For the past few years I’ve listened to friends choose ‘anchor words,’ which they use to ground themselves for the New Year. They choose words like “courage” to remind them each month to be brave, or “persistent” to encourage them to strive for what they want. Since being surrounded by wordsmiths in graduate school I’ve thought about choosing my own anchor word, but never did because I’m crap at keeping New Years resolutions.
This year, however, I fiddled around on Dictionary.com and see if anything spoke to me. I’m about to embark upon another new job, new country, and new community–why not try a new tradition?
I thought about the areas I lacked in in 2018, and what could I improve. I stopped at my second search: tenacity.
I found tenacity after searching for synonyms of drive. Drive–“an innate, biologically determined urge to attain a goal or satisfy a need”–is something I’ve always had. I’m a driven, goal oriented person. The past year in Bangkok, however, my drive has slipped. Some people said it’s because I’m a first year teacher. While teaching 102 just-reaching-puberty boys does wear you out, my drive has been puttering like a sedan with two wheels and a missing transmission ever since my father passed away.
In my last year of graduate school, just six months after my father unexpectedly dropped dead of a heart attack, my drive was so minuscule that the school psychiatrist put me on anti-depressants. The Wellbutrin did it’s job kicking my energy up enough to teach, complete my thesis, and work towards other goals and opportunities, but I still had the gnawing feeling that I used to put in more effort. I used to write more and submit more. I used to carve out time for projects and friends. I knew what it felt like to care about things, and I didn’t anymore. After graduate school I kept making and reaching goals, but the caring still wasn’t there. Fake it til you make it, I thought, but it’s hard to fake a drive that used to be your life-force.
Thus I figured drive was the word I should hitch my metaphorical boat to for 2019. Being the writer that I am, I wanted my anchor word to be jazzier, so I thought of determination and tenacity. I Googled tenacity first. I expected to browse the list of synonyms for something with more pizzazz, but the Dictionary.com definition of tenacity stopped me. To be more specific: the third definition stopped me.
1. the quality or fact of being able to grip something firmly; grip.
2. the quality or fact of being very determined; determination.
3. the quality or fact of continuing to exist; persistence.
Following my father’s death, I struggled to want to exist. The grief and trauma was so foreign and consuming it was hard to see a way out of it. Then my boyfriend of almost seven years dumped me equally as unexpectedly, and I just simply didn’t want to exist. I was angry. I was distraught. My drive for life had already been teetering on a cliff, and my ex kicked it right off the ledge and attached a lit stick of dynamite to finish the job. I made destructive decisions, completely aware that I was on a solid path to not see the next year. I told my grief counselor, “I’m not going to survive this.”
“If you keep saying that,” she said. “You won’t.”
I shrugged. “Good.”
After a particularly rock bottom night in which I should have killed both myself and my dad’s dog, but miraculously didn’t, I booked a one-way ticket to Asia. I didn’t think it would make me feel better. I just needed something different. I hoped the stark change of scenery would reset me somehow.
Bangkok has reset me, but not in the ways I thought it would. When I meet people who’ve lived in Thailand for multiple years they say things like: I found my peace or I finally learned how to relax and enjoy life. That’s great…for those people. For me? I became more selfish. I broke social engagements. I led some dates on because I didn’t feel like having the confrontation that comes after ‘it’s not working out.’ My focus slipped. I worked, I made friends, I wrote, and I traveled, but I felt detached; as if I was still faking the ambition. I worried that I was turning into a person without drive, goals, or an ounce of caring.
Then, somewhere around the end of December a flip switched in my mind: I wasn’t a different person. I hadn’t lost my drive. I was just sad. And for a year, I let myself be sad.
Death and grief sucks. There’s no other way to put it. It fucking sucks and none of us are taught how to process it, even though it’s something everyone on Earth experiences. We’re mostly led to believe that grief is something you just “get over.” To not get over it seems weird and tragic. Because of this, people who are grieving feel self conscious if they’re “sad for too long.” You stop talking about your grief; you stop talking about the person you’ve lost. To the outside world, your decreased conversation implies you’re moving on and enjoying life again, which maybe you are, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be a bit sad. Death sucks–be sad.
Leading up to the turn of the New Year I worried that there was a lot I did wrong in 2018, but now I see that there is a lot that I did right. Sure, my normal ambition took a backseat, but I took that energy and put it towards acknowledging that I’m sad. And I let myself be sad. That doesn’t sound like something that should warrant any energy, but for me it did. It meant spending an entire year replacing my normal bending-over-backwards-to-please-people attitude and replacing it with if-I-want-to-stay-home-and-be-sad-and-watch-Netflix,-then-I’m-going-to-stay-home-and-be-sad-and-watch-Netflix. Some people might find that depressing. Others may find it liberating. I found it to be necessary.
If 2018 was all about allowing myself to live the life I have found myself in, then 2019 will be about morphing it back into the life I want. Yet another reason for the word: tenacity. After you’re socked with grief, you not only have to be tenacious about picking up your broken pieces, but you have to be tenacious in putting the pieces back how you want–or don’t. Be tenacious to do whatever you want. After a year of feeling detached and letting myself drift, I’m ready to be tenacious: tenacious about life, about art, about travel, about friends, about relationships, about whatever the hell I want. I’m going to be determined and firm and I’m going to exist. I’m going to be so tenacious that I’m not going to feel self conscious or regretful about ending this blog on such a cheesy damn note :).*
In case anyone is interested:
synonyms of tenacity: persistence, determination, perseverance, doggedness, strength of purpose, tirelessness, indefatigability (this cannot be a real word…), resolution, resoluteness, resolve, firmness, patience, purposefulness, staunchness, steadfastness, staying power, endurance, stamina, stubbornness, intransigence, obstinacy, obduracy, pertinacity
*JK I regret that ending.