Midlife Reflections – How My Fears Limited My Life

At age 49, I’m going back to college, again, this time to complete my Bachelor’s degree.  As I went over the programs with my college adviser, I found myself facing the fact that I would have to take Algebra and Statistics as general requirements for the BS degree.  I tried my hardest to find a way around these even looking at other online college programs, but there was no doubt about it, I was going to have to take these classes.  So when I registered for my first semester’s classes, I bit the bullet and chose Algebra and a business management course.

Now, I’m not going to say I’m bad at math, I’m not.  I’m bad at things that don’t make sense to me.  These things make perfect sense to my husband who is very technical and can figure out formulas in his head.  But my brain doesn’t work that way.  In high school, Algebra was the only class I truly struggled with especially the tests.  When I planned my classes for high school, I went the safe route skipping trigonometry and calculus even though my desire was to go to school for more math and science-related area(s).  When I had taken several career apptitude tests, every sort of engineering came up along with landscape architect and orchestra leader as well.   But I was afraid of the math required to get these degrees.

I ended up taking a one-year program in Medical Assisting.  Physiology and Anatomy didn’t scare me at all.  Actually I loved all the medical classes even though it was a lot of memorizing.  My plan was to do the program and move to the city to finish my Bachelor’s degree at the bigger university that I really wanted to attend.  The medical assisting program would give me the ability to make a lot more money as I was paying for college myself as I paid for an apartment and my tuition.

But I picked this course,because I was afraid to jump straight in to the four-year university.  I knew I was going to have to take pre-requisite classes because I had avoided them in high school.  Most classes were easy for me.  But complicated math, ugh, I felt like a failure because I just didn’t get it and it was so hard.  Back then I didn’t consider the fact that maybe my brain just isn’t wired for certain things and I wasn’t actually a failure, that everyone has things that is hard for them.  Instead of facing something I could very well fail, I chose to go the route of avoidance.  I was too afraid to fail.

When I decided to finish my degree, I was faced with the fact that I was going to finally have to face my fear of passing college level algebra.  When the classes opened online a week before the actual semester start date, I dove into the algebra class.  As soon as I started into it and saw how much work it would be, I dropped the business course.  This class was going to take my full attention.  And it did, I spent over twenty hours on the first week’s reading, assignments, discussion question and online weekly meeting with our instructor.  All of the class was online including the homework which was nice, but the software wouldn’t let you bypass anything.  I had to learn it and sometimes, I would be almost in tears until it finally, finally clicked.

The class contained three exams, all paper that I drove over an hour to the testing center(s) as I decided this was easier than finding a proctor and making sure the tests were returned on time, etc.  The first exam took me 2.5 hours.  I got a low B.  The second exam took as much time but I struggled way more and I got a D.  But I made sure to ace everything else including the extra test credit.  I was applying the law of averages, I just need to pass this class not get a 4.0 in it.  Even with the D on the second exam, I was still averaging an A.

As the final exam approached, this 12-week class became more intense with more complicated formulations and equations.  Due to scheduling issues, I had to switch from the remote testing center to the main campus for which I lost five days of study time.  This was not good and I was almost in tears again.  I do great when I can see my notes and the book, but the tests were much harder.  So instead of panicking, I took the total points of the class, the points I had earned, assumed I’d get 100% on the homework and other assignments because I had and then added 50% of the points of  final exam essentially getting an ‘F’.  What grade would I get if I flunked the exam with half the points?  I sighed with relief.  I would get a ‘B’ in the class.  I knew I could get at least half the questions right.

Yesterday, I drove downtown to the main campus and while a little nervous, I knew I would pass the class regardless.  It took me almost 3 hours and I found while the story problems always mess me up, I really remembered most of what I learned including the quadratic formula I had memorized along with a host of others.  I might get a C on the exam, but I figure more a D.  But it doesn’t really matter, I accept that this testing is hard for me and I did my best.  I excelled in the homework and other assignments.  Sometimes, there are just things in life that you just have to do your best knowing that you won’t ace it.  And that’s alright.

The one thing I wish is that I hadn’t let my fear of failing derail my plans.  My life would have been a lot different had I stuck to my goals rather than letting fear dictate my path. I don’t know if it would have been better, but I know I wouldn’t have regretted diverting from my goals.  I short-changed myself big time.  Had I finished my degree as planned, my career path would have probably been greatly different.  I would have likely made more money, etc.

