Ah, the irony of writing a post where I say I’ve been writing every day since I started vacation, and I have a goal to write every day… and then not being able to write at all one day.
I did not write anything yesterday but review notes for the person that is helping me test controls. The woman I work for wants me to step up and manage this new person, which is fine, but it also really kind of sucks. I was envisioning a situation where I could do my own work and the other person does hers, end of story. So far from feeling as if I am extracting myself from my current work situation, I feel like I am getting more and more entrenched.
I keep reminding myself that nothing is forever, and really, it takes only a conversation to alert her that I cannot work this project next year.
* * * *
Anyway, so here I am, sitting in my kitchen, stealing time to write while I wait for the babysitter to come so I can work for the day.
Mel had a great post yesterday.
Show up and write.
So here I am.
I have to admit I’ve had a hard time writing in my space because I feel like there are SO many blogs out there, with so many people who have much better things to say that I do. This idea wars with my other idea that there IS space for me in this community, the infertile who made it to the other side but remains one of the few that is working to accept that the family she was given is her complete family.
It’s hard sometimes for me to read other blogs, too. Where are the people like me?
I see all these posts with people who are done with family building, and the general theme is that they feel like their family is complete. I usually see those posts where they see their older child playing with the new baby, or they post a picture where the kids are interacting.
Those posts are written with such warmth and thankfulness and happiness that it used to make me ache with longing.
And here’s where I confess: I would get angry at a lot of those posts. I was jealous and bitter.
Of course it’s easy to feel like your family is complete when you get what you want, I’d think.
I know, I’m awful. I used to hate those feelings.
But for so long, I felt like I was MISSING something. There was a piece missing, a part missing. The baby I didn’t get to have. And though I had the very same thankfulness whenever I looked at Lucky – because, really, how LUCKY we got with him, it’s nothing short of amazing – it never lasted.
I wanted more.
I wanted my baby, the one I lost. The one that made me feel sick and who had a beating heart. I wanted her, the one who didn’t make it.
I wanted my arms and heart and belly to be full again.
I wanted to be able to post on my blog, looking at Lucky and our new baby, how complete I felt.
And I have still have days where I long for that baby, still feel that expansion and contraction of pain in my heart and belly whenever I see an infant; a visceral want that comes from a deep, deep place inside me whenever I snuggle with my nephew, or hold a baby. And it’s still hard for me to see pictures of siblings, because my heart hurts when I realize that Lucky will never know what it’s like to have a brother or a sister.
I think that’s the hardest part for me to accept; that Charlie and I have siblings who are such a big part of our lives, and Lucky will never get to experience that kind of love.
Whenever I tell people, or say out loud, there will never be another baby, I now have this deep, unshakeable sense of peace. I sometimes look at Charlie and Lucky and Happy, and I feel that same warmth and thankfulness and happiness that I see in those Complete Family blog posts.
Our family IS complete. There isn’t anything missing, no piece we need to find and fill into our family. The four of us (and yes, I count the dog, who is quite decidedly NOT the same as having another child… but oh so wonderful a companion.) make a unit that’s distinctly ours.
Acceptance. I haz it.
This acceptance is not at all what I thought it would be.
Over the years of fighting infertility to bring home the family we had dreamed of, I saw acceptance as a mirage, an oasis in the far distance. It was so hard for me to say the words, We may never have any more children.
Even with the “may” in there, it was hard to think about.
Even as I was giving away clothing and baby gear, I never really thought I’d ever look in the mirror and admit that we’d never have another baby in our house.
Even as we walked away from treatments, I had the idea, maybe. Maybe we’ll get lucky again, this time with a surprise pregnancy. Or maybe we’ll adopt. Maybe we’ll change our minds someday and go back to treatments.
I needed that maybe. I needed the hope that our walking away wasn’t final, that we were leaving the door open a crack just in case we changed our minds. I needed to sit with the decision, the hope, the fear, the fail, the bigness of the decision to stop trying. I needed time and distance from the cycle of hope and fear.
I don’t need the maybe anymore.
Our family is complete; we will never have any more children. And yes, it hurts to say that.
But it also feels right to say it, too.
Well, my plan to de-stress at the lake worked. Enough that my MIL actually commented to me, You seem so much more relaxed this year.
I journaled, and I disconnected from social media, and drank coffee and watched the stillness of the lake in the early mornings, and ran relaxed vacation miles, and sat in an inner tube in the water, and ate and drank and SLEPT. After the first night there, anyway – since I don’t sleep well the first night anywhere – I slept pretty damn well.
The week was gorgeous – the one day where it rained buckets even ended with a brilliant double rainbow.
By the Saturday morning we had to leave, I felt calm and centered and balanced. It’s been so long since I’ve felt STILL, where I haven’t felt that tightness of anxiety in my chest and stomach. It was wonderful. I sat outside, in my pajamas, with my cup of coffee, and savored the stillness – both in the lake AND inside me.
And then we came home and unpacked and I did 50 loads of laundry and made a menu and had to go food shopping and went to a birthday party for our friend and cleaned and Happy came home and Charlie mowed the lawn and I went through mail and put out all the bills that need to be taken care of this week.
