The January Of It All …

So … the last time I left off in this blog, I was depressed and struggling because it was a Sunday, because it was the last day before I had to head back to work on a Monday, and because I had the “Sunday Blues”. Today, I come into the blog still depressed and struggling. But now, I am struggling and depressed because it is January. And I hate January. It is my longest, darkest month.

I love all the buildup and excitement leading to the Winter holidays. I happen to celebrate Christmas, so it is a meaningful and festive time for me and for my family. I generally feel an air of hopefulness and giddy excitement around that time of the year. I usually love rushing around and looking for that “perfect gift” for each person in my family. I usually love putting my daughter’s Advent calendar together. I usually love the happy excitement of possibly getting to see my extended family. Since I started back to work, I tend to look forward to the long (10 whole days!) break my company gives all of us for the holidays, which I find to be a wonderful and thoughtful “extra”.

This year … Ugh. I don’t know how to explain it, exactly, but I did not feel any of that. I found myself trying to look forward to the holidays and the family time and the long break, but it turned out I couldn’t be truly present in any of those feelings. It was like I was moving through my life, trying to find my way back to those feelings, which have always been such a touchstone for me. But, I never found them. All I felt was … tired. I ended work before break feeling unappreciated, undervalued, and both mentally and emotionally exhausted. My beloved holidays became yet another thing in my life that I “just had to get through”.

That’s not to say I did not enjoy my break from work. I did enjoy it. I slept a lot. I did nail art. My parents came to us for the holidays, so I was able to visit with them. I watched movies and TV shows with my daughter. We played Animal Crossing together. I swatched through nail polishes that had been sitting on my “play” desk for ages. I managed to get our house decorated for the holidays and the guest room ready for my parents just in the nick of time. We finally managed to get decorations up on the Christmas trees (thanks to my daughter!) just before Christmas. I laughed and made good memories. I ate good food. There was even pecan pie.

But, as with all good things, the holidays came to an end. It felt like everything went by at lightning-fast speed and, before I knew it, she was back again: JANUARY. She brought with her a return to work and a return to feelings of being stuck or dead-ended and not being valued or appreciated. She brought with her the departure of my daughter, who headed back to college just a couple of days ago. She brought with her a return to routine and mud from melting snow. She brought with her lots of cloudy skies and damp weather. Can you tell that I had been dreading January’s arrival for some time? Because I had been dreading it.

I feel like it’s safe to say January is my nemesis. I don’t mean that she is actively out to get me or anything. I’m fully aware that January doesn’t even know I exist. But I know she exists. She crawls down into the very depths of my soul and crushes me at every turn. I don’t know what it is about this month, but I have never been a fan. It’s not actually the longest month. It has 31 days, and there are plenty of other months that also have 31 days. But there is something about January that makes it feel a million times longer than the rest of those 31-day periods of time.

January lingers. It is cold and damp and gray, and I feel it, both on the outside and the inside. I struggle with turning back to my normal routines after the holidays. I struggle with this feeling that I have nothing to look forward to. January seems to yawn open before me like a deep, dark cave, and I know I have no option other than to keep moving forward, marching resolutely into the void so that I might, eventually, come out on the other side. I find myself endlessly and mindlessly scrolling through social media. I struggle to make myself go to bed every night. I struggle to make myself get out of bed every morning. I struggle to focus every day. This is always something of a problem, but it doubles up in January. I just feel … empty. I’m not sure how else to explain it.

So, what is a gal to do when she has to live out 31 long, long days with her nemesis? She does little things, here and there — whatever might bring a smile or a little bit of joy throughout the day. I keep my Christmas decorations up for the entire month, and, yes, I absolutely turn on my Christmas trees and wreaths every single day. I play Animal Crossing in the evenings. I try to do my nails more often, even if I am tired from work. I wear my jewelry every day, even though I work from home. I hug on my dogs, who love it. I hug on the cat, who does not love it but tolerates it in almost good humor. I read books. I try to watch the sunset, even if it is hidden behind a bank of clouds. I try to walk outside, even if it is a little chilly and gray. I window shop for gemstones online, not because I particularly want to buy anything, but just because they are beautiful. I try, every day, to remind myself there are things to look forward to. I try, every day, to find a way to balance at the edge of the void without tumbling all the way into it.

This is a dance I have been doing with January and with depression my entire life. Even as a middle school and high school aged kid, I quietly struggled through January and struggled to find some kind of joy and balance in my life. I look back on it and realize that was the case now, although I did not realize it back then. I mean, maybe I realized it on some lizard-brain, instinctive level. But I did not have the ability to express it back then, even to myself. If I had approached my parents with this, they would have blown the whole thing off as me being “dramatic”, or they would have told me I didn’t truly feel this way. Even now, as an adult, I struggle to find the words to explain it or describe it. It’s not that January is different from the rest of my life, or that my January struggles are different from the rest of my daily slog. It’s that January is just … MORE.

Usually, I am able to talk myself through January with my small, daily joys. And I think I am managing to do that this year, too. But this year … I dunno. This year, it feels harder, somehow. I’m still mentally and emotionally exhausted. It’s a harder struggle to go to bed at night and get up every morning. It’s a harder struggle to find the energy for my small joys, and I miss my creative energy now more than ever. This year, it just feels like … MORE. It feels like there is more and more and more of LIFE and WORK and less and less and less of “me”.

But you know what? I am going to keep on moving forward. It often does not seem worth the effort, but I know, in that instinctive, lizard-brain part of my brain, that this is what I need to do. I will keep going to bed every night and getting up every morning. I will keep looking for those little joys. I will keep marching forward, resolutely … one foot in front of the other, toward the void. And one day soon, January will be over for another year, and I will come out on the other side.

