seem that I’m making excuses, but I’m not sure if you’ve read previous posts and so I want you to fully understand where I’m coming from and my state of mind. I especially believe that my weakness due to my illness played a large part, as while I’m on the road to recovery, I’m already feeling stronger emotionally. Again, I just want you to understand where I’m coming from.

That’s not to say that I don’t have moments of weakness aside from illness. As I wrote in reply to the below comment, periods of weakness and the emotions that comprise them are completely natural and I dare anyone to tell me that they don’t feel uncertainty, loss, confusion, or hopeless at some point in their lives. I just happen to write about it because it forces me to be self-aware, to be honest with myself, and it allows me to sort things out so that I can find a solution. To me, it’s cause and effect: if I can figure out why I’m feeling whatever it is I’m feeling, I can work towards finding a solution and correcting that.

I’ve found that when I’m feeling weak, I seek the comfort of my family. I love how you explained that you had to cut the cord because I’m finding that it’s something I need to do as well in order to find my own independence. The thing is, though, while my parents did in fact coddle and spoil me, I’ll admit that I was the one who wanted that, who actively seeks the comfort. If it were any other family, I would come to the exact same conclusion that you did — that my parents aren’t willing to let me go, but I have to be honest that it’s the exact opposite…my parents are constantly encouraging my independence, wanting me to move away and follow my dreams, only I’ve been the one resisting. It’s that comfort zone, again…But it’s something I’m working on, and I very much appreciate your own encouragement as well.

Another point that struck me was your comment about balance — I just want to bring it up briefly and let you know how true that is. “It’s balance we need and balance we seek” was a great way of putting it, and this is another lesson I’m constantly reminding myself — I think that I love the Dr. Seuss book for this very reason! There are truth in those words, and in yours, and I hope to remember them for the future.

I hope that my reply has sufficiently explained what has led up to this post and/or given you a better understanding of where I stand. I truly appreciate your comments, as they led me to think a little bit more about myself and my situation and provided some interesting insight on both. I also want you to know that I appreciate your tact in your honesty. It’s been a pleasure, and wishing you all the best. — Susan

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Sparkle Plenty October 3, 2008

Those are some deep deep thoughts from Benjamin Bunny.
Lots of food for thought. Is there Prozac in your future?

Sparkle Plenty (and Benjamin Bunny, to some extent) – If you had read some of my previous posts, you would see that I have spoken rather candidly about a panic disorder, which does, in fact, coincide with depression. I share my innermost thoughts, including my very normal moments of weakness, because it is a way for me to sort out my emotions. I view it as self-awareness, which I believe leads to personal development and growth. On that note, I can assure you that while my writing is very personal, it is but a small representation of the person that I am. I’m disappointed to see that by sharing these thoughts, you’ve formed an impression of me that isn’t entirely accurate. I do sincerely hope that I’ve misunderstood your remarks and that there was no condescension or malicious intent. All the best, Susan

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