I walked out of testing center yesterday knowing I did’t get a high grade but I was happy and felt accomplished.  I did it, I passed college algebra!  It’s better late than never.  I realize that my tendency to avoid hard things limits my life significantly.  I suppose that is human nature, taking the path of least resistance.  No one wants to struggle and fail.  But failure is part of growing.  You can read that 10000 times and think yeah, makes sense but until you actually take action, face the possibility of failing, that these challenges is what makes you feel alive.  I’ve been so focused on doing my best in this tough class that I haven’t had time to be bored or overthink or any of that stuff that I tend to do.  Boredom for me comes from not challenging myself.  From staying in my comfort zone.

As the new year, 2020, approaches, I will continue my classes but I’m also going to challenge myself in other areas of my life.  If I fail, I fail.  At least I’m out doing something rather than hiding away in my cozy, comfy zone.

Over the next year, I’ll share in my blog some of these challenges.  I hope you will enjoy my ups and downs, my accomplishments and failures.   Let’s enjoy the ride!

Mid-Life Changes and the Second Wind

Perimenopause can be a real bitch.  It starts out slow, making you slightly miserable and then for me, almost two years of feeling absolutely like shit.  Hot flashes that wake you up 3-4 times a night not to mention just randomly during the day which is super fun.  Having your sleep suffer to the point you’re falling asleep driving to work.  Mood swings that a teenager wouldn’t envy.  One minute you’re crying and the next you’re ready to kill a cute furry creature with your bare hands.  I can go on, but trust me, it’s no fun.  Plus, I was the one person who can’t take hormone replacement therapy and everything else they tried I was either allergic to or was overly sensitive.  Yay me!

One thing about this I didn’t expect was how absolutely old, unsexy and washed up I felt.  A lot probably was because I was struggling to do every day things and even more was my own way of thinking and preconceived notions.  The bottom line is that just because menses stops, doesn’t mean it’s over.  Not that I’m going to miss that monthly visitor.  Good riddance.  Moving into this phase of life though, you can’t deny you’re not longer in the ‘youth’ category.  So I started searching out blogs and articles of women who had actually came into their own and had their greatest successess after they entered into menopause.  That was eye-opening especially since I had figured that once you hit menopause, it’s over.  Pull up your rocker, adjust your walker, get ready for death.  No clue where I got that idea but it was stuck in my brain.

Pair in the start of my empty nest, it was quite the emotional, depressing, shit show of who am I?  What am I going to do with my life?  What meaning and purpose do I have any longer?  Why is this so dang hard?  I guess it was my version of a mid-life crisis but mostly it was just an adjustment, two events which I had no control over and in reality, both normal and eventually, positive things.  Eventually, your perimenopause symptoms ease to the point you feel half-way human again and start sleeping more.  You have more energy because your body isn’t in a revolt against the lack of hormone production.  It’s almost like a withdrawal, a reverse puberty.

In line with that, I adjusted to living in this house without children.  I spend a lot more time alone now, but I’m an introvert and I actually thrive in solitude.  Not that I sit at home and feel sorry for myself (okay, once in awhile I did), but I found I love going out alone and being among people I don’t even know.  Interacting with strangers is kind of my jam, because it’s short-lived and doesn’t require a huge amount of energy I don’t want to spend socializing.  Oddly enough, I may be out alone but I’m not actually alone because depending on what I’m doing, there’s people everywhere.  I’ve talked to all sorts of people from all over the world just doing things I love whether it’s hiking, biking or walking through a festival.  When I am with someone else, I tend not to talk to anyone unless spoken to first because I place my attention on the person(s) I’m with.

Then when my employer increased our yearly tuition reimbursement amount, I decide to start taking classes again to finish my bachelor’s degree.  I don’t have any grand plan when I do finish, but I realized it’s important for me to get my degree, a goal I had set for myself in my teens and it had always bothered me I didn’t finish.  My first class was a basic orientation class which was super easy for me.  My next class, Algebra.  I picked this as my first real class because I like to get the worst out of the way early on.  I’m not bad at math, I just struggle with things that don’t make much sense to me so algebra in high school wasn’t my thing.  Geometry made sense to me so I did well in that.  I somehow avoided calculus and trig which in a way, I wished I had believed more in myself back then.

Taking algebra 30+ years later is scary if you didn’t do well in high school.  I’ve spent hours and hours on this class so far and I’m only about 50% done but guess what, I’m getting a 95% in the class overall so far.  My hard work is paying off.  The magical bonus – I’ve totally immersed myself in something extremely challenging and while scary at times (I was afraid I might not get it or even fail), the challenge has given me a major boost.  I get frustrated at times, have been about in tears others but I really love having something that challenges me and it doesn’t revolve around people.

