About this time last year I slid into a little bit of a funk. There was nothing wrong, nothing bad that happened to provoke it, and it wasn’t that I was depressed or miserable. Everything just felt sort of muted and opaque until this past spring, when we got the invitation to our first 25th high school reunion.
Both my husband and I have reunions this year, but his rolled around first. Which meant that it became the catalyst that brought into sharp relief all the unfocused thoughts that had been swirling around in my head for the previous 9 months or so. Not surprisingly, they were all different versions of, “This is not where I thought I’d be by now.”
Most of the time I’m actually amazed at what I’ve accomplished, where I am, and most especially, who I am. But having to step out of the world I’ve created here for myself and go back-even just for one night-into the arena of more traditional life choices really threw me off.
Part of it is the grief I always feel as a chronic illness patient in the middle of a group of healthy people. There’s no way I can help noticing the difference between their physical capacity and mine, in even the simplest activities like sitting, standing, and socializing. I hate being reminded of how sick I am.
And I am sick. Over the past 3 years my symptoms have worsened significantly, and my body is weary and worn down. My external world has gotten smaller and smaller, and I’ve become more and more housebound and dependent on medications. So it’s incredibly painful to be in an environment that constantly highlights this, especially on a night that is basically all about toting up your accomplishments of the past 20 years.
Part of it is the fact that, at almost-43, I really can’t deny any longer that I’ve entered into Middle Age. There are lots of physical changes, like grey hairs and the inability to read small print, but then there’s also the realization that I’m probably not going to become some kind of world-famous superstar. I’m not actually going to be able to do ALL THE THINGS! I can’t keep all life possibilities open all the time. And when I choose one thing over another, there’s a good chance that the other one is gone for good. It came as a complete surprise to me, but it turns out that I’m only human, and there are limits to this human life.
Then there’s the fact that, compared to the majority of our classmates, I have taken many of the paths less-traveled.
My husband and I went to college-prep high schools and universities that focused on preparing students for mainstream professions like business, law, medicine, finance and the like. Not everyone went this route of course, but there are enough that did to make me obsess over the fact that I don’t have A Thing, by which I mean a neatly summed-up, easily recognizable answer to the question, “So what do you do?”
So I scheduled a couple of super-intense, emergency situations with Lynne where she gently questioned the stories I was telling myself about this whole situation, WHICH WAS NOT AT ALL ANNOYING when all I wanted to do was freak out and feel victimized by life. But eventually I was able to get over myself enough to hear her when she reminded me of the things that are true about who I am:
-I do not actually want A Thing. My Thing is that I am a freedom-seeker; always have been, always will be. I like the idea of A Thing, something pithy to print on business cards and post in our annual Christmas letter, but every time I’ve tried to fit myself into the mold of A Thing, it has slowly leached away my soul and sucked away my will to live.
-Also, I like to choose. When I’m honest I remember that I don’t like trying to do ALL THE THINGS!, because I just get so overwhelmed that I say “Screw it!” and go eat some Thin Mints or buy something on Amazon. Saying yes-and no-is a big relief.
-I don’t really want to be a world-famous rock star. That would cut too much into my Daydreaming-and-Following-All-The-Rabbit-Holes Time.
But the most important reminder of all is that I love my life. Even suffering from fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder, my everyday life is really good. And I am damn proud of all the work I’ve put in to be able to say that, because it was NOT easy. And yes, I may have had to buy bifocals, and I may now be too old for many of the fictitious objects of my television show crushes, but I am super-comfy in my own skin, and only becoming more so. So, BRING IT, 40s.
It’s true that the way I’ve chosen to live my life means I don’t have a lot of external achievements to show for myself in comparison to someone who’s pursued a traditional career, and sometimes that’s hard. Especially when one of your husband’s best friends during high school was the wife-half of the husband-and-wife team who wrote the score for “Frozen”. (Who, incidentally, is one of the smartest, funniest, most creative people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, so I was actually really looking forward to seeing her again. Things just got funky when I fell into that whole trap of “comparing my insides to someone’s outsides” thing.)
So after hacking through all my mental drama, and then unexpectedly learning I’d gone down 2 sizes when I went shopping for a new outfit, the reunion turned out to be a lot of fun.
Although that’s not to say that it wasn’t weird at first. As I told someone (whom I later remembered was a psychologist), because we don’t have children, I feel like I’ve never had to grow all the way up (and there’s the material for your next article-you’re welcome). So when we got there and I first saw all these grownups with big houses, and jobs, and teenagers my brain sort of exploded from all the cognitive dissonance because all I could think was, “There is NO WAY I am as old as all of you!”
But then that wore off, and I started to enjoy myself.
It was fun to remember ourselves as teenagers, and then see how far we’d all come. And since my husband and I started dating at the end of our senior year of high school, it was fun to be around people who were there at the beginning of our history together.
Then there was the time I was talking to the Lopezes about their post-“Frozen” projects, and then they started asking really nice questions about my blog and, drawing deeply on my skills as a careful crafter of language, I lost all ability to form coherent sentences. I wanted to yell, “Wait! I didn’t study for this part of the test! I only reviewed, ‘How Not To Have A Meltdown’; I forgot to look over the section on ‘How To Talk Intelligently About My Work’.” But they were very nice, and there’s always the chance that it was too loud for them to actually hear anything. A girl can dream.
So the bottom line is that I not only survived but also had a good time and, unexpectedly, the whole experience somehow busted me out of my funk. And given the intensity of the angel-wrestling I did to prepare for this, I’m putting life on notice that when my reunion comes up in the fall, I expect it to be as easy as a hot knife through butter. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see.