I’m Not Dead … Yet

Y’all. Has it really been nearly seven months since I was last in this blog? This gives me so many Feelings. It makes me sad, because I love this blog. I know, I know. Blogs are not really a “thing” anymore. But I tend to be a person who is chronically behind the times, and I still love blogs. I still love blogging. I never intended for this blog to die a slow death. I never wanted that. But then, there’s a part of me that feels really kind of angry about it, too. Because it’s a sign of everything I have given up and everything I continue to give up on a daily basis. And I guess I feel hopeless, as well. Because I know, deep down inside of myself, that I don’t have anything left over at the end of each day. So, I don’t know how I am going to keep this blog alive.

When last we met, I had just had my toxic epiphany. I thought about things for a while, and I talked with my husband for a while, and I decided to explore the possibility of switching careers. I felt like, surely, there had to be some career out there that was a better fit for my personality. I felt like there had to be a career out there that would feed my creativity instead of snacking on it. My husband knows a person who runs a career counseling firm, so I signed up with them on a monthly basis. I met with a coach several times and tried to home in on a career that would allow me to feel creative and free but still put some food on my family’s table and pay for my daughter’s college.

As I started in on the career counseling sessions, I felt hopeful for the first time in months. For the first time, it seemed like there might be a way out of the work situation in which I have ended up. It seemed like there might be a way out of this career that squeezes me like a pair of too-tight shoes. I thought that, maybe … just maybe, I could find a career that felt right for me. The whole thing felt like my one shot at a “do-over”.

Well … It didn’t work out. At all. It didn’t take long for me to discover that none of the alternate careers in which I was interested would pay anywhere near what I make in my current career. I was expecting to take a pay cut if I made a career switch — provided I could even find and land a job in a new field. I knew the odds were stacked against me from the beginning. But it turned out I would make less than half of my current salary. After talking to my husband again, it just did not seem like a move we could make at this point in time.

So … I guess I am where I am. It’s not ideal, and there is something almost more painful about realizing this. I still want to do good work. I still want to feel that I am contributing something to “life” around me. And, for whatever reason, it seems that I am meant to stay in my current career. If I could go back in time, I like to think I would make different choices, or that I would take a different direction. But the truth is that I jumped into my current career because I grew up poor. And this career seemed like a pretty certain way that I could support myself. I didn’t investigate it. I was so naive at that time in my life that, really, I just did not know any better. If I could go back in time knowing what I know now, maybe I would make different choices or head in a different and more life-satisfying direction. At the same time, all of these experiences have made me the person I am today. So, maybe changing them wouldn’t be a good idea …?

Whatever the case, I suppose it doesn’t matter much at this point. As my husband likes to say: “It is what it is.” For better or worse, I’m stuck. There are good things about my career. For one thing, it helps pay for our mortgage, puts food on our table, and pays for my daughter’s college. So, I am trying to keep my resolve to think about those things on the tough days — like a little, silver lining in a gray world. I’m trying to find joy in small things around me, like all the pretty nail polishes that I love so much or a sunset or my favorite jewelry or a funny TV show.

The thing is: My life is still small. My career and job are still overwhelming. And I need to figure out how to work with that to create some space for myself. I need to figure out a way not to feel like I am suffocating each and every day. I need to find space for my creative self and my mental health. I’m thinking about moving my work space to another part of our house, so my “office”, where all of my favorite artwork and my nail polishes and my other favorite things live, returns to being a safe, creative space for me and not a space I enter with dread every morning. Maybe that change will help me write and create more. I’m terrible at taking breaks throughout the day because assignments come in constantly and have to be turned over quickly. It’s a lot of pressure, and I also know I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’m trying to remember to take breaks, especially to get outside for exercise and fresh air. I need to try and quit at a decent/normal time every day, instead of pulling the 10-12 hour days I have been working.

Will these changes help? I don’t know. Can I even manage to make these changes? I don’t know. I mean, they sound small and easy, right? When someone says: “I need to take breaks at work,” that’s kind of a no-brainer. But it’s hard to do in certain work environments. It sounds easy to say that I am going to log off each day at a normal time, but I’m going to have to let go of a lot of guilt in order to make this happen. So, I don’t know how successful I am going to be. I’m sending these words out into the ether in the hopes that they will, somehow, hold me accountable. Because I have to make some kind of change. This is the career I have. And this is the life I have. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for them to coexist peacefully.

All the F’s … and a Toxic Epiphany

Be warned: There may be cursing in this post. I generally try to keep things “family friendly”, but I also feel there are times when a solid round of cursing best expresses the true depth of feeling in a person’s heart. And I currently have lots of feelings in my heart. Lots of not-so-great feelings.

This past week was a complete and utter crap-fest for me. Work is always a bit of a nightmare — not because it is difficult or because it involves life-or-death issues, but because there is just So Much Of It, and because all of it takes time. And, also, because I feel constant pressure to do the best work I am able to do in the amount of time available to me. It often feels like, the more I am able to do and accomplish, the more that gets piled onto my plate. No … “plate” isn’t right. It doesn’t feel like I am sitting down to a wonderfully full plate of beautiful and nutritious food. It feels like someone is piling rocks on my head. The weight of all of it and the worry behind wondering if I can get everything done on time and with as much accuracy as possible feel like a heavy burden. I’ve been thinking to myself: “Self, just hang on, and this will get better,” for about three years now. So far, it has not gotten better. This past week was more of a fire drill than usual. There were emergencies that popped up every single day of the week, which pulled me off of other matters I needed to be working. My company text app was, literally, dinging at me constantly every day of the week. People were calling me. Deadlines got moved. And so on and so on. If it can happen during a work week and it is negative, basically, it happened this past week. It was beyond crazy, and not the good kind of adrenaline-pumping, isn’t-this-fun sort of “crazy”. No. This was the kind of “crazy” that leaves you crying at night and unable to sleep because you feel like a failure.

