A friend said something the other day that resonated with me deeply. When I asked her how she was doing, she responded with a sigh: "I'm OK. But 'OK' is the new 'good,' you know?"
I fear she is right; we have indeed begun to see our lives as just "OK" -- and more to the point, we are OK with that. Shouldn't we be reaching for "great," settling for "good" and reserving "OK" for those days when the doctor says she saw something suspicious on the mammogram?
But I do get where my friend is coming from. Having an OK life has become a pervasive condition among mid-lifers. Perhaps it's not so surprising that the highest lifetime risk of depression was found among baby boomers aged 45 to 64 -- a shift, researchers say, from previous studies that put younger adults most at-risk. Are we, as a generation, collectively depressed? Is midlife depression the new norm?
I think we are, in part, suffering from a recessionary hangover after having the retirement rug pulled out from under our feet. It wasn't suppose to turn out like this. We were suppose to ride off into the sunset on our own terms with our colleagues feting us at banquet dinners and our bosses begging us to work just a few more months so he could train someone to do what we did by rote. Instead, we were shown the door and in many cases told our skills were essentially worthless in the new marketplace.
We don't feel old, we don't look old, we don't see ourselves as old. So why did everything suddenly get so damn hard?
Our marriages were supposed to last -- our husbands weren't supposed to drive off in red Corvettes with 20-somethings, their hair plugs flying in the wind. Our adult kids were supposed to find jobs instead of returning home with a pile of loans as the only evidence they had even been to college. And our parents were suppose to live happy and healthy and forevermore, sending us photos of them waving from atop a camel at the Great Pyramids. Us? We were suppose to marvel at how Mom had actually mastered the digital photo thing after all and then maybe booked ourselves a spa day.
Instead, that didn't happen. And many post 50s are left with lives that are merely OK.
Truth is, there is no magic pill to rid you of midlife depression, to make your job more secure, your marriage more solid, to get your kids to listen better or make your aging dad's problems go away. We carry around a plateful of worries and as soon as we solve one problem on the plate, another heap of overcooked spinach replaces it. Or so it seems.
OK has become our new normal and nobody has the energy to do anything about it. Am I right?
More and more, our lives have become cluttered with things we must do, pushing away the things we want to do. Free time is measured in minutes, not afternoons; getting everything done that we need to accomplish requires us to be scheduling acrobats. We create flowcharts to figure out who is driving soccer carpool and a shortened school day or sick child throws havoc into our best-laid plans. There are times when not even Mussolini could keep our family's train running on time. We set calendar reminders on our phones for our colonoscopies, the purchase of milk, and our kid's graduation -- giving equal weight to all, reducing each to "things we need to get done today." When "have sex" shows up on the daily list alongside "pickup dry cleaning," we know this is just going to be an "OK" day.
I say it's time to wrestle some control back from hectic schedules and midlife depression. I am giving myself permission to disappoint some people; I will say "no" more often. I will no longer suffer fools, but will instead truly ignore them. I will try to write a little joy into the program of each and every day, and just to be sure I remember to do it, I will set a calendar reminder on my phone -- but a priority reminder.
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