You Mean What?

The year 2016 is my big Year of Re-creation, and the magnanimity of this statement only grows with the realization that I won’t be recreating myself as a husband, but as a single man again. And that’s okay. Perhaps painful at the outset, but all change can be.

In any case, it’s been a while since my last shot of stress, when I took that first step from Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress to finally make stress my friend.

It should be obvious–as a three-year relationship ends and I set out to begin my summer teaching training–that stress is paramount right now. So it’s time to go on.

Kelly gives us the following prompt for this second stage of our journey:

Take a few moments to list your most meaningful roles, relationships, activities, or goals. In what parts of your life are you most likely to experience, joy, love, laughter, learning, or a sense of purpose? When you have listed a few, ask yourself this: Would you also describe any of them as sometimes or frequently stressful?

We often imagine how ideal it would be to get rid of the stress we experience…. If there is something in your life that is both meaningful and causing you a great deal of stress, take a few moments to write about why this role, relationship, activity, or goal is so important to you. You might also consider writing about what life would be life if you suddenly lost this source of meaning. How would you feel about the loss? Would you want it back in your life?

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A few weeks ago, I would’ve written that one of the most meaningful parts of my life was my relationship, and I could’ve gone on for days about all the stress it caused me: the uncertainty of immigration, the long bouts of silence when work kept my fiance too busy to talk, the anxiety I felt when he posted pictures of being out with friends but couldn’t make time to tell me hello… Alright, that last one should’ve been an early indicator that we were drifting apart (or that he was drifting away), but what can I say? Cultural difference favor in-person over long-distance communication, so I excused it away.

But now that’s gone, and honestly, I feel a sudden numbness in my life. A void of meaning, you could say. For a long time I’ve weighed what holds meaning to me by how it would affect our shared lives: Moving to a new city was stressful but meaningful because it would allow us the opportunity of making a new life together; finishing school wasn’t just for me, but because getting a good job would help both of us….

All of these things are no less stressful now that I’m single (and moving to a new city might be even more stressful, if I’m honest), but that doesn’t mean there’s no meaning anymore–it just challenges me to find, embrace, and celebrate other meanings.

So I think if I had to list three the things giving me more stress than anything right now, it would be joining Teach for America, moving to Milwaukee, and not having money.

(And, ok, being single. Again.)

Joining TFA is nerve-wracking because it means being in front of a classroom for the first time. This is stressful because it means the lives of who-knows-how-many children will be in my hands. What if I screw up? What if I screw them up?

But it’s meaningful because all my years of tutoring and being involved in education have taught me that I love to teach–that I love sharing my enthusiasm for content with my students, that I love building relationships and watching them grow, and I love learning from them and all the things they can teach me about math and, really, life.

Moving to Milwaukee makes me anxious because I’m going to be in a new city without any support. I mean, yes, I’ve already made some good friendships with other corps members and I feel like I’ve got some strong connections with the staff members, too, but I expected to be moving their with my fiance of three years. Hell, I picked the city because of him–because he had lived there before and wanted to go back.

But I even without him, I think I’ll like the city. It has a more laid-back feeling than Raleigh, calm but aesthetically pleasing, with old and new architecture and plenty of green space. As I described it to one friend, he said, “It sounds a lot like you.”

So I know I’ll like the city for itself, but what really gives this move meaning is the children I’m going to be serving. Milwaukee has a rich history full of vibrant activists and atrocious adversities that situate it at the top of the list of America’s Most Segregated. I’m not going to go to Milwaukee and “save the city” (trust me, they don’t need saving–they’ve got all the ambition and ability they need to make change already), but I can go into my classroom and be another support for each of my students. I can share my love of math and activism and queer rights with each of them, and maybe they’ll never look back on my class and say it changed their lives, but I can look at them and say it changed mine. And maybe that’s the real gift of teaching: giving students an opportunity to see and experience how influential they can be to others, especially their leaders.

Finally (not really), not having money is stressful right now–and that’s because money is a necessity to move, to live comfortably, to travel and visit friends and family, to take care of myself (to better provide for those I serve), to support the causes I believe in, to pay off students loans, and one day have a family of my own. Each of these things has meaning just in mentioning them, so, yes, not having the money to do it all is stressful.

But the real last thing on my list is being single. It’s stressful because, damn, when a relationship of three years ends, it throws everything else out of whack. But it’s also stressful because I want to share my life with somebody, because I crave that physical intimacy and romance, because someday I want to have children and I can’t rationally support myself becoming a single parent in a world as unpredictable as ours.

I thought what I had was perfect (and for a time, it probably was), but there’s a lot on my list of must-haves when it comes to a life partner: social/cultural compatibility, religious and spiritual compatibility, even sexual and financial compatibility, and it seems a daunting task to start at square one trying to find and foster all of that again–especially knowing that I may not stay in Milwaukee and then where-we-live compatibility matters.

Granted, the bare truth is I have friends and family who I do and will share my life with, and it’s not terribly difficult to find physical fulfillment while dating (hell, I plan to fully embrace my pursuit of Biblical knowledge), but it’d be nice to have someone to come home to, someone who gets me, who knows my needs maybe even before I do….

Genesis 2:18 say “It is not good for man to be alone,” and trust me, I would happily give a rib for my own Eve…or Evan, but outside the Garden of Eden, it isn’t that easy.

I digress.

The point here is that everything that gives me stress also gives my life meaning, and if I had to choose between stress or serenity, I’d choose everything I’ve already got.

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5 thoughts on “You Mean What?

  1. Deep breath. One thing at a time. You have listed some of the most highly stressful situations a person can go through, job, money, moving and relationships. Wow all at once too, must be overwhelming. It is great that through it all you are reading books to help, reaching out and sharing and trying to focus on the positives. Every teacher worries about those things, even myself every year after many years, it means you care, which is great.
    If I can offer a tip: remember it’s o.k. not to be o.k. to cry, be upset, angry, all of it. Just don’t live there. Keep planning for your new and amazing experiences to come. Remember to celebrate every positive step you take.

    • Overwhelming? It can be, but reminding myself to be mindful of the present moment and detach myself from all the extra baggage we bring with us has made it a healthier and happier transition (as has recognizing that stress can be a positive impact in my life as well). Thank you for your advice and encouragement–it truly brightens my day (well, night right now), and that means a lot to me right now. What do you teach?

      • Thank you for your kind words. Good perspective on stress, we often fight stress, some even thrive off of it but I am beginning to learn to that stress is a part of life and it is a good clear reminder that we need to pause and check in with ourselves. Thank you for brightening my day as well knowing I gave you a moment of peace. Remember you have already survived 100% of your worst days, you can keep doing this :)

  2. I have lived long enough to distill irrelevance from essence and, of course, that chemistry differs for each of us. The basic of existence alone is both an unsolvable mystery and, at least to me, the core delight. Even pain gives evidence of awareness and that inevitable termination of all sensation is the final and ultimate tragedy that I find most displeasing.

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