Running My Life In Circles

Recently, I was tearing my house apart looking for some film camera equipment I haven’t seen since our move to our new house five years ago. While I was looking, I ran across a journal that started in 11/2006 and ended in 8/2008 in which large chunks of time are not accounted. I was thirty-six in 2006, my daughters all still living at home, my grandmother and mother were still alive which was essentially a whole other world for me compared to today. I read through most of the journal entries and was confronted with some truths about myself that I was not thrilled to learn.

Painful Truth No. 1 – I’ve spent an inordinate amount of my life since age 11 worrying about my weight, body size, calories, what I eat, how I look and today I’m still doing the same things. The same vicious cycle. And guess what? It hasn’t fixed much of anything. It’s been pointed out that I should probably go back and read my older blog posts. That I’ve been doing the same things over and over. I use a food journal, I quit, I swear off diets and scales, then I go back. You get the idea. This realization made me realize that it was time to just give it all up. It hasn’t worked long term. It’s wasted a huge chunk of my life. So fuck it, enough is enough. I will have to retrain my thoughts and start trusting my body. I guess if I get bigger, I get bigger, if I get smaller, I get smaller though I bet I stay pretty much the same size. Either way, I give up. I grant myself permission to be free of all this nonsense.

Painful Truth No. 2 – I ask myself the same life’s purpose and direction questions over and over and over. Should I pursue this college degree? What do I want to be when I grow up? Should I start my own business again on the side? Fourteen years (and more) I’ve been asking the same crap. Maybe I think there is a magic answer out there? This realization was the most surprising. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been asking these questions for this long. Literally, I’m beating a dead horse and now it’s nothing but dust. If I’m asking the same kind of questions, then I’ve found no answers. There is no celestial guidance, no sudden aha moment and my life suddenly all falls into place. I’ve been running in my life’s purpose circle for years. Chasing my tail like a dog and never quite catching it. I’ve pondered over this for several days, trying to figure out how I can let go.

Obviously, I’m a classic over-thinker which I hear that is common especially in introverted people. This painful truth is not so easy to resolve. I feel a great amount of anxiety when I consider letting go of this useless behavior. Maybe this over-thinking is a security blanket that if I quit trying to find my life’s great purpose then I must acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, I don’t have some great worldly contribution. That I am ordinary and like everyone else for the most part. That I might just be average and mediocre never writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel or curing cancer or making a stunning mark on this world that will be remembered in history books. When I consider that statement, I realize, I don’t even care if I’m in the history books and really rather I was not immortalized in a text book. What is it that I feel must achieve and why the continual push for excelling? I don’t know.

But it is time to stop another one of my useless behaviors. It’s time to stop thinking and get more into living, doing instead of mulling over my thoughts for hours on end. I can live my life or I can think about my life. I chose to live it. I grant myself the permission to stop over-thinking about my life’s purpose and live my life, freely and unencumbered by vague expectations that come from who knows where. Living in my thoughts is a safe place to be, a place where there are no real risks because you never leave your mind. It’s safe that way but safe is boring and I’d been complaining about where is the excitement in my life, why am I not like I was when I was younger? Well, because I quit taking risks and branching out. I’m afraid to look stupid or fail or both.

I’m grateful that I found that old journal even if I haven’t yet turned up my old camera equipment. I’m grateful for painful truths as they help to guide me to more positive ways of living. Now, I just have to put what I’ve learned into practice. Wish me luck friends!

Mid-Life Series: Renaissance vs. Crisis

Renaissance: Rebirth, Revival

Crisis: An emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life

                        -Defined by Merriam-Webster

Say the word ‘mid-life’ and suddenly the stereotype of the fiftish man dumping his long-suffering wife for a younger woman, who buys an obnoxious sports car pops up into the brain.  Mid-life is met with groans and negativity.   The words ‘mid-life crisis’ are rampant for describing this period of life.  But I don’t think most of us have an actual ‘crisis’.  I believe it’s normal to step back and look at one’s life especially admist the many signficant life changes that can happen in this period such as a parent or both parent’s death, children leaving home and facing our own mortality more definitely now.

