I like to think that I’m the sort of person who, if I fall off the proverbial horse, gets back up again. Now I grant you, I’ve had my months (and years) of drama that may leave me bleeding and panting on the hard, cold ground, but… Eventually (dammit), I gather my forces, I stubbornly sit up, and I face whatever or whomever has tossed me down.
I get back up.
I give it another go.
I say no to defeatism.
Without question, this was easier when I was raising my children. If little people we love are counting on us, it’s amazing what strength we can find to do… well, whatever it takes.
Naturally, I’ve been thrown time and time again – in part because we’re all thrown by life, and in part due to my own poor judgment.
Sometimes we require learning the same lesson many times before it finally sinks in.
One of those lessons that is key – the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. This one was tough to master – especially when it comes to wanting to believe in those we once loved, and the systems theoretically designed to protect us.
And that brings me to dreams, to contracts we make with ourselves when we’re very young, to the way in which we modify them as a dose of reality requires that we do so, to the price tag we pay for the joy of family (some of those costs more willingly accepted than others), to the promises that are unarticulated, unrealizable, and unfulfilled.
Somewhere along life’s path, we may lose a little faith in other people, we may lose a little faith in ourselves, and we may harden in some ways, while softening in others. Experience has a way of both thickening the shell, and deepening our wells of empathy.
When you add years of financial stress, it’s difficult not to feel yourself buckling under the strain of responsibilities. When that stress never lightens, something has to give – and give big.
Maybe it’s optimism.
Maybe it’s enthusiasm.
Maybe it’s dreams.
I find myself pacing a little around my home before plunging into the day’s work. And I do not comprehend how I got here – not to this state, much less my current state of affairs; not to this stage in life, much less anything past 30 and single; not to this reality that tells me time is passing too swiftly now; I feel as though I have lost 20 years and with them, my most personal, most long-held dreams.
I tell myself these two decades were not lost at all: I see photographs of little boys I adore and a big, messy mutt; I see the goofy grins of teenagers in their gangly, awkward bodies; I see pebbles gathered on a far off beach, a photograph of a man who loves me, and files spread out on a table and chair that tell me I am – and have been – productive and contributing.
But my dreams feel strangled, crushed, trampled, stolen.
Perhaps this is only an impression; perhaps these feelings represent reality; perhaps it is my ability to chase my dreams that has been whittled away not only by time but by the extraordinary energies and expense it has taken to raise my children. And then there is the physical and emotional drain when there is fighting for years in the background.
“Oh, you’re just a little depressed,” friends say.
Maybe I am. Maybe, because I am accurately assessing reality rather than sugar-coating what I know I cannot change. Maybe I am expressing what so many wish they could but don’t – fearing they will be accused of a poor attitude, and consequently, living out a self-fulfilling prophesy.
So where does that leave me now? What can I change? Can I ever “come back” from the worry and exhaustion, not to mention the financial hole of parenting solo? Can I renew my dreams? Can “never say die” somehow work its magic?
Travel was a dream once – and I did it mostly in my teens, twenties and thirties. I usually traveled solo, and I’m especially glad I listened to my gut and didn’t wait. (I would’ve been sorely disappointed.) I have also traveled on my own after divorce, though money made those instances rare. Still, when I could, a trip on my own was always pleasurable.
There were other dreams, and one in particular that leaves me emptied and sad, as I have never been able to give it the time it deserves.
For some, marriage is the dream, and for others it’s the dream that becomes their worst nightmare. For me, it was neither. Yet I wonder, how many of us find that contrary to what we once believed, marriage brings out our “worst” selves in unexpected ways.
Ironically, motherhood was never a specific goal for me, and yet those blurry years of parenting, for all the fallout that remains, were the most tender and meaningful of my life.
Not spinning a dream doesn’t mean not knowing the joy of experience.
Some would say I’m suffering from burnout. Divorced Mom Burnout – to be precise, amplified by unrelenting stress. And maybe it’s true. But the end result is the same: I feel beaten down, unable to recoup “myself,” and idiotic for clinging to dreams.
We may reach a point when we have to recast our visions of the future and of who we are. Or we may be forced to cast them off altogether, for any number of reasons. And though I’ve always been a model of “never say die,” I wonder if hanging onto dreams isn’t an exercise in futility, a waste of effort, and the very definition of crazy.