Saturday, November 10, 2012

when discouragement comes to visit

A bright row of houses visible only after going through a tunnel.  Edinburgh.
This past week was pretty hectic for me with two major presentations due one after the other.  On Wednesday I had a workshop reading of my original play which meant that I spent the last few weeks rewriting at least half of my first draft in response to feedback I received. One never knows if a play will be a cohesive, believable piece until it is workshopped.  The comments afterwards were more positive than I could have hoped for!  People said it was a solid piece with a good arc, believable dialogue, and strong characters.  There are still a few problems that need to addressed, but that's to be expected.  Overall, I was very encouraged by the response. 

On Thursday afternoon I had another presentation, this time for a performance studies seminar.  The readings in this seminar are outside of my usual genre and sometimes I feel like I am barely keeping my head above water.  So I was hoping to do well.  During the informal presentation, one person wondered why I was making these connections. Was my theme trauma?  What? Not at all!  I tried to explain myself, but I wasn't sure if I was being clear.  Others in the group offered observations and comments and these seemed much more informed and nuanced than anything I had said.  Oh well. On my way home, I started to get really discouraged.  Though everyone in the seminar is always friendly and gracious, I thought...perhaps I am doing really badly in this course and I don't even know it.  Yes, that seemed totally likely.  The silly, uninformed theology student was totally out of her league in a performance studies graduate seminar.  A pit of uneasiness started to grow in my stomach.  This was going to end badly, I knew it.  And then I recognised that I was being visited by discouragement.  What do you do when you are visited by discouragement?  I decided that instead of letting myself be carried away by it, I would try to be honest, gracious, and responsible in how I responded.  So here is what I did.

1.  I acknowledged the discouragement.  I didn't brush it aside as unfounded negative thoughts or try to overcome it through positive talk.  I didn't want to avoid what was happening inside me.  I tried to be truthful about how I felt and vocalised it, telling God what my thoughts were.  I tried to let the emotion connected to the disappointment out in a safe way.  Discouragement can be a bit like mourning because some aspect of hope has died, so I tried to face it with grace and courage and let it run its course. 
2.  After the emotion subsided a bit, I took a look at the situation.  Was there a valid reason to be discouraged?  I wasn't sure; all I had was my gut feeling and my perceptions of how people had reacted.  I decided that I had to find out more about the situation to see if my response was merited.
3.  I made contact with my faith community and got a friend to pray with me.  I gave the situation over to God.  I gave the emotions over to God.  I gave the past, the present, the in-between time, and the future over to God.
4.  I ate a good meal.  I went for a long walk.  I read an inspiring book.  I played with the cat.  I breathed deeply and listened to some music. I let lots of life in.  And then I got a good night's sleep.
5. The next day I contacted my professor and expressed my concern about how I was doing in the course. He provided the clarification I needed and gave me some ideas for how to move forward. It wasn't nearly as bad as I had imagined and feared.

The visit by discouragement was relatively short and it left gently, easing off my soul bit by bit until I felt light and filled with hope again.  There is still much work ahead of me in my course of study, but I no longer feel like I am floundering.  And I am not afraid of the next time that discouragement comes knocking.  I know what to do.

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