I created this little space for myself in my bedroom. I bought a comfy chair and a bookshelf and piled in all of the things that make me feel comfortable and safe. Some of my favorite books, my journals and a few pens, a diffuser and some relaxing oils, hand lotion, a calm jar, a little house plant, fidget toys, a heating pad, and my weighted blanket. This has truly become my safe place. I spend a lot of time here every day, sometimes writing, watching TED talks, meditating, or just curling up for a nap. I love this little space.
Tonight I’m sitting in my space and allowing myself to feel the sadness I haven’t really let break through the surface in a while. Note to self: add tissues to the bookshelf. It sort of hit me today while I was at work, this lingering sadness. I love my job and I’ve loved learning something entirely new and meeting new, fun people. It’s been so good for me. I’m percolating a whole new post about it (see what I did there??), so I’ll save the details for later, but what is important is that overall, this coffee shop job has literally been life-saving for me. Today, though, I felt slow and sluggish and, well, sad.
Over the weekend, some acquaintances of mine from my undergrad years and their family came into the store and I made them coffee. It was nice to see them, we exchanged pleasantries, and went on our way. But the experience has stuck with me. While I was enjoying talking to them, I was also feeling something else burning in the pit of my stomach: shame. I was suddenly embarrassed. It was a sudden wave of unmet expectations, unfulfilled dreams, uselessness, and regret. I felt old.
I don’t really know what happened to the last decade. The last time I checked, I was 23. Now, suddenly, I’m going to be 35 and I feel like I lost the last ten years of my life. True, some of it was the eating disorder and crippling anxiety. That’s a thing and I accept that. But what happens to the dreams we have as kids, as young adults? The carseats in the back seat, the bedroom furniture, the comfortable, successful careers? All the things I’d always imagined for myself? Have I let the world down? Have I let MYSELF down?
I don’t necessarily think that my sadness is based on comparison to other people’s lives and accomplishments, though I’m sure that factors in– I do live in this society, after all. No, what I feel crushing me is the weight of all the potential I had. Or have been told I had. I was one of those kids who was told over and over again “you are so smart!” “you are so creative!” “you’re a fantastic musician!” “you have so much talent!” “you can do ANYTHING you want to do!” “the sky is the limit!” And oh, I tried. I poured my heart and soul into everything I’ve ever done. I graduated in the top 10% of my high school class, I got a scholarship for undergrad, I graduated cum laude, I worked and worked and worked to be a good bassoon player. I gave 110% to teaching my aural skills classes. To top it all off, I chiseled my body down to a size zero. I tried so. hard.
And yet, here I am. I’m almost 35. My two year masters’ degree will take me three and a half years to complete. I’ve been sent away for eating disorder treatment three times in the last two years. I couldn’t make it in the conservatory at IU. I’ve dabbled in a career as a paralegal, but that pressure was ultimately too much, too, even though I was good at it. I don’t have any carseats in my car. I used to feel like I was behind, that I had to hurry to catch up, that I COULD catch up if only I tried harder. Now, I feel like I’ve missed the boat altogether. Like it’s over before I really got to get started.
Mostly, I’m sad that I haven’t left my mark on the world like I thought I would. I never wanted to be famous or “known,” whatever that means, but I feel like I’ve let the world down and myself down because I have turned into only a shadow of the person I could have become. I’m sad about what could have been. I’m sad because I’m in the middle of my life now and I don’t know who I am or what I want. I’ve always wanted to be a helper, an encourager, to be strong for other people, to be an example. I feel like I haven’t done that at all.
Yes, I know, this is really focusing on the negative. But I feel it and it’s real and tonight, I’m letting myself feel it. I’m letting the tears come because I’ve learned that if I ignore them and push them down, everything goes to hell. And let’s be honest– I love Denver, but I am NEVER going back there unless it’s for fun and my own choice (hi Jordan!). So, let the tears fall.
Part of acknowledging the negative is allowing myself to feel it and then to return my focus to what is going well, what I’m grateful for. I have a husband who I love to the moon and back and who reminds me that he still chooses me, every single day. I have a wonderful family and a nephew that I love so incredibly much. I have had so many incredible experiences that have made me into who I am, even if it’s not the person I always thought I would be. I have friends who have stood by me during these last few hard years with unwavering love and patience and have welcomed me back so lovingly. I get to work with professionals who I care about so deeply and who I absolutely know have my back, even when they piss me off. I’ve had students who made teaching the love of my life. I have my writing and drawing and painting and the business I plan to get started. I have a new job and coworkers that are slowly giving me reason to keep myself healthy so that I can continue to learn the ropes. I have pets that I adore, plants to water, and a bookshelf that I have been trying to get the paint off to stain for the last three weeks. I have this unbelievably cozy little corner in my bedroom to snuggle into.
Deep down I know that my life really isn’t based on what I do or don’t achieve. It’s about the people I share my experiences with and the joy I can find in the simple, every day things. I’m learning this more and more all the time. My gratitude is starting to become a constant dialogue in my head between me and the universe. I’m starting to feel more whole all the time.
This is all a process, for me and for everybody. I know this. And it’s ok. Tonight was down. Who knows what tomorrow will be. Maybe I really won’t ever be the person I have always wanted to be. I guess I’ll learn to find my peace with that, too. The only thing that I know for sure is that emotions come and go and I don’t have to be swept away by them. I can feel emotions and have experiences without becoming them. I am solidly me, whoever that is, and whoever she ends up being. And for tonight, that’s enough.