So by last night all that calm, that stillness I remembered was gone. Poof.
Rainbows don’t last, and peace is fleeting.
I want to find that stillness again, though. In my everyday life.
* * * *
I’m not sure where I heard about the book, but when I saw the title I knew it was something I needed to read. The title alone made me want to read it. The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide To The Journey of Your True Calling.
For someone like me, who is struggling with career and happiness and wanting more out of my life and wondering if it’s even worth trying to find another career or stick with the one I’ve got… it’s a great book.
And as I was reading, a quote jumped out at me:
“If you don’t find your work in the world and throw yourself wholeheartedly into it, you will inevitably make yourself your work… You will, in the very best case, dedicate your life to the perfection of your self. To the perfection of your health, intelligence, beauty, home, or even spiritual prowess. And the problem simply is this: This self-dedication is too small a work. It inevitably becomes a prison.”
YES. Holy crap, yes. That is my life right now – improving myself, my marriage, my parenting. I’m the worst kind of perfectionist – not believing I can ever BE perfect but trying to be better than I would be if left to my own devices. It’s like I have too much energy and am looking for ways to expend it.
I want to love what I do. I want to feel like the work I do MEANS something.
I have long said that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, that I don’t really know what I want out of my life. I’ve also said that the reason I got my MBA and CPA was because my father challenged me (no joke, when I told him I was trying to decide between getting my MBA and going to law school he laughed and said to me, You? With a MBA? You can’t get a MBA. At least, that’s my memory of it. It’s likely he never said that I couldn’t get a MBA; because wow, that would be a mean and awful thing to say.), and I wanted to prove him wrong.
Last week, in the stillness I felt, when I really looked inside myself, a thought struck me. When I was younger, I loved playing music, reading, and writing. And my father told me that none of those three loves were practical for a career, too.
So why didn’t I take that as a challenge, like I did with his comment about the MBA?
The only thing I can come up with right now is that it has to do with fear. I didn’t care about law school or getting my MBA the way I cared about writing or playing my clarinet.
I think I was afraid of failing at something I loved to do.
* * * *
So I came home from this week with a renewed commitment to writing more. I started a journal last week, and I’ve decided to get up an hour earlier every morning so I can write in my journal. I want to post more here, too. But I think I’m also going to register for a creative writing class at the local community college this winter, too.
The fact is, though I loved writing as a child and teenager, I know nothing about the craft of writing and I’m not at all certain about whether or not I CAN write anything worth anything.
(I do know, though, from some of the books I’ve read/listened to, that you don’t actually have to be a good writer to get published, though.)
Practically speaking, I’m definitely not in a place right now where I can just quit my job and leave. I think that I’ll have to keep doing what I’m doing until another path becomes clear to me. Maybe it’ll be with writing, or maybe it won’t.
But that’s okay. Because right now I’m listening to what my whole self is telling me, instead of allowing my mind to convince me that I’m being selfish and ridiculous and just be quiet, Serenity, you have a great life.
I want more from my work.
I know that rainbows – and the stillness and clarity of vacation – isn’t long lasting. But I have the idea that if I keep listening and not judging myself for the way I feel (and others, too), maybe I can find a place where I can reach that stillness no matter what’s going on around me.
It’s worth looking for, at any rate.
It’s really hard sometimes to write when you have all this STUFF swirling around in your head and heart.
But it’s been like this for a while now, and I don’t think it’s going to stop anytime soon, so I really want to try to make sense of things.
So that’s your fair warning: this post will likely be disjointed and maybe won’t have a point. And it might be boring or ridiculous. But I’m going to write it down, because I really, really, want to start writing more.
And the only way to write more is to write more, right?
* * * *
I’ve been working with my current therapist now for three years. Three years of weekly appointments, and I’m only JUST feeling like we’re getting below the surface anxiety into what makes me tick.
One of the things I’ve been noticing lately is that I am very closed off in my marriage. I spend time DOING things for Charlie to show him I love him. Whenever the gas in his car is low, I fill it. I create our weekly dinner menu with his preferences in mind. I will run at 4 in the morning or 10 at night in order to get more family time in on a given day. I take care of as much of the family stuff as I can – vet and doctor appointments for Lucky, school stuff, making lunches, bus dropoff/pickup – so that Charlie has one less thing to stress about.
But when it comes to showing my husband love and affection, I am a freaking Scrooge. I hide behind stress and anxiety, I keep myself busy so I don’t have to take time out to hug.
I’ve JUST noticed it, quite honestly: the way I am clipped and stressed whenever he arrives home from work, or how I find things to get annoyed over, like lights left on, when I arrive home when they are home. How I bury myself in my task list, the computer, my phone, laundry. It’s like I find excuses and justification to stay closed off, ways to avoid connecting with him.
I think it’s because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that Charlie, with his high blood pressure and ridiculous stress levels, is a heart attack waiting to happen. What happens if I really allow myself to love him, to rely on him, and he dies suddenly on me? How will I survive?
Or maybe I’m afraid of relying on him too much, where my need becomes another stressor for him, and all of a sudden he realizes he can’t deal with the energy suck of his wife anymore.
Or maybe I’m worried that he’ll disappoint me. What if I rely on him and he can’t be there?
