I love routine, and sometimes even things that are bad for us are hard to let go of.
This past week I’ve spent a lot of time mentally combing through my past. More specifically, at decade-old memories. When I was nineteen years old I took a course and became a certified nurse’s aide (CNA). I had been taking general courses through Olympic college with the idea of becoming a nurse. I became a CNA to see what it was like, in the field, before pegging myself to this specific line of work. I was a single mom, with one baby son, and nursing paid well, was always in demand, and offered flexible scheduling.
I would spend three months working in the long-term care wing of a state-run nursing home. I worked with people that knew this was their last home. I listened while helping them bathe, dress, and walk to their appointments. They talked about their families, their memories, their hobbies. But what stuck to my memories, like rust to metal, were their regrets. They wished they had worked less. They wished they had traveled more. Wished they had made more time for family and friends. The wishes were long and often painful. There were few truly happy people there, though I should add this was a state-run facility and many people that were there had no other options and no family that could take them. It was purgatory, and their words stick with me to this day, but not so much as their expressions do.
It hit me, hard, and while I was engaged at the time I broke it off and I changed my major back to English. I wanted to pursue what was important to me. I wanted to make decisions that would lead to a happy life even if they meant things were uncomfortable at the time. I would make decisions that didn’t turn out so well, but I risked it. I didn’t want to let opportunities pass.
I have gotten better at noting red-flags, though while my second marriage failed, I am still happier for it than I would have been otherwise. My children are the best of me. They are the world and there are worlds within them.
But what now? I spent the whole last week considering the last decade. How much time I spent dwelling on the negative. How often I let my thoughts drive me – my emotions, too. What did I write in the last decade? Writing is so important to me, what have I accomplished? I can show you in less than 10 pages how much I’ve written in the last decade. Time is a gift – an expensive commodity- and in my last decade I did a lot of good things, but I also missed opportunities to grow. And this is when a little reflection leads to a rude redirection.
I quit drinking. It was a crutch- some kind of response to social anxiety, some melancholy, or stress in general. But I look back at the last decade and see many, many things that might have gone better if I hadn’t been drinking. Or may not have occurred at all. I know too much now to continue drinking, as the initial band aid it offers soon gives way to crippling depression and anxiety. If I look at years 20-30 and the negatives that could be attributed to alcohol consumption, and I take out the alcohol consumption, then 31-40 should be better. I broke some things that cannot be repaired, though, and that regret will linger.
I don’t know that depression and anxiety can be reduced so much in the next decade but I know there are steps to managing them. Not letting them run the circus. I’ve been working hard lately on redirecting thoughts when I start to dwell or overthink in certain areas. I make lists of what I CAN do, and I do my best. I had spent so much time in the previous decade stressing things when often nothing happened. All that mental energy, all that time in a negative space, achieved nothing. I vaguely remember a quote to the effect of “You never kill your demons, you only keep them on a leash.” I have no doubt I’ll always have lows and bursts of anxiety but I don’t have to let them dictate.
Self-care. That whole idea. Eating right and exercising. Who knew giving your body better tools made it perform better? I’ve been through months before of eating a whole-foods diet and exercising regularly and I KNOW it helps a ton, so why not go back to it? Life is short, I’ll still sometimes cherish a cupcake, but I can, as a rule, do things I know will help keep things in balance.
Discipline means writing more, and spending more time in general on extended goals. Namely, getting a draft done this year for my novel, as well as continuing to work on short stories to throw at places. Family time means being more present and appreciating my kids even when I want to sink into the couch after a long day at work. My eleven-year-old is a consistent reminder of how fast time goes. When he was small, when it was just me and him for 6 years, I always thought I’d get my shit together. Almost 6 years later I’m still struggling. We’re working on that.
I had meant to move before he reached junior high. Renton was never supposed to be it. But making what I make, and the school district being decent, compared, it looks like the fam is staying put. While there is some melancholy in there, I am relieved at having the decision made. It wasn’t a simple one.
The TL;DR version: I’m not entirely proud of the last decade. I wasted a lot of time and opportunities. That noted, I intend to do better in the following decade. Positivity being the key term. Discipline being the second. There are chances I lost out on. Sometimes there are no second chances. Only lessons. And should I see a different opportunity, I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.