Autobiography / Cry for help / Histrionics

Down the rabbit hole

I’m proud to be a member of the national leadership honor society Omicron Delta Kappa. Throughout my education—believe it or not—I was super neurotic about participating with enthusiasm and leading others in the things I loved to do (re: overachieving). Yes; there was a time in my life when something was more important to me than cheese, and that thing was a college club called “Fakespeare” where I was co-president, and where I once portrayed Hamlet’s Ophelia as a contestant on a dating show. (I don’t completely remember the skit, but I’m willing to bet it didn’t end well for Ophelia…things rarely end well for Ophelia.)

Anyway, I’ve been receiving frequent (re: incessant) cards in the mail from ODK, requesting I call a hotline to update my information for their first-ever membership directory section in a very special publication coming out later this year. Normally I’d ignore these cards, but I like ODK, and I recently found out that my membership in the society gets me a discount on my car insurance. PERKS OF BEING A NERD-FLOWER.

So after I received my fourth reminder in the mail, I called the hotline. They just wanted some basic information: my full name, my place of business, my occupation, etc. Which, in their defense, really is basic information, and should never be difficult for a normal person to rattle off over the phone.

But from the very first question, “What is your full name?”, I had no idea how to respond.

Now, before you think I’m exhibiting early-onset Alzheimer’s, I am perfectly lucid and am 99% sure I know what my name is. What I don’t know, however, is what my name will be when this first-ever-very-special Omicron Delta Kappa publication is released.

I don’t know what my name will be. I don’t know what my place of work will be. And I certainly don’t know what my occupation will be anymore, unless I can ascribe it to more general occupational ideas like “daughter” and “animal lover” and “Jeopardy-enthusiast-who-isn’t-actually-very-good-at-Jeopardy.” (That last one’s probably too long to fit in my printed bio anyway.)

The truth is that I don’t know what my life will be by the time this publication comes out. All I know is what it won’t be, and all the won’ts burst simultaneously to life during this phone call.

So I told the woman at the other end of the hotline what my life is right now, and declined to pre-order two hardback copies of the book for $49.95 each, because that’s too much money to spend on something that, by the time its ink is set permanently in its paper, will essentially be filled with my lies. Or my footprints.

It took some time, but I’m finally feeling comfortable that, soon, a large part of my identity will be “wife.” And “army wife.” And all the little identities attached to those larger identities, and to the ones I’ll never lose. But what about the identities I have now? The person I am in them now? Is she just a lie (or a footprint) attached to some ink and some paper? When she no longer exists in me, does somebody steal her identity for their own identity, and in a few years when you Google some iteration of my name, the first result is the Facebook profile of a 46-year-old Norwegian automechanic who is still in the process of hacking all my credit cards and stealing my social security number?

It’s not uncalled for during a time of change to question your identity. The time of change, for me, hasn’t happened yet. But, like everything else in my life, I’m gonna go ahead and overachieve that time of change, and freak out about it ahead of time.

I’m someone who has always had two feet planted firmly on the ground. Actually let’s say it’s more like four feet (because I’m so committed to overachieving that I’ll bend the laws of anatomy and physics and possibly nuclear fission to do so). And although I’m approaching the changes—my impending marriage, my impending move, and my impending new life—in  a structured, formulaic, feet-on-the-ground kind of way, the closer these things get, the more my feet begin to lose their hold on the earth. And what begins, instead, is a falling sensation. A tumbling sensation. An Alice-in-Wonderland sensation, where the doors I shrink or grow to open only lead to more doors, and even the caterpillars seem to be aware of my inner struggles.

Who are you

SHUT UP, CATERPILLAR.

One of the things I’ve always really liked about Alice in Wonderland is that, during her journey in Wonderland, the creatures Alice meets are constantly asking her who (or what) she is. They are constantly baffled by her for not being a wildflower, for her inability to become a butterfly, for being the improper height or the improper party guest or the improper croquet partner. But Alice never really gives a shit. She just wants to find what she tumbled into Wonderland to find (the white rabbit), and then go back to her cat and to avoiding her lessons, and to a place where everyone she meets isn’t a total asshole.