This all culminated on Thursday, when I got dinged by my supervisor’s supervisor (the Higher Boss) for inadvertently delaying in finalizing a deal. It was around a 2 to 3 day delay. To be fair, there was a delay on my part. This was because I was running around putting out other fires, although I did not get the chance to explain this. But the fact is that I had promised to follow up on something at the beginning of the week, and I failed to follow up until Thursday. The deal went through. Everything got signed that very day. But I got a scolding because this item should have had more priority than I had given it. I did not realize it was supposed to have a higher priority than I had given it. No one told me this, and no one gave me a hard deadline. Fair is fair: I should have asked. Higher Boss never asked what happened or why this particular task fell through the cracks. They didn’t care what was happening in my life or at work. And now, I have to have daily check-ins with my supervisor because it seems I am having trouble prioritizing things. I have been told this is intended as an effort to help me feel less stressed and/or to make my workload feel more manageable. I’m trying to take this at face value, but I have to be honest and say that it does not feel that way from my side of the fence.

I don’t mind the daily check-ins. I like my supervisor, and I talk to them multiple times a day, anyhow. So this really is no different than what I am already doing. But the implication that I f’d up, coupled with all the background information and the fact that I didn’t have full understanding of the intended timing/priority … Well, it feels grossly unfair to me. And, honestly, I’m still a little bit angry about it. No. Scratch that. I’m still a lotta bit angry about it. I’m sure I will get over it eventually. Hopefully by tomorrow or the next day. But I’m not over it yet.

Here’s the thing: This job has made my world so, so small. My entire world has become the 2 or 3 foot space where my work laptop sits. My entire world has become two computer monitors and a crap-ton of contracts. I have been working 9-12 hours a day, every day, for the past 3 years. This past week, I made a point to step away for 30 minutes to an hour for lunch each day. This was the first time in 3 years that I have done this. Before, I was sitting in front of my computer (or standing, as I have a standing desk) for the entire work day, other than quick bathroom breaks for me and the dogs. I don’t have anything left over for myself or my family at the end of each workday. I don’t have mind-space for writing or spending quality time with my husband or daughter. I can’t sleep at night because of anxiety and stress over possibly missing something or missing a deadline. When I do sleep, I constantly have stress dreams. I am So Damn Tired, both mentally and physically. All the time. After I calmed down from Thursday’s phone call, I looked over my running list of open matters. I closed out 30 matters for the month of March. And you know what? None of that mattered one bit.

And that was when I realized something: All my fucks are gone. In that moment, on the phone with Higher Boss, and in the aftermath of that phone call, I felt like I could actually see my very last fuck growing wings and taking flight. I still want to do my job to the best of my ability. I still care about my work, because I have a strong work ethic. I feel this is something that is, somewhat, being used against me right now. Even so, I owe it to my team to do my best to support them and help them. But any motivation and happiness I previously felt in my job are gone. It is becoming harder and harder to see the good points of this job, because all I feel is just … TIRED.

And this leads me to the “toxic epiphany” I experienced this weekend. I know, I know. This was a bad transition, but bear with me because it’s late and, as I’ve already established, I’m TIRED.

As part of keeping my licensing current, I have to attend a certain number of hours of continuing education for my profession. I’ve been too tired at the end of each workday to deal with continuing ed. And each workday has been much too busy to give me time to listen to courses during the day. My hours are due by the end of this month, so I am running out of time! This weekend, I sat down and made a start on them. I binged 5 hours, two of which dealt with mental health issues in my profession. In each of those courses, the presenter mentioned studies that have shown people in my profession are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than the average adult in my country.

This hit me right between the eyes. Y’all — We are talking a true “zing” moment, when, suddenly, so many things made sense for me. I’m a survivor of trauma. It was not intentionally inflicted, but it still happened. And it still makes up a part of who I am and how I approach the world. I already struggle with depression and anxiety — both as a genetic pre-disposition and due to the trauma I experienced. I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, and that colors the way I approach the world and how I react to stressful situations. Basically, I picked the absolute worst profession I could have picked for myself. It’s like I took my pre-dispositions and just added more on top of them.

And that was when I realized something: I have been moving from one toxic relationship to another my entire professional life. (Granted, I was a stay-at-home mom for many years, which was pure bliss. Seriously. It was the first time in my life I truly felt safe.) I kept thinking there was something wrong with me; that, surely, there was a type of job in my profession that I would find satisfying and that would not compound my depression and anxiety. But now, I wonder … Maybe it wasn’t me, after all? Maybe this particular profession is just unhealthy for me? Maybe there is no way to fix this or to make this better for myself? Maybe, this is the reason I always felt like the proverbial square peg stuffed into a round hole? Maybe, it’s time for me and this profession to break up, once and for all. And maybe, I have some serious thinking to do. And, honestly, I am not sure what to do with any of these feelings or revelations or … well, “stuff”. But I do know one thing: I can’t physically keep going the way I have been. It is not sustainable. But where does that leave me?

I honestly don’t know.

Write About Yourself …

Is it possible for anything to strike more fear into my heart than these three words? I’m not sure.

So … I had my first life/career counseling session almost two weeks ago, and my coach left me with a homework assignment. “Write about yourself,” she said. It sounds easy enough, right? Who knows more about me than me? I mean … I live inside this head! And yet, I have been waffling around for the past two weeks, trying to figure out what I wanted to write. Trying to figure out who I am. And drawing a big, fat blank. But, I am at “zero hour” now, y’all. I have my next session tomorrow and, in true procrastinator-cramming-it-in-at-the-last-minute fashion, I’ve gotta come up with something. You know?

