Yesterday the kids went back to school. It’s always been a pretty big deal— shop for the perfect outfit, get the best school supplies, make sure the morning goes as smoothly as possible at home so the kids don’t have unexpected stressors on top of the start of a brand new year. This time it was even more of an event than usual because my kids were in virtual school last year, and because it was Mary Ann’s first day of middle school.
Since I have to be at work about 45 minutes from my house by 8, and Other Half works from home, Other Half took the kids to school. I reminded him before I left that he couldn’t forget the obligatory first day of school photos. I never plan ahead enough to have the cute sign with their favorite food and what they want to be when they grow up because it’s just not who I am as a person, but I always made sure to take a photo. As I was on my way to work, Other Half texted me the picture. I worked like usual, got home around 6:30, filled out a mountain of county or teacher mandated forms, and left again by 7 so I could go see my therapist. She is affectionately known as My Crazy Lady. Not because she’s crazy, but because she’s the one who handles my crazy, and you can pry my appointments with her out of my cold dead hands.
“I’m having anxiety about work,” I told her.
“That’s unusual,” she said. And she’s right. It is unusual. A couple of years ago when she first met me, work was the place where I ran to hide. The place where I felt in control. Where I felt like I was valued and respected and could help people. The place where I felt like what I was doing mattered. I volunteered to work extra hours if it was needed. I stayed late to make sure all the new patients were seen. I read articles about interesting cases and studied valvular heart disease for fun. But something changed. I think it might’ve been me.
“I think I don’t trust myself right now,” I said. “Every decision makes my chest hurt.” This is also unusual. Before, I felt pretty confident about the decisions I made, both at work and at home, but that changed too. I realized that the decisions I had been making before weren’t best for my family, and ultimately weren’t healthy for me either. I started to slowly let go of the picture I had in my head of how life needed to look, and the end result has been that I feel like I’m free-falling. I’ve let go of the ledge I was holding on to, and I’m waiting to see if I land on a trampoline or a rock. That’s how it feels, anyway.
“What do you think would make that better?” Crazy Lady cocked her head to the side and gave me time and space to figure out my answer I love that about her.
“I think I just don’t want all this stress anymore.” I said. “There has to be a better way.”
“What would that look like?”
A few months ago, this would’ve been a really complicated question to answer. I might’ve needed charts and an easel and color coded markers. Some type of algorithm or Venn diagram may have come into play. This time the answers were more simple.
“I don’t know exactly. I just know I should’ve been the one to take my kids to school.”
You might not know it, but that was a profound moment. My Crazy Lady knew it. She was thrilled. An honest to God smile spread across her face.
“A few months ago, I don’t think that would’ve been your answer,” she said. “So grab onto that. Start there. Start with your first priority, and let it guide the rest of your decisions.”
For so long, my decisions were based on my job, or my career goals, or this fierce need I have to control everything. I worked so hard to get where I was, and I loved every minute of learning and growing and seeing the pieces fit together. But ultimately, none of that is made to last. None of that is meant to fill the empty places. It’s important, sure, but important is a spectrum ranging from making sure you don’t leave your iPhone at home to oxygen. A few months ago, I didn’t know the difference.
Here’s what I’m learning. Sometimes the unknown is productive. Don’t get me wrong, I hate it. It feels terrible, truly like a free fall. But the free fall was so necessary for me. As long as I had a white-knuckle grip on my plans for the future, on my demands from life, all the pressure was on me. But in letting go of my expectations, there is a freedom. There is the realization that, if things didn’t work out the way I wanted them to, maybe it’s because they weren’t supposed to. Maybe I can trust the sovereignty of God. There are so many possibilities now. I don’t have to be who or what I’ve always been. I have nothing to prove. My mom was always telling me, “The pressure’s not on you, Amanda. You’re not responsible for the outcome. Do what you can do, and let the rest go.”
“I know you feel stuck,” Crazy Lady said, “But important things are happening right now. In this stuck place. Your priorities are changing. You are willing to consider that your life can be completely different and you’re OK with it. You sound more peaceful now when you talk about things. Life is coming into focus for you now in a way that it couldn’t before. I hope you find that encouraging. It’s a big deal.”
It is a big deal. I’m a little bit proud of the progress I made, and a lot lost about where I go from here. I have days of overwhelming anxiety about the future, and hopelessness at feeling trapped. But interspersed are moments of clarity, when you just know things like that you should’ve been the one to take your kids to their first day of school. So I’m going to keep looking for those moments and see where it all leads, free-falling towards a soft place to land.