The average US life expectancy at this writing is approximately 78 years of age.  Divide that by two and you get 39.  Yep, at 39, you’re half way to dead if you live to this statistic.  That was a bit sobering for me when I did the math because I’m already 49.  Ten years into the downward spiral to the grave.  There are varying opinions of when mid-life crises seem to strike or when mid-life actually falls.  Frankly, none of usually know when we will die unless we have been unfortunately diagnosed with a terminal illness.  If you die when you are 30, then 15 was your mid-way point.  It’s the crap shoot of life, you just never know.

I know a lot of people around my age and honestly, unless it’s been kept a very tight secret, I’ve only seen a few of them go through what I would term a mid-life crises.  We are all going through changes to our life but haven’t we from the beginning?  It’s just that in mid-life, the changes sometimes are more painful.  Caring for an ill and/or aging parent or parents.  If you are a parent, your children leaving home can be bittersweet.  Some of you are super thrilled while others are gravely devastated. These are tough points in our lives and no one can truly prepare you for them.  I spent years preparing for the empty nest.  As soon as my oldest daughter graduated high school when I was 39, I went into preparation mode.  I read books and articles on empty nest.  None of which really helped.  You get vague advice like pursue your hobbies or start a new career, reconnect with old friends.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, but they don’t really say, grieve that part of your life.  It’s okay to feel sad about it.  Just don’t get stuck there.

When my youngest left home after living with us through four years of college, I spent the last few months she lived with us dreading her leaving.  Then after she left, the first few weeks were tough but then I adjusted.  Now, going on a year later, our relationship has evolved and even though we had a few bumps which I think are normal, I’m enjoying the empty nest quite a bit.  It’s a change.  There are good and bad parts of it but for me it was mostly good.  But getting over that hump was scary and difficult at times but mostly, I worked it up in my head to be worse than it truly turned out.  I was a young mother so at 49, I’m fully into mid-life, I’m an orphan because my parents and grandparents have all passed away and I’m living in an empty nest.  Which sounds somewhat depressing but it’s really part of life.  We won’t all be at the same place at the same time.

But did I go through a crisis?  No.  I had ups and downs but never a crisis.  I think much with this time of my life has to do with mentality.  How you see your life currently as it is.  It can’t stay the same, the kids grow up, people pass away and/or get sick, you get bored with your job (or not), you revisit old dreams only to find the are no longer valid.

I was sitting in a restaurant having lunch alone when the term ‘mid-life renaissance’ popped into my head.  I’ve embraced my introversion over the last year or so as I needed to recalibrate my life as an empty nester.  Actually, my nest isn’t empty, there is my husband and I and our cat and dog.  I really think they need a new term because “empty nest” makes it sound vacant.  Once a nest is empty in the bird world, not even the parents come back to it.  They move on to other locations and adventures.   Embracing my introversion means I actually enjoy doing things alone, mostly because it gives me a lot of time to think, which is really crucial to my personality.  I usually take in a book or a notebook, usually the latter, because I tend to do a lot of thinking while sitting in a restaurant.  I was thinking about what I want to do in the future, when the word ‘renaissance’ popped into my head.  Mid-Life Renaissance rather than a crisis.

As part of this ‘renaissance’, I’ve started challenging myself to do things out of my comfort zone.  Yesterday, I went to a large festival I really enjoy and almost always attend with someone else.  This time however, I went alone.  I was a little nervous riding the shuttle bus by myself.  But I forced myself into the long line and did it anyway.  A teenager sat down beside me relieved she didn’t have to sit alone.  She worked in the town where the festival was happening and knew she wouldn’t find parking so she opted for the shuttle.  So it happened that I was able to qualm her nervousness just by being there. At the festival, I walked around taking my time and stopping to talk to the artists at some of the booths.  I took photos of things that I thought were cool that I might not have noticed had I been with other people.  Essentially, I enjoyed the experience and getting out of my comfort zone is a key part of my mid-life renaissance.   Bottom line, I have fun by myself or with someone else along.   But I don’t need someone to go with me all the time.