Alice may question who she is during her time in Wonderland, but she never changes who she is. There are times when she thinks she may be stuck in Wonderland indefinitely, but never once does Alice question whether she’s the crazy one, or Wonderland is; Wonderland is always the crazy one, and all she does is recognize her need to adapt to its craziness in order to find her way out of it.

I’m not saying that the world I’m about to enter (re: military life) is crazy; only that it’s still growing curiouser and curiouser to me. I’m afraid that, once I’m in it, I will lift up my petals to reveal that I have legs instead of stems, and nobody will have room in their garden for a common weed.

That’s a normal fear, I think. (Except for maybe the flower analogy part.) It’s a fear I’ve lived through many times in my life, and one I’m sure you’ve all lived through many times as well. And although there may be no one secret to surviving big life changes (or maybe there is and I just haven’t seen that episode of Oprah), I could use all the motivational success stories I can get.

What big life changes have you been through that required adaptation and/or stretching your comfort zone? What helped you get through the rough days, and what do you wish you had known or done beforehand?

0 thoughts on “Down the rabbit hole

  1. This is the challenge we all face – and I think it’s women in general because we’re usually the ones who give up careers and whatnot to raise families. I’m not saying that’s bad if you choose to do it, but it does lend itself to feeling like we’re becoming someone we may never have wanted to be. So, my biggest suggestion is to do what you can to hold on to something that’s just for YOU. I truly believe that having something you do that you LOVE that is just for you – whether it be painting, or keeping your job, or volunteering (if you can’t find a job), or collecting cats (kidding) – will make you a better partner, no matter if you’re in the military life or not. Know that there will be people out there who will be baffled by you – one I see often is when wives continue to work – but that doesn’t mean that you should give up that part of you to be who THEY think you should be. Just find the ones who you relate to most & be happy with YOUR choices.

    Don’t worry – there are always other “common weeds” to find. (like me!) 🙂

  2. Okay, first of all, as always, you make me laugh out loud in an obnoxious, attention-rousing way that probably isn’t good for my work performance. Secondly, this is a truly wonderful post, and thirdly, I love you.

    So, I think you already know that I’m really no stranger to big life changes. I spent the first 17 years of my life systematically moving across the GLOBE every 2 – 4 years, depending on the length of my father’s work assignment at whatever international embassy he happened to be stationed at. And let me tell you, you don’t know what culture shock is until you’ve had to go from balmy Taiwanese “winters” (which are basically just wet) to actual Canadian winters. I didn’t even own a winter coat when I lived in Taiwan, and now you’re telling me I have to deal with -30 degree weather? AND WTF IS THE CELCIUS-FARENHEIT CONVERSION FORMULA?!

    Yes. Adaptability. I has it. Or, at least, I used to have it. I’m finding the older I get and the longer I stay in one place, the less adaptable I’m becoming. I find myself thrown by changes much smaller than those of the “Okay, say goodbye to all your friends, we’re moving to the opposite side of the world. But don’t worry, now you have something called “e-mail” so you can actually stay in touch with them even though you’ll probably never see them again.” variety. But I will say this: I also wouldn’t trade all those annoying, life-altering changes for anything. I know for a fact that they’ve made me a stronger person, and allowed me to have a myriad of experiences that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Did it always suck to be dragged by my wrists into the unknown? Of course! i HATE the unknown. I’m the person who reads spoilers on Wikipedia before I see the movie, because I can’t wait that long to find out what the big twist is. (It annoys Sean to NO end.) Is it still worth it? Absolutely. And it will be for you, too.

    Adapting to new situations means growing, and growing is in and of itself a type of change. But you–the core you, the you that’s been 25…?… years in the making, that’s not going to change. You’re one of the strongest people I know, so I’m pretty confident in that statement.

    You are not a weed. You are an orchid. (That’s the best kind of flower, you know. Even if it does look kind of like a vagina. Or maybe BECAUSE it looks kind of like a vagina!) And you will take army wifery (that’s a term now, I’m making it one) by the horns and maybe there will be low times and mistakes made, but that’s all part of the process. And, if nothing else, at least take solace in the fact that no matter where you move or how many real-life army wife friends you make, you’ll always have your rapier wit and ability to make me–and the rest of your smitten blog readers–guffaw at an inappropriate decibel whenever I read of your exploits.

