By nature I am a curious, positive person, a glass half-full type. I bounce back from adversity fairly quickly, coming up with solutions for problems within a day or two, or seeking help from friends if I can't. But when I turned fifty, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that this was the beginning of the end of my life, and there was nothing I could do about it. I became someone I no longer knew. I didn't bounce back; I was cranky; I had a hard time coming up with suggestions for my kids when they brought me their problems; and I was unavailable to my husband. Finally he sat me down and suggested I get some outside help. My behavior was beginning to upset both him and my two daughters, who were then in junior high and high school. Although the counselor helped me with the depression, and it appeared that I was on the mend, deep inside I still believed my life was on a downward trajectory. I also believed I had to accept that reality and get on with it.
I couldn't have been more wrong. I had begun teaching at UCLA a few years before my 'descent' and moved on to teach in the Masters Of Professional Writing Program at USC during this period. I loved teaching there and seemed to inspire my students, which was great for my morale. It helped me feel less useless. Within a few years, both of my daughters had left home. It struck me that if my husband and I moved from Los Angeles, where house prices were still high, to a beautiful, quieter place with less expensive homes, neither one of us would have to work. We would be able to actually choose what to do with the rest of our lives. It took some persuading, but when my husband finally agreed I could check it out, I began to look in earnest. I told everyone I knew what kind of place I saw in my mind's eye. I was surprised to learn that a friend had a brother who had moved to an artsy town on the Olympic Peninsula the previous year. Where was that? Neither of us had any idea, but were intrigued that he raved about it. Much to our surprise when we took a trip to Washington to explore, we both loved it too. Our house in LA sold less quickly than we would have liked, but it did sell. I loved our new home and made friends quickly, joining several groups, attending meetings, and becoming a part of my new community. I found teaching work in Seattle, and didn't even have to give up something I loved doing. Suddenly I had a vibrant new life. I eagerly awaited new opportunities.
A few years ago I developed an infection that lasted over five months. I didn't become as depressed as I had when I turned fifty, but I wasn't happy. When I noticed a childhood picture of myself on the wall and thought, "I wish I could get her back," I sat down at my computer to write a letter to that little girl, though sitting was painful. The memoir that grew out of those first pages not only altered my life but changed the lives of the women who came to the workshops I offered with it as well. Sometime during the writing process my excitement about life returned. That exuberant little girl, the memoir she inspired, and the workshops that grew out of it led me to further writing assignments that expanded my horizons even more. I was no longer just a writer/teacher, but a mentor, an expert (which still feels a little silly), and a woman other women turned to for advise. Now I actually have to divide my day into different time slots: to answer requests; to blog; to see friends, to exercise; for me and my partner to enjoy one another; for my daughters and grandchildren; for my fiction writing -- I'm 350 pages into a multi-generational novel -- just compiling this list gives me pause. Life is certainly not spiraling downward. It is busy, filled with utterly enjoyable tasks, brimming with love, grandchildren, adult children, meaningful work, and a living environment that is sustaining rather than draining. Being open to what my life offers is a joy, and one I would never have anticipated when I thought it was almost over.
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