“Would you ever consider going back to teaching,” she asked. Ms. Pam is a gifted preschool teacher. Her students and their parents rave about how wonderful she is, and they have good reason to think so. Her animated personality, love for the children, and open heart make her a standout, even at a school with a remarkable staff.
“I would love to teach here,” I confided. How perfect would that be? I could make a little money working two days a week while my kids are at school. I could use the money to pay for my master’s degree.
“You should get on the sub list!” she said enthusiastically. I think I will. It’s time for me to start progressing in some of my goals and aspirations. I’ve spent the past fifteen years nurturing my children in their progress and my husband in his career. It is time to invest in myself.
I took a personality test on truity.com. After a brief questionnaire, they mapped out my scores in five different personality traits, compared the scores to the average scores in the general population, and gave me a lot of insights into myself. Much of it I already know, but the test was validating and non-judgemental. That is key.
I’ve noticed that a big part of my recovery is being able to see the world and myself less moralistically. Moralistic judgements are easy to make, but in a temporal world where everything is complicated and messy, simple moralistic judgments can be problematic. Too often reality is more complex and difficult to judge than a simplistic glance will reveal. I was raised to see things simplistically, but my personality craves novelty and complexity. In order to be more mentally healthy and less conflicted, I’ve had to accept that the simplistic viewpoints I was trained as a child to hold sacrosanct were keeping me from being honest and authentic with myself. It’s scary to leave those viewpoints behind because I know that many of things my parents taught me have served me well.
The personality test helps reveal some of the reasons my parents trained me the way they did. They noticed that I am negatively emotionally reactive, or to use the test’s term, I am high in neuroticism. Neuroticism has a terrible connotation, but the test explains that the trait is not so bad. It just means that a negative situation will impact me more emotionally than most people. It is about my temperament. I’ve known this for a long time. So have my parents. They tried, using the limited tools they had available, to help me manage this problematic trait.
They encouraged me to develop my spiritual connection with God. There have been many times when a heartfelt prayer has resulted in the swift assistance of the comforter. My parents’ relentless efforts to instill spiritual values into my life helped me immensely to deal with my overwhelming negative emotional responses. The church I was raised in has provided me with many supportive relationships that have helped me function in spite of my depression and anxiety. My first therapists were arranged and paid for by my church.
Another thing my parents did to manage my high neuroticism was to punish and scold my angry outbursts. They did this to help me avoid the devastating social consequences this behavior might create. With their help, I constructed a convincing mask of normalcy in spite of my sensitive temperament that helped me cope with everyday life for a long time.
Another potentially problematic part of my personality is my distract-ability and difficulty persevering with difficult tasks with few intermittent rewards. Also, I am not motivated by awards or competition, so motivation is always a challenge. Making, setting, and reaching goals is harder for me than for most people because of my personality. My parents knew this about me. They set very high expectations for me and insisted on maximum effort. My deep desire to please them motivated me to achieve much more than I would have without their expectations.
I graduated high school with high honors. I graduated from a demanding program in Elementary Education with my bachelor’s degree. I’ve worked many jobs and never been fired. I’ve never been divorced. I’ve never been addicted to drugs or alcohol. I have four beautiful sons who are assets to the community. Most people with my combination of personality traits haven’t had the kind of life I’ve had. By most measures of success and with an understanding of the unique challenges I faced, my story is a story of success. I hope my parents see that someday. The choices they made have caused problems for me, but I understand why they did what they did. I don’t blame them for the person I am today, I thank them. Our joined efforts to nurture and make a good life for Bridgette have been fruitful. They just aren’t finished yet. As an adult, with more tools at my disposal, I have to discard some of the old ideas and coping strategies that I used to rely on.
My efforts to reach my potential in adulthood have been centered around developing my strengths. Because of my high neuroticism, I’ve found that focusing on my weaknesses and using shame based motivation is toxic to me. Instead I try to nurture and encourage my positive traits. I am empathetic, agreeable, and curious. I crave novelty and love ideas. Moving away from Idaho and my comfort zone within a socially, politically, and religiously homogeneous society in Idaho and Utah into a suburban, diverse, fast paced, crowded one was important. The physical and psychological space from my family of origin and deep religious roots has allowed me to expand my perspective. It has also given me access to more mental health resources which have been vital to my growth and also my parenting.
My compassion and desire to help others motivated me to start speaking about my mental health journey. My blog has helped me with my writing and I’ve collected a small network of supportive friends who have been a huge part of my recovery.
My personality test highlighted to me that my lack of selfish, goal oriented, task driven traits have caused me to neglect my own personal development. As I get more mentally healthy, I am deciding what path I want to take. It’s time to think of myself and what I want to do with the rest of my life.
I want to get a masters degree in social work. That will take me about three and a half years. I just requested information from the University of Texas at Austin. They have a nationally recognized program. If I start next fall, I will graduate when I’m about 44. Then I want to do a PhD. I don’t know what exactly I want to study yet, but it will probably be something related to religious and spiritual influences on mental health. I want to complete my PhD by the time I am 50. I plan to teach while I pursue my degrees to pay for my tuition. After I graduate, I want to work in public service. Maybe I will run for office in the state legislature or become a speech writer or an adviser on a political campaign. I also want to publish a book.
To accomplish these goals, I will have to make a plan, manage distractions, and give myself periodic rewards to keep me from getting discouraged. I’ll also have to be flexible because as a mom of four boys, anything can happen. The good news is, I have a lot of good information about myself and some tools at my disposal that will make these goals a lot more possible.
My counselor and my husband are encouraged with my increasingly positive outlook and my determination to keep myself safe from those who would do harm to my recovery. Sometimes the trials we experience can do more to push us forward on the path the Lord has laid out for us than blessings do. I hope that I can remember that when the next bout of storm clouds comes my way. They are sure to come, but I have everything I need to rise above them. I’m on my way!