There is a merry-go-round inside my head where I sit for hours each day, spinning around, past, and between the question: what do I want? More specifically, what do I want to do with my time given the things that I must do and how I want to do them and what I feel will give me the greatest chance at happiness or, looked at another way, the best possibility of a living a life of which I am proud and with which I am content, more often than not.
The answer to date: I have no fucking idea.
First, let me acknowledge the uber first-world-problems nature of this question. I have a choice. I have so many choices in terms of what I might do and when and how I might do it. I don’t have to work a full-time job. I could probably get away with mostly volunteering. And, while I do have three small children, I also have a lot of help with caring for them. I am a full-time mom — we all are — but I do not provide their minute-by-minute care day in and day out (praise be).
Counterpoint: money and time and help do not fix anything unless you actively use them to make your life better, like really better in a sustained, worthy, purposeful way.
Currently, I spend my not-immediate-mom-or-other-household-related time at work. I don’t love my job but going to work, even a few days a week, flips a switch for me that says I am useful, to my family and others, I am earning money to pay (some) of my family’s cost of living, I am using the graduate degree I spent years attaining, and pursuing the career I’ve spent over a decade building. Which would all be great, except that going to work is also a massive trigger for my anxiety and depression, so much so that I’ve had to take two leaves of absence in the past three years, one that lasted over a year, and the other of which started after I sent an email asking for leave from a hospital bed in the ICU. Obviously, work is not the cause of my illness(es) but working, especially since my twins were born, has been a major precipitating factor in some of the very worst periods of my life.
And yet, I keep going back, like some punch-drunk boxer who thinks if she just keeps getting up, keeps staggering back to the center of the ring, that somehow she won’t get knocked down again. This time, it will be different. I will take on less, take more breaks, only do certain kinds of projects for certain people, work from home on Fridays, and so on and so forth, as if it’s all a matter of (illusory) work-life balance and not life and death.
But it is a matter of life and death and on the days I can hold that truth steady in my mind and heart, I know I need to quit. And yet, god damn it, I am not a quitter. I refuse to concede defeat. I can do this, this thing where you do all the things and be happy more often than not. I see it being done all around me. All of the lovely lives with make-up and fashionable clothes and eyes that aren’t red from crying, with children who get haircuts and use cutlery and probably don’t have to listen to their mom begging them to please just stop because she can’t, she just can’t right now (or ever). Women with multiple kids, full-time jobs, and husbands who work long hours and travel and, yet, somehow they just can, when I can’t.
I understand that comparison is the death of joy. That I don’t know other women’s lives. But the idea of quitting my job tears open in a me a wound of profound sadness and shame. A wound I want to plaster over as quickly as possible and by whatever means so that I don’t have to feel that pain. The pain of failure.
It was not supposed to be this way. I am not supposed to be this way. Somewhere along the way something went terribly wrong and it must be my fault. This is how it feels when I think about quitting.
But, in actuality, quitting my current job is, at its core, accepting that my life is the way it is and that I am the way I am and that working is not helping me create a life worth living. It is doing the opposite. It is taking the hard parts of my life and making them harder and taking so many of the good parts away.
My life is just as it is and was meant to be for a million different reasons none of which can be changed because they already happened and were themselves a result of a million things that came before. I am failing my life only to the extent that I am choosing not to live it in the way I know will best protect me and provide me with the most happiness. Not walking away from a form of work that continues, for whatever reason, to break me because I am afraid of doing the wrong thing is not merely ironic; it is heartbreaking. I am breaking my own heart.
And I have had enough. I will turn 40 years old in two weeks and I am no longer willing to live my life worried about what other people might think, or, more importantly, what I might think about myself because I can’t tell the difference between what I think I should do and what I actually want. I have to find my wants, to listen and feel for them every day, until I have one in my hand and then run with it, as fast and as far as I can, before I can convince myself it’s not real or good or right. I have to learn how best to love myself so that I can embrace a life that grows that love. I need to quit failing myself by pushing through rather than pulling back to my center. Because I am enough. And I have had enough of my own bullshit. It’s time to get off the merry-go-around, to do the terrifying, first right thing.