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.

New Blog Series – Memories of Mom – Introduction

I've been tooling around the idea of capturing memories of my mother who passed away in 3/2014 in a blog series, mostly to capture them for later use and I've found as I get older, I tend to forget more and more details. I had considered just putting them down into a Word document journal fashion but this way I can share these memories (good and bad) with other people who loved my mom, like my daughters, other family and close friends. The posts won't be in any chronological order and I will probably be guessing at the general date of occurrence and honestly, our memories aren't the most reliable so it may not be exactly accurate but simply the way I remember things occurring.

My mom's name was Anita Marie and she was born on Christmas Day 1941. After 8 years of bravely fighting cancer, she went to Jesus as they say, at age 72 just shortly after my daughters, husband and I's birthdays in February 2014. In 1970 she gave birth to me, the fabulous oldest child and in 1972, to my sister who ruined my only child gig (just kidding). My parents were married in Washington DC, the city in which they met, on February 18, 1966, and they split up in early 1983 following years of abuse due to my father's raging alcoholism and what I believe was mental illness stemming into paranoia schizophrenia later in his life. My father passed away in 2002. The divorce was final in 1984 and my mother never received any child support from Dad. So she ended up working long, long hours to barely support us.

Her parents helped us out from time to time financially and such, but only when my mother was desperate because she hated asking them for help. I'm sure knowing my grandmother, it was held over her for marrying such a worthless piece of trash (my grandmother's words) not realizing my mother had been more than punished for her choice. My mom wouldn't have had any idea my dad would end up being an alcoholic when they got married. He was handsome and very charming. The thing was, when the pressure of life came down on him, he couldn't cope and turned to alcohol. Maybe this was part of his growing mental illness.

Back in the 1970's, you didn't get a divorce, it was shameful and against her faith. Though had she divorced him early on when the drinking and abuse started, I think maybe she wouldn't have killed herself working so hard and maybe met another man who treated her better. By the time she got away from him, she was done with marriage and close romantic relationships. If she dated, she kept it quiet for the most part. She was just too afraid that she'd make a wrong choice and someone else would make her life a living hell. She never deserved what my father did to her regardless of the reason.

I get some religions' idea of the sanctity of marriage and you should stay married since this was done in the eyes of God, but I don't get why it would be upheld in the face of physical, mental, verbal and emotional abuse. Why weren't these men (and women in some cases) held accountable for their actions instead of excused back then? I have a hard time believing God would condone that kind of treatment of anyone and I'd think he'd given my mom a pass. As I think back, people excused my father's alcoholism, trying to hide it because it was embarrassing as if they didn't call attention to it, then it would go away but it only got worse. Using religion to trap women into horrific marriages was criminal.

Oh, poor, Larry, he struggles so much. Oh bullshit, he should have been held accountable for his actions. I loved my dad but I think he should have been in jail for the physical violence and domestic abuse to my mom and also to my sister and I on a smaller level. Unfortunately, this all happened before the domestic violence laws were established. Even today, it happens all the time. Don't stay, get the hell out and get safe. This person may love you and you love them but you don't deserve that kind of terror, pain and abuse. It is their responsibility for getting well and if they refuse to do it, then you don't have to stay with them and be a victim. Stop this shit! And honestly, some people just can't get well or we don't have the ability yet to treat whatever is going on with them which I believe many times stems from mental illness that has just now started to come into the light.

Anyway, my mom's life wasn't always easy and she spent 29 years working herself into the grave essentially with all the stress and long hours. The problem with the way she coped with the stress, was by smoking and drinking too much (until she quit smoking in 2000), and her health took a serious hit. People wonder why I don't want to rush into a high pressure job because I could easily be good at more than what I do for a living, this is why. Life is too damned short and I don't want to make it shorter if I can help it. I still may get hit by a bus crossing the street, but I just saw how unhappy my mom was in the midst of all that stress and I just could never bring myself to go there. I think my husband would be happier if I made more money and worked some high-powered job but I wouldn't be happy at all. I'd rather do with less than kill myself the way my mom did.

On a happier note, my mom was resilient and she found joy in many things especially her three granddaughters. Though I regretted my first marriage and having kids so young, it worked out the best because they had more time with their grandmother. My mom was always a survivor, a fighter and she always wanted to see you do your best and get what made you happy. She spoiled the girls, with the kind of Christmases she couldn't give my sister and I when we were younger. She had a strict work ethic and liked to do things by the book so her job in quality assurance kept with her personality. She loved Tennessee and while she only lived in Knoxville for a few years before my dad's alcoholism forced us to move to Missouri near his parents in the late 1970's, we returned most years starting in 1997 for spring break vacations which gave us many happy memories.

Mom and Corrinne on 1997 Tennessee Trip

My mom lived modestly even though she could afford a more lavish life because she was terrified of being poor again. She sunk back literally almost a million dollars in 30 years in investments which would have been more if not for that market downturn. I've always regretted she didn't spend more of her money on herself but she did what she wanted to do, which was pass on a safety net to my sister, my daughters and I. She didn't want us to ever have to live off of cases of Campbell's chicken noodle soup my grandparents brought to help us get through the leanest times right after her divorce.