I am not a people person, though I’m not socially awkward, people and their issues drain me like no tomorrow.  But equations and coefficients just sit there quietly, waiting for you to solve, or factor or graph.   It’s exciting when something that didn’t make sense to me suddenly becomes clear.  It may take me awhile to get it but when it clicks, it’s exhilirating to see “CORRECT” when I work through the online homework system.

The odd part is, this class has given me a new purpose and is teaching me about myself.  I never do well having to deal with a lot of people but sit me down with a set of problems that are totally non-human related, and I’m happy to immerse myself in them.  I also realized that I’ve sold myself short most of my life when it comes to math.  Yes, it’s not easy for me but if I work at it long enough and ask for help, I eventually will get it and succeed.  Going back to college again and starting with probably the hardest class in my curriculum has sparked something long buried inside of me.  My love of a challenge.

When you grow up in a violently, dysfunctional home, go through two really bad marriages, so on and so forth, you tend to retreat into the most comfortable place you can nest.   But for me, this means boredom.  Yes, everything is all quiet and such for the most part but I’m bored shitless because I don’t even challenge myself or try something hard.  Not that I want chaos and craziness in my life, but stepping up and stretching my wings is a good thing.  Going back to school has made me feel almost alive again even if at times I just want to cry because I can’t quite get something.

  1. The good news is that even if you reach a time in middle-life when you’re struggling with ‘the change’ and/or empty nest or other changes, there comes a moment where you reach your second wind.  My former therapist called it a valley.  For years, you run at high speed taking care of so much and then bam, you fall into this valley which was for me was grief of losing my mother, perimenopause and transitioning into the empty (though it’s not technically empty) nest.  Then one day, you realize that you’ve climbed out of the valley and are standing out in the sunshine once again.  You take in a deep breath of crisp air and you feel human again.  You want to take on the world or at least a country or two.

I know it’s hard but there is this time when you will out of the blue realize that you’ve come out of the woods.  That you aren’t washed up or too old.  The only time you’re too old is when you’re dead.  Just keep moving ahead even if it’s a few baby steps at a time and you need a nap right after.  We have to adjust as we get older but I follow the Facebook page of Ernestine Shepherd – the World’s Oldest Female Body Builder (check her out, she’s amazing).  She’s in her 80’s and looks better than most people in their 30’s.  Following her posts, it reminds me that you don’t have to just give up and get old.  This lady is super dedicated and even trains other people!

It’s like my great-grandmother, Sadie, always said, “You’re only as old as you think.”  That didn’t make sense to me until I got this age.  She’s absolutely right.

Adventures of the Mid-Life College Student

(Insert scream here) – I’ve gone back to college for the third time.  In 1989, I graduated with a Medical Assisting Diploma (that the college had promised would be an Associate’s program before my first year was up – but NOPE).  In 2006, I started on again and off again online classes through a local two-year college and over ten years of quitting and restarting, I finally graduated with my Associate’s of Applied Busines or AAB which sounds super fancy (yet isn’t).  This I graduated from two years after my mom passed away in honor of her.

When I got an actual degree and a few letters behind my name for my work email signature, I thought, there, a degree, that’s enough.  Yet here I am, three years later starting back up going after my BS degree through more online classes.  It took me applying to several colleges but I found one that wasn’t going to make me take a ton of classes and hours as well as several what I’d call repeat classes they didn’t make my co-worker who graduated from the same program at the same time take – he got credit and I didn’t – WTF (Colorado State – I’m calling you out).  I don’t care if the class was the next level up, I was not doing another Microeconomics class especially when I’m not an Economics major.

However, I do have to take Algebra and Statistics – GASP!  I barely passed alegebra in high school 30+ years ago.  I sailed through my orientation class they force you to take even though I’ve been in school oh, about half of my life.  The first week of Algebra, I was almost in panicked tears.  Algebra isn’t my jam.  It’s not that I’m stupid about math, my brain just has a hard time wrapping itself around things that don’t make a lot of sense.  I spent HOURS and hours that first week working through problems via their online software that tests and helps you through everything you need to know.  This means if you don’t get it, you have to do a lot of the same thing which I guess is good.  But I made it harder on myself because I didn’t read all the textbook sections assigned so I was clueless.  Good job, Laura, handicap yourself right out of the gate.

So, now, I do the textbook reading first, then jump into the homework.  Today I drove over an hour to get a book – TI-84 Plus for Dummies because I have never even touched a graphing calculator.  A have a scientific one that I can use on the paper tests but the homework started with using a graphing calculator which I had borrowed from my daughter’s girlfriend (thanks!).  But I had no idea how to really use it even after the lesson instructed me, I could get it to work on the online graphing calculator because I got specific instructions, but the same didn’t work on this real life calculator.  So here I am, closing in on my 50th birthday learning how to use a graphing calculator.  I had asked my husband and he said he used graph paper, aka the old fashioned way.  Since my first test is a week away and he’s traveling for business, my butt was in the car going to the only bookstore that had this in stock.

