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Mid-life, ah, yes. The "fuck it all fifties". We made it! Time to slow down, freak out, remember, grieve, over-analyze, and fix. Time to do what we haven't done yet, because now...we have "time".
We get this wonderful gift (or curse) at 50: the ability to look back and see what has happened in our lives as it begins to repeat itself in the world around us. We reach out to those younger than ourselves, in an attempt to warn them that the train is about to crash, or that their youth and well-being are being exploited for someone else's well-being. We try to advise, suggest, and ward away the trouble as best we can. But we're the older ones now, the same ones we ignored when we were young. Aren't we?
We've always been the caregivers. We've always loved so much and so strong and so deeply that we began to be ok with not having much for ourselves. So much so, that at some point mid-life, many of us have to learn how to be our true selves, stop freaking out, and how to go with some measure of flow...but it takes a while. I've been working at it -reminding myself to move slow, but steady. Self-care is no longer a luxury, it's a vital requirement.
Sometimes, I feel as though I'm taking advantage of "self-care"; afraid that maybe I'm fooling myself as an excuse to be lazy; but then I remember that "lazy" isn't something I fall into. When I'm fatigued, it's for a reason...other than the whole "you're getting older" spiel.
Burn-out would be a reason for the frequent fatigue, wouldn't it? It's also a really good reason not to fall into the pattern of feeling guilty because I didn't do something I feel obligated to do; especially when I'm working on being more consistent...or being more "in the moment".
I try not to do it, you know, the whole taking on too much at once, but overdoing it has been a part of what I do and how I've always done it. My whole process has been metaphorically like cramming the night before an exam. I finally have realized that consistency doesn't require cram; it's being more thoughtful about how I manage my time. It's been all go, think way in advance, get it all done, and then breathe...not "breathe through it."
Do you remember the movie "Ever After" with Drew Barrymore in it?
There's a part where she's all nervous because she's about to enter the ball, so she stops, takes a deep breath, and says to herself "just...breathe".
The statement was so powerful to me that I wrote it on my bathroom wall next to the mirror. It was so impactful a statement that my oldest daughter had it tattoed across her chest.
I have to remember to breathe.
To breathe is to calm down. It's to bring everything back to center. It's a conscious "reset" button that brings perspective into play. It's the one facet of self-care that is the most difficult because it requires us to do the unthinkable...stop.
The fear of "stopping" and having too much time to think or feel has become synonymous with being overwhelmed. Some people perceive the need to stop, regroup or pause as a sign of weakness. Filling a plate too full is something I'm guilty of.
I've talked about this recently; how I go into a super creative mode, using it as some kind of anti-depressive behavior, and then find that I've bitten off more than I can chew.
I've always been the person who gets it done. The reliable one. The superwoman.
I thought it was a hard-work habit, consistency of form, a strong-minded and strong-willed approach...and I thought it served me well...until now. A lifetime of that shit does indeed take its toll, and then the "toll-takers" want the pay-up. "How about some stress for your stress?"
I'm not saying it isn't a superpower, because anyone who looks the clock straight in the face from the rubble and takes it on head first, -baby in one arm, five grocery bags swinging in the other, calendar taped to your forehead, phone ringing, knocks at the door, dog barking, kids running, things crashing all around and trying to smile, let alone breathe through it- is indeed performing more than a normal human ability.
The thing is, it's not "normal" because it isn't healthy. It's imbalanced. No human should have to take on a life of being in triple or quadruple time, and that is exactly what a lot of us have felt we have had to do. It was expected of us and honored as an art form. It's become a mantra of power strategy.
A few days ago I wrote about some of the realizations I had, regarding the comparative things, and the baseline of "what and why" I do what I do. Terms like "midlife crisis" and "existential behavior" came up as being a thing. In actuality, probably the thing.
How am I valuable as a person if I am no longer "needed"?
Who am I if I'm not "Vickie the Invincible" or "The Amazing Ari"?
Can I do what I want and what I have to by simply being...human?
I have also reiterated on how we moved out here to the forest to "slow down" and to make a more comfortable and safe environment for our family. But here's the thing, I couldn't just slow down all at once. No, no, no. I had to gradually slow down, but I didn't know that.
I became a train moving at about 200 miles per hour, and then all of a sudden stopped.
I don't have to get graphic in the details here because you already know well what that analogy looks like. Well, this is what it does to your brain, and under certain circumstances...my circumstances...that train jumped the track, took out a small town, and then its fiery mess sunk to the bottom of the proverbial ocean and stayed there...for a while.
