I tweeted recently that being an adult is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I wasn’t even remotely kidding. Of course, being a parent is right up there, too. But ohhh, adulthood is just so much harder than I ever expected.
I’m learning that even at 40, I gots a lotta learnin’ to do, and most of it’s about myself. There are things I don’t like so much about myself, and they’re not the typical things one may expect. It’s ok, though, because I get to be the editor of this life. Maybe my backstory isn’t the one I’d choose to write now, given the choice, but whatever happens from this point forward doesn’t have to follow that old trajectory. Facing these things isn’t exactly fun, but there’s a lightness that comes after staring fears in the face that I can’t even explain.
Turning 40 felt like a milestone to me. I now realize that that’s probably because so many years leading up to it had felt so fucking difficult that I turned 40 into a hopeful beacon. If I could make it to 40, stuff would change. Empowerment! Understanding! Acceptance! All the stuff everyone talked about all over Facebook and in the media. Surely by 40 I’d be A Woman.
The truth is, I lost track of who I was before I became a wife and mother, and I was just so, so lonely and confused. Turning 40 felt like a good time to figure out who I had become, or maybe who I was before, or even who I wanted to be going forward. I wrote about how it felt to stumble back to myself; it really hasn’t been easy, and certainly hasn’t happened fully yet. Turning 40 was like my New Year’s Eve — it’s been a crazy, scary, sad, satisfying, challenging, fresh new year so far.
It seems like we hit our twenties and are just sort of thrown out into the world to be, you know? There! You’re an adult now, go do all the adulting and figure shit out on your own because you’ve got Google and that should be pretty much all you need.
Except the messages that we’re thrown from every direction scream conflicting advice, and it’s so hard to find a consistent path that allows us to really define ourselves. I went to university and completed two degrees, I got married and had kids, I started a business, I set goals. And yet, here I sat at 40 desperately unhappy. Who was I? Where was I going? Whose body was this? What was my path? Where was I supposed to find meaning?
I have absolutely everything a person could dream of, and yet happiness eluded me.
I’d never been more surrounded by love — my kids, my husband, my friends, my parents — but never had I felt more empty. I felt like a cliche, and then I felt ashamed by my deep unhappiness. On the surface, I was happy. My daily life is fun, and I appreciate all the wonderful parts of my life. I am not ignorant to all these things. But when I stared into my own eyes in the mirror, I saw the emptiness.
I felt guilty for not being able to embrace the happiness that was so apparent in my life, and for feeling like everything I had was just not enough. I (mostly) have my health, I have two wonderful kids, I have a fantastic husband, we live in a lovely home, in a safe neighbourhood, my parents are alive, I have great friends, I laugh a lot, and things should feel amazing.
But they didn’t.
I wrote about the elusive enough, and how it never seems attainable. It’s not about material goods, it’s about intrinsic fulfillment — that which switches our contentment to the “on” position and lets us bask in the life we’ve got. I know firsthand that money cannot buy happiness; it’s never about that for me. There are so many people with what seems to be “less” in so many ways who are so much happier — what’s wrong with me, I thought. More shame. So much shame.
What sickening privilege is this that allows us to be so blessed and so goddamn miserable?
How dare I? When there are so much scarier, so many far more horrible reasons to be unhappy, how could all these puzzle pieces not be creating a complete picture?
Life’s hard, I think that’s something most of us think we know. What we don’t seem to truly comprehend is that it’s hard for everyone. We live life feeling so disconnected and different, all while talking about how we’re all the same. Under all that talk, behind all those insipid memes we post on Facebook, we still feel weird, deviant, isolated, ashamed, different, solitary. And guilty. Oh how we feel guilty, because honestly, our lives are charmed compared to so many. But the feelings persist.
Was it because I was adopted that I feel this way? Was it the sexual abuse I’d suffered in my past that lead me to this point? Was it becoming a mom that changed me? Was it losing the baby that warped my reality? Was it being a stay at home mother? Was it my marriage? Was I depressed? Was it all of this? And if it was, how was I supposed to process it? I searched, and searched, digging myself deeper into a hole. If I could not find happiness with all this, was happiness even a possibility for me? I wrote and wrote and wrote about myself, talking to myself like I hoped a friend would talk to me, if only I’d had the courage to actually reach out.
And then suddenly, by absolutely no choice of my own, I was forced to examine and admit all the things I had kept in dark corners for so long. I was taken by the shoulders, and shaken up. All the loose pieces fell around me. All the feelings were yanked out, like someone tugging the start of a yarn ball and watching the neat swirl unravel into an unruly mess. I didn’t want that mess! I fought it and tried to desperately re-wrap it, scrambling to maintain the tidiness I’ve worked so hard to curate. But I needed the mess so badly. The ego I have spent so long protecting needed to be exposed. Man, that hurt. It still hurts. But, when the exposure was over, I felt something amazing, too. I felt a glimmer of hope and relief.
I think things are going to be ok.
I’m winding all that yarn back into a new shape now, and I see light around me. What was grey has colour, and the corners of my mind aren’t cluttered with dusty baggage anymore.
(I’m sorry if this sounds a little vague; life has to be that way sometimes.)
My message here is that your feelings need to come out to play in the light. As scared as you feel, as worried as you are, as hidden as those truths are, it’s important because you get just one chance at life. And as trite as those sayings are, sometimes when things fall apart, they really are falling into place.
I have a very long journey ahead of me, but this time I can feel all the love — from my husband, my kids, my family and friends — instead of observing it from the sidelines. It feels amazing to be an active part of reality again, and to be able to look into my own eyes and feel hope.
(By the way, this post by my special friend Peady is worth keeping close. Peady, you are wonderful.)