Though I’m a little worried I won’t pull a high enough grade to keep up my GPA and still get employer tuition reimbursement, I’m working super hard on relearning algebra and actually, to be honest, I’m learning stuff that I just guessed at when I was in high school.  I get all excited when it finally makes sense and I no longer feel like a math failure.  It’s not that I’m not smart enough to learn it, it’s that it’s hard and I have a tendency to want to gloss over hard things.  I want it to be easy like most things are for me.  Give me an English class and a term paper over an algebra quiz any day.  Where some people freeze up on having to write papers, I revel in it.  While I struggle with slope-intercept form.

I’ve created a life that is consistent and easy to an extent.  I’ve struggled most of my life so it has felt good to just coast along.  I’ve worked for the same company for over 21 years.  I’ve been in my current position for 13 of those years.  I shy away from change and new things.  Maybe this is part of getting older but I think it’s also the fact that I got burned out by my turbulent life.  Now that it isn’t turbulent, I’ve been coasting.  But I’ve also been bored shitless.  Without challenging myself, even though it’s scary AF, I’ve made my life mundane.  I sit around and ponder why my life doesn’t seem to have meaning which is not really the issue.  My life doesn’t have positive challenges.  I’ve had so many negative challenges, that I shut off the good ones too.  I”ve cocooned myself into a bunch of fluffy nothingness and then whine about how I’m bored or don’t have enough to do or whatever it is.

I’d gotten stuck in the idea that I had to accomplish something huge when really all I need to do is challenge myself.  As much as I tell myself I hate algebra, it’s bothered me for years that I never really learned parts of it that my friends seemed to get.  Now I’m going to learn how to use a graphing calculator which wasn’t a thing when I was in high school.  And I’ve stopped worrying about my age.  When I first started participating in my class discussions and projects, I was terrified I’m the oldest one.  And usually I am but there’s quite a few people right in my age group and no ones gives a flying F.  It’s fun to have so many different ages and backgrounds around me even if it’s online.  I find it interesting that in the weekly “Meet” sessions for my algebra class, it’s the females that are ringing out the answers and solutions more so than the males.  That’s a shift from when I was in school.  Losing the girls aren’t good at math and sciences mentality is awesome.

Well it’s getting late, my eyes hurt from staring at a book and screen most of the evening and trying to read that tiny writing on that calculator (thank you readers!).  I’ve got a full day of work tomorrow and more homework to tackle.  Onward and upward!

Empty Nest – One Year Later – Finding Myself

About one year ago, my last daughter moved out on her own, leaving with the empty nest which is really a stupid term, because there are still my husband, my pets and I.  It’s the altered nest, the changed nest, the lighter nest.  It’s definitely not empty.  Honestly, the anticipation of her leaving was worse than the actual event.  Oh, I cried as I repainted her room, I grieved and after a few weeks, I was like, huh, this isn’t so awful.  It’s different, quieter, cleaner, and at time starkly frightening as I was faced with all this free time that I wanted but didn’t really know what to do with once it arrived.

It’s been a year of letting go, of adjusting and of grieving.  You go right ahead and grieve, just don’t get stuck there.  And understand that it will ebb and flow and eventually your new life will seem more ‘normal’.  The beauty of this time is that you get to go back and find yourself, pick up and start a new life.  The hard part for me has been letting go and also discovering who I am when I peeled away the roles I’ve been living for so long.  My caretaker role goes clear back to my youth as I lived in a very dysfunctional home.  At a very young age, I was cooking, cleaning and taking care of people that were not my responsibility.  So it’s been a bit of a shock, but I’m happy not taking care of much more than my pets, my home and myself.

I had the added challenge that my husband and I don’t work the same shift at times.(single parents – I feel so much for you!).  My shift is steady while his swings and encompasses every other weekend.  I’d never lived alone (I think everyone should live alone for a year – I’d fared much better) so being in the house alone as much as I was this past year was a struggle.  First of all, I had to combat my own thinking.  I’m not a loser if I’m home alone on a weekend night.  I also had to embrace the fact that I’m an introvert during this year.  I’ve become an ace at eating in restaurants alone and sometimes, I prefer this.  Though people assume I’m not married or I have no friends or family when I do, this is certainly not true.  I’m just a bit of a lone wolf and didn’t really discover how much this is true until this past year.

