The most difficult thing I’ve dealt with lately may surprise you unless you know me well. (If you do, well, you know!) A month ago I learned that my university had changed the requirements of my major in such a way that while I’m closer to a degree, I can no longer justify the two classes I’d been gearing up to take this summer. What?! I was so looking forward to the books, and lectures, and the chance to get out of town and meet new people a lot like me. Like summer camp for bookworms! It may sound strange, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend those extra weeks of vacation I get for what my company (kindly) recognizes, at least from a benefits perspective, as almost 20 years of service (while Hubs only gets five days of paid leave a year).
As I realized I’d have to cancel my trip to the South, I felt the usual weight of summer depression descend on me as it has almost every year as far back as I can remember. Depression about the long, unchanging days, a life without structure or markers; depression about myself and my life. In years past I've found one of the few effective strategies for fighting it has been to go somewhere for a few weeks. Somehow being away from home made it easier to set aside the self-pity. Better yet was when I could pour myself into a mission team who, for a month or two or three, would have to be my friends and who would need me to be the kind of grownup who focused on looking out for them rather than giving center stage to my shame about being lonely and pathetic in the social department. Those were actually some great summers!
If, though, summer struck and my calendar was empty, some of my panic and shame had to do with being single. I envied those with families or the kind of friends who do family-like things like camping, road trips to national parks, and free concerts in the park with a picnic basket. Now and then a family or group of friends would include me or respond to my invitation to do something like that, but I wasn’t a good social organizer, and they did tend to be the kinds of things someone would just want to do with their family, if they had one.
I have mixed feelings about “having fun.” I like to go exploring in places both familiar and unknown, and I like to play with words and ideas; I love a great three- or four-way conversation. But other kinds of fun – “summer fun” like water sports and volleyball and frisbee and goofing around, physically – are just not my cup of tea. So summer was often a reminder of what a wallflower I was, and that opened the door to a debilitating sense of being different, of being a nerd (though that’s cool now, what?) and a loser (still not cool, not ever).
Now I have a family now. They don’t share very much of my odd sense of what’s fun and what’s not, but some of it. That’s a big help. Right after I had my biggest emotional melt-down over all this, Chris came home with a glossy magazine listing and describing all the local campgrounds and many of the summer events, and we talked about places we'd like to go. An actual camping trip is going to be hard to schedule, but we’ve already made a trip to the coast for a local festival, took in an old car show, and spent a few hours on the banks of a beautiful little river while our son and his friends played in the water and Chris took pictures. As neither a child nor the parent of one I still self-conscious; a bit of a misfit. I sort of fit. Not the fit I’d like to imagine I would have in an ideal world. Well, such is life.
With a family, I now have people to do things with, more companionship. But the cost has been high in terms of other relationships. With two jobs and the whole wife/mother thing, I haven't been able to make the kind of friends I’d like to go do fun things with (by whatever definition of fun).
The difficult truth to face here is that I’ve never been very good at building and maintaining those kind of friendships, much as I desire them, apart from some kind of structure that throws me together with people like me on a regular basis – like those mission teams of years past, or the close relationships I used to have just by showing up at work and at church events. And that's not really happening now; opportunities to just show up and be with people are rare for me. If I have to get on the phone and ask someone to have coffee or go for a walk with me, it’s like I just can’t do it, can’t take the social initiative. I’ve always been shy. And because I know that’s fairly ridiculous in a grown-up person, I beat myself up over this foolish, crippling social handicap, and fear that if I do have the opportunity to share my heart with someone, all the deep and ugly loneliness will come spewing out (it happens) and who wants to take that out in public?
We’ll make it through this summer, and maybe I’ll even have some fun (by my definition or in spite of it) and some of the structure will return in the fall. The sticker price of my husband's recent surgery was steep; the hospital alone wants $4,000 for it. So I'm not sure I'll be going back to school. My tuition, being optional, is probably the first thing I will choose to cut. It can wait. And maybe that is God's gift to me. I could use some of the time and energy – both this summer and in the fall – to work up the courage to pursue some friendships eh? I do have a few, now, they’re just kind of new and fragile and could wither away if I don’t nurture them.
This may be the key. Check out this encouraging article I read today: How to Regain Hope in 5 Minutes