Or maybe it’s none of these things. I don’t honestly know why I’m so scared, why I am so stingy with showing love and affection.
What I know is that it needs to change.
* * * *
I listen to audiobooks on my long ass commute into Boston; I download them to my phone from the library. It’s a great way to pass the time stuck in traffic, provided the book is a good one.
The one I’m listening to now? It’s a good one. It’s this one – a true story about the chaplain of the Maine Warden Service. Listening to her story, told from her viewpoint, I can only marvel at her openness and love. And her faith, or non-faith.
How is it, after losing her husband in an accident, and working search-and-rescues and seeing all facets of death, she can be so enthusiastic, open, and loving?
And if she can do it, can I as well?
* * * *
Written in Athena for the month of August is this: Cultivate Love.
I’m starting simply.
Next week we are heading to my happy place – the cabin on the lake. I’m going to disconnect from the internet. No Facebook, no email, no running board, no Myfitnesspal. I’m bringing paper plates and bowls, and bottles of wine and board games and cribbage and royalty. I’m going work on cultivating a connection between us and with the three of us as a family. And when I find myself getting stressed or anxious, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and hug someone.
And when we get back, I’m going to kiss my husband goodbye and hello every day. I’m going to take a moment every day, when he walks through the door, to greet him and welcome him home.
When Lucky tells me he’s cold and wants to sit on my lap, or wants me to stop what I’m doing to watch him do something, or he wants me to sit with him and watch a TV show, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and be with him, in the moment.
THIS is my family, right here, right now. And I love them so much and am so grateful I have Charlie and Lucky and Happy in my life.
And I need to learn how to open up more.
Thank goodness I pressed “publish” the other day. I feel so much better now that I posted it.
I just hate feeling wishy-washy. Posting that I want to quit my job, but I can’t… or won’t… or some combination thereof… posting about that seems, well, disingenuous.
And redundant. OMG, so redundant. How many have you heard about how miserable I am with the job for SO MANY YEARS NOW? Seriously, Serenity. Either DO something about it or shut up already.
But I had to address it, because even though I KNOW my happiness would increase in a lot of ways if I quit my job, the anxiety over money and the lack of stuff we can do as a result of losing 40% of our income would mostly negate it.
I just need to figure out a way to navigate this career I have now AND focus on what’s best for my family.
And, quite honestly, it’s my nature to move, to DO something, to plan for the next thing, and a lot of times I wonder if my freakouts about how much I dislike my job is just a smoke screen for this desire for change. Yes, it’s true that my job does not bring me much joy. Or even satisfaction, if I’m being honest. But this seems to be my pattern, too. I’m miserable and I feel this need to change things up, because the change will make me happy.
That’s not really how it works, though. Change for change’s sake isn’t the right choice either.
So I am trying to temper my all or nothing tendency here and figure out a plan that is rational, reasonable, AND gives me more of the things I like about my job: time to run, time home with Lucky, and enough money where I don’t need to worry about paying the bills or taking the random weekend away.
So now that you’re caught up on the work-Serenity-induced-drama, there’s so much more I want to talk about.
For the past four years, I’ve been kind of obsessed with running races. I hired a great coach, ran track intervals, added weight training exercises specific to running, and was strict about my calorie intake to get into a weight range which would put me into a “lean” body fat percentage. Because when you’re running, every pound counts, and the leaner and lighter you are, the faster you can go.
Last summer, you guys, I was THERE. I was 2lbs away from my goal body fat percentage, I was running fast, I wasn’t injured, and I was ready to set the world on fire. I wanted to run a Boston Qualifier race in my October marathon.
The thing is, marathons are tricky. If something goes wrong, it can really affect your time. We’re talking an extra half hour on your time because of a blister. I did not have a good race day – instead of BQing, I blew up into tiny little runner pieces on the back half of the course.
I came out of that experience with a renewed vow to hit my training hard over the winter and see if a different strategy would get me at least a sub-4:00 marathon.
And, of course, this winter was terrible. It was frigid and full of snow, and I didn’t bother taking the conditions into account whenever I went out and ran my runs. Consequently, I trained myself right into the ground. I got slower and more tired, and I couldn’t get my legs to turnover. And I was cold ALL THE TIME. And hungry, too. OMG, so hungry. And cold.
(Did I mention the cold and hunger?)
It was awful.
It wasn’t until my friend D remarked to me, when I was complaining about yet another cold and snowy run, I guess I just don’t get why you insist on doing something that steals your joy.
She might not have said those actual words, but holy shit, she was right.
So I changed my goal for my spring marathon. I ran slower and ate more. And on the incredibly, awesomely, frustratingly hot day of my marathon, I ran a full half hour slower than my personal best.
And I decided that day that I was done with marathons for the time being.
Since then, I’ve struggled with insomnia and life stress and achilles tendinitis. And with all the anxiety, I’ve needed my running like I’ve never needed it before. Except the idea of racing – the time goals, pushing for a personal best, running when it hurts and keeping going – started to feel like a shackle, a chain around my neck and waist. Track workouts became stressful; I was now chasing my friends in last year’s pace group, panicking because I’ve lost fitness. I started to not to WANT to run. After two years of running 5-6 days a week, I started to take breaks.