I’ve tried group activities and even if I had fun, I just didn’t want to go after the first meeting.  I’ve tried different varieties of volunteering and settled on being a Lunch Buddy for a now sixth-grade girl at the middle school.  The one-on-one interaction appeases my introverted side while the limited commitment appeased my desire to not ever be over-committed again.   My personality demands flexibility and spontaneity.  I’ve spent most of my life tied to commitments, schedules and so on.   I will admit though, having all this free time was scary at first and there are times when I struggle with the thought that I need to do more, be more productive.  When this happens, I have to really sit down and consider if I think I must do, if it really makes me happy or if it is just something I believe I need to do for whatever reason.  In other words, that I don’t just stuff activities into an uncomfortable space that will eventually just make me miserable.

Having an empty nest has really opened the opportunity to learn who I am and focus on what I really want out of life.  I was so used to just doing things because I was told I must, or there was some expectation of it (this was also self-inflicted), that I’ve been challenging my preconceived notions and ideas all year.  This is still ongoing but when I reflect on where I stood a year ago, I’ve made some significant headway.  Being authentic and being myself is a top priority for me.  Though we all have to do things we don’t want to such as clean toilets, work, etc. these things have to be done or there are significant consequences that are worse than actually doing the undesirable activities.

Learning to let go has been another big lesson over the year.  I still am working on this one as well, but after you’ve spent years guiding your kids, letting go especially for someone like me has been a drastic lesson in itself.  But as I am getting better at not trying to control, give advice, etc. (not perfect at this in any way!), I find more and more freedom and way less worry and anxiety.  My goal over the next year is learning to finally truly relax.  I’m always just a little bit keyed up, partly because my brain is constantly rolling over things, many of which I have 0 control over to anyway.  Ruminating over these things that are out of my control and driving my husband nuts is not beneficial.  Like anything else, this is a process and slowly I’m getting better and better.  I’ll never nail it perfectly but I can continue to improve.  It’s hard not to worry about your kids.

Besides finding a volunteer opportunity I really love, letting go and being authentic, I started back to college utilizing my company’s reimbursement benefit.  I finished my Associate’s degree in 2016.  I thought I was done but I searched my heart when I found that my employer upped their benefit enough that I could actually attend online college (which is extremely expensive) and graduate in less than a billion years because I don’t want to put any money out of pocket for school.  If I had some great career change I was pursuing, I would jump right in and take out loans, etc. for the higher education but since I really don’t have this, I am happy to go at a slower pace and not pay out much $$$$.

Though I will admit, I’ve freaked a bit at having to take college-level algebra after a 31-year hiatus from my last algebra class.  This class is taking huge amounts of my time, so much so, that I dropped the management class that I was taking at the same time in order to stay sane.  I’m just not great at algebra and had to start at the very beginning of the text book and read everything, watch every video, redo a ton of problems, take tons of notes, etc.  This is extremely challenging.  But while I’m not a fan of math, I am really underneath it all, good at math when it finally makes sense to me. What I do enjoy is the challenge.  Being so engrossed in something, even though it’s not my fave, that time flies by.  I was sitting in one of my regular haunts yesterday, eating lunch alone working on math problems in between bites.  One of the co-owners asked me what I was doing and even provided me with more scratch paper when he saw I was running out.

My life had gone on automatic.  I’ve worked in the same place for 21 years.  I’ve been in the same position now for 13 of those years.  I can do much of my job in my sleep.  I’m also not great about going outside of my comfort zone.  This has more to do with growing up and living a good part of my life in chaotic mess.  Now that my life is really good, usually calm (outside of work), I love the peace and am afraid of bringing anything stressful into my life.  But I’m bored shitless this way.  Walking around in a trance is no way to live.

But guess what?  Now I have all this time to focus on my own challenges and goals.  Even if I don’t have a clear picture of what I want to do in this chapter of my life, I can start working on whatever interests me.  I get stuck on that, having this great big picture and when I don’t, I paralyze myself into inaction.  The truth is, I don’t have to have it all figured out.  I can pursue what I want in life and maybe it will all click together into this grand picture or maybe it never will.  Either way, I’m not sitting at home feeling sorry for myself.  But I am also not filling my time with “should’s” and “have to’s” that aren’t truly something I need to do.  I have to pay taxes but I don’t have to join a writing group just because I love writing but I don’t love groups.  I can sit at home alone and watch a movie on Friday night.  I don’t have to get a bunch of people together and go out.