Though growing up in the 1980's where designer jeans and such were the metric in which your worth was determined in school (and I fell way short because I didn't have most of these things), I never felt poor. We had enough to eat, we had the three of us (my mom, my sister and I) and we were making it day by day. Actually it was a source of pride for me. I was 13 when my parents split up and I had long been taking care of myself admist the chaos of dysfunction but once my dad left, it quieted down considerably and I stepped up to do what I could to help my mom. When we had plumbing issues in our rental house and the landlord couldn't get to it right away, I found my dad's toolbox and fixed it myself.

I took over being the 'housewife' because my mom had to work such long hours to support us. A lot of times I did the cooking and cleaning, making sure we were all fed. This gave me a sense of accomplishment that I never resented. No I didn't have much of a childhood and was bitter and angry about it for many years until I realized it helped make me who I am today. There isn't much I can't do or learn to do. I can take care of myself and I've passed this down to my daughters who are also very independent. My mom and I became this team, even working together for about 13 years until she retired. I also looked after her during her cancer (along with my daughters and husband) fights. I was there beside her when she passed, holding her hand. My mom was not only my parent, but my best friend. And when she got more sick, the tables turned and I took on the role almost of parent to her, though god knows, she fought me on damned near everything until the last few weeks.

Losing her was the most devastating thing in my life so far. She was so influential (good and bad) in my life. I walk around some days still, pretty lost, wishing I could call her or go over to her house, to sit on the couch and eat some dinner she put together. Though I hate shopping, I'd give anything to have her drag me around the mall and Kohls for long hours again thinking how bad my feet hurt. Or when I went to her house when she was still working in that jungle of her gardens, to have her walk me around her yard to show me what she weeded or what flowers were blooming. I notice when I visit my oldest daughter's house, we do this as well. Walk around to see what she's planted or is blooming and vice versa when she visits me. But this seems to be a family tradition, because all the women on my mom's side of the family garden and we all walk around the beds admiring their handiwork.

My mom was tough but she loved even tougher. She was always in my corner even though I made two poor marriage choices and divorces. She looked out for my girls, being more a parent to them than a grandparent. They spent their school years walking to Grandma's house after school because her house was closer to the different school buildings especially once my oldest daughter was of age to watch them and we no longer needed a sitter. She'd buy snacks to keep in the house for them as they huddled up at her house doing homework, playing video games and watching tv, until we came home from work together. Sometimes we would stay and eat dinner together at her house. I'm grateful my girls have so many wonderful memories and had so much time with their grandmother. She helped shape them into the amazing women they are today.

So in closing, I look forward to bringing different memories of my mom to my blog. My mom was so influential and so much a part of our lives, that this is a way for me to feel closer to her. It's always a good way to get these memories down before I forget them. I can't think of the times I wished when my family had told me stories, I had jotted them down because you do forget. Not all of the stories will be positive, but life isn't all good. Though I think I will dwell more on the positive than negative. I prefer to keep the happy memories close and let the painful ones drift into oblivion of the forgotten. Though the good times wouldn't have been so important without the bad times. C'est la vie.

Midlife Realignment…

Instead of ‘mid-life crisis’ maybe we should call it ‘mid-life realignment’.   Most people don’t go off the deep end during this period and divorce their spouse to marry someone younger than their own children.  The majority of us just step back and look at the path we are on and start wondering, do I really want to travel in this direction?  This is a time to pause, reevaluate and well, realign.  You start sensing what isn’t working as your life may be changing dramatically from being a full-time parent or a caretaker for your own parent.  This is such a time of dynamic changes that it is hard to keep your head on straight.

Mid-life is so frowned upon, joked about and dreaded.  I am not quite sure why.  This is a time when I am quite comfortable in my own skin and don’t feel the need to impress people as I once did.  Actually outside of my daughters and my husband along with a few of my closest friends, I could give a rat’s ass less about what people think of me or about me.  That in itself is very freeing.  When you stop the craziness of trying to be ‘somebody’ for no other reason than you want to feel like you’ve ‘made it’ for the next class reunion or to finally make your parents proud of you.

Empowering.  This time in my life feels exactly that.  My children are adults and need me a little here and there so essentially I’ve completed my task of raising them.  I read on social media almost daily where my friends are dreading their kids growing up.  Once I was in their position and truthfully, when they do grow up, it’s a very big adjustment. You will most likely grieve their childhood and your active role as a parent.  Depending on the person this may be a month or a few years.  Eventually though, this period stops feeling like the end of the world and you find you have the opportunity to return to yourself and your goals or in my case, discovering what those goals or dreams really are now at this point in my life.  Of course, this is also the time for some people, you start becoming the caretaker of your own parent(s) which in and of itself if probably much more difficult than raising your own children.

