When I turned 41 last August, I was on a much-needed vacation with my husband and two boys touring the towering Redwoods in Northern California. I was feeling optimistic – I had managed to get my hair colored and work wasn’t driving me mad, we were holding it together 6 months into the pandemic, and I had started writing again after several years of being too busy with babies. Then I coasted through the fall buoyed by cinnamon-scented candles, homemade pumpkin donuts, and finally a good election result. In the back of my mind, I thought things would start to look better, that by the holidays we would be on the upswing, even though I knew that made no sense. But Thanksgiving came and went, a surge plummeted us all back into reality, and 2021 blew in dragging heavy baggage from 2020. And here we still are, stuck, with the promise of vaccines complicated by variants and in-person school a fading fantasy.
Somewhere along this slow COVID journey, I started feeling age creep in around me. My sedentary lifestyle caused sciatica, wrinkles deepened around my face, I found gray hairs in places no one ever wants to find gray hairs, and then last week, a note from my doctor sealed the deal. “Your labs show elevated cholesterol so I am going to start you on a statin and we will re-check in two months.” Well shit.
I always suspected I would be the mid-life crisis type. I often obsess about whether I chose the right career path or if I’d be happier doing something more creative or fulfilling, if I made a mistake by having kids even though I am obsessed with them and think they have enriched my life beyond measure. Being trapped at home with no end in sight, no school events, dinners out, or planned vacations to cheer me, makes me wonder, “Is this all there is?”
When I was in my 20s and 30s, it seemed like I had a lifetime ahead of me to figure out what to do with life and how to be happiest, and many times I felt that I had found it. When I married my husband at 31, it seemed that the world was our playground and we could live abroad, have exciting careers, and then possibly babies someday. Then the years rushed past filled with travel, pregnancy, baby, toddler, house purchases and sales, another pregnancy, baby, toddler, and then we slammed into a COVID brick wall and haven’t moved since. And now, sitting atop this wall, I peer back at the years since my oldest was born and wonder, “What happened – I don’t even remember it” and I look forward on the other side of the wall and wonder, “Is there more over there? Or are we stuck here forever?”
I know time continues because I can see the days tick by on my Outlook calendar and the holidays whiz past. But it seems nothing has changed, and every day is the same. And sometimes it feels entirely possible that I’ll be living on this wall forever.
In the car with my sister last week, she said, “I was on the most interesting Zoom rant call last night. Six of my female friends were talking about how they are frustrated at work, or in their relationship, or with where they are living. One is thinking about moving across the country and starting over but is worried she’ll never be able to come back to San Francisco. Another just broke up with her boyfriend of three years. Everyone is just a mess right now.”
Just recently my husband and I started contemplating a move back east, lamenting the cost of living here in the Bay Area and how several of our friends have fled the skyrocketing home prices and wildfire smoke. Zillow surfing became my pastime to avoid doom scrolling the news, and I became obsessed with searching for a new home, a new life. Then we managed to get away to the mountains for a few days, and it was like the crisp, cold winter mountain air woke me from a fugue state. My confused mind had led me to believe that I desperately needed to uproot my life to make progress, that I would die like a still shark if I didn’t take action immediately.
In the car with my sister I said, “I’m in the same boat. It’s like I’m having a COVID mid-life crisis.” I had just told her we weren’t likely moving, to her great relief. “Look at me – I almost sold my house and fled.”
In the early days of the pandemic, many dealt with their own version of COVID crisis by taking up new hobbies. “I know, I’ll learn to make bread!” Millions ordered spin bikes, treadmills, or rowing machines to use exercise as an escape. Others started remodeling their homes or panic-buying furniture to re-decorate.
In this afflicted state, I often find myself standing in the kitchen chopping carrots or stirring homemade soup wondering why I feel like crap, again. I have so much to be thankful for, my boys, my home, my family. What is wrong with me? There are people out there facing so much worse. I search my mind, scanning through work stress, aches and pains, weight gain, and of course those things are bothering me, but nothing explains that…feeling. I let my mind obsess about frustrating tasks at work, and ruminate on that for a while. Then I whip out my phone and start scrolling Zillow again, seeking something better or maybe just, different?
So the question remains – do I do something drastic, uproot my family and buy a farm in Oregon just to feel something, anything new? Do I seek out work that will stimulate a dormant part of my brain and make me look forward to the workday? Do I plan a vacation for six months from now and hope it will happen? I need to find something to clear this roadblock in my mind that distracts me so often and makes me search, obsessively, for a solution. Or should I continue to wait and be grateful for what I have and accept that there is no perfect answer?
We’re all trying to fill this void, to find something, anything to soothe that now familiar sense of emptiness and anxiety. Logically, I know there must be an end. But right now, I guess I’ll just sit on my wall and wait, scrolling Zillow.