So, thank you empty nest for allowing me the time and focus to really get back to myself and learn about myself.  Hopefully, I’m becoming a better person (still working really hard on this one) and a more independent person.  I was used to having one of my daughters around to hang out with but now I have to entertain myself at times.  It’s forcing me out of my shell, out of my safe little world.  I’ve even started attending festivals alone when no one is available.  On my bucket list – go to the movies alone.  Okay, for an extrovert that sounds awful but for an introvert like me, it seems almost normal.

Thank you college algebra, you’re probably going to have me in tears a few times, but I forgot how much I love a challenge.  I have been avoiding things that I don’t like as if they are the plague.  I think this attitude is holding me back in life.  I may hate editing my own writing, but I need to if I want to publish something on a real scale.  I may be afraid of the whole submission, finding an agent, etc. process but I am going to have to move forward rather than staying in my safe bubble to accomplish publication and finally see one of my books on the shelves of Barnes and Noble.  I have a tendency to talk myself out of hard goals or activities.  No pain no gain, right?  I’ve got to get my cowardly ass back out into life.  I’ve spent years hiding behind my kids and my responsibilities.

I have no excuse now do I?  Time to live.  Thank you, Empty Nest, for ripping back the curtain of comfort that I was hiding behind.  I keep trying to pull it closed so I can hide and not face hard things.  I’ve stopped challenging myself outside of my comfort zone.  It’s hard to go back and face the forgotten dreams, it’s easy to say, oh, I don’t really want to get my bachelor’s degree or I don’t really want to publish that book, but is it really true?

It’s taken me a year, but I finally want to step out from my comfort curtain and start living.  It’s a bit scary but I feel alive.  Until next time, hugs and encouragement to you!

 

Empty Nest – #1 – Second Season

My youngest daughter graduated college a few months ago and yesterday she left to spend an extended period at her boyfriend’s apartment almost an hour away. They are doing a test run of living together, which when compared to me, is way more thoughtful and smart than anything I did when it came to relationships. But it has brought on a serious case of empty nest for me. The end of an era, twenty-seven years of having kids living with me. Granted she hasn’t moved out yet, but it’s soon and I’m a preparer, I need to figure out how I will handle the quieter home, the next or second season of my life.

They don’t really tell you that sometimes being a parent really sucks. They don’t have a good way to prepare you for life after the kids move out. The advice is all the same, pursue that career you always wanted (not applicable for me), take up a new hobby (I have a ton already), travel (can’t do that every day), take classes (maybe if I can find something I like) and so on and so forth. The thing is, I didn’t really put my life on hold when I was raising my daughters, especially the last ten or so years. I don’t believe you should give up your entire person to raise kids. Granted I had less time for hobbies and such back then when we were full on into school activities, etc. but I still kept time for me. I believed had I done that, lost myself to raise my kids, this moment would had totally crushed me since the majority of my identity would be wrapped up in being a mom. I’m still a mom, but it’s different and in some ways, it’s better because it’s a sense of freedom not being responsible for them and our relationship becomes more like friends.

So while I’m grateful I kept my own life while raising my daughters, I’m still a bit shell-shocked on this ‘second season’ (or whatever you wish to call it but I feel empty nest seems to be a negative term). I’ve been sitting here in my bed this morning, trying to sort out my feelings and thoughts when I decided to put them into my blog. Maybe someone else needs to hear this as well.

I am choosing to look at today as the start of my next chapter or season or whatever. Today is the first day of the rest of your life attitude. So lets start with my assets being 48-years old:

1. I’ve raised my family and am in awe of my daughters and their successes. They have done so much better for themselves at their ages than I did. Goal accomplished.

2. I own my home, need little materialistically. Household established. Live in my “dream’ home (though I am a bit of a simple person so I’m happy even without Italian marble floors). I have everything I could ever want and more. Very blessed.

3. My retirement is on track so I can retire at 67 and live comfortably barring any catastrophes

4. Have a good job with flexibility and excellent benefits. Pays well, not my ‘dream’ job but I believe in our mission, enjoy the people I work with for the most part, some are like family to me. Career – check. (PS – I have no idea what my ‘dream’ job is anyway)

5. Health – Could improve a bit, but overall good health. Very important.

6. Family and friends – Don’t have a huge family or friend group but I am close to my ‘tribe’ as they call it. I’m an introvert for the most part so this is exactly my style. I have a lot of love in my life and am very loved. Again, very blessed.

7. Hobbies – I have a lot of different ones. Interests – I pursue what I am interested in. I have the resources to take on new hobbies if I wanted them.

Reading that list, I am one very blessed individual. Granted, some of it is luck but most of it is hard work. Even with all the stupid decisions I’ve made in my life, I survived. And thrived. I am going to sit with that knowledge for a moment, soak it in. Sometimes we forget to stop and enjoy the moment, the present. I’m really bad about that. I always want to push forward to the next thing.