One of the things I have spent most of my life being in my mind and what I have bragged to others is that I am “an aspiring writer who has been published on the small-scale.”  This was a source of pride and identity for me.  It made me ‘somebody’ at least in my eyes as I am not sure it really impressed anyone.  For the longest time, I imagined my name printed in bold letters on a beautifully illustrated hard back book as the celebrated author of a wonderful best seller that reached many people and touched their lives.  Except my dream was more based on becoming ‘somebody’ and being ‘someone important’ to soothe my inner delinquencies from growing up in a dysfunctional family where I never felt like I was worth much of anything.  I was trying to prove to them, myself and the world that I mattered.

The beauty of therapy and all the self-work I’ve done as well as reaching mid-life, I have resolved my need to impress anyone other than myself.  Now when I find myself participating in this behavior, I find my whole psyche and self fight the attempt and I end up stalled in whatever I was trying to do.  In other words, I was stopping myself from fruitless behavior that has never worked for me anyway.   For the last few weeks, I have been trying to write the next chapter of a novel that is about 50% finished as far as word count that I need.  It is in rough draft, I have rewritten it 5-6 times over the past few years .  Initially, I started writing it as a way to deal with something painful from my deep past.  The beauty of writing is you can make the story turn out any way you want and you can make the characters into whomever you want.  Mostly it was a good avenue for me to safely express and explore long suppressed feelings about some difficult past events in my youth.

The manuscript is a decent story, with some cleaning up, I could probably sell it to someone.  It’s not best-seller material but I believe it’s good enough for publishing.  Actually the fact I believe this and it’s not a piece of crappy garbage is a big step for my self-critical nature.  I used to read my own writing and destroy everything I wrote because I believed it to be inferior and deserved to die.  So there is that at least, the fact I do not wish to delete the file and never look at it again.  But like I mentioned, I have not made any progress on it either lately.

So I decided maybe I am burned out on the story.  I’ve been working on it so long maybe I am just weary of it.  So I started brainstorming ideas for a new story or novel.  I came up with a bunch of ideas but nothing spoke to my heart or sparked my desire.  After spending a restless night sleeping, I woke up this morning with the very definite question coming to my mind:

“What if I don’t really want to write?”

Hmmm.  Not what I expected when I woke up this morning.  Most of my life since mid-teens has been with the identity of ‘aspiring writer who has published on a small scale’.  Am I really an aspiring writer.  Maybe I’m just a writer who has the wrong goal.  Maybe I don’t care about being ‘a best selling novelist’.  I’ve worked through my self-critical stage that crippled my writing.  I no longer need to impress anyone.  Even though it seems like I should have some lofty writing goal, my heart and soul really isn’t in that outcome.  If my heart was in it, I would have achieved it by now.  Or at the very least put way more effort into trying and submitted manuscripts multiple times and places.  I don’t ever get past the writing part of the equation.  I finished a novel once, rough draft, just to say I wrote a complete book.  I figured I would go back and then edit it except I didn’t.  It’s been sitting there for years collecting figurative dust sitting in the cloud where I store my files.

Here is an example of mid-life realignment.  Deciding if what you thought you wanted is really what you truly want now.  I like writing.  I love writing my blog even if only 2 people read it.  Sometimes, when I write about something particularly difficult, I will get multiple comments from people happy that I have written something that they too are experiencing.  I think people are more transparent today than they were 10 years ago thanks to social media outlets and just a new attitude that no one is perfect.  Think of the outcry to stop photo-shopping models in magazines so that young girls and well, grown women, don’t kill themselves trying to reach for an impossible state of perfection.  I think the general population has grown weary of trying to live up to something no one can really be and are wanting to relate on a ‘real’ level.  Hence maybe all the ‘reality’ shows.  You know, the ones that are made up to look real.

Mid-life realignment is also a chance to be ‘real’ and find your authentic self.  Or just to be authentic.  I am way more happy when I am just myself.  Trying to pretend I am something I am not is just miserable.  Be real people.  If someone doesn’t like the real you, then screw them.  You didn’t need them anyway.  Don’t dread or feel bad about being mid-life.  This is actually an exciting time to take the wisdom you have gained the hard way and put it to use.  This is the time to look at your life and think, nah, I really hate being a banker, I think I want to own a pottery shop in an artsy town.  Maybe you hate all the trappings of being successful you have acquired like a big house and expensive car.  If you peel back the layers of impressing people and being ‘successful’, you just might find you want to live in a cozy log cabin in the mountains and raise sheep.  Who knows what you may discover about yourself and even if it sounds crazy, if your heart soars when you imagine this new life, maybe it is worth exploring the possibilities.