Really we have little control over the world and what happens but we can control how we think about it and our reactions.  We can think of mid-life in the negative, that it sucks and so on or we can embrace this time, understand there are some tough moments to it, but find the beauty in the storm.  For example, I love to bicycle but at 49, I don’t recover like I once did.  I find myself being more cautious to prevent injuries because it simply takes longer to heal.  I could be upset and depressed about that fact or I can look at it as hey look, I’m 49 and I can still go out to ride fifty miles.  Choosing the positive outlook very much changes the feel of the exact same situation.  Yes at times I get passed by younger, fitter cyclists but on the other hand, I pass quite a few cyclists myself that are younger than me.  I chose at this point in my life to just compete with myself and listen to my body.   I’m not 20, listening to my body is crucial but it’s not a bad thing either.  I did damage to my body when I was younger that I pay for today.  I don’t want to repeat that mistake.

I’m at a point of my life that I am financially stable and want for very little materialistically.  I’ve worked hard to get here and have suffered several setbacks usually in the way of divorce, that required me to start over again.   But for this moment, I’m in a very good place and it’s time to enjoy what I’ve worked so hard for.  Mid-life is a time to stop and look around.  To stop racing so hard, pushing so hard especially when you’ve reached a large number of your goals.

Mid-life is your time for a renaissance, a rebirth, a revival.  To start embracing the gifts you have been given, to really start being cognizant of how you spend your time and with whom.  Mid-life isn’t a death sentence, it’s a gift all its own where you get to take your hard-earned wisdom and put it to use.  It’s a time to experience new things with the time that may suddenly appear after the kids move out and so on.  It’s your rebirth, but this time you don’t usually have to start from the bottom and work your way up.  Chances are you’ve already done that and have a solid foundation that allows you to enjoy your life and explore new avenues.

Very simply, it’s not required to have a mid-life crisis though I know people may experience this but I believe they are in the minority and have personality traits that set them up for this such as large egos or deep-seated insecurity.  The rest of us can embrace a rebirth, a revival, a mid-life renaissance.  I’m excited for this next par tof my life.

‘Till next post…

 

 

Introversion – Not a Disease – No Cure Necessary

What is an introvert? Per the dictionary – shy, reticent person. Eh. A definition of introversion – the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one’s own mental life. Again, eh. I don’t find either of these definitions to be really accurate. It’s like they can’t really figure out how to describe or define a person who in many ways, prefers solitude some of the time, may or may not be shy, may be outgoing at times and other times quiet or reserved. I’m more of an ambivert which is the middle of the road version of introversion vs. extroversion. Is one side better than the other? No, I don’t think so. I prefer to look at it as how you were made, end of story. If you would rather spend Friday night home with a book and Chinese takeout, have at it. If your ideal Friday night is a big rave type party with 100’s of your friends, more power to you. It’s just a difference in how we are made. There is no right or wrong way to be.  Why must we force our “way” on others?  Can’t we just all get along?  Just accept there are differences and go with it.

Why do we all have to be the same?  Could you imagine a world of nothing but white, Christian Republicans (I’m registered Republican but would register with the Common Sense party if I could) who dress, eat, look and behave the same way?  UGH.  How boring!!!!  There would be no ethnic food, no different religions, no different cultures, no nothing…  I can disagree without feeling that the other person is ‘wrong’ and I’m ‘right’.  Someone might believe that the man is the head of the household based on religion or culture where I believe that men and women should have equal footing.  Does that make me right and them wrong?  No.  It means we have different ways of thinking and living.  As long as the person(s) in that situation are happy and that’s how they believe, Namaste.  It’s not hurting me even if I believe a woman shouldn’t be subservient.  But seriously, I’m not asking a man if I can cut my hair.