And maybe that is part of my problem. I’m always pushing for what’s next. What would happen if I just stopped that tendency and just live in the moment? Why do I feel like now that this ‘job’ as a parent is done, that I have to rush out and immerse myself in something new? Why not just stop and enjoy life? Why not just work on my writing when I want. I’ve been considering just self-publishing my last novel as is and then starting a new, fresh project. I’ve been trying to rewrite this novel for 6-7 times and frankly I’m tired of it. Who says it has to be some art of perfection? What if I just did what I wanted for once? Instead of always pushing myself toward some expectation from where I have no idea it came from.

What if I just stopped and allowed myself to breathe? What if I stopped expecting myself to have some ‘great, fabulous’ goal? Would the world end? Deep inhale, full exhale. Repeat. Let go. Just let go of all my self-imposed ideas of what I am supposed to be doing and let’s make a list of things I have to do at this stage in my life (I love lists can you tell?):

1. Feed and take care of myself. Aim to be more healthy – physically, mentally, etc.

2. Feed and take care of my two pets: Baron and Lexington

3. Go to work, make money – pay bills/ taxes

4. Take care of home/yard

5. Spend time with husband and family and friends. Be a better wife, mother and friend.

Really, just the basics of living are left. Is that such a bad place to be in? I don’t think so.

Breathe in, breathe out, let go. That’s what I am going to work on right now. Letting go of the urgency to find the next big thing now that I have raised my kids. Allow myself to decompress, get off the hamster wheel, and just live in the moment. I will admit, this idea of letting go the need to always be achieving something makes me incredibly anxious. It feels as if I stop this track, I will fall apart and I don’t know why I feel that way. Old habits, old expectations, or being busy is my way of coping with hard things? Probably the latter.

I have a hard time just sitting with my uncomfortable or sad feelings. I’m learning to be able to do this and have found that each time I do, I feel better in the long run even if it does feel like I will drown in my emotions or feelings when I experience them. Considering the fact that I am still breathing, still here to write this blog, that’s an overreaction on my part. I have not drowned from experiencing my feelings. No matter how yucky it feels, I will survive by facing them down, by feeling them, by allowing them to pass through and go on their way rather than holding them inside, stewing on them for years. Not good.

The bottom line is, I’ll be fine. I just need to let go.

Stop with the Red Herrings

Red Herring – Something that leads or distracts from the plot or the main issue.

For me, red herrings are what I put up in front of myself to distract from the real goal or issue. Obstacles I use to keep from following my passion(s) so that I don’t have to what, face my fears, fail, etc. Lately, red herrings have been exploring other ideas and goals that honestly, I don’t have but maybe I should have.

Being in the empty nest (mostly) stage now, I had been preparing for this for over seven years. Asking myself, what’s next? If you read my blog, you already know this information. What I need to accept about myself though came to me last night as I walked the dog along the lake admiring the beautiful evening. If I truly wanted something, I do it. That all this searching for ‘the next big thing’ in my life has been essentially, a red herring, thrown in the bushes to throw me off the scent of my true passion. This fear of missing out or missing something in my life is ridiculous because with my personality, when I want something, I go after it. It took me ten years of stopping and starting online classes, not to mention quitting probably at least ten times (in my mind) before I finally finished my last semester and got my degree.

My latest red herring was this idea to learn fine woodworking and build my own furniture to sell. I went to the library, found three books and settled into study them such as one would study a college course. I took notes, I sketched a few rough drawing of my own furniture designs and dreamt of building a shop on our property. Then about a week later, it fizzled out. I lost interest. I berated myself for not being committed. Except, it’s not what I truly want. Furniture building while interesting was not my passion.

So what did that do? It distracted me from my real passion, writing. Why do I do this? I have no idea. Maybe because writing seems more frivolous? That it’s not necessarily a viable way to make an income (so what!) or who knows. I think much of it is a fear that I’m missing out or not exploring options. Except I need to trust myself. Trusting myself seems to be a key theme in my life. Trust to know if it is something I truly want, I will stick with it until it is achieved. Even if I quit ten times, I will return until I finish or achieve whatever it is I want. Trust myself. Stop trying to force things into my life just because I think, well, I don’t know what I think sometimes.

Last night, I pulled out my Ipad, made myself a comfy place on my front porch, brought out my notes, a snack and a drink then set to work finish writing my Chapter 3 rewrite. It took me about ten minutes to really get back into my story but once I did, I got so wrapped up in creating the next scene I completely forgot about my drink and snack until I typed the last word of the last paragraph. I don’t even know how much time passed, but the sun was quite a bit lower at that point. See? My passion. Why do I fight it so?