So, I think, first and foremost, it is important to say that I am a person who spends a lot of time NOT thinking about who they are. It’s more than not actively thinking about it. It’s not that I put others first or anything like that. I think I do tend to put others first. But this isn’t that. This is more a factor of how I actively run away from my own thoughts and wishes and dreams. Is it because I am a coward? I mean … maybe. But it’s also because I never felt I had the freedom to think about myself. I was not a person who mattered much at all. I was always expected to do what others wanted. I was expected to dress a certain way and smile a certain way and act a certain way. Anything I did reflected back onto those around me. The choices I made had to be made with others in mind.

You know how each family has its own “family lore”? These are the stories that make everyone laugh, or the memories that people tell, over and over again, at family gatherings. I grew up hearing all of these stories and funny memories about good times. But you know what all those stories had in common? They all happened before I was born. There are, maybe, two family stories about me: one time, when I was around two, I accidentally “stole” a tiny little doll from a five and dime store … and I used to wander around our house at night (I’ve always been a night owl), so my dad installed an alarm to make sure I could not get out of the house — an alarm that terrified me, because I have always hated loud noises. That’s it, y’all. That’s basically my entire childhood. I’m like a big, blank space in the canvas of my family. We never visited the places were I grew up as a little baby. We only visited the location of the place where I was born after my daughter was old enough to ask about it. My whole life, I had never even seen it. Sometimes, I think that, if I had disappeared, no one would have noticed at all.

It sounds pretty pathetic, doesn’t it? I almost want to go back and delete all of it and make up something better. But I promised myself I would be honest about this. So, if I’m being honest, I have to say it does kind of suck. I have trouble making friends. I feel like a fraud in most parts of my life. I hide most of myself from the people around me, even the people I love the most and who love me the most. It’s almost second nature to protect those soft parts of myself from the world around me. If you grow up as a kid who knows no one believes in them, you inevitably become an adult who doesn’t believe in yourself. And that’s me. I believe in other people. I can see the beauty and wonder in the people around me. I can see how they will succeed or how amazing they are. But I can’t see these things in myself.

But … also, if I’m being honest, I have to say that there are some good things about my growing up years. Being the blank space in the canvas makes you a good listener. It means you pay attention to all those little details that others might miss. And I have that ability. I’m that person that other people like to talk to. Other people love to tell me their life stories. Sometimes, this is a bummer, like when a perfect stranger sits down next to me and tells me about how his marriage is failing and he thinks his wife is cheating on him. Because, the thing is, I just don’t know what to say in those moments. But, in another way, it’s pretty neat to hear other people’s stories about what they love about themselves or what their hopes and dreams might be. There is something beautiful to me about the human spirit, and sitting and listening to another person … I’m not sure how to explain it, other than to say it feels almost sacred to me.

I’m a simple person, too. I don’t think this is a bad thing. There are things I love, like nail polish and jewelry and books and dogs. And I love those things quite a lot. But I don’t spend a lot of time in the pursuit of “stuff”. I’m happy with small things and little joys here and there in my life. And I like to find joy in small things. I like things that are intricate and detailed, like miniatures and funky jewelry with intricate designs. And I like bright colors, which is probably why I have purple hair. Oh, if only purple was my natural hair color!

I think I’m a story teller, too. I like to visit fanciful worlds in my mind and of my own creation, and I like meeting the people who live there. Writing used to be my escape growing up. It was also my escape when I was first starting out in my career, because my first few jobs were pretty crummy. I needed that mental escape, y’all! I used to feel incredibly driven to write, write, write. I had all these stories in my head. I had all these characters living those stories in my head. I find I don’t do this anymore. And you know what? I’m not sure why. Does it mean my creativity is gone? Has it dried up? Or is it just because I’m tired?

Because I think that has to go into my post about myself, too. I am so freaking TIRED, y’all. I work in a job that is a great job and with a great team and that I like. But, at the same time, I don’t like it. I am an introvert in a world of extroverts. It’s mentally exhausting to work ten to eleven hours a day doing the kind of mentally taxing work I do every day, while also pushing myself to step out of my comfort zone and talk to people on the phone or argue with people or negotiate with people. I get to the end of each day and I literally can’t even. It’s like I don’t have the energy to think, much less create. I basically have just enough energy left to drag myself downstairs at the end of the day, feed the dogs, and play Animal Crossing. (I am more than a little bit obsessed with Animal Crossing. It has to be said.)

I think I’m a kind person. I have a lot of empathy for those around me. Maybe, I have too much empathy sometimes. It’s hard for me to say no to people, and it’s hard for me to protect myself from the wants and needs of others. Sometimes, I feel like I give too much of myself. But, at other times, I feel like I can never give enough, and I feel guilty about that. Guilt is a big thing for me. It drives a large part of my life.

So, I don’t know. Does all of this explain who I am? Maybe it’s a start, and maybe I will learn more about myself as time goes on. Maybe I can learn to open my ears and my heart to my own voice. And then, I will start to figure out myself and my life. Because I’m in my 50s, y’all. And I thought I would have it all figured out by now. But … I really, really don’t.

But you know what? I think that’s okay, too. I think life is an adventure. I think even my life can be an adventure. I just need to learn how to take the uncharted path.

The Contrarian

I have a contrarian in my life. My contrarian isn’t necessarily someone who goes against popular opinion. Instead, they are someone who almost always goes against my opinion. Basically, if I say “a”, my contrarian will say “z”. They constantly second-guess me on every level. No opinion of mine is too small to escape notice and question. My contrarian loves to tell me I am wrong about … well, everything. I know you probably think I’m exaggerating, but I assure you, I am not. If I say I like something, my contrarian immediately speaks up to tell me — in painful detail — why they do not like that thing. If I say I don’t like something, my contrarian is happy to share with me all the reasons why I am wrong, and why I actually like the thing I have said I do not like. If I am stupid enough to share my hopes and dreams, my contrarian will tell me why these things are silly and why none of them will come true. And so on. I don’t want to bog this post down with examples, but I think you get the idea.