    Oh God, longest comment ever. Wellps… sorry I’m not sorry. <3

    • You know what word doesn’t appear on my blog enough? VAGINA. Thank you for fixing that.

      You are one of the people in my life who gives me great hope that this lifestyle I’m entering is one that can be great. I’ve only known a few people who grew up in the move-every-few-years or military brat trend, but those few people are some of the funniest, kindest people I know (and, related/unrelated, they often have great bangs). There’s something to be said about someone who has the opportunity to start over every few years, and when the starting over stops, is still happy, and optimistic, and genuine.

      God, maybe we should get a room or something.
      <3

  3. Ok, I very much agree with Jessica. Clearly, great names think alike.

    What I think might be helpful about my story for you is that we have a somewhat similar story. I moved from Maryland, my home, and where all of my family is to Tennessee. I would sing “A Whole New World” but it was by no means that glamorous. Our difference is that we had family here, and it wasn’t a military thing. (Though, Chase is considering military and I’m pooping my pants.)

    Our move was worth it for the following reasons:
    I’ve never appreciated the Northern mindset so much. There is nothing that will make me thankful for my home state more than hearing about the proposed “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would force teachers to tell a child’s parents if the child says or does anything gay.
    You can always find people who share your interests. (Just please, for the love of all things, don’t use Craigslist to find them. Trust me on this.)
    I found that just when I was the most shaky and without direction in my life, that I discovered what it was I really wanted to do. I had never before really considered teaching, but I found what was supposed to be a temporary job working after school in an elementary school. Then I found a program (back home in MD!) that would turn me into a real teacher, and I feel like I’ve finally figured out what I want to be doing.

    Find what you love and hold on. It could be anything. I chose to keep active in theatre, among other things. But always remember that the two of you are in this together, and that he is going through the same thing. It will very likely be in a different way, so it might not look the same, but it is. You’re figuring out new territory, but you have each other to figure it out. Let him figure out where the best hunting grounds and shooting ranges are, and he’ll let you figure out where the nearest Trader Joe’s is. You complement each other.

    • Good timing: I just saw Disney on Ice, and “A Whole New World” was one of the most exciting numbers. Must find skating rinks near Fort Campbell to reenact often.

      So happy for you and your post-college journey. If you ever teach in a state where that “Don’t Say Gay” bill is passed (which I solemnly hope it never is), you should do the opposite and call parents when the children aren’t being gay ENOUGH. “Little Jimmy is not showing enough enthusiasm for musical theatre and feather boas, and I’m worried about him.”

      P.S. Nearest Trader Joe’s is in Nashville COUNT IT.

  4. An incredibly interesting aspect of humans in general is that our brains are programmed to refute change, that whenever somebody or an event tells us that we have to change a part of ourselves, the immediate response is “No, I don’t want to!”. It takes a lot of mental energy for us to finally reprogram our brain to eventually say “Okay, I guess we could try this.” What is really remarkable though, is how naturally our brains are able to adapt to changes when we are in positions that force it.

    I don’t have any experiences such as packing up your life and moving every 2-4 years. My needs to adapt are based in some good and some really-not-good experiences. It’s easy to adapt to the good ones, because they better your life and you’re more willing to go with it. It’s the really-not-good ones that prove to be the real challenges. Adaptation to them is incredibly difficult and in the process, you end up learning a lot about yourself, sometimes even things that you didn’t believe you were capable of. Luckily, you have a wonderful partner to accompany you on the crazy journey that is life. You’ll be together to share in the good ones, and support each other through the really-not-good ones.