Granted, we can’t all just up and quit our jobs to move to the mountains but maybe you can transition over a few year’s time.  Just because it doesn’t seem immediately feasible, doesn’t mean you should give up.  You may find a way to make your dream a reality or maybe it will require a few adjustments to be similar but not the same in the end.  If you are happy with the result, then that is what matters.  Of course, you may have a spouse who isn’t on board so there may have to be some compromise and in the end you find an even happier result.  Maybe your spouse ends up loving the mountains and sheep or you end up raising Shih Zu instead.

I have no idea what my life has in store for me.  The only thing I know for certain is that I need to rethink my path and considering the question my subconscious brought forth today ‘What if I don’t really want to be a writer?’, it is a sign to really look at what I do want to do.  Explore different options, explore things I never considered and really listen to what my heart and my soul are telling me.  I’m good for ignoring them and plodding along the wrong path until I hit a concrete wall.  I’m not much for the delicacy of small cues.  Well I’m a bit clueless really unless you hit me over the head with a ball bat but I’m working on that as well.

Maybe for you the path is very clear.  You want to go back to college to be a doctor or you want to open a curiosity shop.  I envy the fact that you know in your heart the path you should take.  Me, I have some thinking and exploring yet to do.  I imagine when my path does become clear, I will smack my own head because it was right there all along and I kept looking the other direction.  I do that sometimes.  Okay a lot of times.  I ignore the elephant in the room and walk right around it because I am stubborn and only see what I want or think I should see.

You don’t have to be mid-life either to reach this point.  My oldest daughter has reached a point in her life where she is asking many of the same questions.  I think it is a bit disconcerting to her after having a clear path for the first twenty-five years.  School then more school and then maybe more school, but maybe not that last bit of school.  Okay, so now what if there isn’t more school?  She is searching as well.  Asking what do I want to be when I grow up?  But maybe it shouldn’t be ‘be’ but ‘do’.  What should I do when I grow up?  I think we are probably fine just the way we are.  Do we need to change and ‘be’ something or someone else.  We link our identity to a job or profession or like with me, I linked it to a dream I thought was right for me, being a best-selling author, only to find out that isn’t who I am after all.

I should just be Laura.  My identity doesn’t rest on my work or my job or publishing a book.  I am fine just as I am today.  I should think of it more in the lines of what do I want to try or do?  What would make me happy?  Rather than hanging who I am as a person on a profession or achieving a goal.  We are multi-faceted just by being alive.  I’m a mom, a wife, a sister, a friend, an employee, a neighbor, a woman, and the list goes on and on just by existing.  Labels are a bit over rated anyway.  That is probably where I am getting hung up anyway.  I want to recreate myself for the purpose of?  I don’t know.  I used to feel I needed to compete with other people but for what?  I don’t know.  Now I find I just compete with myself.  To ride a little longer or faster, to hike further and to be a kinderr person in general.  I have no one to impress.  I just want to live my life and be happy.  For the most part, I am very happy.

I’ve always strived to be ‘better’.  Better at what, you may ask.  I don’t know again.  I thought I did but now none of it really makes sense or matters.  Sure, the work I put into myself to be more accepting of who I am, to love myself and like myself was time well spent.  Maybe that sounds egotistical but really it is not.  It is about saying “I am okay just as I am.  I am right where I am supposed to be.”  Striving for things that don’t matter like a number on a scale or to impress someone else with your education or station in life is fruitless.  Sure for a moment you feel superior or accomplished but that feeling is usually fleeting.  Then you are striving again for something else to impress whomever or feel good about yourself.  If you can just stop the motion and stand still then realize hey, I’m okay just like I am, you give yourself freedom.  The freedom to live your life and enjoy your life as well as the people who matter most to you.

The question my subconscious posed this morning, “What if I don’t really want to be a writer?” could have scared me and shook me to the core but really it was just further confirmation that I need to step back and realign that part of my life.  It’s the universe telling me, hey, um, yeah, this really isn’t what you want so why do you keep banging your head on the wall when you aren’t able to write that best-selling novel?

Message heard, universe.  Laura, over and out.

Empty Nest – Sorta…

I don’t technically have an “empty nest” by definition.  All three of my daughters are still living at home though they live their own lives.  Two of them work a second shift full time job so I don’t see much of them and the youngest is going to the local college full time and working with an active social life so I don’t see her much either.  Which is how it should be.  This is what we parents train them for, going out and getting on with their own life.  What they don’t really tell you is how that is going to affect you.  When I say something about it to people who haven’t gone through it, they roll their eyes and say well you knew they were going to grow up or something equally as helpful.  I always think in the back of my mind, well, you will be here one day too and I will offer you the same grand advice and sympathy.  Okay, I’m a little vindictive at times, I’ll admit it.  

Recently it has become more acute for me because my middle daughter who worked with me went to the second shift job at the place where her older sister worked.  It was a great move for her, better pay and opportunity for her to advance.  As much as I was excited for her, I dreaded the fact that my “buddy” wouldn’t be around to keep me company because she’s more a homebody than I am.  So essentially it was rare I was alone in the house with all the different shifts and people coming and going.  Until now.  