It was too much, all of it. I needed a break from the (largely self-imposed) pressure.
So I made the decision not to run my coach’s summer clinic and instead run when I could manage it for the distance I want. I do have two races planned this fall: a 10k and a half marathon. But I am no longer running a training plan, or beating myself up for not hitting my paces. I’m running with people I enjoy running with, the friends who are chill and happy and run because it’s fun and a way to catch up with friends, not because it’s a way to get faster or look better or whatever. I run by myself without a watch, going only for mileage and not time.
It is SO FREEING – and I love running again.
It’s little things like this – walking away from personal best chasing because I now recognize how much pressure I put on myself. Allowing myself to be 5lbs heavier than some self-determined optimal weight because I now recognize that my number is completely arbitrary and allows for no joy in cooking – and eating – good food.
And, you see, THIS is how I know I’m going to be okay, that eventually I’m going to free myself from the restrictions and pressure and misery I heap on myself.
This is how I know I’ll figure out the work thing eventually, too.
It’s so hard to write about the subtlety of transformation. Because really, the fact that I am not focused on racing or counting calories doesn’t seem like a big deal by itself. But it gives me a lot of hope that I’m starting down a path of real self-acceptance.
I have three separate drafts sitting in my dashboard right now. All of them are untitled. All of them relate to my last post about how I wish I could quit my job. Which I wrote more than a MONTH ago.
About halfway through writing those posts, I’ve just had to click away. Partly because I can’t deal with thinking and worrying and obsessing any more. Partly because I’m mad at myself that I can’t just walk away from a job which I have spent the past decade trying to talk myself into liking.
I wish it were that easy. I wish I was the kind of person who could just quit, walk away, be happy and free, with the wind blowing in my hair and daisies dancing and fairies flying around me, playing beautiful music.
I wish I was the kind of person who DIDN’T stay awake at night worrying about money.
I wish I could walk away and deal with the reality that in not working, I take resources away from my family; resources that are just as important as my time and energy.
I wish my headspace wasn’t so exhausting.
I wish I didn’t feel like quitting was WRONG.
I wish I knew what the hell I wanted to do with my life.
The thing is. I make 40% of our total family income. Working my dreaded part time hours. And yes, if I subtract out self-employment taxes because I’m a contractor, it’s not nearly as much as it seems on paper. But it’s significant, and we’re still paying for student debt, and I have family that’s strewn about the United States, and already I haven’t seen my sister and brother since March 2013. Oh yeah, and did I mention that I needed a new car imminently because mine had a crack in the head gasket that couldn’t be fixed because the head screws were frozen?
I just can’t justify quitting outright.
And I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, so it’s not like I can even plan my exit strategy and ramp up something ELSE in the meantime.
But clearly my work schedule was not working for me anymore. This summer has just been too crazy.
So what I did instead of quitting was email the woman for whom I work and tell her I could only manage 20 hours a week this summer, and that we needed to bring in another resource, because that wasn’t going to cut it with all the changes the auditors wanted the client to make. I told her that things were different this summer because Lucky wasn’t in full day daycare and Charlie wasn’t working from home. And I told her that I couldn’t give her more than 20 hours a week, and that was BEFORE vacation plans, since Lucky and I were just about to head to NC for two weeks to visit my sister and niece and nephew and my brother and new nephew and niece and friends and other family.
And I knew it would not go over well, because she is not the kind of person who handles changes from her expectations without reacting. This was a HUGE change from what we’ve always discussed: that I am the person who is responsible for this project, first and foremost, and I need to be willing to work whatever hours necessary to get the project completed on time.
If I’m being honest, I had kind of hoped, in a faint way you hope for these sorts of things, that she would be pissed enough to replace me altogether.
She was pissed, yes. But she did not replace me.
Instead she made it clear that I needed to cancel my trip to North Carolina and honor my commitment to her and the client by getting our project back on track.
And I caved. I cancelled our trip to North Carolina.
I don’t like disappointing people. I have taken the term responsibility entirely too seriously, for what I’m realizing has been my whole life. I don’t like telling someone who counts on me that I’m not up for the task.
There is so much of this entwined in who I am as a person, I can’t make a decision that, when you step back and look at it on paper, seems like it should be easy.
I can’t quit my job. But I can’t keep working in this situation, either.
In the meantime, I have been formulating my exit strategy. I recently had a meeting with a family therapist – a friend of a friend – about helping her come up with an accounting system for her business. But it’s clear from me from our discussions that it’s not necessarily going to be a profitable endeavor for me. It’ll be money – a little bit. But not exactly what I’m looking to get from investing time into doing more accounting.
I’ve also had coffee with the closer-to-my-house equivalent of the woman for whom I work – a guy who owns his own accounting firm and could always use extra help. He’s not interested in hiring a contractor, would want to hire me as a part time employee, but wouldn’t tie me down to a yearly hours requirement like the woman for whom I work now. He also nodded in agreement when I told him that ideally I’d work mother’s hours three days a week, and mentioned that he and his wife decided when they had their third child that they were going to try and make it work on just his salary. It’s important to be present for your children, he told me. I can’t say I’m excited about the idea of doing what I’m doing for more years – even closer to my house AND on better hours! – but I guess I feel strongly that I cannot walk away from the money without having some idea of what’s next.