I don’t ask my contrarian for opinions — ever. Instead, I will make the mistake of mentioning something in passing conversation, and my contrarian will seize upon it and offer opinion after opinion after opinion. It’s almost like I can’t have a normal conversation with my contrarian. I’m not sure how to explain it, but it’s like my contrarian wants to be too embedded in my life. They want to offer opinions and “helpful advice” even when I have plainly said I don’t want any advice. And even when I have said the advice is not helpful.

The thing is, when you have someone like this in your life, it makes you second guess yourself. Constantly. Because my contrarian has been part of my life for my whole life, including my formative years, I developed a habit of second guessing Every Single Thing. Every thought, every opinion, every feeling was always fair game for my contrarian. It often felt like my entire life was laid bare, like someone had taken a knife to my soul and split it wide open for the entire world to see and criticize and comment upon. It was emotionally and mentally exhausting. I never knew who I truly was. I never knew what I wanted from my life. I never even thought of those things. I fell into this pattern of floundering around, feeling lost and like I could not make up my mind about … well, anything. I’m not sure exactly how to explain it, other than to say I came into my adulthood feeling like I was always wrong and like I would never be able to make my own choices.

I bet you are sitting there, reading this and thinking to yourself, “What the heck is wrong with you? Cut that person out of your life right now.” We live in such a cancel culture that I think cutting someone out of our life has become the advice of the day. It’s kind of an automatic reaction, isn’t it? However, in this instance, it is probably also the correct advice. I’ve gone through years of therapy, and I have received this advice many times. But the truth is that I’m not willing to do it. I don’t have it in me to do this, because I know it would hurt my contrarian so very much.

And so, I have tried to learn to live with it, instead. Is this the best choice? Honestly, I don’t know. There are times when I feel bitter about it. There are times when I feel angry about it, because I think about all the things I missed out on or all the things about myself that I have needlessly questioned or all the times I felt like a horrible person because of things my contrarian said or made me believe. Sometimes, I wish I could cut this person out of my life. Sometimes, I feel like not cutting them out is a sign of weakness. But, in the end, I know I could not live with myself if I took that step. I know I would not be honoring the type of person I want to be if I shut the door on this relationship.

In some ways, the wisdom of age has helped. Physical distance has also helped. I have learned, over time, to be kind but blunt with my contrarian. I have to temper my bluntness with kindness because my contrarian is sensitive to criticism. (Oh, the irony!) I have learned to tell my contrarian to stop offering opinions and second guessing me when these things feel too hurtful. When the opinions and second-guessing are not too hurtful, I have learned to ignore them. I have learned that I can nod my head and pretend to take all the advice, but then go off and do whatever I want. I have learned to remind myself that I am a good person and that my feelings and opinions have value. I remind myself that my contrarian loves me, in their own way. I remind myself that they think they are helping, and that they believe they are coming at all of this from a place of love and support. In reality it doesn’t work out that way, but “reality” can be a fluid thing, in my experience. And, if it all becomes too much to take, I have learned to cut off conversations that make me feel bad about myself.

Is this ideal? No. I don’t think it is. But I think it’s the best I can do for myself under the circumstances. In particular, I feel sad to know that I will never be able to sit down and have this conversation — the one that I am sitting here, typing out in my blog — with my contrarian. Because my contrarian can’t hear the things I need to tell them. Like, they literally will not hear them; they are not able to listen with an open mind and an open heart. Allowing my contrarian to remain in my life means I will never have resolution or peace for this swirl of emotions. But, maybe, in some ways, having to think through all of this has made me a stronger and better person. Maybe, it has taught me to approach others on even ground, and it has taught me to listen with an open heart and mind. My contrarian could never give me these things. But, just maybe, I can give them to myself and to those around me.

A Wintry Interlude

I had a really great post idea in mind for this week. But, by the time I was able to sit down and write it … Well, it had more or less fled. There are other things I want to talk about and, maybe, need to talk about, too. But I don’t feel like I have the mental energy to deal with any of them. Yes, this is me … running away from my thoughts and feelings.

Instead, I am going to talk about the wintry interlude currently happening in my corner of the universe. I remember feeling eerily unsettled around Christmas because our temperatures were hovering in the low to mid-fifties (that’s Fahrenheit, y’all). It just felt much too warm and weird, and I did not enjoy having rain instead of snow to celebrate my holidays. I admit I felt a little bit cheated because it looked like my beloved Winter was not going to materialize.

Ha! I was so silly for feeling this way. Because, of course, Winter managed to find me. Here we are, in February, and our normal Winter temperatures are roaring in. On Friday, it was negative two degrees when I started work in the morning. By noon, it had warmed up all the way to eleven. It was a heat wave, I tell ‘ya! I know you are probably reading this and shaking your head in disbelief and thinking about how nutty I am. But I’m going to put this out there, anyhow: I love those cold temperatures. I hate hot weather. I hate humid weather. And I love the cold, even when I am shivering and complaining about it.

I know, I know. If I love it so much, why would I complain about it? Because I’m human. And that’s what we humans do. We complain. About everything. Even about the things we love.

Even better than the sub- or near-zero temperatures is the fact that we have snow! We have mountains and mountains of snow right now. I am not kidding about this. There is about a foot of snow in my yard. My dogs are loving it. Even my fourteen-year-old girl runs outside into the yard, barking her head off as she tunnels through the snow drifts. My younger dog, who is eleven, is having the time of his life. He bounds through the snow like a giant, hairy jackrabbit. And comes inside looking like a living icicle. It never fails to crack me up, which is a great way to break up my work days.

