My father says some people learn lessons by listening to the wisdom of others while others learn their lessons the hard way. I am, unfortunately, one of those people, so far. These past four months, I have learned a lot about myself, the way I operate in various situations, and what my default is in life in response to stressful situations.
I came to Ireland with an optimism and naivete about the world I was living in and coming to. Call it being too busy working multiple jobs before I came here, but I didn’t do my research. I came almost impulsively, signing up with the program that got me here shortly after graduating from university. Why, they asked. Why not, I responded. I didn’t really have a why other than that it was outside anything I or my family had ever done, and I did not want to settle for a job at that moment. That is exactly what I would have done because I didn’t have my career path figured out, and I still don’t. It is both a curse and a blessing to have an insatiable curiosity about most things. I want to do everything, and I fear if I choose one, I won’t be able to do the rest. Routine jobs don’t have a lot of free time to do hobbies and other interests. I came to Ireland to buck settling. So I didn’t have a why. Know that this is the most important question you must ask yourself before making any decision. The answer to that question must be from the depths of your soul and for you alone, as you are the one making the decision. I found my why after I got here though. The cliche: to find myself, or more accurately, to know myself.
Fear. A very powerful, paralyzing and dangerous thing. It’s like a disease that lays dormant, with flare-ups every now and again, with no perceivable cure. It is something that’s always there, that can be felt perhaps at all times, even in the smallest of measures. If not caught in time, it becomes worse and worse until it is no longer dormant but dominant in every situation. Merriam-Webster defines fear as “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.” More accurately defined might be perceived awareness of danger. There are those in this world who have irrational, anxious fears in regards to themselves and how their actions affect those around them and those affectations change the way they are perceived by others. I have mentioned high school before, but basically I didn’t belong. I never fit into any one group. On one hand, that’s alright. I had the love of my family and of God. It made me independent, having the knowledge that I didn’t need other people to enjoy and savor my life. However, on the other hand I had always felt something was missing. I felt/feel like I have a hole in my heart, perhaps formed by years of feeling like I didn’t belong. This is not supposed to draw sympathy, but is my musing on how I might have become the way I am.
A short summary on my life, for those who don’t already know. I had family when I was younger. They say a child’s memories, that is the normal ones, have sun-washed memories in that the memories you have from your childhood are distorted in that you remember only the sunny days and the good times, thereby forming strong nostalgic emotions. This is the way I feel about the few memories I have from childhood. I had a large family that, to my memory, always had reunions or dinners/birthdays and they actually got along. Then, my Papaw died when I was seven. He was the best, and seemingly the glue that held my family together. When he died, we had granny of course, but it just wasn’t the same.
For a few years, things seemed to glide for a bit with a few bumps along the way. Then, when I was 11, my brother and sister moved into their mother’s house. When I was 12, my mother died of breast cancer and around the same time granny got sick. Through the following year, she had open heart surgery, was in and out of the hospital, had two strokes, and ended up with dementia. After living with my aunt for a year, she moved in with us and stayed for about eight years before passing. This small part of my life, over the space of about 1 year, I remember more vividly than any other part of my life. I think when mama died, a part of me did too. Why, you ask? Because it feels like my life before was a dream. I remember bits and pieces that bring a bit of pain because of the happiness I feel in those memories, but otherwise I remember nothing. Either I repressed most of my memories subconsciously or God took mercy on me during that time. I think it’s perhaps both. One day hopefully I’ll get those memories back. To get to the point, shortly after that, I went into high school. One might say I was fragile and thinking back on it, I would have yearned more for acceptance to fill that hole that had just blown my heart open. I was not unloved at home. Dad took care of me and encouraged me and got frustrated at me when I let others’ opinions affect my happiness. But, it was apparent that I was seeking that sense of belonging anywhere I could find it. Though I became fiercely independent and strong, I was/am still mush underneath it all. I have a very tender heart and soul and much love to give, but I have realized only recently this crippling need to have the validation from others. Having this has given me a life of fear for the last ten years. I think back on conversations I’d had years ago, still cringing that I said something that might have been taken the wrong way and I hurt someone’s feelings. It has been hard for me to make new friends in the past years due to being cautious and well, fearful, of not being valued, of being hurt. I have feared getting sick; feared that I would not live up to the expectations of those who have supported me and literally gotten me where I am today; feared that I would settle for a job and live a life that meant nothing, that made no difference; feared that I would make the wrong life decision that would send me down a path from which there was no return. Fear, you let it in, you embrace it, it becomes dominant throughout every part of your life. It has enveloped mine so much that I realized lately that I think I actually feared this entire time getting to know myself. What is she like, Rachel Lauren Anderson? What kind of person is she?
Being here has forced me to do just that. I’ve been through situations that have held the proverbial mirror up to who I am. I don’t like who I am, who I’ve let myself become. I never really liked myself though, as I thought I was of no value. No, I never really liked myself and as a result, other didn’t. Someone who loves themselves, not in a conceited way, lives differently, acts differently than someone who doesn’t. I have thought for so long that I was of no value to others, but what I should have been focusing on was the value to myself. Before others can like you and perhaps before you can truly like/love others, you have to know and love yourself first. So how do you do this? No, you will not have the lovely long legs of the girl next door as you are short and you’re not getting any taller. You can always improve your mind, but you will not have the genius intelligence for mathematics that the guy in your class at uni has. Your genius, your value, lies in something else. Maybe you haven’t found it yet, but it’s there. You’re a brilliant musician, a great painter, or an ability to inspire others to better themselves.
There are those who perhaps are meant, who only want, to do one thing. Perhaps yours lies in multiple things and areas. Finally, and most importantly, stop fear in its tracks before it even enters the situation. It is believing in yourself and knowing that with effort, you can beat back and even eradicate those negative thoughts that stop progress. For me though, it is God. He has been responsible for everything that has happened to me, both good and bad. Though I would rather argue that it’s all been good because I wouldn’t have reached this point had all of that not happened. In these four months, I have learned that I am selfish and impulsive; that I still yearn for validation from others, which causes more fear of my actions affecting others’ view of me; that I am more out of touch with the world and people, which makes me kinda dense. I am not demeaning myself, but these are things that the mirror has shown me. I don’t like the person I have become, so I can sit here and stew in my flaws and regrets, or I can cleanse and move forward out of this state. How will I do this? Guess. Yep, God. I serve the most powerful being ever, and I am one of His children. Of whom and of what shall I be afraid?
Ultimately, I will make a conscious effort to find value in myself for my sake. I am still a work in progress, that God is still cutting the rough edges off of, but coming here, being here has significantly sped up His process. I have had more tension and fear here than I have ever had. I found I don’t react well under large amounts of stress and feeling alone and away from my comfort zone. I feared. Through the past few weeks however, with what God has gotten me through, I truly realized I have nothing to fear. Does it still seep back in? Absolutely, as I am still working on the cleanse, so to speak. But when it does, I pray and basically flush it out. That’s what you have to do with poison, keep flushing it out until it’s all gone. So, I will be feeding myself positivity, love and good thoughts on a daily basis. Yes, I still have my flaws and I will still make mistakes because I’m human, but with this and with God’s help, I will become the person I’ve always wanted to be and someone who will serve Him well. So, to conclude, these four months have been difficult and I haven’t done many touristy things, but I can’t/won’t regret them. They are the reason I’m changing, and I couldn’t have asked for anything better.