That’s where I am right now.
And I haven’t pressed “publish” on any of these posts before now because I’m bitterly disappointed in myself for not having the courage to walk away from something which clearly brings me no joy. I can see it so clearly: it’s my own damn fault that I feel stuck and miserable and tired and joyless. I not only CAN do something about it, but I SHOULD. I have always felt that if you have control over something, and you choose to do nothing, you forfeit the right to complain about it.
I choose to do nothing, therefore I have to deal with the reality the way it is.
So that’s why I haven’t posted in more than a month. I still don’t know what I’m going to do. And I know there are so many of you reading this blog who want to scream at me “JUST QUIT THE FREAKING JOB!” I mean, hell, *I* think that to myself, too. Just quit the job, deal with the fact that we lose 40% of our household income. It’s just money, Serenity. Get out of there.
I wish it were that easy.
(And I’m going to press publish on this one.)
Since my post about not knowing what I want, I’ve gotten a whole lot better about sitting and listening to myself.
And when you listen to something long enough, you inevitably find one.
It’s a doozy.
I think I need to quit my job.
And the idea absolutely, unequivocally terrifies me.
Let me back up and tell you how I got here first.
Ever since I put out there that I wanted to go into business for myself, I’ve been talking with people and telling them that I’m thinking about trying to do something new, to go out on my own. For me, it’s been a way to try in the idea of running my own business and communicating to people that I’m interested in getting business if someone knows someone. Plus, talking about it helps me suss out my own feelings on the whole situation.
This weekend was the end-of-school bash for Lucky’s school. My running friend from town and her husband were there. In one of the first times we ran together, I asked my friend what her husband does. Not being a business person, she told me she wasn’t quite sure, but that he had worked in consulting for a bit and now was working for a company. And he was very, very busy.
So I assumed that he was in sales.
Except I was wrong. Turns out, he’s in the SAME INDUSTRY AS ME. We bonded over shared frustration about where the industry is headed, how we feel like our jobs are spent covering the auditor’s asses instead of creating real value for our companies and clients, and how hard it is to work for the industry right now.
And he told me that he knew a guy close to home who was in the same business who always needed help; he had contracted for him before his kids were born and stays in touch.
It was perfect – I could stay doing that I do, without having to commute! Perfect, right?
I went ahead and requested to connect on LinkedIn on the referral of my friend’s husband, and for a bit, I dreamed about the idea of not having to commute into Boston anymore and still keep money coming in. I mean, really, it couldn’t be more perfect!
I’d still do exactly what I’m doing now, except I wouldn’t have to spend 3+ hours of my day in the car.
And then, Sunday night into Monday morning, I was up most of the night with insomnia.
(The insomnia. Oy, the insomnia. I have had some pretty bad nights since my marathon on Mother’s Day. I might have slept more than 3 hours at a stretch once, maybe twice. Most nights, I pass out at 9, then am up from midnight until 3 or 4am, with some ‘naps’ here and there. It’s awful and torturous and I have done almost everything physically possible to manage it: melatonin, turning off my devices, going to bed when tired, avoiding caffeine, meditation when I DO wake up, white noise, allergy medication.)
I didn’t really make the connection until my therapy appointment yesterday, when my stress levels were through the roof. I sat in my therapist’s office, and, trying not to cry, told her I could barely breathe sometimes when I think about going to work.
My insomnia started right about the time I went back to work after my two month hiatus.
It’s not the commute. It’s not the schedule.
It’s the work itself.
I haven’t LIKED the work in a long time – since before Lucky was born, quite honestly. But see, I don’t HATE it ,either. And I think that’s what gets me: I don’t hate my job. I just don’t care.
And the more I start to focus on the things I want, the more I read about living the kind of life I value, the more I am realizing that there’s something missing as it relates to my work right now. It’s never more clear when I’m sitting in traffic on the Tobin Bridge; in those moments I have a clear existential crisis, where my entire being is screaming, THIS IS WRONG! THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY!!!!
I thought it was the commute. I thought it was maybe the kind of work I’m doing. Or maybe the company. Or maybe it’s just because I’m tired, because, you see, I CANNOT FREAKING SLEEP. I have been telling myself for years now that I can’t leave this job, it’s good and flexible and I don’t hate it and it’s good money, and it’s irresponsible to leave a job and take away resources from my family merely because I don’t CARE about my work. I tell myself to find something else instead – that I can’t leave until I have a good idea of what I want next, because really, it’s money and money is good.
But the thing is, I don’t know what I want to do next. I spend a LOT of my time and energy casting my thoughts around, trying on careers, researching the next steps and realizing that yeah, I don’t have the time or money for more schooling that would be required.
So here I am. Still no clue of what I want to be when I grow up, but realizing that my current situation is fast becoming untenable, emotionally, for me.
Yesterday, my therapist asked me, So what will it take for you to leave your job?
I don’t know. I really, really don’t know. Leaving is terrifying for me. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. I don’t KNOW what that life will look like. I’m scared of the sacrifices I’m going to force on my family if I decide to leave. And man, I feel SO selfish in saying, well, I don’t HATE my job, but I don’t like it, and therefore I’m leaving it.