Add in the fact my husband works a swing shift, I’m finding myself home alone much more frequently and not really sure of how I feel about it.  One moment I am ecstatic I can hog the tv, the couch and play my piano as loud as I want.  The next moment, I look around and think, this is weird.  Where is everyone?  For ten years of my life, I lived with seven people in my family.  You were never alone and you never were in the bathroom alone.  There were days I couldn’t wait for this day when I had the house to myself and could pee without an audience.  Now it’s here, I stand in the silence of this house and I am not really sure what to do with myself.  

What I’ve read about empty nest from experts and people that have been through it, we all feel somewhat the same.  I’ve been lucky because it’s been a lot more slow process than some of my friends where it has been very abrupt.  But much of the advice I read, falls short with me.  Volunteer.  Get a hobby.  Travel.  All good suggestions but I am finding myself wanting more purpose than that though volunteering is a great thing.  I often feel like the girl interrupted.  My life went in a completely different direction than I had hoped.  Almost hijacked by narcisstic husbands and poor choices on my part but it’s straighten out.  The chaos and craziness those relationships provided were like white noise that I did not have to face my own life and what I wanted to do.  If you are too busy surviving, then you don’t have time to think about your dreams and hopes or your life purpose.  

My oldest daughter is twenty-five and she is at a similiar cross roads.  She had hoped to get into grad school and further forgo having to choose a direction for her life.  As she said, much of her life has been orchestrated.  You go to school, graduate high school, go on to college and then get out and get a job.  She had taken a hiatus after my mom’s death Becuase we were all pretty shell shocked and needed time to heal.   A little like me, she is asking the question, what does she want to be when she grows up because the old things just doen’t seem right to her.  She is starting to look in directions and for paths she had never considered.    

However, she still has most of her life ahead of her.  She may marry and/ or raise a family.  I’ve done that part.  So check, family done.   I try to imagine myself back in high school when counselors, teachers and parents are asking me what I want to do after I graduate.  The biggest difference is I am established in life and when you become middle-aged, you start feeling that it is really important that you don’t fritter your life away.  But the problem with that line of thinking is that you forget to enjoy life because you are too worried about making a difference, reaching that goal because you feel like you only have so much time.  The flip side is you can become so concerned about making the wrong choice, you make no choice at all so you are stuck in limbo.  Which is where I think I am at times.  

When I was younger, early 20’s, I had a million ideas for businesses and actually had the balls to even go for a few of them. Now I come up with 100000 reasons why I shouldn’t do something.  In a way, youth has the upper hand here because ou are more likely to take risks, even if they are stupid.  The older you get, the more you learn and the more you think, I have to be crazy.  I could lose my house, investments, savings, cars and the like.  When you are just starting out, you have much less to lose usually.  On the other hand, if I don’t ever try or reach for my dreams, I will regret it on my death bed.  I feel much like I am frozen, paralyzed.  

At the end of last year, I wrote down several goals and have achieved several of them or am on the verge of achieving them.  Going back to school has given me a sense of purpose I did not have before and has also eaten up a lot of my free time.  Now I am less than two weeks away from finishing and I am thinking, okay, now what?  Having a goal and a purpose felt good.  I was doing something for myself, just as if I was much younger without a family.   This tells me that after graduation, it will be time to sit down and think up my next moves in life.  In a way, this is daunting and exciting at the same time.  Learning to spend more time alone is different but not a bad thing.  It is much like being single and living alone when you start out, something I didn’t really experience. 

Sure, my life is slowly changing and there are times I’m excited and other times I am sad or dread the change.  Just like anything in life, any real change, there is positive and negatives but middle-age isn’t the end of the world.  I will learn to adjust to this time, just as I learned to adjust to all the other times of my life.  Some easier and others harder, but I always come out just fine.

In some ways, “empty nest” is like being given a second chance to find your path in life, your new path.  

The Storm and Happiness

            How do you define “happiness”?  The dictionary states: good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy. Happiness is very personal because what makes me happy may not make my friend or neighbor happy. Then there is momentary happiness and happiness in general as a way of life. Illusive happiness and centered happiness. And the demanding question “Are you happy?” Are you? Are you happy? Happiness as a mindset. Happiness as a measure of how successful your life is. Happy Birthday. Happy Halloween. There is a lot of pressure for one to be happy at any given moment in their life.

          If you have followed my blog at all, you already know my life has been a crazy, dysfunctional series of ups and downs. My childhood and adolescence was marred by alcoholism and abuse. Anyone who has grown up in this type of home knows that any fleeting moment of happiness is usually quickly followed by something horrific or terrifying at times. It doesn’t take long before you become skeptical at any feelings of joy or happiness because you know it won’t stay, something or someone will ruin it for you. Volatile is your world, not happy. You are always waiting for that other shoe to drop. Happiness is a temporary state.

