Contending with a midlife crisis and pre-partum depression simultaneously: An existential double whammy (or, “Is That All There Is?”)

During the month that this blog lay dormant (and we attended a dozen different events), my general mood and outlook regarding the future took a swan dive and pretty much, on a day-to-day basis, remained 20,000 leagues below the sea.

This is no coincidence, surely. Blogging, and having people read and respond to what I’m writing, is therapeutic and always makes me feel good about the parenting perspectives I’m throwing out into the world, no matter how small my “audience.” Yet when I’m honest with myself, my low-grade depression wasn’t just about missing my creative outlet; it was also a larger wave of “Is That All There Is?”-ness. One that was temporarily threatening to drown me.

Now, for those who don’t know me that well, this is not typical – despite the fact that I’ve long assumed my place in the ranks of neurotic writers. (Yes, the minute any of us hear of the professional/artistic successes of friends and peers, we’re among the first to sincerely, excitedly congratulate them – and THEN we lock ourselves in a closet for several rounds of “Why aren’t I achieving things like this?” self-flagellation.)

Generally, I’m somebody wants precisely what I have. Strong, fun, committed relationship with someone I adore, who prioritizes me and our daughter and makes me laugh? Check. A job involving things I love to do (learning through research, talking to fascinating artists/people, and writing)? Check. A quirky, cheerfully painted old house in a neighborhood that hosts block parties and is footsteps away from a small downtown? Check. Good health? Check. And co-workers, friends, neighbors, and family members (including crazy little Lily) who play a positive role in my life? Check.

So is my problem simply a self-indulgent luxury of white, middle class existence? Which is to say, have I become one of those annoying people whose “problem” is that their dreams came true, for the most part, and now they just don’t know what to do with themselves?

I’ve been tempted to dismiss my ennui this way. It’s an easy explanation, with the added bonus of having a built-in, guilt-riddled “get over it, crybaby!” sensibility. But as is usually the case, things surrounding this funk were, I think, more complicated than they originally appeared.

For the first shoots of my anxiety arose in March, when the floor fell out from beneath the newsroom where I work. Though we’d already been operating with a small staff, about a dozen people were suddenly, without warning, laid off. Not only did I have to contend with the seismic shock of this change (and subsequent survivor’s guilt), but suddenly, the nature of the job that I’d always loved changed, as did the people I worked with, and the emphasis of the stories I would, from that point on, be asked to chase (or ignore, as the case may be).

Plus, as anyone who’s been in a situation like this can tell you, you feel anything but secure about your job when the workforce is significantly sliced down.

So I’ve had to face the same thoughts I did when The Ann Arbor News announced it was closing: if all this goes away, where do I go from here?

I have no idea. And the idea of possibly having to job-hunt while taking care of a newborn, and helping Lily adjust to this seismic change, simply drains me.

At one point, while talking with a friend about the anxiety I felt post-layoffs, my friend suggested I’d outgrown my job. Maybe; or maybe it’s outgrowing me. But regardless, as friends around me move on to bigger and better things in their careers, the opportunities to do what I do (while getting a paycheck for said labors) are disappearing from the landscape, leaving me floundering.

And though I feel my writing is strong enough, at this point in my career, to merit a larger audience, I seem to have plateau-ed (hence my Peggy Lee moment) and gotten stuck, in some ways, thereby making me feel stagnated.

In addition, my pregnancy has, not surprisingly, sparked Lily’s imagination and made her inquisitive about the biology of family. So we’ve explained a few times that not only had she been in my tummy at one time, but Joe, a long time ago, had been in Grandma Grekin’s tummy.

At this same moment, she’s developed a curiosity about our longtime cat, Watson, who died when she was only a few months old, and has become obsessed with killing ants she sees on the sidewalk. So she happens to be puzzling out the complicated concepts of both birth and death while preparing for the arrival of her new brother or sister.

Recently at dinner, as we were going through who had once been in whose tummy yet again, she pointed at me and asked, “Where’s your Mommy?”

“Well, you know how we told you about how Watson, our cat, got sick when you were a baby?”

“He died?”

“That’s right. He got really sick, and he was old, and he died. And my Mommy got sick, too.”

“Why did she get sick?” Lily asked.

“There’s no reason, sweetie. Sometimes there is, but a lot of times, as people get older, they just get sick, and there’s no logical reason for it. They just do. But my mommy, your Grandma McKee, loved you so much.”

“She rushed up here right after you were born so she could meet you and play with you,” added Joe.

“But before that, she wore pink to a meeting with her friends and said, ‘Guess why I’m wearing pink? Because I have a new granddaughter, and her name is Lily!’”

This got a smile from Lily, so I kissed her on the head and said, “She was crazy about you, kiddo, right from the start.”

Variations of this conversation have happened multiple times in recent weeks, so my mother – and the fact she’ll never meet our newest addition – has been in my mind more than usual, just as friends and colleagues seem to be moving on, professionally, to greener pastures, and while I’m trying hard to prepare myself for the huge sacrifices that inevitably come with the arrival of a newborn.

All this has reminded me anew that there’s often no rhyme or reason for why things happen. Sometimes, we have to make our own luck and opportunities.

I really don’t want to waste the precious time I have by living beneath my potential. All self-deprecation aside, I really DO believe my writing can do more than it has up to this point, out there in the world, and that it deserves a bigger audience than it’s thus far earned.

But when you don’t have a clear notion of what your ultimate goal is (a published book? writing for a national magazine?), and you’re limited a bit by where you live, it’s really hard to take the first steps toward making it happen.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll figure it all out soon; or maybe, I’ll get lucky and the universe will intervene and throw a huge, neon “This way!!” sign up in front of me, as it has sometimes done in the past.

Either way, here’s hoping I find my way.

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One thought on “Contending with a midlife crisis and pre-partum depression simultaneously: An existential double whammy (or, “Is That All There Is?”)

  1. Sheila says:

    I don’t have the added anxiety of a brand new baby to meet, Jenn, but I too ask the questions, “is this it?” about my professional life and “what do I really want?” about my writing. And I recognize quite viscerally the absence of your mom and Lily’s working all of that out. It’s painful–we’re going through this with J right now, lots of questions about “where’s my grandpa?” with no satisfying answers. This isn’t a particularly useful comment, I realize, but I just wanted you to know I get it and I’m thinking of you.

    Also, I found myself talking about your mom to my kids the other night. J found the quilt she made for R when he was born. She wanted it BADLY and he refused to give it up. When she demanded to have her own–“just like my brother’s”–I got to tell them how there is only one quilt like it and it is special because a very special woman made it with her hands.

    I feel so lucky to have it.

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