I mean, really, who gets to do that?
But I can’t keep living like this either. I feel stuck, and anxious, and I consciously have to force myself to breathe when I think of all the work I’m going to have to do in August, while paying a nanny to take care of Lucky because there’s no more camp. Instead of being home with him, getting ready for first grade, I’m going to be juggling commuting into Boston and Charlie’s traveling for his summer meeting and making sure the dog gets enough exercise and all the work I need to get done.
I don’t know if I can do it.
I feel stuck and scared and tired and sad and anxious and I wish I knew what to do, really DO about the whole thing.
I’m hoping that by putting it out there, writing it all out, maybe I’ll figure out some way around it.
I think I’m going to call my late 30s as The Time of Insomnia. Because I can count on one HAND the nights I’ve slept the whole night in the past 3 months or so.
Last night I was widethefuckawake for about an hour. And I have a strict rule when I am awake overnight: no devices, no computer, no books. The first two are to avoid making my insomnia worse, but the second is because I don’t believe a book should be used to help me fall back asleep. Books are all their own: a journey, an escape, a way to connect, a way to feel, a way to not feel. They are not a means to an end, though.
So what I try and do is slow myself down. I breathe a bit and try and slow my thoughts down. I suppose you can call it “meditating,” though I’m not quite sure I actually get to a place where I’m focused only on my breath. I more feel like I’m soothing an overstimulated baby, trying to get her to relax and drop off into slumber.
And last night, as I was doing this, a thought popped into my head.
I wonder what traits I inherited from my grandfather?
My Grandpa C was my absolute favorite person in the WHOLE WORLD when I was a kid. I wouldn’t even pretend that it was otherwise – from the moment he came into our house until the moment he left, I was by his side. He was such a loving grandfather; the only one in my family that touched me with love. He was quick with a hug, didn’t mind me climbing into his lap, even when I was at the age where most adults said, you’re too big for this! and always seems to put a hand on my head or shoulder or my arm; letting me know when he was near.
He made me feel safe and loved when he was around.
We didn’t share blue eyes – my older cousin got them instead. I liked to think that maybe I inherited his musical talent – but years after he died, my other cousin got into chorus, and when we heard him sing, it was like my grandfather was there. T definitely has the same amazing, booming tenor voice he had.
I clearly didn’t inherit his ability to sleep. He used to fall asleep on our couch all the time, but call it watching TV with my eyes closed. Just resting my eyes! Apparently he always did it, even when I was an infant and my parents were living with them, he’d be holding me on the couch, me looking around, wide awake, him snoring.
I definitely did not inherit his ability to make friends with everyone new he met. He used to sell Amway, back in the day, and the man could chat up someone he didn’t know so well that people used to tell me, Your grandfather is such a great man!
I really don’t know much else about Grandpa C otherwise, quite honestly. He died in 1995, not quite a year after we lost Amy, and I never got to have an adult relationship with him. So I don’t know what traits of mine I inherited from him, biologically, anyway.
What I remember is how safe he made me feel, how loved I felt when he was around.
It was Saturday when, as I was in the middle of writing a grocery list, Lucky pushed his way into my lap. He climbed onto me, all bones and angles and elbows and corners. And I stopped what I was doing and wrapped my arms around him and gave him a kiss on the head, even though I was noting how big he was and how hard it was to have him sit in my lap. But, you know. I still carry him upstairs, even on the days where I’ve had a long run and my legs are tired and it’s really, really hard to get up those stairs with 45lbs of 6 year old clinging to me and Charlie and I decided that age 6 was too old for “free rides.” Every morning when Lucky comes down, I pick him up and he snuggles with me quietly, all curled up, his chin resting on my shoulder, his feet dangling.
And last night, in the middle of the night, I realized something.
I do with Lucky the same my grandfather did with me. Even though he’s probably too big to be carried, I do it anyway. Even though when he sits on my lap SOMETHING hurts me, an elbow or knee or bony butt bone.
Even though I’m not very physical with affection to anyone else in my life, Charlie included, I am with Lucky.
I give it to Lucky because I remember how good it felt to have that kind of love and affection, how safe I felt with my Grandpa C. I do it because I always want Lucky to feel loved and safe with me. Because as he grows, that’s going to be what he remembers. Because it’s how I forge our closeness. Because Lucky’s like a flower; I almost see the tangible benefits of my affection with him.
And so, in a way, that is my inheritance from my grandfather. I might not have gotten his blue eyes, and making music is something in my past. I might not have the ability to make friends with everyone, and I definitely am not at all a sales person.
But I give my son the same kind of love and affection he gave to me.
And in that way, part my grandfather lives on through me.
What’s your inheritance from your grandparents?
So here’s the thing about my last post.
The homework my therapist gave me is based on the idea that if I am in the process of actively creating a life that makes me happy, I might not care so much about what people think of me – or at least I wouldn’t base my own happiness on someone else’s arbitrary definition of success.
Because I care too much right now.
I care that I have no answer to “what have you been up to?