          Since my mom passed away March 2014, I finally adjusted back into the world of the living. But I had been sleepwalking in my life for a long time. At the end of this last year, I realized I needed to start focusing on myself and what I wanted out of life as I sat down to do my five yearly goals I set each December to give me some guidance throughout the year. This is really the first time since I was in my teens, that I was focusing on goals for just myself. I registered for classes to try and finish my business degree but this time I went in and talked to an advisor. I walked out of that appointment with a list of things to complete and registered for two more classes and my graduation date in early May. After ten years of on and off taking classes online, I was going to finally graduate.

Having a goal and something to focus on has brought me a little bit of anxiety but since I am out of the fog I had been living in, this has given me a new spark. My therapist told me I was in a ‘valley’, your life is so busy and then suddenly you dip off. It takes some time but you recover and start the next journey of your life. Being me, I thought that meant a few months but for me it was really a few years.

This past Monday, the sun was out and I had spent the morning at the college library researching for my history paper. I had stopped at home to see my oldest before she went off to work. Then I had to drive to the grocery store and I really hate grocery shopping but at least on Monday, the stores are not usually crowded. My music is playing in the truck and I have my sunroof cracked when I notice this feeling I was not familiar with. A light feeling, like I do not weigh anything at all. Floating on a cloud. I had been singing with the song, loudly I might add. Inside I did not feel sad, down or pensive. I realize I feel, happy. Contented. Light. I had this feeling since I got up that morning felt this way and had just focused on the feeling because it felt strange and unfamiliar to me.

When you grow up the way I did, and spent decades of your life in miserable situations, you have moments of happiness but this was new to me. I’ve always tried to be grateful but it was usually during another storm in my life. I fixed my marital and financial problems, then my mom became sick again. Happiness is something that is temporary until the next storm rolls into your life. Except this time, it has been with me on a new level. Evolved into something I am not used to but am finally learning to embrace rather than stare at it warily with suspicion.

Twice that day, two people had referred to me as ‘young lady’ and let’s face it, I’m middle-aged at 45 though most people guess my age at 35. Usually it is only the elderly that call me that or someone being a sarcastic ass about my age. The first woman was a mid-20’s librarian at my college and she seemed sincere about the comment when she told me “Young lady your coat fell on the floor.” I had just spoken to her face to face at the circulation desk when I picked up some books I requested so she had clearly saw my face. She was very much twenty years my junior. I didn’t think much of it, she seemed like she was in a good mood.

Later that afternoon, a woman in her early 50’s, not far from my age, asked me a question and added ‘young lady’ to the end. I had left the store feeling bewildered and wondered if people were just feeling good because it was an unusually warm, sunny first day of February. Later that night as I was lying in bed, I was thinking about that odd coincidence and it dawned on me that maybe that light, happy feeling made me look younger to other people. I have no idea if that was true but it was not something that happened to me before. Maybe that should be a beauty tip, if you want to look younger, find your happiness.

Right after my mom died, my daughters and I were in the grocery store, we had split up and they found me again in the produce section bending over a display of oranges. My middle daughter remarks they couldn’t find me at first. I asked her why and they all thought I was some old grouchy lady in her sixties because of the expression on my face. I just sighed and gave up on finding decent oranges. I was just weeks into life without my mom. So maybe our feelings and level of current happiness can make us look older or younger.

Moral of the story, I’ve been learning how to be happy and let it be part of my life rather than just a fleeting moment. No my life isn’t perfect but when will it ever be? I can’t control most things in life but I can control how I react to things out of my control or other people. Allowing myself to be happy is new for me, but I really love that feeling of lightness I’ve been carrying with me. Life will always hand me knocks and challenges. It’s up to me to keep my inner peace, embrace what is good even in the storm.

Sometimes storms can be the most beautiful moments of your life. Give yourself permission to be happy, even in the rain.

Recreating Yourself aka Midlife Crisis

Do you ever have a moment where you think, wow, I’d like to halt time, recreate who I am and then start a different life?  Even if your life is good but there’s something just nagging at you, maybe you are not following a dream or trapped in a bad relationship or something your entire self is trying to tell you?  I think everyone has these moments and for me it seems to hit more now that I’m in my mid-40’s and my life is really good.  I believe the magazine writers call it “second act” or “second-half” or well, “midlife crisis”.

But is it really a crisis?  Or is it just a time you pause after being on the same track for many years.  The track of getting through your education, finding a job, forwarding your career or whatever direction you took.  Finding a mate, maybe having a few kids or a houseful of kids, acquiring the typical material possessions such as a home, vehicles, a trip to Disney or whatever it was that you wanted.  Then you reach a certain age and SCREECH.  Everything comes to a halt.

You’re standing there thinking what the hell?  Suddenly you aren’t running kids everywhere, attending twenty-three events in a week for them.  They’re off to college or maybe the older ones out of college.  You aren’t needed every moment of the day.  Then you realize you’re at a good place in your job or whatever career path you chose, maybe you own a successful business.  You’re in a groove, you got it down pat, it’s really not that challenging anymore but you’re in a comfortable place and you make a comfortable living, maybe even more than comfortable.  Your house is stuffed full of things you’ve acquired over the years, your closets are crammed full of clothing where maybe in college, you barely had enough to get by a week.  You’ve arrived.

