Enough

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.

Reboot

Um, hi. It’s been awhile. Like maybe a year-and-a-half while. Which is totally my fault. Obviously. I stopped writing. And I probably worried some of you, and I am so sorry. I’m okay. I’ve been (mostly) okay since my last post in the fall of 2017. I’ve had a couple of really not okay moments and I will get to those eventually, but for now I wanted to try and explain why I stopped writing and why I am starting to write again and how I hope you’ll be interested in reading.

I stopped writing, largely, because I started to feel better and I felt less and less like talking about being sick. I didn’t have to think about or feel my illness every minute of every day for the first time in over a year. Continuing to blog about it felt counterproductive.

While I could have written about getting well, frankly, it felt boring and also more like purposeless navel-gazing than writing about being sick. Writing about being sick felt like it might be helpful; it made some meaning out of the madness (pun aboslutely intended). Without that larger purpose, I felt lost in terms of what to write about or why to write it.

I also had a bit of a shame hangover (hat tip, Brené Brown). I shared a lot on this blog, about my mental health, my guilt/fear/shame as a parent, partner, and human, and my struggle to accept and make my way through life as a person with “late onset,” or at least late-diagnosed, biopolar disorder. I was broken when I started this blog and I stopped writing when I had reassembled enough pieces to feel capable of moving forward from not exactly where I left off but close enough to be my life.

And I did move forward, and I do, but I’ve also taken like a million steps back and fallen once so hard I almost died. But I didn’t and I’m okay but not always or in the way that I’d like to be. Being well is a struggle, every goddamn day, it’s a struggle. And I’ve found some things that are really, really helpful to me. Also, things that are particularly unhelpful. I’ve got some thoughts and ideas and tips and tricks and questions and answers and questions without answers that are still useful to ask. I’m back at work. My oldest is about to finish kinder and the twins will start pre-K this fall (?!). I am the ringmaster of the shit show that is our family of five. I’ve started taking epic hikes and gone to two meditation retreats and one in-patient psych ward and my weekly pill organizer could kill a horse.

I am okay and not okay every day and most often at the same time. And I’ve been thinking I’d like to write about that. That it might be helpful to know that getting better is always just that and sometimes it involves getting worse, at least for awhile. I have absolutely no answers to Any of the Things, but I can point them out and write about them in a way that might make them more approachable, less scary, sometimes funny, and always shared. It’s not just me and it’s not just you and none of us can do this alone.

So, if you’re not still totally pissed at my for disappearing for 19 months, please come back. I promise I’ll write as often as a mentally-ill, working mother of three kids six and under can, which I hope is often. XOXO, A

Going back

I’m supposed to go back to work Monday. I can’t do it. My babies are so small. I am so tired. None of my non-sweat pants fit. I don’t remember how to lawyer and I kind of don’t want to.

But I have to go back to work. Because my babies are so small and I am so tired. I need to get out of the house and use my brain to plan something other than naps and feedings. I need to force myself to wear (possibly newly purchased bigger) pants. Or maybe just some loose fitting dresses.

The truth is I kind of want to stay home but mostly, I think, out of fear. Fear of a new process, a new schedule, fear of being behind at work, of being asked to take on tasks beyond my comfort zone. I don’t want to choose to stay home out of fear. 

But then, choosing work sometimes feels like a choice made out of fear, fear that I’m not the right “type” of mom to stay home, that I don’t have the patience, the interest, the social skills necessary to make sure my kids are happy and learning and socializing the way that they should be.

I do know that work is where my mind is distracted enough to rest. Work is something I can (mostly) control, with rules I understand and standards I can use to measure my performance. Motherhood has none of these things and that can make it very hard for me.

I love being a mom and I love being at home with my kiddos but that love is made stronger by being balanced with time away attending to challenging, non-mothering work. At least that is what has worked for me most of the time so far. I will wait to see what tomorrow brings and try not to borrow future problems in the meantime.

Best advice ever

In the summer of 2005, Matt and I traveled from Seattle to Portland for a Killen family reunion of sorts. As part of the festivities, we attended a barbecue at my cousin Scott’s house. Matt and I were newly engaged and planning to move in together shortly. As we were standing around Scott’s backyard, my aunt Marlie, Scott’s mom, approached us, beer in hand, and offered the following advice, “Marriage is fucking hard.” This is the best advice I have ever received.

There’s no doubt aunt Marlie knew what she was talking about. She raised three boys, each just two years apart, while both she and my uncle John worked. Over the years, they moved houses, cities, and states, mostly for my uncle’s job in journalism, which I can only imagine was not always the most family-friendly in terms of hours and assignments.

Still they’ve been married, I would guess, nearly 40 years now, maybe more. Their boys are all in their 30s. They all live nearby. Two are married and Marlie and John have their first grandbaby.

In comparison, Matt and I are on the opposite end of the marriage spectrum. We will have been married just 10 years this August, and we have three children three and under. Still, we have been through a lot together already.

There has been law school and business school, bar exams and CFA exams, moves across three different states, and a multitude of different jobs. Oh, and did I mention the three kids under three?

There have been day-to-day annoyances and little things turned too big. There have been secrets kept and secrets told. There has been betrayal and forgiveness and conversations that hurt more than any physical pain I have ever experienced.

Marriage IS fucking hard. Especially when you add small children into the mix. But it is the best kind of hard, the kind of hard work that feels especially good when you know you are doing it right–when you are truly striving to be the best partner you can be.

Over time, you learn to let the little things go, but to fight to get the big things right, no matter how scary and vulnerable that fighting might make you feel. You touch each other when you pass in the kitchen and crawl into bed at night, you kiss each other hello and goodbye, you say I love you and you mean it, Every Single Time. You may not like each other on a given day, due to stressful jobs or unevenly distributed housework or just some little habit that drives you HUGELY crazy, but there is always love. And there is always trying to love better. 

My marriage keeps me awake at night and gets me through the day. With Matt, I am at my best but also my most vulnerable. I am an amazing wife and I also screw up ALL THE TIME. Marriage is hard. But it is also the best time I’ve ever had. Thanks babe. And thanks aunt Marlie for the advice.

 

Selfie taken just outside the hospital the night before our twins were born.