Ever since the summer, something has not been right with me. I’m dizzy so often that I’m startled when the world sits still. It’s nearly impossible to rouse myself for the predawn runs I used to leap out of bed for. A tickle has taken up permanent residence in my throat and my body aches in spots not in any way related to carrying a baby. Generally speaking, I just don’t feel good, and I haven’t for awhile.
I’m not one to run to the doctor for every little sniffle, and particularly not to complain of a laundry list of lingering, vague symptoms, but my husband wanted reassurance that I hadn’t come down with Fukushima-radiation-sickness travelled all the way across the Pacific, so finally, after weeks of nagging, I made an appointment for a full exam.
My diagnosis: Working Mother. My treatment: Mental Downtime.
I am not making this up. My first reaction was that mental downtime sounds like the absolute last thing I need right now. That big, relaxing breath feels too much like slowing down on the freeway to get a better look at the accident in the opposite lanes, only the accident I’m ogling is my own life.
So long as I am busy, I am content. I may be tired, I may sound like I still smoke a pack a day, and I may get a little grouchy when I wake myself up by accidentally rolling off of my yoga ball chair at work, but so long as I’m busy I feel like I’ve got everything handled. Give me a moment of reflection and all bets are off.
This time around, it started with the books, with a jaunt down memory lane by way of wistful road, sitting and thinking about all of the places I’ve been and all of the places I’m no longer going to go. Like clockwork, there it was again – that nagging sense of discontent rearing its purple dreadlocked head, looking around at the life I’ve made, scoffing and rolling its eyes, yanking on my arm and yelling What the fuck has happened to you!
And in that moment, something shifted. The physical ailments turned inward, into feeling sleepy not due to lack of sleep but lack of excitement, into feeling dizzy not from stress but from nostalgia and the disappointment it engenders in the present day.
Each time I experience this sort of debilitating nostalgia attack, the focus shifts. Sometimes it is a general desire to be in Europe, sometimes it is a specific quality to the afternoon light that makes me desperate to be riding a bus through the center of Athens. Right now it is a smell – a new bottle of handsoap I bought for the new house has the exact same smell as the soap I bought when I moved into my last apartment as a single woman, a skid row adjacent penthouse in downtown LA. Now every time I wash my hands (which is about a thousand times a day) I’m transported to a time when there was no husband, no child, no high stress job. I was free to sleep in on weekends, smoke cigarettes on the roof and spliffs in bed, skip meals and splurge on ice cream, watch reality tv marathons instead of writing, hang out alone at happy hour, drink myself sick with whiskey, and play very loud punk rock very early in the morning.
Even without the soapy smell to evoke that time, this has become the period of my life that I look to almost by reflex whenever I feel a bit of a need to buck the perfect life I’ve now built for myself. I was living in a broken down old hotel with sketchy elevators and cockroaches as big as the rats outside. I parked in an underground lot with shady valets, and relied on ex-con security guards to keep me safe while stepping over passed out junkies on my way to the stairs. It’s the kind of place I hope my daughter never visits let alone lives, and this may be what makes its memory so appealing – I’m never going to live anything even remotely like this experience ever again.
What’s different about the nostalgia this time around, though, is that all of this yearning is not from a desire to actually go back to those days. I don’t want to be free or dye my hair pink or take drugs or go out dancing (okay, those statements are maybe only partly true, but I accept my age and am doing my best to act accordingly). Instead, I want to get ahead in my career, establish myself as a writer, run a marathon, get a PhD. I still want excitement, just a more mature version.
Not too long ago, I had the rhythm down. I was getting in my runs. I was spending quality time with my family. I was sleeping (almost) enough. I was posting twice weekly to this blog and had plans to start a doctoral program next fall. But then we moved and fall semester started and work got crazy and the baby stopped sleeping and it all just went to pot.
I know that it will even out again. I know that these ups and downs are just a part of having kids. But I also know that the ups and downs are not going away anytime soon, which has me again asking questions like – How am I going to finish a PhD when I can barely keep up in an online introductory course? How am I going to establish myself as a writer when I can barely keep up with tiny little weekly blog post? And how am I going to get ahead in my career when I can barely keep myself balanced on my silly round chair?
All good questions I suppose, but all just dancing around the real issue, which is my inability to let myself sit down for a while and be happy with what I have, with what I’ve worked hard to build. Why not take a moment to just be grateful, instead of always asking for more? That is, after all, just what the doctor ordered.