It’s the same with the introverts vs. extroverts.  Why is extroversion pushed?  Can’t we just accept people as they are and look at their strengths rather than say oh, they don’t speak up in meetings all the time like Joe Blowhard so they must be stupid.  Introverts normally don’t speak unless they have something useful to say and we are quietly observing while formulating solutions to problems, etc.  Each camp has its weaknesses and strengths.  Introverts actually make excellent employees because they are quietly dedicated to work.  They are there to work not to sit around the water cooler or schmooze with the boss.  Give us a task and it will get done most of the time, probably better than you expected.

Forcing people to be social at work is ridiculous.  Open offices are a nightmare for the introvert who needs quiet to focus and concentrate, to survive.  Constant noise overloads our sensitive systems.  My husband paid over $300 for Bose noise canceling headphones for me because my area was constantly abuzz with noise and drama that I would come home in tears from being overstimulated.  My system is naturally über sensitive.  I can’t help it.  I was making stupid mistakes at work because I couldn’t focus and then getting criticized for it.  This was incredibly frustrating for me as I take my job seriously and want to do the best job I can.  When someone is pacing behind your cube like a caged animal all the time, you notice it and feel uncomfortable.  Another person was causing incessant drama for no reason other than they enjoyed it.  Your ability to focus on your detail-oriented project is compromised by all the chaos.  I started working at home more especially on sensitive projects so I didn’t mess them up.  Luckily my boss is understanding of this and supports me.

The stereotype of introverts are that we are painfully shy and socially awkward, that we spend all our time like a hermit but that isn’t true either.  Yes, some really struggle with social interaction and some are shy.  Just like some extroverts are shy as well.  The biggest difference is that introverts are drained with most social interaction outside of their close circle.  We can do it for an hour or two but then we want to retreat for the quiet, the solitude to recharge.  Extroverts are charged by social interaction, it feeds their energy and soul.  Again, is one right and one wrong?  Fuck no.  It’s a difference that’s all.  If I’m invited to a party that I feel important to go to, I will arrive for a while, make my excuses and leave.  It’s really not personal at all.

As an introvert, I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life.  That I was weird because I just wasn’t as into things as my friends.  I hated group sleep overs but I went so I could be ‘normal’.  I preferred to go over to one friend’s house and sleepover.  I’d rather sit on a blanket in my backyard and read a book than go to the pool with a bunch of friends.  Recently, I’ve been faced with a ‘crises’ of the empty nest as my youngest graduated college and is preparing to move out an hour away.  My husband works swing shifts, my older two daughters work second shift so I was suddenly faced with having a lot more time alone for the first time in my life.  Not to mention since I’ve been young, I’ve been caring for people all my life.  Now my list of things I must do is small:

  1. Work and pay bills/taxes
  2. Feed and care for myself
  3. Feed and care for 2 pets
  4. Keep up house/yard- Groceries/Cook

Suddenly, I felt panicked because I had no idea what to do with all my time.  My youngest and I hang out and do things together a lot.  Now she will be an hour away living her own life.  Not that we would never see each other, but it was a change.  I felt as if I needed to fill that time.  Should I join group stuff?  Make a bunch of new friends?  Start a side business?  Volunteer?  Save the world?  Become famous?  What??????  I didn’t want to be a weird loser who sits at home and reads, isolated.

Then I picked up the book The Secret Lives of Introverts by Jenn Granneman and read it.  The more I got into the book, the more I realized that I was not accepting myself and was trying to force myself into a more extroverted existence.  I realized my tendencies to want to be alone and do things alone wasn’t ‘weird’, it’s just how I am made.  When I stepped back out of my panic cloud and looked at my life, I realized I was being silly and worrying about nothing.  I really recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand introverts and how we operate.

