The year we spent in China was life-altering. We learned to rely on each other in very specific ways, my husband for his stature (holding doors for me as the throng of Chinese pressed us forward), and me for a few musical talents (singing the language was paramount). We zigged and zagged and became stronger for it. The yin/yang of our marriage carried us through many a rough patch, and continues to provide some emotional safety in the balance of years. But what if my story was different. A parallel universe in which I made different choices and relied on different rules. Narratives in therapy mean a lot. It gives us the opportunity to re-write our histories, and offer ourselves a little grace for the wrong turns. Because our memories somehow favor novelty, bad things seem to envelope us more than ordinary goodness. It's the big things that seem to define us, but the little things matter too.
What if as the child of a Publisher I went on to work in the world of books and new media (which I did for a time), became an editor, met someone placid and benign. We would buy a house with a white picket fence, produce 2.5 kids and a dog, then do all the right moves as we aged in place. I would have worked out my abandonment (by my narcissistic father) issues earlier and taken fewer risks, spent time with the kids, gone on more vacations, and had nicer knives. Instead, because of my husband's creative and entrepreneurial spirit, and his derailing spinal fusion surgery, however, we mostly did not afford those kinds of luxuries. There were many ups and downs, such as the devastating loss of my mother to cancer at the age of 63, and I had to reinvent myself again and again to stay afloat. Instead of telling myself it's better that my mom didn't see 9/11 or Oct. 7th or a tragic family loss - I tell myself: it's not better when you lose the one and only person in your corner.
I leaned into what I was good at.
Then came the pandemic. Never before was I so in demand as an experienced therapist to teens and young adults. Like Lisa DaMour, I counseled hundreds of young girls to gain more motivation and resiliency. It worked! I developed a style that was relatable, not preachy or condescending, but encouraging and calm. Not knowing what to call this, I simply became the nice lady who had a busy practice and was gaining traction. My husband claims he encouraged me to do it, even when I doubted myself. I kept changing with the changing landscape. I joined every panel and peer group. I was good with computers (not so good with paper). I also grasped a whole new level when I started educating myself about trauma.
I'm worried about aging out of relevance. As a cusp Boomer, I am getting closer to the time when things wind down. But what else would I do now? Yes more travel, more pickleball. More time with friends. Less time glued to screens. But until I really know when to stop, I just keep swimming. My story isn't finished. I can still be a success. I can still write the final chapter. Our kids exceeded all expectations. I am grateful for my husband's faith in my abilities. He saw it when I couldn't. I always say to him, you're the smart one, figure it out! For some reason, now, it comes down to me. I have to figure it out. I struggled with feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, depression, trauma, anxiety and panic, particularly in my early 20s. Yet perhaps I did something right. It's never too late to shine.
Happy Year of the Wood Dragon.