I’m not really one to play around in the snow. I don’t want to run through it. I don’t want to build a snowman or go sledding. I don’t have any interest in tossing snowballs. I just like looking at it. I like to stand in it and see it come up to the tops of my boots. I like to watch the sunlight twinkling off of the little ice crystals like so much magic suddenly turned real. I love to watch frost make lacy patterns on the windowpanes of my house and the door to our backyard from the garage. I like how it smells so fresh and clean and watery. I like to see how the evening shadows slowly grow across the blanket of white in my backyard, slowly creeping fingers of blue to signal the end of another day.

All too soon, my beautiful snow will melt away. It is already fading from our driveway, thanks to the last few sunny days we have had. It will leave behind a swampy mud-pit of a yard, along with muddy dog footprints on my floors and that unmistakable “wet dog” smell that seems to seep into everything. In all honesty, it’s the “wet dog” smell that truly signals the coming of Spring. I know other people will say it is that first sight of a cardinal or robin in their yard, or the first daffodils poking through the frozen ground. Those people would be wrong. You know it’s Spring when your whole house smells like “wet dog” because all the snow has melted.

I’m not going to lie. I’m dreading it more than a little bit. Spring is beautiful and everything. And I know that, somewhere deep inside, I will be ready for the change and for a breath of fresh air by the time Spring actually arrives. But I will miss my beautiful snow. And I will miss my wintry interlude.

The Square Peg

You know that saying about trying to fit a square peg into a round hole? I realized, a couple of weeks ago, that this saying is my life. I am the square peg. And my life is the proverbial round hole into which I will never fit.

Okay. I think I have ridden this particular metaphor (or is it an idiom? hmmmm.) just about as far as I can for this post. But you get the idea, right? This falls into line with my previous post about needing some changes for the new year. I feel like I don’t fit into my own life. I feel like this has been the case for a long time. Perhaps, this has been the case for my entire life, although saying it this way seems more than a little bit overly dramatic. (Oooooh! The Life Draaama. Hide your eyes!)

The feeling of “not fitting” should be pretty obvious, shouldn’t it? And yet, this only hit me recently, as I was thinking about my job and my company. I have a great job, y’all. My company recently reorganized, and my direct reporting boss changed. This was a surprise to me, which felt pretty icky in the moment and on the day that it happened. But the reality is that my new direct reporting supervisor is great. I like her a lot, and I think we will have a good working relationship. I am part of a great team; we all work closely together, and everyone is supportive. I work for a great company, which has so many amazing benefits, including unlimited paid time off and educational benefits. My work is pretty all-consuming because of the sheer volume. But it is not life-or-death sort of work. And the business teams I work with on a regular basis are, for the most part, all pretty fantastic. Honestly, this is the best place I have ever worked, and I know how super lucky I am to have this job. I value it, and I do feel lucky to have it.

And yet … I feel this almost overwhelming dread every evening as I head to bed — a combination of anxiety and a “fight or flight” feeling that comes from knowing I will have to log in for work again the next morning. It is super strong on Sunday nights, as my Beautiful Weekend swiftly comes to a close. Why is this? Why would I feel this way? Why would I have this constant feeling of sadness, dread, and … Ugh. I can’t find words to adequately explain it. It’s this feeling of being dragged away to do something I don’t want to do but that I can’t escape. The point is: I’ve always thought my issues were with the jobs I held. In the past, I haven’t had the greatest luck with finding awesome jobs. The fact that this happens to me when I have finally hit the mother lode of jobs makes me realize: It’s not the job. It’s me.

I was thinking about all of these things a couple of weeks ago, as my husband and I drove home from taking our daughter back to school in Michigan. The nice thing about long car rides is that they give you lots of time to think. I was thinking out loud, and my hubs was being a terrific sounding board. And it hit me: I have never made choices in my life. This probably shouldn’t have been such a huge revelation to me, but it felt like one. It felt like the biggest epiphany that ever “epiphanied”. If I had been in a cartoon, there would have been a giant lightbulb dinging to life over my head in this moment.

I grew up poor. At the time, I had no idea we were poor. Well, I say I had no idea. I guess it’s more accurate to say that I was not conscious of it. We had a roof over our heads. Our house was small but cozy and well maintained. We always had at least two cars: my Dad’s truck and a car for us to use when he was away for work. (My Dad worked away from home, so he was gone for two weeks at a time and, then, home for two weeks at a time.) Our cars were never new, and we drove them until the wheels literally fell off. My Dad’s truck was the same age as me, and I think he drove it until I was well into my mid- to late twenties. That’s the benefit of having a Dad who is a mechanic. We fixed our house ourselves. We fenced our property ourselves. Sometimes, we bartered for things we needed or wanted. For example, I traded babysitting services for flute lessons when I was in high school. And my Dad fixed ranch equipment for my uncle in trade for hay for our livestock. We always had food on the table. It wasn’t fancy, but my Mom knew how to make things stretch. I always had clothes. Sometimes they were handmade, but I never minded that. I felt the love that went into every stitch. But there was also tension in our house. There was always this balancing act around monthly expenses: this month, we have extra, so we can buy hamburger meat … this month, it’s Spam and peanut butter and jelly. I remember feeling this sick, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach every month when my dad would sit at the table, late at night, and balance the checkbook, cursing the entire time. There was always an underlying fear that things would change. Nothing felt stable or “safe”, even though I know my parents struggled to give that to us. I learned at an early age not to ask for things. I learned to make myself happy with whatever came my way. I learned to “make do”. The thing is, this didn’t translate into my head as “Oh, we’re poor.” It just was, you know? It was just the way things were. It was just the life I was born into. It was just the way I grew up.

The thing is, when you grow up poor — even if you don’t consciously realize it — you don’t plan things. You don’t have a life goal, other than to survive. Or, at the most, to not be poor. Maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but I have realized it was true for me. I never planned anything. I never dreamed about being anything or doing anything with my life. I wrote and escaped into my writing and books, but I had to keep all of this pretty well under wraps. Writing was a big joke in my family. It wasn’t worth anything. I hid a lot of myself all of the time for many, many years. Thinking about it, I would say I hid most of myself for most of my childhood and teenager years. I didn’t bother with dreams or goals; it was like I learned, at an early age, that these things were not for people like me.