Recently, I’ve had a few nights at home alone all night and here’s what I did:  Picked up Taco Bell for dinner and read a new book all night, took a bubble bath (fought my cat who likes to attack me in the tub), had a glass of wine, listening to the Ella Fitzgerald channel on Pandora.  OMG, not that.  Not all that enjoyment and decadence.  The next night was a big more the same, except I started a new book, had leftovers at the dining room table, and curled up on the couch with more wine.  Last night I took the dog for a 3 mile walk and got some great pics of the country landscape as the sun prepared to set.  My daughters messaged me off and on during the evening, a few of my friends did too.  My husband texted me in between work crises.  My loyal pets were at my feet at all times keeping me company as well.  I didn’t even need to save the world.  I could relax.  Enjoy myself.  Recharge.  I’ve been struggling with thyroid issues lately that make me exhausted anyway, so resting probably is a very good thing.  I don’t have to push myself every waking hour.

After forty-odd years of feeling like I have to be different, more extroverted even though I’m not shy or socially inept or fearful, is over. It’s time I accept myself as ‘normal’ as ‘normal’ can encompass many different qualities.  And who cares about being normal anyway?  We don’t have to cure introverts, just accept them as they are.  You want us to accept you right?

Empty Nest (Phase 2) Monologue – Debunking the Advice for Empty Nesters

My youngest just graduated college but she hasn’t left home as of yet but the act of her graduating is like slamming a door closed on a major part of my life. Most of my life due to dysfunctional family circumstances, I have been taking care of someone. Now for the first time, I have no one to take care of except my two pets. I’m not complaining, but it’s a bit of a shock when you reach this point especially when it has been a major part of your life and you have no clue how to live for yourself. My youngest graduating college is like turning the last page of a good book (with it’s ups/downs in the story) and shutting the back cover. You hug the book to your chest, shed a few tears and put it gently on the bookshelf with your other treasured tomes.

For eight years since my oldest moved away to college, I’ve been preparing for this moment by reading books and articles, while pondering “what next?” What I want to be when I grown up and so on. I’m going to be honest here, the books and advice I found on ’empty nest’ which I prefer to call ‘Phase 2′ (pick whatever number feels right to you – Phase 3 or 4 even) , to be bullshit to an extent. Patronizing crap like “get a new hobby’ or ‘go back to school’ or ‘find a new career’. Granted this may help other people and maybe I am just the crabby exception but I bet many of us have already developed our hobbies or are in the career they worked for and so on. I know there are people who do this, go back to school, start a business and so on that they didn’t have time for when they were raising kids. I just am not in that demographic. Here’s how I feel about all the advice I read in no particular order:

1. Go back to school, start a new career. I went to school off and on for ten years while raising my kids and finally finished my degree two years ago. I was on campus with all three of my daughters at the local branch of OSU at some point or the other. I could go back to school now and go into a new career path but none appeal to me because I already followed what I wanted. It took longer than if I had not had kids and a sick mother at times, but I finished my college education. I wish I was one of those people who had a great passion they never fulfilled. Outside of publishing a best seller (which really isn’t a goal of mine), I’ve done everything I set out to do just in different ways than planned. Again, raising kids was the most rewarding job I’ve found, I have yet to find something that sparks me. Seems a bit unfair though. This job had early retirement with no promise of a promotion into a new just as rewarding field. Maybe I just haven’t found it yet but I’ve been looking for 8 years.

