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November 20, 2013

Remember about a month ago, when I just about had myself convinced that what I’ve been through the past couple of years or so was simply an existential crisis? Well, I wasn’t as far off the mark as you might think……I really am in the middle of such a crisis. AND I’m bipolar. Nice combination.

It all came to a head as I was lying in bed last night, trying to go to sleep, and as the thoughts which have eluded me began to “jell” I finally was able to articulate some of them to Will, who also was trying to go to sleep. Now I think I understand what has been bothering me: I feel diminished.

Like my parents before me, I’ve always had high expectations for myself. In fact, up until recently I dreamed of doing great things and becoming well-known, maybe even rich and famous. And while those “great things” never really formed themselves into measurable goals, I had a childlike faith that I would figure it all out eventually.

Thanks to this recent foray into the world of serious work—and the reality check that followed it–I have indeed figured it out, and what I’ve discovered is that there is no “there” there. And it’s not that I don’t still want to do more and be more, it’s that I can’t, and the fact that my potential is limited by circumstances outside of my control doesn’t make me feel any better. I see the window of opportunity closing rapidly, and I’m disappointed because there are so many things that will never happen.

Like furthering my education. When I graduated from nursing school in 1997, I decided that I’d go back for a bachelor’s degree, or possible a master’s, within five years. Well, I went a long way with my associate degree—farther than most—which is probably why I never did follow through. But now most high-powered and all academic nursing jobs require at least a bachelor’s, and it’s too late to go back because I’m up to my eyeballs in debt and I’ll be at least 94 before I can afford to take out student loans again.

Oh, wait a minute. I just remembered: I CAN’T do the high-powered jobs because I crashed and burned on the last one, and my reputation was among the casualties. Not only that, my husband’s cancer treatment, plus that pesky manic-depressive illness of mine, make a 50-60+ hour-a-week job all but impossible. Add in the fact that I would much rather spend this time with him—which is time I will never get back if I use it to try to achieve some semblance of economic security—and it doesn’t look too good for the career trajectory.

Besides, I’m in my mid-50s, and I am tired. Nursing isn’t an easy life, and I just do. not. want. to work that hard anymore.

So now the task is to make peace with what is, to stop wanting to be the person I never was and can never be, and to accept the limits that my life circumstances have placed on my ambitions. In some ways, I still don’t really know what I want; the only difference between me and the average adolescent is that I’m older and I know uncertainty is a lifelong companion.

And it’s OK. Some of us NEVER figure it out. It’s not going to matter in another fifty-five years anyway, so being comfortable with being UNcomfortable and knowing that not all problems have solutions is the only way to deal with those questions that arise late at night when you’re lying in bed, trying to go to sleep and wondering just what the hell you really are good for anymore.

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