I WANT to say something like this: Oh, 3 MORE years of fertility treatments, two miscarriages and realizing that the family we dreamed about will stay a pipe dream. But it’s okay, because I can devote time now to wasting HOURS of my life commuting into Boston, where I spent my time on the Tobin Bridge regretting my life choices from years ago. Because, hey, lots of debt in student loans and no time or the energy to change careers right now. So instead, I’ve been focusing on running marathons – ah, yes, you’ve seen on Bacefook. Annnd, you think I’m obsessed. Maybe I am, because it’s the only time I actually FEEL like a success. Except not really, because my marathon times are getting slower, not faster, and I’m pretty sure I won’t actually qualify for the Boston Marathon anymore. But it’s okay, I don’t REALLY want to run it anymore because I hate being cold and running in the winter sucks. And plus, it’s not like I love marathons. I just like feeling hopeful, that with hard work I put in I can actually see results.
I say nothing instead. And I walk around the people who used to know me best, feeling lost and alone. Which is stupid, because I know for a fact that a lot of them have had loss in their own lives. I mean, shit, the couple who hosted the party just recently had a baby after a lot of struggle – miscarriages and trying for some months.
I am NOT alone. Not ever.
It’s just situations like parties where I feel in sharp relief, the missing pieces from my life. I want to feel fulfilled, and connect with old friends, and feel full and happy and not at all like I’m missing something.
And I think I’m realizing, as I stumble over writing down some simple wants in Athena:
I’m not sure I actually KNOW what makes me happy.
My life, up until this point, has been a series of Happiness Experiments, a try-something-out-and-see-if-it-sticks kind of approach. I’ve been a kind of happiness chameleon – always up for something new, but trying on the stuff that friends like to see if it’s something that makes me happy.
I’ve always been like this. And I am pretty sure that’s why I’m having a hellish time writing down what I want.
(And by wants, I mean the kind of wants that make a like me person happy. Not the “I want to be a better parent” or “I want to be better at running marathons” or “I want to walk the dog so he’s not a butthole.” I can be capable and make my life easier for other people, and I want to be a better kind of me, but that sort of stuff is the surface things. I’m talking about the wants that fill up my soul, the ones that help make my life whole, and the ones that bring me some more moments of contentment which might outweigh the lost and alone feelings I seem to fill myself up with.)
So of course my therapist is right; this homework is a really good thing for me. It’s good for me to sit and think about the sorts of things I CARE about. Because I tend to be one of those people that has a hard time prioritizing the things I want to do based on my values or what makes me happy. So having a few items to focus on when I have free time, it’s a good thing.
It may have taken me forever, but I was able to write down three things on this week’s list.
You want to know what they are?
1. Try a new recipe. I don’t talk a lot about my love for cooking and making good food, but I LOVE to cook. I love trying new things, finding quick and healthy recipes that taste good. We’re also currently on a budget since I didn’t work much in March and April and we had some out-of-the-ordinary expenses those months, so the very best new recipes are the kind that either a) use what we have in inventory, b) take advantage of a sale at our grocery store, and/or c) all of the above.
This weekend, mussels were on sale. Shockingly, Lucky LOVES them and I know he’ll eat them. So I made an Ina Garten recipe for steamed mussels that was out of this world. Charlie actually drank the broth at the end of the meal and looked at the leftover broth somewhat sadly, saying, I probably shouldn’t get a straw, right?
And then we went and got ice cream at a local creamery. It was awesome.
2. Finish a book. I have four books going right now – not counting the audiobook I borrowed for my long ass commutes. I pick at each one here and there, but I feel spread too thin. My plan for tonight is to include a full HOUR of reading. (An hour! Luxury!) I’d love to finish one of the books I’ve started this week if I can.
I love everything about reading; the escape it provides – and the opposite, depending on what I’m reading. I love to learn about something new. I love to see the world through a different view. I love getting lost in a book – and finding myself. I love books, and I don’t spend enough time with them anymore. It’s time I change that.
3. Visit with a good running friend before she moves to North Carolina this weekend. I have already taken her out for a night AND we’ve driven together to a race a couple weeks ago, but we have avoided saying goodbye. I want to see her and hug her and tell her how much I’ve loved having her live nearby and how much I’m going to miss her. Even though Lucky and I are going to see her in July when we visit my brother, because she’s moving literally a town over from where he lives.
Still, though, I’m going to miss her. And she needs to know how much she means to me before she moves.
So that’s my list of wants for this week. It might have taken me WAYYYYYY too long to write these down, but I feel like it’s a good first step.
We went to a Memorial Day gathering with all my college friends last weekend. And I’m not entirely sure why, but I felt awkward and uncomfortable the entire day.
Which is really odd. My BFF was there. Her husband. Other friends who we see pretty regularly.
And then, too. These people were my family at one point in my life; closest to me. I’ve known some of these friends for more than half of my life.
I couldn’t really explain why it was so awkward, though I feel like it was the question: What have you been up to?
The answer, really, is not much. And I felt like I had some secret, again – like I was hiding some kind of dark failure from everyone.
I was surprised and taken aback to feel this way.
And my therapist suggested that maybe if I wasn’t so focused on what people thought of me and my life; whether I met some kind of external criteria of “success,” I might not feel so gawky and awkward and bumbling. And she challenged me to spend some time writing down what I want from a week. Not the overall, arching LIFE GOALS – just a few simple things I want from my week.