2. Dedicate more time to your hobby or find a new one. Here are my hobbies: writing, blogging, travel blogging, cycling (road and mountain), hiking, swimming, yoga, going to the movies, dining out, reading, gardening, wildflowers, bird watching, photography (mostly landscape), charcoal drawing, watercolors, baking, cooking new recipes, travel, our Corvettes, the arts (museums, concerts, exhibitions etc), refinishing furniture, antiquing (though more looking than buying), outdoors in general, flower arranging, and so on. I don’t know if I need a new hobby honestly. I have plenty of hobbies or interests to keep me busy. I’m not adverse to learning new things and probably will keep involved in workshops or classes when something interests me but I didn’t neglect my interests while raising kids. If I found something I loved, I dedicated what time and money I could. I didn’t immerse myself into just being a parent, helicoptering over them 24/7. So this isn’t much help.

3. Volunteer. This is a great option but it doesn’t replace the affection, love and hugs/kisses I got from my kids. I miss that. Helping others is a great way to fill your time if you find it rewarding. Right now, I’m more likely to volunteer for one time things rather than tying myself down to doing it all the time. The beauty of this time in my life is more freedom. Not having every minute of every day planned out for you. Maybe I will feel different when I get older but for now, I’ll stick to occasionally volunteering unless I find something that really speaks to me and I want to tie myself down to it on a regular basis. Maybe that sounds selfish but damn, this is the first time in my life I can focus on me for more than an hour at a time.

4. Join a fun group. (I’m rolling my eyes). I’m an introvert – not a fan of groups. Groups don’t ease me missing the people I love the most. Having other people around me doesn’t ease my missing them. Groups feel like a commitment. To others who are socially inclined, this is a great option. For me it’s a bit of hell I’d rather pass on. No offense to those extroverts but I really just feel drained after most group things. This isn’t an option for me.

5. Meet new people and make new friends. But I like the friends I already have and people drain me. I’m not closed to this option but I’m not jonesing for more people time. I don’t mind meeting new people but I may not bring them fully into my life. New perspectives and ways of looking at things always interest me but I don’t see myself adding much to my small but wonderful friend group.

6. Travel. Already do. Thanks anyway.

7. Adopt a pet. My husband will mutiny if I wanted to bring home another animal.

8. Blah blah blah. I’m going to stop here. The rest of the advice is on the same vein. Nothing clicks and nothing seems particularly helpful for me at least.

Frankly, I find the advice given out to the Phase 2 crowd to be overly obvious. Don’t we already know that we will have more time to do what we want? I didn’t need a book to tell me what to do in this phase of my life. Seriously, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out no kids at home = more free time. Really? You can’t be serious (yes I’m being sarcastic).

I needed a book that told me it was okay to feel what I feel. That it’s okay to cry and feel sad about the parting of Phase 1, not to fill it with a bunch of stuff you might already be doing or planning on doing. It’s normal to miss your kids a ton but still don’t want them to move back home. It’s normal to feel lost when you find this extra time to be a bit overwhelming. It’s normal to miss these people you created, nurtured and loved. It’s normal to be unsettled when your life returns or for the first time gets to be more about you. It’s okay to enjoy this “you” time of your life and you don’t have to be doing something productive or helpful every moment of your life. It’s okay to be selfish and spend the night eating crap and watching horrible movies. It’s okay to be blissfully joyous that you don’t have to go to one more high school football game or boring parents meeting. It’s okay if you don’t know what you want to do with all this time. It’s okay. It’s all okay. Don’t stress it so much (note to self).

It’s all okay. I will find my way. Actually I’m not lost, just figuring out some things. I just don’t want to sleepwalk through these last years of my life. The average life expectancy of a US citizen is 78 years old. I’m 48. If I live to life expectancy, lucky enough to live that long, that’s only 30 years left. That is a sobering thought. You only get one life and how you spend your time starts seeming more critical when you realize there isn’t as much left, not that any of us have a guarantee of tomorrow.

Bottom line. It’s okay how we feel. We don’t have to always be brave and straight-faced. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to then jump for joy because the house is clean all the time, it’s all okay. Unless you find yourself depressed and having difficulty moving on, then seek some help. That’s okay too. Take care of yourself, you actually have the time now. Grieve if you need to grieve. This is a mixed time in your life. We will find our way.