Okay, so you’ve reached that pinnacle but the thing is, no one told you – “what next?”  or you never really thought about it.  Oh you’ve been saving hard for retirement, you’ll go fishing, travel, watch Wheel of Fortune because you know that show will still be on as Pat and Vanna come out with a wheelchair and walker, that show is never going off the air.  But in a way, you’re a bit in retirement already or it feels that way.  You have a lot more free time and you’re not quite sure what to do with it all.  I’m sure this isn’t everyone, but I’m not one that likes to commit myself to a lot of organizational activities.

You start daydreaming, what do I want to be when I grow up?  Honestly, it is much like when you were in school and you had to start thinking about this question in earnest.  When college recruiters and guidance counselors and teachers were breathing down your neck?  What are you going to do after school?  As if you were supposed to have your entire life figured out by age 17.  I laugh about that now.  Some people know exactly what they want to be by the time they are 10.  “I’m going to be a neurosurgeon.”  I always looked at these people as if they were an alien, that they were so definite in their plans.

Me, I have so many interests and likes that it was more like: “I’m going to own my own business, a florist shop but then I want to have a nursery with it and then a coffee shop where people can enjoy good drinks and pastries but then I will offer art classes and display different artists for sale but then I want o have an animal rescue on part of the property and then…”   By the time I was done, the name of my business would have had to be so long to encompass what I wanted, that no one would really understand what it was.  Actually I envied those people who were so sure of their calling because my calling felt like a career advisor on crack was trying to help me.   My biggest fear was that I would pick the wrong “calling”.

Maybe there is no one certain calling for me.  Which is why I am back to trying on hats, mentally of course, doing research, weighing the pros and cons of different avenues that I could take in my life right now.  Mostly, it’s a creative avenue that doesn’t require me to quit my job and move into another.  I am more likely to tell you what I don’t want to do rather than what I want.  Except writing.  Maybe that is my calling, to finally publish a novel.  Maybe to be a mixed media type of artist and sell my stuff (that I have in my mind and have not created) in different markets.  Or maybe I really am the crazy cat lady and will start a cat rescue where I have hundreds of cats and will then soon be divorced – ha…

In many ways, the ‘crisis’ is not that at all but a valley where you take a few moments out of your life to explore new avenues and try on new identities.  Not that you literally go to some shady guy in the city (or small town probably now) to get a fake ID and passport then disappear leaving your family to believe you are dead.  It doesn’t have to be that drastic.  Now is the time when you start thinking about the things you really enjoy and love, your passions.  There may be ways to not upheave your entire life and still try on the new “you” as you use your new free time that once was monopolized by your children or whatever it was, to focus on the things you enjoy the most.  Or maybe it is time to consider going back to school for that career you really wanted but for whatever reason you chose a different path (usually parental pressure or something just the income potential was higher).

There is so much stigma with this part of your life.  Mid-life but while it can be very challenging especially if you are dealing with sick or aging parents, layoffs, your own health issues, etc., but it can also be very exciting as you take that second breath and start looking at your new future with the wisdom of many years under your belt.  All that “I wish I had known this in my 20’s” can be applied to your 40’s and 50’s instead.  You can’t go back anyway, only be in today and look toward your future.

So don’t be afraid to recreate yourself, even if it’s just a small part of your life.  You don’t have to go hog wild crazy and disrupt everything and everyone around you like the stereotype of “mid-life crisis” demands.  Sure, there are people who do that.  Leave their long time spouse for someone younger than their kids, buy a wildly expensive sports car and start dressing ridiculous.  That is the extreme case.  I was thinking more along the lines as starting that small business on the side you always wanted, crafting jewelry or painting, traveling to those places you dreamt about, volunteering for a cause close to your heart or changing careers.

The bottom line is, life is short and you should take the time to really search your heart and follow your dreams you may have missed.  It’s never to late to recreate (okay, I have no aspirations to be a poet, you can breathe easy!).

Clues From the Dreams of Your Youth

As most people know, we bought a new house and moved out into the boonies or BFE, whichever you prefer to refer to it (hey that rhymes a bit!).  And that I wish I had moved out of the city limits years ago but was trying to be frugal and financially responsible so I didn’t dare think outside the lines.  Financially of course, it made sense to stay in our old house, after all the mortgage, with escrow, was less than most people’s apartment rent.  Plus we had done a ton of work to the place.  But none of us was really happy there anymore.  Once we fixed what we thought was wrong with the place, well things were just still ‘wrong’.

