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On With the Crisis…Off With Her Head!

Tuesdays really seem to work better for this weekly post than Mondays for me (oddly enough), so…weekly posts will now always be on Tuesdays. Until they’re not. Because…life.

Also, if you missed last week’s post, this one may not make much sense. We’re talking about mid-life crises this month. You can catch up with this post, and then come back. Or just jump in and read on, you adventurous soul, you…

Now, where did we leave off last week? Oh right. Existential questions like whether I’m beige or not, whether I married the right guy or not, and whether or not I was living the life I was meant to live, or if I’d picked the “wrong things” altogether, and completely missed my “calling” in life, dooming me to be miserable for the rest of it if I don’t drop everything, do a 180-degree turn and start all over again.

I know, I know. Dramatic, much? But that’s how it feels to go through this sort of thing – or that’s how it felt for me. I suddenly understood why people just up and walk away from everything they have, even if it’s good, to start over and build a new life from the ground up. I understood why people buy sports cars, and maybe go clubbing, flirting with not-their-spouses and generally behaving like teenagers in adult bodies.

Luckily for me, I generally tend to err on the conservative/responsible side of things (always have, even when I was a teen), so while I did have some major mental gymnastics going on, I managed to keep the collateral damage to a minimum. Not that I didn’t entertain leaving my life behind and starting over, mind you. I don’t like admitting that, because I love my husband and we have a good life together, and I’d never leave my dogs no matter what.

There was an inciting incident, of course…I can pinpoint the exact second it started. I’m not going to share that, because…well, while it seems like I share all my innermost thoughts here, there are still certain things I keep close to the vest. Let’s just say that this incident led to a lot of…feeling like I’d made a wrong decision somewhere, and that I might be missing out. And if I did that with one thing, how many other things would that decision have affected?

Needless to say, I spent years (yes, I know it sounds ridiculous, but I do mean years) trying to deal with these feelings of wanting things I didn’t have, but not wanting to give up what I did have to get them, and going back and forth, back and forth trying to figure out how I could literally “have it all” without losing anything I already had.

Newsflash, ladies: If you haven’t yet figured out that our moms were wrong, this is when it happens. We actually *can’t* have it all – not without hurting people we love. We have to make a choice. Often it’s the same choice or set of choices we had years ago, but this is when we revisit those choices and decide whether to start over or not. It’s crazy-making, and I tell you what – I had lots of mental temper-tantrums (and some verbal too, when I was by myself, or ranting via email to my bestest buddy). It was horrible. Like a big, ugly, take-the-whole-chalkboard math problem that was completely unsolvable, but I stil had to try.

And I had to try to act and interact with other people as normally as possible while the mid-life crisis was doing it’s best to ruin my life. Which isn’t easy, especially when you have to focus on interacting “normally” to begin with.

In the middle of all of this, when I already felt like I was losing my mind, my boss announced he was retiring. Quite a few people thought I should apply for the job, and I thought about it for months, going over the pros and cons, and running it through the same mid-life metrics that had been running through my head for at least a couple years by then. Is that who I wanted to be? Is that what I wanted to do with my life? Would I be giving up other opportunities if I did that? Would I be closing doors I didn’t want to close if I applied? Or if I didn’t apply?

Had I not already been questioning practically everything about my life by that time, it might have been easier. But I had been, and it wasn’t, and I agonized over the decision until finally I decided that no, I didn’t want to do that kind of work, or be that kind of person, or close the kind of doors that might have closed (I know that last part doesn’t really make sense out of context – but it does if you’re in my head, so just go with it). I disappointed nearly everyone close to me, but it was the first decision I was really and truly happy with in a long time.

It was also the first time in a long time that I felt like I was in control of my life. I’d made the decision solely with my own interests in mind – no one elses, and that felt really good. It had been a long time since I made a major life decision without first weighing the potential ramifications it would have on other people (and usually deciding in favor of whatever would make other’s lives easier).

That decision started a chain of new decisions that helped me start crawling out of crisis-mode, even though that would take another year, year and a half. Fairly soon after that, I made an appointment for another tattoo.

