Editor’s Note: This personal essay is from Kathleen Fordyce. She looked to an old joy to solve a new pain and found her way back from a devastating loss.
Just a few months ago I was sitting in a windowless office, my leg twitching as I took a break from work to scroll through some new-found blogs.“Look at these people,” I said to my close friend and office mate, Jenna. “These people are out living their lives and we are stuck in here.”
She simply shook her head and continued typing. She was used to this discussion, the one we were constantly having about how I felt my life slipping away, day by day. I felt unfulfilled, frustrated and absolutely miserable because of it.
“Just look at these people!” I exclaimed, turning my computer screen so she could see the pictures I was scrolling through (some of them Warren and Betsy Talbot’s). “They are traveling and exploring, seeing new places and doing new things. They look happy! Alive! Excited! I want that.”
The problem really wasn’t my job – it was by all marks a decent one. The problem wasn’t the company I worked for, which offered great pay and benefits.
The problem was me.
Adjusting to Loss
My life had taken unexpected twists and turns (don’t ours all?) the biggest being my husband’s death from cancer two-and-a-half years before. After battling the demons of grief, I began trying to build a new life for my young son and I. But despite my best efforts, it wasn’t working.
A few weeks after my husband died, I dutifully went back to work. I sat in meetings where I had once enthusiastically offered ideas and engaged in passionate debates and discussions, and felt frustrated and impatient. I wondered how everyone could sit there so calmly as the days droned on, spending hours away from loved ones and arguing over some things that now seemed so petty to me.
I cut back my hours and that helped for a while. But still, I became restless. Months later I decided a change of scenery might help. So I moved us back to my home state, energized by the notion of a new house, a new job and a fresh start. Eventually I took a new full-time office position, one that I was sure was going to make our new life feel complete.
Except that it didn’t.
I was still unhappy. I was going drudgingly through the motions each and every day. I hated the mad rush we endured each morning and night, my long, energy-draining commute that ate up two-and-a-half hours each day. And most of all I hated my lack of excitement for the projects and the path my career was taking, and how little energy I had at the end of the day to put towards something I did want to do.
But as a single mom, I felt trapped. Despite having savings and options, I felt I could not leave the safety and security of a full-time job simply because I was an only parent. I preoccupied myself with thoughts of what I perceived I should be doing instead of focusing on what I wanted to be doing.
As time went on, my anxiety grew. I realized I was trying to live life like I did before he died, but that was impossible. Things had changed. Life had changed. I had changed.
And instead of trying to fight it, I figured I might as well try to embrace it. I finally became more afraid of continuing to live my life as I was, and wasting it away unhappy, than of trying to do something about it.
After seeing my husband’s curtain call arrive at the age of 29, I want more. I don’t want to miss out on the little moments with my son, because looking back on life with my husband, I realize those are the moments I miss the most. I don’t want to wait to travel and see the world, because by waiting my husband missed out on seeing so much of it. And I want to finally tackle the dreams that I had long ago stashed on the backburner because if I don’t do it now, I worry I’ll never get the chance.
And so I began writing.
Even though I made a living writing years before as a newspaper reporter, I had not written anything aside from my corporate and marketing work in many years, long before my husband’s death. I worried about everything: finding time to write, that I no longer could write, that I had nothing worthwhile to say and that it would all just downright suck.
It took me months of angst and worry before a loving, honest and encouraging friend, who also happened to be my very first editor years ago, told me,
Just do it already!
And finally, I did. One night after I got off of the phone with him, I unceremoniously sat down and started to write.
The essay I wrote that first night was posted on The Huffington Post and I have been writing ever since. I left my office job and have been freelancing for several months. While I still do corporate writing, speechwriting and marketing work, it is now enjoyable again because I get to take on a variety of other assignments and have time for other projects, too.
And I have the added bonus of spending more time with my little guy who keeps me smiling each and every day. I get to drop him off at preschool each morning and listen to stories about his day on the way home. In the afternoons while I work, he is by my side, coloring, painting, making things out of my post-it notes and putting staples in every piece of paper he can find.
Yes, there are countless interruptions (which include temper tantrums and time-outs) and my schedule is often hectic and irregular. Many days I get up early at 5 a.m. or stay up long after he’s tucked in to bed to finish projects. The perfectionist in me gets frustrated that I am not doing enough each day, that I am not writing enough and that my writing is not good enough. And even though projects continuously pop up, I still fret over finding the next job and earning the next paycheck.
But I try to quiet this voice in my head and focus instead on the many exciting new opportunities I’ve had, the feeling of accomplishment when I finally do finish a piece and the excitement of finding new stories I want to write. I may not be able to do it all today, this week, this month or even this year, but at least I am moving in the right direction.
And even on my worst day, I am happier than I ever was before.