I once had a therapist tell me that I’m living life as it should be in the world as it is. It was probably one of the most powerful things a therapist has ever said to me. I find myself living with a constant narrative in my head telling me that I don’t measure up to others, that I’ve missed the boat on growing up, that I have and am destined to fail. So here’s my dirty secret: the closest I’ve come to a “real job” is a three month contract about a year before I had M. That came after completing a psychology degree with honours, one year of grad school, a diploma in web design and administration and a certificate in arts administration. All that edumacation and I never managed to get beyond one short-term contract.
When I had M and started connecting with other moms they were all on mat leave, coming from a wide variety of professions. While they were trying to decide how long to stay home before returning to work I was filled with anxiety and insecurity because I had nothing to return to. When I became pregnant I was engaged in a long and fruitless job search in arts admin and the thought of trying to return to that with an additional few years of being out with my kid seemed impossible. For about a year I operated under the delusion that I wanted to be an electrician until on the last night of my electrical theory class I realized there was no part of me that really wanted that.
So I went home, sat down with H and said, “I don’t want to do this, I really don’t” and he said, “Okay, let’s figure out what you do want to do” (have I mentioned how much I love that man?). I picked up the continuing ed course catalogue for a local college and started to flip through it for inspiration, and I found it. One of their courses was in “life skills coaching”, not the same thing as life coaching but it reminded me that I had actually thought about becoming a life coach before but had dismissed it because I figured I couldn’t afford the time or money to train for it. I did my research, picked a school and dipped into the money given to me by my grandfather. Two years later I had a certificate in hand, a website up and running and even a couple of clients. I love coaching. It feels like a perfect fit. If I could afford to I would do it for free but of course I can’t afford to do that. And therein lies the rub. Whenever I think of how little I contribute financially to my household I get overwhelmed with guilt, insecurity and a diminished sense of worth. It’s like my ability to make money overshadows everything else in my life.
I love where my life is at right now. I have a great partner and a solid marriage, an incredible child, a home that I love (despite the old roof and bizarre DIY work of the previous owners), some great friends and I’m doing work that I love. But when I start to think about money and my perception of what others see as valuable or important it eclipses all of that. It casts a pall over my otherwise thoroughly fulfilling life.
I also know that I was not just twiddling my thumbs while everyone else was pursuing their careers and “getting things done”. But the work in which I was engaged was of a deeper more personal kind. While others were building their external lives and engaging with the outside world I was doing the hard but invisible work of healing, of trying to learn how to be okay. It boggles my mind now to think of how many years I went, knowing that I needed some kind of treatment, some kind of professional support in my quest for mental health, and got none. Ironically, university was the one time in my life when I could have gotten free therapy but I never availed myself of it because university was also the longest stretch I went un-medicated with no significant episodes of depression. Until a month or two before graduation when I started to slip into a nearly paralysing depression that waxed and waned for more than a year. At a time when I should have been jumping into the working world I was barely able to leave the house, just struggling to keep my head above water.
I know all of this. I know, intellectually how important the work of healing has been and how much energy and time it has taken and still takes.
But despite knowing all of that, I just can’t seem to shut down that voice that tells me that I can’t and will never measure up. That failure is inevitable. That I’m going through the motions, pretending that I haven’t already failed. That there’s nowhere left to go because if I can’t make a success of this I don’t know what else to do. That even if I decided to give up and go to work for someone else, no one would have me.
And right now I just want to “live my life as it should be” and “the world as it is” can go fuck itself.