I closed my Ipad after printing and saving Chapter 3. I sat in my chair for a long time thinking about all the obstacles, red herrings, I throw up in my own way. Why don’t I just write, write what I love with no expectations, no high reaching goals of making a zillion dollars, etc.? Just write what I truly love and enjoy is the writing process. Everything after that is not that important. Shoot it off to potential agents and publishers but don’t lock myself into a contract (if I were so lucky to get one), etc. I think my biggest fear is that some entity will come in and I’ll suddenly have deadlines and book deals. While that is the goal of many writers, I know it would destroy my creativity. I don’t write for fame or for money or for attention. I write because I love to write.

So Laura, stop with the red herrings, stop complicating your life, stop looking for that kipper in the bushes, trust yourself, believe that you are already doing what you want to do and you are right where you want to be. Let go.

The Quiet Foe

When I decided to ditch any of my metric collecting apps and electronics in the name of living a freer, more spontaneous life, I didn’t realize that these items were motivators that kept away the quiet foe I have fought for most of my life. Without goals like riding 50 miles a week (or near that), walking several miles a week, tracking my food intake, I slipped under the murky waters that I fight every day of my life.

Thanks to my genetics, my traumatic past and who knows what else, this quiet foe is simply chronic depression but it has a way of sneaking up on me. While at first, I felt freer and happier not tracking my steps, miles and calories, I didn’t know that these were indeed motivators that kept depression at bay. Left to my own devices, as depression started winning again without me noticing, I stopped riding my bike as much, stopped walking and hiking, stopped paying attention to what I’m eating. At first I thought that oh, it’s just peri-menopause so I rested more. I was taking care of myself, listening to my body. Except I didn’t realize I was slipping under again. Depression feels so normal to me, it’s so hard for me to detect until I’m almost drowning.

So, I can’t just be what I consider normal. I can’t trust my body or mind to tell me what I really need because without consistent exercise or eating healthy, I get swept back under the current of apathy, disinterest, fatigue and agitation from sleeping less than my usual nights. I can’t trust my body to tell me what I should eat because the depression has me seeking sugar as if it is my only life force. Without healthy food, I further compound my issues especially lack of energy. Without my weekly fitness goals, I lack energy and motivation to get outside, to ride, to hike and do yoga which counteracts my depression. My body just slips deeper into a ‘lazy’ pattern as I lose interest in things I enjoy. I just stop caring about doing these things.

Without forcing myself out to ride, walk, hike and so on, I just will not exercise. Or I make a half-hearted attempt at whatever I chose to do. It’s the curse of the depression. Once I have the goal set in my head and I’ve started into my first minutes of the activity, I find myself enjoying it but sometimes the hardest thing is just putting on my shoes or riding gear or driving to where I am going to perform the activity. Just starting can seem so overwhelming, I end up on the couch or lying in bed reading. Which if I do this often enough, it becomes the norm which lets my quiet foe sneak up on me and drag me down under the surface again.

It isn’t an easy thing to accept, that I can’t just trust my body or my mind to tell me the best things for me because it is so easy for me to slip into behaviors that make my depression worse because it is tiring always having to force yourself out to exercise. The benefit of this though is, the more I do it, the harder I work out, the easier it becomes to get myself started. The less depression has a hold on me. The happier I am. I wish I could just trust my inner judgment but the truth is, depression has skewed my perceptions of what is ‘good’ for me. Lying around all the time is not good for me. Lying around reading after I rode 20 miles isn’t the same. I’ve worked out, I’ve been outside, I’ve taken the sword and struck at the depression monster again pushing him back into his dark cave. The cave that he insists on dragging me back into with him. When I become complacent, he gains ground and when I fight (keep on the fitness, eating well path), I gain ground. The tug of war is so slight, so quiet that it happens without me knowing.

So bottom line, I have reinstalled my apps, I will clip my cyclocomputer back on my bike, I will reset my goals and keep fighting the good fight. This is what I need to do to live well and live happy. Maybe it’s a bit of a burden, maybe it ties me to my electronics and apps a bit, but the tradeoff is greater. The tradeoff is feeling alive, feeling happier and more alert. Goals aren’t a bad thing. Trying to go through day-to-day without any motivation, anything specific to work toward is like walking around blind at times. This has been an interesting manifestation of my theory of taking care of myself meant unburdening my life of everything that motivated me. As it backfired. Big time.

Taking care of myself means having these fitness goals to keep me moving. Otherwise, the quiet foe wins.