(“I CHOOSE MY CHOICE! I CHOOSE MY CHOICE!” screams Charlotte into the phone to Miranda in Season 4 of HBO’s most ancient show ‘Sex and the City.’ She’s declaring that she’s come to terms with staying home to redecorate her Park Avenue apartment and try to have a baby while her cardiologist husband (the most cardboard weirdo EVAR, Dr. Trey McDougal) supports them. She is yelling about the (internal and external) judgement she feels about not working anymore. I started to re-watch SATC, but I think I’m done. Only time it passes the Bechdel Test is when one of their parents die. Why did I love this show so much in college?)
It’s been a while since I’ve posted. I’ve been hiding. There’s probably a more eloquent way to say that, like, I’ve been having an existential time of reflection, or something, but no, it’s hiding.
Life has been building up on me and hunching my shoulders for a while now, and I wasn’t sure how to talk about it. Shame and fear, probably. I hit a really deep depression a few months ago, and got lost. I didn’t know how to go on being me. I just kept thinking, I need a new version of this or I won’t make it. I had no joy or patience with the kids, no grace with Robb, no energy for my job in medicine, and no ability to put my feelings into words in writing. I wasn’t sure what it was that could change, but something had to. I started seeing a therapist and started an antidepressant. That brought me more calm than I’d felt in some time, it quelled the anxiety, the constant negative voices, but I still felt trapped under something heavy. I wasn’t sure how to take steps to get out from under it. The worst part of it was the inability to act. I’m a do-er, usually, but being trapped there, I couldn’t even begin to make an escape plan.
Robb helped me. He saw and heard and dropped me a rope. One step at a time, let’s figure this out, he said.
What could we give up? We have a small business that’s going ok, but requires a ton of work and hasn’t made money in 2.5 years of Robb doing it full-time. It’s normal for a new business, but can we sustain it? We have a marriage that is also a business partnership, and both need a lot of attention. We have two small kids, one who has increasingly required a LOT of high-level parenting. Reading parenting books, seeking expert advice, etc. I have my writing that is the promise of something cool, but I need to devote the time and truth to it to get it to go anywhere. We have my job, my waking up five days a week before 6am to work full-time in a hospital.
What could give? What could we live without so I could get out from under it?
- We discussed shuttering the business, but we didn’t want to do that yet. What if it becomes something? Our ice cream brings joy to people, and even when it’s a pain for us, it’s kind of a cool, adventure sort of pain.
- We won’t give up on our marriage, and can’t afford to not run the business together.
- We have to give the kids all the attention and energy they need. Have to. They deserve it. What else can we do? If they’re struggling, we’re all struggling. I have to BE THERE. But, like, a fully, functional me, not just this sad shell I’ve been giving them. And what if, if I could get out of my trap, and I’m actually there there instead of here and there, what if we all improve together? Could it be that they feel my stress and that’s contributing to their own? My wounds are wounding them? What if I heal and so do they? Are we E.T. and Elliot STILL?? I thought that stopped with breastfeeding, but what if it didn’t?
- My job. I’m the bread-winner, how do I quit that? We eat a lot of bread. I always intended to work full-time. I have fear of not contributing if I’m not working. I got a schmancy degree for a reason! I have been working in my field for 10 years. I’m experienced now. I’m worth something. I can’t waste that! My bosses and my paycheck tell me so.
This decision to stop working took me forever to make, and even when I knew I needed to, I still couldn’t do it for all the angst and identity questioning it brought up. Robb had to finally put a hand out to stop my spinning. He held me up and made me face how exhausted and broken I was. He insisted we change places and I rest and recover and dream and be less for fewer people for a while. He’s going to take that on for now.
I have this thing in me where I don’t want to depend on anyone else, where I’m only worth what I can produce, what I can show for it. Especially as a woman, I have to LEAN IN, right? What if I lean back and it all falls apart and reflects badly on women? I KNOW it’s bogus, but who am I if I’m not working? I’ve said before that I’m a Stay-at-Work mom, and as mad at myself as I am for this, I’ve judged women who live off their husbands and “don’t contribute.” Not working is a breech of contract with myself. And to others, maybe? Can I rely on my husband for money and call myself a feminist? (Acknowledging that that is dumb, dumb, dumb. My male life companion relied on me for the past few years and it didn’t blow up his identity, thank you very much).
I put so much value in making money. I’m still working through all that. I don’t know if it’s sexism or competition, ambition above relationships, if it’s good or bad, or both. I don’t know. Here’s where my silence has been living, in thinking about all this. I just know I’ve been working since I was 14. As many hours as I could, in roles that made me feel increasingly important and needed. Through my self-doubt and loathing, anxiety and depression, working proved I was enough. I love getting a paycheck. Proof of my value. I’ve been able to support my family and our business. Just me. That should mean I’m successful and good, right? Then why do I want change, creativity, growth? Something else? Why does it feel so heavy? I’m itching for this…other thing, but I can’t just not work, can I?
In this new version of my life, Robb will be working full-time again. I’ll be working less. Still part-time as a surgical Physician Assistant, my gig for the past ten years. I think. We’ll see. I’ll also be running our business, I’ll be with my kids more, and I’ll be writing. I really want to write a book. I think, if you’re a real writer, you’re supposed to call it a ‘novel,’ and if you’re a real real writer, a ‘manuscript.’ I’ll ask at the next club meeting.
I want those things, and I think it’s OK for me to want them. I’m choosing my choice. It’s been hard, but I want to remain flexible, and I want to make my needs count. I haven’t historically done that well. Something about falling, broken into a pit makes you open to the idea that you’ve been doing it wrong all along. I’m gladly, hungrily, taking Robb’s help, my therapist’s, my medicine’s, my friends, and family’s help. I don’t want to be a stoic hero all on my own, miserable. We are in this together and it’s good. I can fall, and there are people there to (laugh and point, and then) help me back up. It’s OK. I’m awake again, able to make decisions again. I squeaked out from under the heavy thing, and for now, I feel light.
After school the other day, I was pushing a pile of kids on the tire swing. They were trying to kick me, like little jerks, and we were all laughing, and sweating in the end of summer heat. One of the second grade dad’s, who we’ve known since kindergarten, asked what was different about me. I said, “Well, I got these bitchin’ bangs…and, I’m smiling. Like, really, really smiling. You may not have seen that on me before.”
First day on my new job. We’ll see…..