    You’ll move away to Fort Campbell and leave a lot of a previous life behind, but you’re a smart and well-rounded person, so your brain will not only manage to make the adaptation necessary, but do it with class and find the positives. Perhaps this will give you the opportunity to pursue careers that you didn’t think were possible. I’m not talking about another 9-5 that you hadn’t thought of, but something completely different. You could take blogging to a whole new level and become internet present enough to make it a job. You could become a freelance writer. You could work towards becoming an independent book editor (you already have experience in that). Or maybe you could do what I’m hoping you’ll do, which is start writing your memoirs so that I can buy it immediately upon publication and enjoy every word written in print (because yes, I expect a print copy with your lovely signature in it).

    • Is 11:00am too early to cry whilst reading your comment?

      I’m 100% with you about humans and our resistance to/adaptation to change (robot is laughing at us). Until you mentioned it just now, actually, I hadn’t thought about adapting to the bad changes as a learning strategy for adapting to the good ones. I’ve had some unpleasant office jobs. And when I say “unpleasant,” I mean “cry-every-morning-in-the-elevator-on-my-way-up-to-the-office.” But you’re right; I can’t imagine the weaker/whinier (if possible)/generally worse person I’d be if I hadn’t adapted to them. If anything, they’ve taught me that when one part of your life is not going how you’d prefer it to, and the improvement in that part is proving quite slow, it’s time to focus on things you have more control over–or things you love–or things that make you happy, even when they’re small. I spent whole days, and weeks, and months, and YEARS, even, getting by like that. And although I was definitely whiny and a bit self-pittying about it, I’d be lost right now in the face of deployments and changes without having learned those coping skills.

      THANK YOU.

      I’m sending you an autographed copy of my first memoir, along with several blocks of cheese.

      • It’s never too early for a good therapeutic cry. Internet hugs!

        I will enjoy both your future book and cheese at once. One to feed my mind and the other my taste buds. Ooooh! I just got really excited for the future!

  5. Oh boy do I relate to a resistance to change. I haven’t had to deal with a lot of it at this point, because I was one of those “I know exactly what I want to do with my life, and I refuse to accept any deviation from this plan!” sort of people. I firmly believed that I would go to college, get a job teaching, and then stay there. Forever. And be awesome. Instead, I got a teaching job in a school that seemed determined to overload me to the point of self-implosion. I left after two years, and because I worked for a county made of evil, they took my teaching certificate when I did so. Little straight-A, perfect game plan me with my entire four years worth of college classes planned out on an excel spreadsheet before the end of my first semester just never saw that one coming. When the school year started this year and I was sitting alone in my apartment without a job or a way to pay rent, I was scared and depressed in a way I never have been. 6 months and three different part time jobs later, I don’t think I can say that I’m happy about it–I mean, I still get jealous pangs listening to friends talk about lesson planning and such, and I hate explaining over and over again to people why I’m not currently teaching–but I’m also starting to see why this was an experience I needed. I think I clung too tightly to “the plan”. Deviation wasn’t ever an adventure; it was failure. This past year put me into a situation of either giving into the depression and viewing myself as a failure for landing in a situation that I couldn’t control for once, or accepting that I needed to work on my “rolling with the punches” skills. I decided on option two. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still really hard some days. And I can’t wait to get back to teaching (cross your fingers–I’m hoping for next year!), but I feel like this year that I never saw coming was actually a blessing in disguise. From having been through a bad teaching situation, I have a much clearer idea of what I believe in as a teacher. From living through life skipping from part time job to part time job, I’ve learned to take pride in myself as a person instead of myself as a job–I never realized how much of my self worth relied on what I was doing instead of who I was, until what I was doing ceased to exist in my life. Change and I aren’t exactly friends just yet, but we’re not enemies anymore either. I’m glad I was forced into this grudging acquaintanceship, because it’s made me much more comfortable with life.

    And on the days when it sucks…I find that a solid dose of 30 Rock, red wine, and chocolate chips makes for an excellent cure-all. 😉

    • Kelsy, this is almost as wonderful as you are.

      Your experiences in the teaching industry thus far have been such an example of bad-things-happen-to-good-people for me. I hatewatching you go through it, but I’ve never once doubted your ability so succeed. This is cheesy as hell, but there’s a quote from the book Fight Club that is pretty relevant right now:

      “At the time, my life just seemed too complete, and maybe we have to break everything to make something better out of ourselves.”