I left her office feeling excited, because OMG her homework dovetails precisely into Athena and what I want to get out of her.
Except. I’ve spent EVERY DAY since then with the open book, on a page called “Wants…”
And I have nothing to write.
Quite literally, my mind goes blank.
What do I want from this week? From today?
I have no idea.
It’s scaring me a little, the idea that I really have no idea what I might want in a given week. Or maybe it’s really the fear of writing something down because I’m afraid I won’t get it.
Either way, I’m not sure what to write.
And I’m not really sure what to do about it.
I didn’t even notice.
On Sunday morning, I was lined up with a friend to run a half marathon in Boston.
And it hit me when the bagpipes began to play Amazing Grace.
What’s today’s date? I asked my friend. Is it the 24th?
No, she responded, perplexed that I’d ask in the middle of a moment of silence. It’s May 25.
More than 20 years had passed since my cousin died.
And I didn’t even notice the day.
* * * * *
I haven’t had much contact with my cousins, not really, since my aunt passed away. I see what’s going on in social media, of course.
One of my cousins is recently divorced and dating a woman he met in Brazil – for work, maybe? I don’t know, only that they post gushy love notes on Basefook in Portuguese, and he seems to travel there a lot.
My other cousin, hugely overweight the last time I saw him, is barely recognizable in his pictures; he’s lost so much weight, he looks like a different guy.
My uncle seems to be happy with his new wife; there are lots of pictures of the two of them with their dog on beaches in North Carolina. The Caribbean. In Europe.
It’s kind of funny: I had no idea he loved to travel. He and my aunt went to the Cape every year, and Disney with the grandkids… but that was it.
Have they all changed? Or did I just not KNOW them before?
* * * * *
About a month ago, my sister in law asked me how old my cousin was when she died. I told her that Amy was sixteen; I vividly remember her sweet sixteen birthday party, when I was a senior in high school. I was into Jimi Hendrix and classic rock and especially Pink Floyd. I wore this awesome tye dyed long purple dress and black converse to her party, my long hair pulled back into a ponytail. I remember feeling so much older at that party; here I was on the cusp of college, and they were stuck in high school.
She died a year later, when I was home from college for the summer.
No, I said. She was seventeen when she died.
My sister in law then told me that she had seen someone, a psychic, in the hopes of getting in touch with some of her and Charlie’s relatives. And the night before she went to see this woman, she had thought of my cousin in passing – only because, she told me later, she didn’t have any sort of unfinished business with anyone in her family like she thought maybe I did.
And that day, the psychic told her that there was someone in the room, not a relative of hers, but someone who wanted to talk to her. A young energy, the number 17 stuck in her head. And whenever the psychic focused on the energy, she felt this massive pressure in her temple, a squeezing feeling in her head. And the other people in the room were pushing her forward – they were trying to help her be heard.
My cousin shot herself in the temple when she was 17. And it is SO what she would have done – hoodwinked a number of strangers to help her hijack someone she didn’t even know’s psychic reading.
I thought about going to see this woman, but I’m not sure how I feel about the whole psychic thing: because, you see, a psychic once told me I’d have two boys – twins that wouldn’t come together.
And I’m not sure I know what to think, this idea that my cousin is hanging around, hijacking people’s psychic readings to talk about herself. Why would she do that?
* * * * *
When Charlie and I were planning our wedding, I dreamed of Amy a lot. Always in those dreams, she’d show up and I’d feel this crushing sadness come over me. I’d always end up saying something like, I wish you could be in my wedding. But you are dead.
Recently I started dreaming of her again. Except this time, in my dreams, she’s NOT dead. Her absence over the past number of years is explained away as “she went away for a while.” And I’m always thrilled to see her alive and happy and in it, we’re a family again. The kind of family that has reunions and sees each other every year on the Cape.
* * * * *
The thing is, I don’t know what kind of relationship Amy and I would have if she were still alive.
We were the kind of cousins that might have had a huge blowout over something ridiculous – too close, in that best friends/worst enemies kind of way. I sometimes imagine she would have stayed in Jersey and turned into one of those girls I loathe from my early days: close-minded, full of drama, always finding something wrong with her situation in life. And of course, she’d be uber-fertile, one of those women who keeps telling me I should just relax and it’ll happen, and really, did I want the chaos of as many kids as she had? I mean look at how crazy her kids make her – I’m lucky I don’t have to deal with that.
What I know: the passing of the women on my mother’s side of the family has affected me on a profound level. It’s like the female energy from that side of the family grounded me and made me feel whole. As time goes on, I miss my aunt more and more.
And I feel unraveled and untethered somehow by the fracture in the family.
* * * * *
Twenty years ago, my cousin Amy committed suicide. Her death affected me profoundly: everything I am today is a result of her death.
I still wish I could have done more to help take her pain away.
I am still angry that she died three days before I had a chance to hug her and tell her that life got so much better once you escaped our stupid close-minded blue-collar small town.
I will always regret she never tasted the happiness and freedom I felt that first year of college.
I miss her.
And I think I always will.