As a result, I reacted. Always. There is a big difference between heading in a direction because you are reacting to something else in your life and heading in a direction because that’s where you want to be. I seized upon being a lawyer as a way to get out of poverty. I made choices and took directions in my life because I was moving away from something that seemed worse, not because I had a goal in mind and was heading toward something better. When I look back at my life choices, laid out before me on the table of my memory, I can see this so clearly. I wish like hell there had been someone in my life at the time to tell me the truth of this. To tell me I was only running away from things and not running toward anything. I was pretty much on my own. I was naive and trying to grab onto something that felt very elusive and just out of reach for me. I have so many regrets when I look back over the tapestry of my life. But, really, I did the best I could with what Life handed me. I made do with whatever was handed to me.

I need to change this. If I want something new and something different for myself and for my life, I have to get out of this reactive rut. I have to learn how to figure out my dreams and hopes. I have to learn how to plan and how to have goals for my life. I have to retrain my brain so that I can realize I deserve to have plans and dreams and goals, just like everyone else. I can’t do this for myself. I know this. If I could do it for myself, I would have already done it. Last week, I had an initial meeting with a life coach, and I think I am going to work with them in the coming months.

It’s … Well, it’s scary. I’m not going to lie. I am terrified of the thought of trying to start over at age 52. I am terrified of the thought of sitting down and trying to figure out who I am and what I want and what my dreams are at age 52. The life I have built up around myself may not fit, and it may not be what I want. But it’s here, and it’s what I have. It’s familiar, even if it’s not exactly “comfortable”. Can I even start over? Ugh. I don’t know. The life coach feels that I can. And that they can help me create a roadmap of goals and how to achieve them. It all feels so foreign to me at this point. But … well, I guess I have nothing to lose. I’m tired of feeling like I don’t fit, and I’m tired of reacting.

So … Will it be a success? Will it work at all? Will I continue to flounder around in my not-so-square life? I guess only time will tell. So, stay tuned.

New Year, New You?

Sometimes, I miss the life I used to have. I never thought this would be the case, because I was so painfully unhappy when we left. But I’m going to say it out loud: I miss Virginia. I guess this makes sense. And I guess it makes sense that these feelings would catch up with me in due time. We lived there for almost twenty years. My daughter was born there. She grew up there. We have so many years of happy memories. For about the last five years we lived there, Life weighed me down and made me forget that. Now, with distance, that feeling of loss has found me. It’s sharp and bitter. It takes me by surprise in the quiet moments, when I have no choice but to listen to my heart. It surprises me and takes my breath away. But it feels true and real. It feels like … grief.

Maybe It’s January bringing all these feelings tumbling to the surface of my thoughts. January and I are not friends. It’s a long and gray month. The magic and fun I always feel around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are done. I have to put away all of the decorations (eventually). My girl goes back to school. Real Life returns. January is just … hard.

Which brings me to New Year, New You. You knew I would get there eventually, right? I am not one for making resolutions. Mostly, I am not good at keeping them, but I’m great at breaking them. Resolutions usually make me feel inadequate and bad at life. I’m not good at planning or at having goals. And I mentioned the whole “January thing”, right? Right.

This year, I need to be … someone else. I’m feeling the need for change in a way that is sharp and cutting. I feel so … stuck. Like I’ve been spinning my wheels for my entire life. And it’s true: I have.

I feel uneasy about the future. There have been a lot of changes at my job in a short time: new people, new personalities, new structure, trying to figure out where I fit in all of this. And I know that is making me unhappy. But this feeling in my heart and gut is more than that. I need to stop, take a breath, and figure out Me. What do I want for my life? Do I have dreams and hopes? Where do I want to go from here?

I need a change. I need a new Me. I have no idea how this is going to happen, or how to make it happen. But, I’m going to do my best to take a deep breath and jump into it with an open mind and heart. New year, new … Me?

The Empty Nest

So … here I am. One week into the “rest of forever” that is my empty nest. My daughter has settled in at MSU. She is having a blast so far. She has been texting me daily with updates on all of her adventures. She’s figuring out where she likes to eat the most. She is finding her way all around campus and even all around town. She is learning the bus system, and she is figuring out where all of her classes are. Today, she texted me to say that her foot was hurting. She has struggled in the past with stress fractures from marching band and with tendonitis. She has been walking miles (literally!) since arriving at campus, and, of course, this is after being used to over a year of inactivity due to the pandemic and remote learning. Anyhow, she had a plan to find a store where she could get a method to ice her foot and a brace and, possibly, some temporary inserts. She figured all of this out on her own and followed her plan. It was brilliant! I know this seems like a small thing, but I have been really proud of how she has taken charge of things and started “adulting” on her own.

How am I doing, you ask? Overall, I am doing pretty well. I have not cried since dropping her off. This surprises me! I expected I would be in tears all the way home from Michigan, particularly because I cried rivers during the week before she left. I found myself randomly breaking down all during the day. Perhaps it is that our good-bye ended up being rather abrupt and unexpected. We had planned to take her to breakfast or early lunch on Monday before we started home, but we were unable to do this because she had to attend a meeting on campus. Home is a five hour drive, and hubs and I had to be back in time to pick up our dogs from boarding. We ended up having to settle for a quick hug and watching her walk away from the parking lot. It was hard, but it was so fast that I didn’t have time to dwell on it. You know — like ripping a band-aid off in one swift motion. I came close to tears the first night, when I went into her room to clean the cat box and cuddle with the cat a little bit. But I kept it together.

