I failed, I’m aging, I’m sad.
We, our culture, isn’t really set up for these things. Americans are #sowinning and #beastmode at the gym and #allsmiles. Why be sad or emotionally authentic in a country where you’re asked ten times a day how you are and the only correct answer is, “Good. How are you?”
We put the “in” in inane.
I do it too. All day long, “I’m good. How are you?”
I wonder what would happen if we cut the crap?
Here’s a sample dialogue from the grocery store:
Clerk: “How are you?”
Me: “I just read a Harvard white paper that the US is in Developing Nation status economically and I’m scared. I have no idea if the piece I’m writing makes any sense and my career never really took off. I spend a lot of time alone worrying about those weird aging spots on my forehead. So I don’t think I’m so good. Actually I’m sad. How are you?”
Clerk: “I am not winning but I’m not exactly losing either. There’s a big space in the middle where I am mostly treading water with moments of greatness and other moments of public humiliation. Extremes don’t last. Oh and that thing about getting older. I relate. I am aging and it’s frankly a mess. I feel bad about 50% of the time and going to bed is my favorite part of the day.”
Me: “I’m on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) to stay above the waves of menopause which drown many a good woman. Too much Progesterone and I’m exhausted and foggy. Too much Estrogen and I’m looking to join Fight Club. No hormones and every bone hurts, my ass goes flat, my head hurts and I’m so sad it’s hard to recognize it’s a hormone thing because it feels real. Getting the cocktail right can take a few years..literally…years. So I struggle with that but I think I’ve finally got it down.”
Clerk: ” Let’s add to that-as an aging, single woman I spend huge amounts of time alone. Just me and my Netflix. I’m still not over the fact my children had the nerve to grow up and leave me. As Sir Thomas Moore famously quipped, “My children did not turn out well, they grew up.” (For those who have no sense of humor that is a joke.)
Me: “But what’s not funny is that virtually nothing in our culture prepares us for the empty nest. We are supposed to convert the kids rooms, go on trips, re-make ourselves. Pfff. Who wants to remake a perfectly good life full of beautiful children friends who show us everything? I did not want that. If I had my way the kids would have stayed right here and grown old with me. So add lonely to my list.”
Clerk: “Exactly. And when you’ve given everything to your family and have the ass dimples to prove it, you’re supposed to shuffle off and never speak of it, as if it didn’t happen.”
Me: ” I’m not agreeing to that. We did go all in and it’s okay to be sad when the kids leave, career seems less important and that dream of growing old like Jane Fonda probably aint happening for most of us. I failed along the way and still do. Getting old is a bitch but not everyone gets the chance–so it’s good in that way. ”
Clerk: “I feel that way. It’s not poetic or evoking some nostalgia for a time and place that never was but it’s comforting to know we can be in this together. It feels good to admit that we fail more than we win but we’re not judged by that. It feels as free as it’s possible to be admitting that I get sad and that it doesn’t kill me. In fact, sometimes I like it because it grounds me and reminds me that meditation is where truth and beauty find me. And I don’t love getting older but I don’t hate it either. It has some serious struggles–finding purpose, maintaining relationships with people who no longer need me but might want me and dealing with a body changing as much as it did in puberty.”
Me: “There’s no coming back from that.”
Clerk: “On the other hand I see the angst in the faces of those still in the big fights–the getting the kids set, keeping a marriage running on no sleep and more bills than cash and trying to climb some rungs of an imaginary ladder. That’s all in my past. The kids got raised, the marriage didn’t last but had a nice, long run, the bills are mine and they eventually get paid and I have no ladders-imaginary or otherwise.”
Me: “So, really how are you, right now?”
Clerk: “It’s a mixed bag. There’s some peace in knowing it’s all gravy going forward even if I don’t accomplish one more thing. So, it’s hard and it’s easy all at once. In that way maybe I am #winning and aging and sad and failing too. But I can handle it. It feels good to let it out.”
Me: “Yes, it does feel good.”
Start with the reality of your life and your struggles and wear them proudly. Say the things you can’t say. You have no idea how badly that is needed.