My husband drug me out looking at homes, kicking and screaming because I wanted to say financially ‘safe’ and well, I had been entrenched in that house for 15 years.  He was right and I was wrong and hell I even admitted to him.  He may have written it down in his calendar as a major life event.  “Laura admitted I was right.”  Kidding… Sorta…

So I was sitting down with a card I bought my husband for Sweetest Day trying to think of what I wanted to write inside.  I always try to write something heartfelt and poignant for that moment in our lives so he knows I didn’t just grab random card from the shelf and throw it in the grocery cart.  I actually put love and thought into the whole action.  And I want him to know how very much I appreciate him and how truly lucky I honestly am to have him in my life.  Okay, now this is starting to sound like a greeting card.

When I thought about our move, I thought about how I had given up on my dreams that I had when I was 18/19.  When I moved to the big city of Dayton, with plans to work part time for a doctor after completing college for Medical Assisting and going back to college to obtain at least a Bachelor’s degree, maybe even go for my Ph.D.  My folly was moving with the man who would become my first husband and letting all his agendas derail my plans.  In other words, I compromised so much in that relationship just to keep someone else happy (who then repeatedly cheated on and lied to me) that I lost my dreams.

Over the years, I struggled, one bad marriage and then finally another bad married until I turned 38 and said F! This is enough of this crap.  And I changed my entire life.  Except I didn’t realize that I was too afraid to reach for my dreams.  I wanted to stay safe.  Financially safe.  Everyone experienced layoffs starting in 2009 and my current husband and I put in a plan to pay off all our debt except one vehicle payment and our mortgage.  Eventually the vehicle payment will go as well when we hopefully can just start paying cash for vehicles but that’s down the road.

We reached our initial goal and had all this money left over.  We thought whoo hoo, if something happens with one of our jobs or both of our jobs we can both work at McDonalds and pay the bills.  There is something to be said for financial freedom such as that.  It makes you feel way more secure and free.   Which was part of the reason my husband had to fight me so hard to consider going into a lot more debt on a house.   Finally we agreed that we would stay within a home price range that would allow us to meet our budget requirements on his salary.  In other words, if we couldn’t pay the bills on his take home pay, the house was too much money.

Because we had paid off so much debt, we were able to allow ourselves a handsome sum for a home or so it felt to me.  This seemed to be a reasonable compromise even though the credit union said we were approved for a mortgage double with what we ended up with.  There weren’t even very many homes for sale in that upper crust price range anyway.  Not that weren’t over 6000 sq ft and so elaborate that it made my head spin.  I’m still a simple girl and a lot of homes in that price seemed to have a lot of “look at me” features more to keep up with the Khardashians than to make your life more simple or enjoyable.  I don’t need a theatre room but I may consider the heated towel racks for my current house…

So when I was writing my message to my husband in my card, I told him thank you for making my dream come true because I was too afraid to do it.  When I wrote those words, I surprised myself because I had not really considered the fact I had been afraid.  Some of it was the financial jump but we can still pay the bills on his salary easy enough so it wasn’t really the money.  I had to face the fact that I had long ago given up on my dream of a beautiful colonial home out in the country.  I had convinced myself I no longer wanted the bigger house, telling myself it was frivolous and silly and not smart financially.  I was being smart staying put in the smaller house in town with the little mortgage and neighbors looking in my windows (well not literally, it just felt closed in).

That morning I had learned a childhood friend is facing a serious and most likely terminal illness.  We are the same age, graduated the same class.  I sat with the pen still in my hand and thought about how we never know how long we really have.  When you’re young, you think nothing can hurt you, or nothing bad can happen.  Then you get mid-life and you’re losing people you love, watching people your age die.  Death isn’t that myth anymore, it is the stark reality.  You don’t know how long you have or the people you love have on this earth.

Cancer takes so many of us every day.  It’s an epidemic, not to mention all the other tragic things that can happen.  That fairy-tale bubble seems to burst for many of us when we hit a certain age.  You wonder things like how did my grandparents handle all their friends and family dying?  Do you finally just get used to it and accept it as a fact of life?  Just embrace each day and be grateful for your blessings?  I don’t know, my grandparents have been gone for years so I can’t ask them.

As I sit here on my bed, the sun has risen and I have watched the light move across the west wall of my bedroom.  It is utterly quiet and peaceful at this moment.  Just the sound of the dryer in the other room.  I can see for miles from my second-story bedroom windows over rolling fields, woods and a quarry.  My dream actually materialized better than I had first imagined all those years ago.  The question that came to mind yesterday I wrote in the card was what other dreams have I completely repressed and pushed away?  I’m going to search this out and see if there is something else I am missing in my life that I haven’t given myself permission to pursue.

Maybe the dreams of our youth don’t really die but just sit and wait until we remember we had them.  After all, back then we were more likely to follow our hearts than make excuses why we can’t make them happen.   We were allowed to dream back then.  When you grow up, you’re expected to be responsible and make practical choices but not all dreams are “practical” or even seem “wise” or even “grow-up”.   I intend to revisit my youthful dreams.  Dig them back up and really examine them.

But this time I am going to listen to my heart rather than my head…  Happy Dreaming!