“Over the months I kept a push on time: move forward, get over this, don’t take too long or you’ll get stuck here.”
On November 29, 2007 I turned 24. I remember it clearly: I had dinner out with my sister and later opened gifts from my dad. I remember when he left that night to go home (my parents were long divorced) I made sure to call down the steps, “Love you, night-night” and wave him off. I’d done it for the last twenty years.
When I turned 24, I’d been finished college for a year and a half at a school on the east coast in a program I loved. I had a good job and a recent promotion. I was still unfailingly nervous about relationships, but was braving the first dates of my life. I’d gone on my First Big Trip – two months road-tripping around Europe with a friend, drinking and eating and loving the world. I lived at home and didn’t mind. If I was a little shaky on life direction, it was okay, I was relaxed about it – the future was open, I had all the time in the world.
Four days after I turned 24 I came home from work to find my mom sitting at the dining room table, waiting for me. It was a Tuesday. She told me dad had a heart attack earlier that day. I asked which hospital he was at, asked how I could get to him. She looked up at me, shook her head. My heart paused. My life paused.
I never asked why, never pleaded or raged. I accepted my dad leaving me and tried to push through that first year by counting my Tuesdays without him. Keep going, it will be okay. But within six months my mom introduced me to a newly-met boyfriend who she was going to marry and move in with. My lifetime-home was sold out from around me, my mom disappeared as a familiar support, and my sister was struggling as much as I was. The threads I was trying so hard to hold together snapped and I started to disconnect.
I was too scared to let go of myself and really feel my loss – my dad, my mom as I knew her, my home, all lost in a matter of months. I was determined to be normal – I travelled, went to work on time, got an apartment, tried to keep my relationship with my girlfriend stable. Life had to keep going because I didn’t know what else to do. Over the months I kept a push on time: move forward, get over this, don’t take too long or you’ll get stuck here.
After my dad died I thought differently about life. We don’t have a lot of time here, so we have to make it really count. No second chances! No compromises! Live life to the fullest! Great learning, right? But as my drive to push-until-it-works sputtered and failed, my sense of life’s value warped. It started to haunt me: if I’m not living my life to the fullest I am wasting it and can never back the time I’ve lost. Every day, every hour that I wasn’t doing something fulfilling, important, and meaningful, I was wasting my life.
It was as panic-inducing as it sounds.
Over the next few years, that sense of time I had at 24 disappeared. Now it was Here-Comes-30 and I’m not married, I feel romantically stunted, I have no children, I cannot figure out a career, and I harbour unresolved travel dreams. That covers the entire life-story I grew up believing I’d follow, and I realized I was more lost than I thought. (Cue: more panic.) For the last year and a half I’ve been living with a ticking clock over my head. Tick – no career – tock – no children – tick – no hope – tock – no time.
In November of last year, I found myself in a therapist’s office, shell-shocked and afraid after four years out in the wilderness of my life. Initially I was there to fix myself from being an inadequate girlfriend. When my therapist asked me what I most wanted out of therapy, I said every time: movement. Gently, she expanded my attention to all parts of self – sex and romance, yes, but also life relationships, adulthood, career, family, loss. She suggested nothing about me is a problem to fix, I might just have to trust I am how I can be.
I’m gradually learning this to heart, realizing I’m going to have to learn how to let go after all. Learn how to feel it all – the shock, the grief, the fear. I understand now that I don’t get to move forward without doing that. I don’t get the joy, the humour, the love, without it. Strangely, learning this has meant I’m not paralyzed by fear any more. I’ve blinked one eye, wiggled a finger. Laughed at myself a little. Signs of life are slowly emerging.
And this is where YOU come in. There’s no end of story here – my transition is still in full swing, ticks still ticking and tocks still tocking. But I’ve been slowly learning to have patience with myself, to listen to myself, and to make peace with myself. It is hard work. But I’ve learned so much and come so far, just to wiggle a finger, and I know I still have so much more to learn and so much farther to go.
I figure I can’t be the only one in the world to feel like this. So I’ve decided to crack myself open and share my experience with you ladies of Stratejoy – as honest and raw as I can be – in case it helps one of you to wiggle a finger or two yourself.