Don’t look down. Standard advice to those hanging in peril, dangling above a void, walking a tightrope.
After years of wondering what I ought to be when I grew up–or rather, when my kids grew up–about a year ago all the pieces fell into place. Practically overnight I knew I should be a chemist, a dream that had been on hold since high school, when my AP Chem teacher turned out to be awful at both chemistry and teaching. When you’re 16, you don’t know that it’s the teacher who is awful; you think you’re just a bad student, not smart enough or talented enough after all. But now I knew better, and I was surrounded by scientists who would help me, and it seemed to be the perfect time.
In the spring, I found myself in my own Pit of Despair. I’d done the research and the math and I couldn’t see a way to go to school. None of the classes I needed were offered outside of work hours, I wasn’t eligible for any financial aid, and my job was about to get far more demanding. Decades of working for low pay and even less satisfaction stretched out before me.
But friends came alongside me and lent their support and we worked out a way-not ideal, but manageable-for me to work towards my degree. I had hope. I had a plan.
And then I came out.
I anticipated consequences when I announced my queerness to the world, but I underestimated the severity and extent. (And my experience is still better than many–I highly recommend reading this thread by another queer Christian for an understanding of what many of us go through). Fall quarter was spent in turmoil: school, work, church, friends, and so, so many emotions. My academic performance was dismal.
Winter quarter loomed. School was to begin on Tuesday, and on Saturday morning I still had no idea if I’d be attending. I could no longer count on the people I’d been counting on. I didn’t know how I would pay my rent on Monday, and refunded tuition was tempting. I couldn’t fathom managing homework and a 40 hour work schedule. I missed sleep and recreation. My youngest child told me not to worry about retirement, I could work my low-pay jobs and then live with him when the time came to stop working. I think he’s still offended that I wouldn’t agree to that!
My roommate says that dogs are never suicidal because they live ‘in the now.’ Yes, ‘now’ might unimaginably horrible, but it is just now. Humans, on the other hand, project the ‘now’ into the future, and are rightly terrified at the prospect of remaining in that horrible situation interminably.
Humans look down.
Although Philippians 3:13 is talking about Christian living, it is good advice when striving for any goal:
Eye on the prize. Don’t look down. Don’t get dragged down by crap. One step at a time. Just keep moving forward.
I went to school that Tuesday. I found a way to manage this quarter, and I will not worry about how I’ll manage next quarter or next year or the year after that. I’ve begun severing ties with anyone who makes me feel less than fully loved and included, because that kind of negativity takes energy I cannot spare. I’m immersing myself, as time allows, in encouraging resources. I will be my own cheerleader, and try to build a new support network-one that supports everything that I am rather than only what it wants me to be.
And when it all begins to overwhelm, I will remind myself: don’t look down!