I've been metaphorically sifting through the debris since...also known as: therapy.
Life can frequently throw circumstances at you that leave you with no choice other than to act now, with downshifting not being an option. That emergency brake is there for a reason, but we hope we don't have to use it. Well, I rode that damn brake.
It's a habit. It's hardwired into a lot of us from a young age. We see it on T.V., it came from our parents because it came from their parents who had to do it that way to survive. It came from our education system and our employers. It comes from our peers. We expect it from ourselves.
Society praises the warrior that screams headstrong into battle and then victoriously emerges from the fire, seemingly unscathed. It pumps up athletes by demanding super-human ability for the sake of entertainment and ego. It rushes towards us with documents and briefcase and quotas and bills and demands in hand. It lands us in lifestyles that were superimposed over the ones we really wanted for ourselves. It turned our drives and interests and skills into "pipe dreams". It betrayed our hearts and traded them for mortgages and student loans.
In Veruca Salt style, society demands what it wants and it wants it now.
Our reward? Money. It's usually money. If it's not cold hard cash, it's the relief of getting the thing done, not having any repercussions from having done it, and maybe an hour or two to well, "just breathe"...before getting less than desirable (or doctor recommended) nights sleep and then having to wake up the next day and do it all over again.
Those of us that can do more than our counterparts are respected, admired, and sometimes hated for our ability to move through life like this. "How are you not losing it right now?" has been a comment I receive regularly, along with "you're amazing", "I don't know how you do it", and "I couldn't do it without you". It pats on the back for a moment, and fills our senses with the satisfaction of a "job well done", and we begin to pride ourselves on having the acuity and perseverance to do it that way. That way acknowledges our actions as honorable and even sacrificial, and we feel good about it...because it's ingrained in us to "suffer for the sake of others", and for religious folks, that the reward is in the afterlife.
The fact of the matter is that it is sacrificial, and we are the scapegoats for those who have taken their best interest over our own. For so long, we've been told, shown, and taught that this "sacrifice" is the right way and this is how it's done...but it's not; it's an existence based on anxiety and fear, under the guise of service and productivity -for the sake of someone else's well-being or bottom line.
While things are moving and getting done, we are forgetting to breathe. We are forgetting to be exactly what we are...human.
"Girl, you are the glue!" That's another one I've heard on regular rotation.
We frequently become that soft place to land, and we want to -because we love, cherish, honor, and protect- cushioning the blows for those we care about...but, all of that taking the blows, takes the tolls, and it starts to show.
When we cease being the "reliable one", or the "one that holds it down", either by choice or because our body and mind have forced it upon us, then what happens? When we crash, or can no longer be that retaining wall, soft place, or "glue" that holds somebody else together, then what?
Sometimes we aren't able to identify the subtle warnings of fatigue because we won't take the time to stop, breathe and reset. When we don't apply to ourselves the care we give others, we crash and burn out, and by that time, it's hindsight.
What have we been trained to feel when we can't keep up is guilt, shame, and remorse.
If we don't continue to run around holding back trains with our bare hands, we are soon forgotten, aren't we? Our usefulness dried up? Value, reserved for another "team player"?
When this happens, and we do finally take the time to breathe, we end up thinking and feeling what is to be felt, because while the conscious part of us has resolved to take a breather, the other parts of our brain didn't get the memo, and can't understand why we had to go and shift gears like that. "Must be a beastie! Quick! Run!"
When we aren't sure of things, our animal brain starts to analyze our current predicament, by filling in the gaps with "what ifs" and assumptions, often associating nuance to trouble, and then begins the natural process of making up detailed scenarios so that we aren't caught off guard. Survival manifest 101.
Our usual "get it done" way of life is a shock to the system when we aren't racing anymore, and fight or flight becomes more and more a regular routined annoyance.
Why? Because for years we...."I"....have been the one holding it together. It was expected of me to do so. It made me feel good when other people didn't suffer. I could carry the weight and bear the burden. I was the one who "had it together", but not for myself; I held it together for everyone else. Now that I have the "time" to be me, and do the things I want to do and like to do...what exactly are those things again? The ones that don't have anyone else tied to the end result. The ones where I'm valuable to myself for just being...me.
Existential? Very much.
The scary thing is that this is how modern society works: run, fast, do, now...and if this is indeed the "way it is" and the "way of the future", we are all in kind of runaway existentialism.
Prisoners to our trained and expected sense of accomplishment, forgetting to breathe.
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