Which is the part of the story I’ll tell next week…

The Making of a Mid-Life Crisis

I was thinking about things this past weekend while changing out my earrings for February and regretting the Coke I’d downed earlier with a huge bowl of nachos (no regrets on the nachos, thankyouverymuch). I used to abuse my body with alarming regularity before I got smart and realized exactly what was causing my skin problems (mostly corn syrup), and while my body was young enough to weather the abuse then, it’s older now, and less tolerant of poor choices.

But changing my earrings out – seven of them – for the season reminded me of the first time I had multiple piercings in my ears, between when I turned eighteen and could sign for such things myself, and my mid-twenties when I cut my hair off and decided the original seven piercings didn’t go with the new “do”, and looked too “out there” for the professional look I thought I needed back then. Or did need, rather. I was “homogenizing” myself, blending in with the workforce and trying not to draw attention to how I looked, so people would hopefully focus on what I said and did. I was young, and looked younger, and I was learning a lot and trying to prove myself in my job.

Yes, plenty of people choose to do that with visible tattoos, piercings, funky clothing and hair, etc. And more power to them, I say. But I don’t regret adopting a more conservative look and demeanor for myself during those years. It made things a lot easier on me, I think. With every small change I made, I noticed measurable differences in how people treated me. Wearing my hair up more often, then cutting it off. Dressing more professionally/less casual and wearing makeup resulted in a very noticable difference in how people responded to me when I was talking or trying to explain something. Those things made it easier for me to sort of “grow into” my job with less barriers due to my physical appearance – mostly with people outside my own department.

Adopting a fairly professional demeanor at work was a way of protecting myself too. My very first job as a teenager and on through college went about as you’d expect, with a lot of personal sharing among staff, and also a lot of backstabbing and personal vendettas that left a rather sour taste in my mouth. I was so tired of it all and hurt that people who had acted friendly toward me actually didn’t like me much at all that I was determined not to ever let something like that happen again. So I put up a wall – separation of work and personal life, and for the most part, I did that by adopting a professional demeanor that did its job well. Maybe a little too well, I’m realizing now. But at the time, it’s what I needed.

I’ve mentioned before (I think) that I stopped getting tattoos because my husband doesn’t particularly care for them. I was taught that wives are to be subservient to their husbands, and even though my own personality and feelings are somewhat different than that (*ahem*), it’s hard to leave all that ingrained teaching behind. I felt like subjugating my own wants and needs for those of my husband was just what a good wife does. Turns out, it’s a great way to lose yourself and become resentful of the limitations that you’ve placed on yourself (my husband never once even hinted that I should stop getting tattoos – it was all me).

What does all this have to do with a mid-life crisis? Basically, I spent years “toning myself down”, blending in, acting “normal”, and keeping a safe, professional distance from people. I kept my appearance neutral, my tone moderated (for the most part), and focused on doing whatever I could to…not be “liked”, really, but to be an “acceptable” person for people to be around. I kept the most real parts of myself to myself, hidden under layers of virtual “beige”, assuming that’s what I needed to do in order to be tolerated and get things done. And for awhile, I think it was (the real “me” is not always the easiest to be around – I am rather…quirky, to put it nicely).

The thing is, you can only do that for so long. Eventually it starts to wear on you, and you start thinking about how you used to be. And you question if that old “you” was the real you, or if the beige “you” is the real one, or if you’re not either of those things, but something else entirely. Did I make the right decisions? Did I marry the right person? Did I do the right thing staying in the job I have, or should I have looked for something better? What if I’d chosen a completely different life – would I be happier? Or would it be worse? Maybe the same, in a different way?

I was between thirty-five and forty when these questions and other unsettling thoughts started plaguing me. I thought I was too young for a mid-life crisis, until one day during the tail end of it, I came across a couple of articles that said women often experience one right in that general age-range. And the key thing for a lot of us is…we’re trying to figure out where we lost that piece of ourselves that’s missing. Often, the search for that starts back in the high school/college years.

This is long, and there’s quite a bit more to the story. So if you’re interested, stop by next week for another slice.