So, yeah. I am keeping it together. I think that’s pretty great, all things considered. For most of our daughter’s life, I basically functioned as a single parent because of my husband’s work schedule and the fact that he traveled extensively for his work. Our daughter and I have always been pretty much attached at the hip. I never thought of her as a “mini-me”. On the contrary, she had her own personality even from a young age, and it has been pretty amazing watching her grow up and become the amazing young adult she is today. But we did everything together. We had little adventures. We both like to write, so we would sometimes chat about those struggles. We both love anime, and we spent lots of time watching different series. So, for all of that to be over so suddenly … Well, you get the idea, right?

The weirdest thing so far is how quiet the house is without her here. She is not a noisy person, overall. She never has been. And she tended to spend a lot of time in her room, living in her head. This is the writer in her. She spends a lot of time writing and working on different projects that are dear to her. I’m the same way. Even so, there is a distinct lack of her presence here. It’s almost palpable to me. I find myself listening for her to come out of her room into the hallway. I find myself listening for her singing as she showers in the evening. I long to hear her laughing as she plays with her cat.

But, you know, it’s not all bad. Of course, I miss her. Knowing she is having such a great time helps with that. In the meantime, the hubs and I are getting to know each other again. We are remembering how it feels to be a couple, instead of the “Mom” and “Dad” we have been for the last seventeen years. We are hanging out together. We are sharing memories and funny stories. We are laughing together and watching movies and eating long dinners. We are spending quality time together — time that often seemed to get lost in the mad rush to get “kid” things done, like school and activities and all the running around that has to happen when you are responsible for a small person.

Our dynamics are changing. And our daughter’s dynamics are changing. Change is hard; this is true. But it doesn’t have to be bad. Eventually, this new normal will just be our regular normal. And you know what? I think that’s gonna be okay.

The Last Week of Childhood

It’s happening, y’all. The Last Week of Childhood is happening at my house this week. This coming Friday, we will set off for East Lansing, Michigan to drop my girl off for her freshman year of college. Does my daughter feel like this is the last week of her childhood? I have no idea, although I suspect not. I remember, about a hundred years ago, when I left home for my freshman year at college, and it didn’t feel like an ending to me. I was excited and nervous and couldn’t wait for things to change in my life. I was focussed on beginnings, and I wasn’t thinking about endings at all. Also, I think that’s the way of it when you are young. There are so many beginnings still ahead of you that it seems like endings will never happen.

But, for this Mama, the ending is there. It is buried in amongst the happy feelings of a new chapter and a new adventure, but it sings through all of those things for me. It doesn’t take the shine off the “new”, but it’s there, humming in the background in a way that means I can’t ignore it.

The thing is … I’m not ready for all of this. I’ve been working on getting ready for it. I have been mentally preparing myself for years, and I have been ramping that up over the past year even more, all in the hope that I would be ready for That Day when it arrived. And yet, I find it was wasted effort. Well, perhaps “wasted” is too harsh. Maybe all that effort on my part has made this easier. I don’t know. Because, really, this whole process hurts. It HURTS. It feels like a part of me is tearing away, and I don’t understand how I am supposed to be okay with this. I am taking my most Precious Person — the person who means the most to me in the whole, entire world … the person who holds my whole, entire heart — and I am setting them free into a world that I know is cold and cruel and harsh and just downright mean.

The thing is, I don’t know how this is supposed to work. I’ve spent the last seventeen years, literally, following my daughter around. I made sure she got to appointments. I made sure she had food to eat. I made sure she was where she was supposed to be. I made sure she had fun activities to do. I made sure she was safe every night. I did my best to make sure the cruel parts of the world didn’t touch her, or, if they did, that they didn’t linger. I’m used to her being just down the hall at night. I’m used to hearing her sweet voice singing in the bathroom while she showers. I’m used to seeing her rumpled, slightly grumpy face every morning. I’m even more used to it now, in our pandemic times, which meant remote learning and all of us being together in our house All The Time. I loved remote learning, y’all. I loved knowing that my girl was right down the hall all day long. I loved how she would come and say hi to me in my office during breaks between classes. And now, in one short week, all of that is over and done. The house will be quiet and empty. It’s funny how the thought of just one person leaving a space can make you feel empty inside.

I think my husband is looking forward to our empty nest. It’s not that he is in a hurry for our daughter to leave. It’s more that he can see beyond the next week and into the future. And he sees fun weekend trips and evenings watching movies together and not having to worry about getting a small person to school first thing in the morning or to activities in the evenings. I’m glad he’s excited about it. It actually makes me feel a little better. But, for now, I can’t see it. I can’t see past the next week, and I can’t see past the sadness in my heart. It’s taking all my strength and courage to take a deep breath and let her go into the world.

She will be back, of course. And we are still connected by the ties of family and love. We will see her again in just three short weeks, for her birthday. But, after next week, it will never be the same. Even when she comes home, she won’t truly be “home”. This house — or wherever her dad and I end up — will be a safe place for her, always. Her dad and I will always be a refuge against the world and a support system and her biggest fans. But, from now on, “home” will be what she makes of it on her own, out there in the world. She will be a welcome visitor in the new life that my husband and I make out of our golden years, but she will never belong to us again.

But you know what? I think she never truly did. She was only “mine” for these few, short years that will live forever in my memories and my heart. I’m so grateful for that. It has been the hardest and most wonderful and most amazing thing I have ever done as a human being. Well, until now. Right now, in these last moments of “childhood”, I feel I am facing the hardest part. It’s a “see you later” that feels like a “good-bye”. It’s a time of joy and excitement. And yes, a time to let go, too.

So, I bet you already know what I’m going to do. I’m going to love her with all my heart. I’m going to take a deep breath and tell myself, “You’ve got this, Mama. You can do this.” And I’m going to open my arms and let my sweet girl fly the nest. Because she is ready. Because she can do this. And because I can, too.