I’ve been having a midlife crisis recently. I’m trying to reassess my job and my life to see if they fit who I am–so I took a short weekend jaunt to the beach to think.
So here I sit on the sand, looking out at the ocean before me. The waves lapping onto the shore. A world away from the frenetic cadence of my job, the salt slowly licks my toes. The clear line of sight to the horizon tells me that there is no place I have to be, nothing I have to do. My limbs belong to the sand and earth below me.
I close my eyes to take stock.
This ocean scene gives me clues about my choices in life. The sand is hot–too hot. And the waves–all that lapping, again and again—so boring! Peaceful, yes, but boring nonetheless. I can’t sit here anymore watching the world repeat itself.
The imbrication of shore onto sand reminds me of the incursion of everyday obligations onto my existential, activist self, the person at my core. I think nostalgically back to my college days in which the joys of my life included going on beer runs, skinny dipping, and having midnight impromptu discussions on existentialism, feminism, and self-determinism. Somehow, in my 30s, those experiences morphed into the realities of marriage, motherhood, mastitis, and mortgage rates. Long hikes on the Appalachian trail in my 20s turned into the short minivan drives to Jiffy Lube in my 30s.
I remember that I once longed for a job that married stable benefits with excitement. I thought I found it with social work in my late 30s—a job with good, municipal benefits, potential for longevity, and a job that is different every day.
Working with abused and neglected vulnerable adults, though, takes an immeasurable toll on my psyche. Although each day is different, sometimes I long for predictability; I long to be sitting on the sand and watching the waves lap onto the shore.
I think about a couple of recent clients whose lives invited me in, but their unpredictability left me unsettled as well.
There is Doris. The deep lines on her 90-year-old face are like the rings on an old Redwood, each groove representing another hard year battling grief. During my first visit a couple months ago, her tears pour out. She describes the accidental death of her 10-year-old son that occurred over 60 years ago.
“See, we had planned this family road trip for a long time…we were driving…then the truck, it came out of nowhere and plowed into us.”
I hold her weathered hand as she continues: “When I looked in the backseat of the car, blood was dripping down his beautiful, sweet, freckled face, and I just knew he was dead.”
Doris slowly runs her fingers down the grooves of her face like the blood that ran down her son’s so many years ago. The memory is as fresh as if it were yesterday. I think about my freckled 10-year-old at home, and I tear up too.
Later, I call Doris’ other child—the now 72-year-old daughter who had been sitting next to her brother when he died in the crash.
The daughter laments, “Not a day goes by that my mother doesn’t remind me that the wrong child died in the crash that night.”
Then there was the call I got for a current case I’m working on—a woman in her early 30’s named Holly with Schizoaffective Disorder (a mood/psychotic disorder that combines some of the features of Bipolar Disorder with Schizophrenia). Her parents paid for her to live in an expensive apartment. The building manager called me to complain that Holly was wearing stiletto heels on the treadmill in the apartment complex’s gym. I thought he was overreacting by calling in the county social worker to handle this minor situation, but I swung by on my way to another field visit.
“So why didn’t you just tell her to switch to tennis shoes?” I ask when I get there.
The manager snickers. “I don’t think you understand,” he says. “It is a very public place, and we have Senators and lawyers and CEO’s that live and workout in this building.”
“OK, so you can’t just tell her about footwear on the equipment?” I was getting annoyed.
The manager snickers again. “No, you see, the issue wasn’t just that she wearing high heels on the treadmill. That was ALL she wearing. Just shoes and nothing else. And it happens every morning now.”
“Oh,” I say and smile.
I go upstairs and talk to Holly who tells me that having a “breezy vulva” makes for a quicker and more enjoyable workout. I laugh, telling her I don’t often hear the term, “breezy vulva” in my work, but it might make a good name for a band. She laughs too. I explain the consequences of public nudity, such as eviction, but she does not seem to hear me.
We discuss the possibility of her getting back on medications, but Holly says they numb her too much, that she feels she can’t be who she is without her voices and delusions. I understand, I really do. Having been on many psychotropic meds for depression, I know that sometimes an impaired experience can often feel more genuine than one corrected by medication.
Holly is a poet both on and off her medications– but she feels she cannot write as well on her meds. I have had that same writing experience with psychotropics that numb my creative spirit. I can relate, but still, I help her make an appointment with her psychiatrist.
I understand the desire to run naked through the world. But just as the experiences of motherhood and mortgage rates have taken over my days of skinny dipping and time for free thinking, I explain to her that living in our world requires us middle-agers to have some decorum.
Sadly, I hear the lapping of the dreary waves of predictability as I help her pick out matching workout wear for tomorrow.