      I haven’t actually read the book SO MAYBE I’M A PHONY and I’m taking it totally out of context, but it’s a good representation of our lives upon college graduation. I am certainly not where I expected to be then; and you’re not exactly where you expected to be either. But we’re both a hell of a lot stronger than we were then, and we will continue to get stronger because of it.

      And, even if we don’t, 30 Rock is now syndicated on at least two channels, and in Virginia they sell wine at CVS.

      • In addition, may I say that I completely agree with the hate watching you go through it but knew you’d be amazing anyway bit?

        I don’t think anyone ends up where they expected to be after college. I fully expected to be starring on Broadway (or at least, on a Baltimore stage) by now. Good thing that didn’t happen. I’m really happy with life right now. And we’re going to live in a loft like in New Girl soon, so…

          • A) If your blog has taught me anything, Aileen, it’s that cheese is to be appreciated in all its forms, including that of cheesy quotes. (And I think it was lovely and totally applicable.)

            B) At the risk of going cheesy myself, I really am proud of both of you for how well you’re taking on the new adventures in your lives. I think the girls we were in college would be a little alarmed if they could glance into the future at where we are now, but that’s just because they weren’t ready for it yet. Not only will we be fine, we’re going to kick ass.

            C) Way to get that theme song response up less than a minute after Jess’ post. Skillz, Aileen. Skillz.

  6. Oh girl, you have so much amazingness ahead of you. I have to be honest when I married the hubs and after he left (we have to live apart for now…long crazy story) someone said now you are an Army Wife (but she used accronymns that I had to google). I replied No I’m not, then it hit me that I am, but I don’t fit that mold either. People keep trying to tell me what I am or what I am not and to be honest I’m non of them. I am a proud, strong Mama. I am a proud wife of a soldier. I am a soft hearted social worker. I am a loud Sigma Sigma Sigma. I am a soft spoken daughter. I am a reader. I am invisible and I am seen. I am who I am and I don’t disgard who I am without chosing to stop being that thing. I no longer work as a social worker, but that is who I am. You can choose what “hats” you wear, don’t let others put one on for you. I continue to add to my arenal of who I am and who I am becoming.
    I love how you looked at Alice in Wonderland and now want to go back an watch it. People will always want to define us by Who or What or Troop or Rank. But Girl be YOU, who you were created to be.
    What everyone else said is AMAZING! and you are AMAZING and you will be amazing no matter what definitions you carry with you.

    • This is so sweet, and so inspirational. I’m feeling really Spice-World GIRL POWER right now.
      Thank you for your beautiful and thoughtful words. Anybody who has spent more than three hours as a social worker has every ounce of my respect. GET IT, GIRL.

  7. OH MY GOSH AILEEN: TURN ALL OF THESE COMMENTS INTO A BOOK AND PUBLISH IT. This is just amazing. Everyone has such great insights. This is all really inspiring, heartfelt, heartwarming, intelligent, and it applies to everyone in any scenario. Wowza. What a lucky girl you are, and what smart friends you have!

  8. We all will face those time where we have no idea what we are doing or where we are going, but our gut is telling us it is right. You just need to remember that your petals are not your shield from the world…they are your thoughts, your love, your beauty, your confidence, your strength and your privacy screen!

    “What helped you get through the rough days, and what do you wish you had known or done beforehand?”
    Re: Well we all wish we would have known the bus of life was going to hit us in the face at the exact moment we were taking a sip of our coffee – so now on top of running late, I now have a coffee-stained blouse, and my heel broke as I tried to hit the break! But, my ability to plow through the challenges always plays to my favor. I live each day honestly with my family, my job, my future wife and most importantly myself. If I can go to sleep at night knowing I did everything I could than that’s all I can ask of myself.

    Too often my type-a perfectionist side comes out from her cave and consumes my day and I do not give myself enough credit. At this point I realize I need to breathe, is when I tell her goodnight and relax. (A bubble bath usually helps; lavender, red wine, meditation music and candles for those REALLY bad days.)

    If you true to your past, your future hubby, your present and yourself, you will be fine. Just don’t forget to breathe…

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