Sometimes this happens: small pieces of things over time influence me but they are random and don’t make sense, until the final piece is found and I see how they all fit together.
Over the past three or four weeks, I have been struggling. I know what depression is and how it feels, and this is partly that, but not exactly. It is more the process of seeing who I am at this time in my life and realizing I do have regrets, I do feel trapped, I do wish I had made other choices. I will turn 50 next year and this just keeps hitting me, over and over. When my dad was my age, he only had about nine good years left before his dementia started. My mom was 75 when she died.
Five sevenths. 5/7. I keep seeing it, a fraction, a narrowing pie chart, 8:35pm on the clock.
I want to give myself grace. I want to say I made the best decisions I could within the context of my life. I want to let myself think “no one life can have everything.” I run the checklist in my mind:
I have a husband who has evaded death more than once (more than thrice, truly) and at least once a week we hike together.
I had four amazing kids and I get to have Elliot in my life.
I was blessed to own a home where I raised my kids safely, cooked meals, baked cookies, grew flowers, raked leaves, shoveled snow.
I have a handful of close, true friends who I value with all my heart.
I got to travel a little bit. I’ve put my toes into the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Sea of Cortez, sobbed in art museums, walked inside European cathedrals, ate slices of pizza on New York City streets.
I have run marathons and half marathons, climbed Half Dome, hiked countless miles.
I lucked into a job that allows me to use my skills and interests in ways that sometimes feel like they are helping my community.
I know I have had many good, fantastic, amazing, and truly lucky experiences in my fifty years.
But I still find myself mourning—yes, mourning. That is the word for what I am feeling.
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One of those stupid “choose two” memes.
It was a list of ten compelling things you might have in your life, and you’d respond with the two you would pick. I don’t remember all of the options—I would’ve chosen wealth and a healthy body—but one I can’t forget: One million followers. I scrolled through some of the answers and was shocked at how many picked that option. My mind keeps going back there, trying to understand (not judge). Why is social media fame important to people? Am I motivated by wanting more followers? Why do I spend time on Facebook and Instagram? I will always say I don’t really care about my miniscule numbers, but if I am honest I am still bitter that I am not one of the cool girls on Insta or a successful blogger. Given the actual choice in reality, I wouldn't pick a bunch of followers over other things, but there is still some part of me that wants to be seen in that way.
Running friends are racing again.
I swear…over the past week my Insta has been filled with running friends doing amazing things. Finishing marathons, running solo virtual marathons. 50Ks and 60Ks and 50 milers. Rim to rim to rim runs. Hard things that they accomplished and I am proud of them and happy for them. But then I turn my thoughts to my “hard” things…this week I will bump up from five one-minute running intervals to seven. I am finally walking without a hitch if I concentrate, so my next goal is to walk correctly without thinking about walking correctly.
Even a 5k feels out of reach for me right now.
Do I want to run races for the likes? Not really, although I would share. I want to run races for the experience of it…for the training and for the day itself. For dirty ankles and tired calves and a runner’s suntan line on my thighs. But mostly it is for that feeling of confidence in my body. In knowing I could get myself home on my own two feet if I had to. In trusting that my legs are strong, if not fast, and take me to places you can’t get to in a car.
I miss that desperately because it was a thing that made me feel like I had succeeded in something. I mean, I will never win a race. I’m not fast. But knowing I had challenged myself and then risen to it—knowing I had accomplished something—gave me a way to feel proud of myself. I can do hard things.
No: I could do hard things. Right now I can’t.
So where do I find any positive thoughts about myself?
Reading Oona Out of Order
This is a time-travel novel, of sorts. For unknown reasons, the main character, Oona, begins “leaping.” At midnight on each New Year, she finds herself as herself, but her body and her life are in a different, random year.
Just the kind of novel I love. (Just the kind of novel I wish I were talented enough to write.)
There is a scene where Oona’s mother is dying, and she tells her daughter some graceful and grateful things, to keep with her once she is an orphan. I sobbed as listened to this scene (I was reading it as an audio book) because I also had one last conversation with my mom as she was dying, but it was neither graceful or grateful. She was dying but she was still disappointed in me, and so I had to pause the audio, sit on the rug on my kitchen floor, and weep. Because my mom is gone, because I don’t get to go back and fix things, because I let her down so much that even in death her love for me was qualified. I wasn’t who she wanted me to be and I will know that for the rest of my life.
Maybe my people love me because I am kind to them and don’t always bash them with my opinion.
This is a memory of a conversation I had in the fall of 2020, when we were deep into the pandemic and the US election and a fractioning of my extended family. Unlike most of my family (on both sides), I don’t have grandchildren. I don’t have in-laws. And my political beliefs are different than many of theirs. But to be told so bluntly that the only way I can be loved and appreciated by others is to stay quiet, to pretend to be something I am not…it continues to eat at me. I can hear the tone of that statement still, and the words come to me at odd, random moments. What they mean is that I am unlovable the way I am, and that other people have big families they matter to because they are lovable.
That someone I love told me that makes it even worse. What do I do with this knowledge?
Two Instagram posts.
Isn’t this crazy that the two missing pieces were on social media, when it is often also social media that sends me spiraling? Nevertheless, here they are, the two pieces I needed to finish this small puzzle.
1. A runner I follow wrote a post about the challenges she has overcome, but how she still sometimes compares herself to others. Then she realized that challenges are only about yourself. The people running 6-minute miles are strong in visible ways, but many others are strong in ways that are harder to see. But we are all still struggling with something, and what matters is pushing forward. My hard thing, small as it seems, is still something I am striving to overcome, and I still get to take a sense of pride in that, even if it’s invisible on social media.
2. This morning, I stumbled upon the IG of an artist, Annie K. Blake, who passed away earlier this year from pancreatic cancer. I am not an artist but I am deeply drawn to art, especially that done by women. Her page touched on some of my insecurities—she belonged within the Utah artist community, she was seen and known—but as I scrolled and looked at her images and read her words, I found myself (again!) crying on the floor of my kitchen. Not because of despair, though. I mean, I didn’t even know about her work before she passed away, but I will never get to know her at all now, but it still wasn’t despair, not really. It was a click, somehow. Maybe in the fifty years of my life I haven’t accomplished anything of merit. If I died tomorrow I would leave behind no art and many of my goals unfulfilled. Maybe I only have a couple of decades left, maybe even fewer.
But I also felt a…a lightening, perhaps. A shift in my mourning. Because at least I am alive today.
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I don’t turn easily towards optimism. I want to be hopeful, to look on the bright side of things, but it isn’t a natural part of my personality. I have a hard time letting go of negative experiences but am highly skilled at downplaying the positives. That means that my mother finding me disappointing in the end and someone else telling me I can’t be loved unless I act like someone I am not doesn’t feel like a bruise but a tattoo.
It means that yes: I did train for and finish a marathon while recuperating from whooping cough. I did qualify for regionals by competing with a freshly-sprained ankle. I have continued to increase my uphill hiking speed even as my age increased. I've done many hard things in the past. But I still need to prove to myself that I can do hard things by continuing to try to do other hard things. I can’t rest on my past hard things.
But since I know these things about myself, I know I have to work to see experiences in other light. To seek out different pieces of knowledge that aren’t only dark. That the puzzle only comes together with both, with self-doubt and self-belief, with shadow and sparkle, with despair and hope.
I am still struggling. But this little puzzle of random things I have assembled lately helps remind me that it is just that: a process, not a destination.
Maybe there will still be good within the last 2/7ths of my life.