Have you ever had an existential panic attack? That moment where you wonder what your life is all about and if you are heading in the right diection? I originally posted this on March 5, 2012 (not that long ago) and I am kind of amazed at how much I have changed since then. In just a few months I have transformed from scared and insecure to goal driven and hopeful. I wanted to share this for anyone out there who is feeling stuck, scared or unsure right now. I have so much more confidence in myself today, just a few, short months later. There is hope! Hang in there.
We were recently visited by friends with a seven month old baby. This is a baby that is the same height and weight as my 21 month old daughter. When they held him up in a standing position he looked directly into my daughter’s eyes and smiled condescendingly (OK, I may have imagined that last part). My daughter is skinny and small for her age, according to the doctor’s growth chart, but still, this was kind of amazing to see. “He’s very laid back and happy,” his mom told me as my daughter collapsed on the ground in a dramatic heap; crying over something horribly wrong that went completely unobserved by the rest of us. He also sleeps through the night which my daughter does only occasionally and sporadically and when the stars align and the tides come in and hell freezes over and pigs fly. Already, I was feeling green with envy. No wonder these people were able to complete so many projects, go on (what seemed to me) nonstop vacations and make enormous leaps in their careers and education all while toting their little, or gigantic, bundle of joy around with them. They were actually sleeping – unlike me. Me, I look like the poster child for a movie about the walking dead. Me, who thinks getting dressed and washing the floor is a major accomplishment. Me, who was six days behind on her online art class only a day after it began. Then, just to punctuate their personality differences, my daughter chucked a yo-yo right at the baby’s head and then screamed for him to give her back her toy (like he had wrestled it from her tiny hands in the first place). Luckily, the yo-yo missed, but I understood how she was feeling. At least I could relate a little bit.
I felt so inadequate when they left that I immediately ran to my laptop and logged into the website of the local college. “What are you doing?” Jim asked me. I told him if I hurried I could still apply for the fall semester and enroll in classes so I could get a job that makes LOTS and LOTS of money. I need to do something to increase my status and vacation opportunities. What about my retirement?!!! I need to BE somebody. If I hurried maybe my life wouldn’t suck. My heart was beating fast. I was having an existential panic attack brought on by the green-eyed monster. “I thought you wanted to paint. I thought you liked your life,” Jim said quietly. “I do like my life,” I sobbed, “but I don’t think I SHOULD like it. I’m not accomplished enough. I didn’t even have one thing to write down in a family Christmas newsletter last year.” Then, realizing how absurd I sounded I started to giggle. Then I cried some more.
It’s so easy to compare your life to someone else’s and find yourself coming up short, especially when you don’t have all the facts. Other people’s lives look so perfect on the outside, but in reality each of us has our doubts and concerns that we struggle with. It’s not easy to prioritize children and family in a culture that worships money and status and tanned vacationed bodies and gigantic credit card bills. I often worry that I might be making some terrible decisions and wonder if other people are better at this whole life thing than I am. “Maybe you are doing it wrong!” the little voice in my head shrieks with maniacal laughter. I am, after all, my own worst critic. Will I ever reach the ridiculously high standards I have set for myself as either a mother or a painter? Probably not, but it’s not for lack of trying. The best I can do is to learn not to beat myself up for falling short a little or sometimes even a lot. I’ve got a great life, a great kid, a wonderful husband, and my career is moving forward, albeit slowly like maybe a snail and a turtle were taking turns driving the proverbial car. Anyway, it’s time to stop being a whiner or a quitter, or a winner or a loser, or whatever the popular saying is now. It’s time to stop the dramatic sobbing on the bed and grow a stiff upper lip. I’m picking myself up and dusting off my maternity pants (the ones I should have stopped wearing 21 months ago). Besides, not too many people can go to work with a smashed banana on their pant leg or purple paint in their eyebrows. I do have some advantages in this world.
Sometimes all this envy stems from stage fright. When things start going too well I get a little nervous. I guess that’s why other people’s plans look so much better and easier and of course safer than my own. It’s easier to toss my life overboard and follow the status quo. It’s easier to agree with people that their way is best. It’s easier to pretend to be someone than to actually be someone, to actually be me. No more easy stuff for me I’ve decided. I’m taking a stand. I’m proudly taking the road less travelled and choosing to go uphill both ways. My accomplishments are sometimes small when compared to the accomplishments of others, but they are my own. Plus, with just a few hours of sleep each night and a not-so-laid-back toddler (go get ‘em kid) I’m kind of impressed with all that I am able to accomplish. I did write this blog after all. It’s much more coherent than my speech is at this point. That has to count for something. My life isn’t exactly glamorous, but I don’t have the energy for that anyway. Excuse me, but I have to go wrestle a permanent marker, a penny, and an Elmer’s glue stick from my toddler’s hands before she eats them or uses them as a weapon against the dog. After that I am going to high five myself and write “Life Saver” on my resume.