As I think about getting older, and trying to do so with grace, I think about the ways I spend my time. Not having the commitment of employment or the responsibilities of raising young children leaves me with the privilege of deciding what to do with my time. It is true that as one gets older, time seems to go faster. So that, coupled with the fact that I have less time to live as each day passes, means my time is more precious than ever, and is getting more so continuously. Too often, I take this opportunity for granted. I sometimes come to the end of the day and ask myself what I accomplished, and the answer is very little. Typical days include cooking (one of my favorite things to do), household chores, taking care of my family (husband and puppy) and watching a couple of hours of television. I enjoy my days, but if I continue to live like this, and come to the end of my life, have I done enough? Will I be content with my choices? And how do I define “enough”?
My career was centered on helping other people. Most of these people had been diagnosed with a mental illness, and were struggling. One of the primary goals was to help them learn to define themselves by something other than their diagnosis. I helped them to think about other roles that gave them meaning, e.g., parent, sibling, worker, gardener, etc. This was often a challenge, because when one receives a label, it is often used exclusively to define the person. We might refer to someone as a “bipolar”, or “compulsive” when describing them to others. The stigma of mental illness was often more limiting than the illness itself and I worked hard to change that.
I enjoyed the challenge of presenting a different perspective about mental illness to individuals and even more, to my community. I learned a lot about people. And fear. My job required that I think hard, and be creative. It was difficult, but most days I enjoyed it. Without the intellectual challenges of a job, I sometimes find it difficult to find meaning in my days. So is that okay? Are we meant to find meaning in each day? Is it enough to be at home taking care of my family?
Being home is where I find the most comfort and joy. I think I feel guilty sometimes for “just” enjoying my life. There are things I could choose to do that would be challenging and meaningful, but I just don’t want to. I tried volunteering as a member of a non-profit Board of Directors, but found I had little patience for the bickering and drama that always seemed to be present. The resultant stress just wasn’t worth it and I resigned. I prefer to give whatever time and energy I have to my husband. I just need to give myself permission to do that. I need to be comfortable choosing what I *want* to do, instead of what some would think I *should* do. It’s difficult.