I am not writing this in hopes that you will read it and offer any pity. I know there are so many people out there that have it so much worse than I do and would give anything to be in my situation instead of their own. I am writing this more for my own therapy and to tell my story of how I have gotten to where I am today and to hopefully connect with others who might be having the same experiences. This is only the start to the story of my midlife.
Five years ago, on the outside, I had it all together. On the inside? Not so much.
I was 39 years old. I had a great marriage, two amazing sons, a solid career. There was no apparent reason for me to be unhappy. In fact, I had every reason to be grateful for the many blessings I had been given. But, I recognize now that it was the beginning of my downward spiral.
Life happened quickly for me. I was married at 22, had my first son at 23 and my second son at 24. A taught high school math for six years - worked on my Master's degree the last two of those years. After graduating, I took a job as a mathematics specialist at an education service center where I was working with about 65 school districts and their secondary math teachers on curriculum and instruction. I also took graduate courses to get my principal and superintendent certifications during this time. After four years, I moved up in the ranks to coordinator of curriculum/instruction and was supervising the curriculum team comprised of about 15 specialists. I was doing lots of traveling for conferences and speaking events. My boys were in upper elementary/middle school at the time and involved in every extracurricular that came their way - sports, scouts, band, you name it. Due to my travel load, I had to miss some of their events, their school parties and assemblies, and often tucking them in at bedtime. Much of the load was left to my husband. He never once complained and we always managed to get everything covered, but guilty mom/guilty wife syndrome began to settle in. Then, the assistant superintendent position opened up at the school district my boys attended and I jumped on it. I left a job I absolutely loved so I could be present as a mom and wife. It was the right thing to do at the time and I have never had regrets. By the age of 36, my life was on track.
I had a really rough time approaching 40. I was not openly accepting to midlife and had a hard time figuring out why. I had always been an athlete. I could pretty much eat anything I wanted and not gain weight. My body bounced back pretty quickly after having my boys. In the last few years leading up to 40, that began to change. Instead of being on the low end of my weight range, I was creeping toward the middle then on to the higher end. I had a pretty normal complexion, not great but certainly not bad. I began to notice fine lines around my eyes, forehead, and mouth. Sex with my husband was great but it began to happen less frequently, and it wasn't because he wasn't trying. I always had an excuse - I'm tired, I have a headache, I have to take care of something for work or for the boys - whatever I could come up with to refuse his efforts. My life revolved around my boys and whatever they happened to be involved in. I never missed a football game, basketball game, baseball game, or track meet. I was at every band concert and Ag competition. School functions like pep rallies, award assemblies, and "meet the teacher" nights were easy because I worked at the school district. Too quickly, those things came to a halt when they moved away to attend college. I was exhausted. I didn't want to cook. I didn't want to clean. All I wanted was a good nap. I would look at myself in the mirror and not recognize who was looking back at me. It certainly wasn't the young, attractive, confident woman I thought I was. I began to feel lost, like my life no longer had any meaning. Who I once was was slipping through my fingers.
This continued on after my 40th birthday. In fact, it became worse. When I was growing up, I was outgoing and very social. I had lots of friends and we had a lot of fun going to parties, going shopping, and hanging out every chance we had. I had no problem meeting new people. If I was offered an invitation to socialize, I was taking it. But, things began to go in a different direction. I would much rather stay home with just me and my husband. I didn't want to go to dinner with another couple. I made up excuses so we wouldn't have to go to a party we were invited to. I had a few women that I was friendly with, but my only true friends were my husband and my sister that lived 6 hours away. Oddly, I was an extravert turning into an introvert. My husband and I would joke about not having any friends, but I was making it a reality for both of us. Then, it went from not really wanting to socialize to experiencing anxiety when I had to. The only way I can describe it is when I was forced into a social situation, I would absolutely loathe the time leading up to it. I would play out in my head how I would respond in conversations. Afterwards, I would obsess about if I had said something wrong that would offend someone or make me look bad. This antisocial personality I now had began to bleed over into normal, everyday interactions with my coworkers, the girl ringing up my groceries at the store, the Schwann's man stopping by to see if I needed any ice cream, the teenage boy from down the street that mowed our lawn. The whole time, I knew this was not normal. Something was wrong with me and it was getting worse. I talked to my husband about it. He was very supportive and tried to help, but I felt I was dragging him down with me. My sister suggested that I see a doctor and get on some antianxiety medicine. She is a constant worrier and it seemed to have helped her. So, my ob/gyn referred me to the best psychiatrist in town. She talked to me for an hour and prescribed Zoloft. I took it because I wanted to get better. I had to get better.
Two years ago, my dad, my sister, and I began to notice that my mom was becoming forgetful. It wasn't just forgetting her purse at a restaurant or calling my niece by my name without realizing it. It was her leaving flour out of a cake recipe she had made a million times by memory throughout the years, more than once. It was her getting confused and disoriented when she was somewhere outside of her home. It was her forgetting to pay the bills and misplacing her and my dad's will. We talked her into getting a checkup with her doctor. He suggested that she get in to see a neurologist. She was diagnosed with dementia in February of 2020. My husband and I decided the best thing for my parents would be for us to move closer to them so we could help out, go to doctor's appointments, and just be there if they needed anything. I turned in my resignation at work effective at the end of the school year and we put our house on the market.
In March, COVID happened. My son who had been attending school and playing football at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor came home for spring break and never went back. He finished the semester taking his classes online. So did my oldest son attending Texas Tech. After spring back, the faculty and students at my school district went completely virtual and I was working from home. At first, I was getting up and getting ready like I had to be in the office. About two weeks in, I was working in my robe with no makeup all day. After all, I could just turn my camera off when I was in a Zoom meeting. I was happy knowing I could be home by myself all day not really realizing how mentally toxic it was for me. We started shopping for homes about 45 minutes from my parents and two hours from where we currently lived. I interviewed for a new job that I was overqualified for and my salary would be lower. I took it because I knew I would enjoy the work. Our house sold and we bought a beautiful new home in the same town both of my boys were now attending college, online only, and we packed up and moved from the home where they had been raised. I started my new job in August. New beautiful home, close to my parents, close to my kids, new job I love. I should have been happy. I wasn't. I had to quarantine and work from home twice for a total of 28 days because I had been around someone that tested positive. I had planned to host Thanksgiving at my house for my family but everyone decided that it was best if we didn't gather during the pandemic and take the risk of one of my parents getting COVID. The first day of my Christmas holiday, my husband tested positive. A couple of days later, my son tested positive. Then, inevitably, I tested positive. A family Christmas was not even a question, so once again, we weren't able to celebrate with our extended family. I was supposed to go back to work the first week of January but had to work from home another week due to company policy. That is when I broke down. I was in a bad way and knew I had to do something to pull myself out of it.
I spent my quarantined holiday in my pajamas in bed most of the time. I got up to get myself something to eat and to use the bathroom. I only bathed about three or four times. I cried myself to sleep during the day when my husband was at work and most nights. Then I told my husband of 21 years that I thought it would be best if I left. He knew something was very wrong with me but he wasn't expecting me to say that. I had had episodes before but always came out of it. After a moment in a little bit of shock, he told me he did not think that was best. He was going to stick by me and we were going to get through whatever was going on with me together. I realized at that time that I had to dig deep and fight.
Every new year, I like to make goals and practice habits to improve myself. I needed to up the ante for 2021. So, here I am. Starting this blog is only one part of my self-rehabilitation. I hope to use it to record the rest of my journey. I want to share my experiences and learn from others. And, I would love it if you follow along. Hopefully, we can help each other out along the way.