It’s been two years this April since I left my career. A few thoughts:
So much of my identity was wrapped up in my career. I still feel lost, like I’m wandering off-trail, without a map, without it.
In my case, there is an easy, fairly socially acceptable answer to the question “What do you do?” It’s “I’m a stay-at-home mom.” I often use this answer, but it feels like a deception. Because…
…I didn’t choose to be a SAHM because of my parenting philosophy or Elise’s needs. It was because working had become unmanageable. Working was making me sick. Becoming a SAHM was about nurturing myself, not my daughter.
But when I say, “I’m a SAHM” in response to the question “What do you do?”, I don’t say any of this. That would defeat the purpose of the response–providing my questioner with an easy answer, helping them feel comfortable. Because people are NOT comfortable when you say “I stay home. I don’t work because of depression.”
For the first year or so, it did, however, make ME uncomfortable to give this answer. My self-esteem would plummet every time someone asked “What do you do?” Because even if “SAHM” was met with approval, I knew the truth: I wasn’t working because I had failed at it. And I was spending my days mostly just trying to get better, not making organic packable lunches for my kid (she buys school lunch), not sewing her clothes myself (I don’t sew), not running her around to enrichment activities (she has one extracurricular activity right now, piano) and not even cleaning the house all that much (my reading to vacuuming ratio is way out of proportion). So anyway, it felt shameful, because I figured I was filling my days with books and alone time because I was defective–that it was horribly pathetic that this was all I could handle.
The longer I’m home and out of the workforce, the less shame. There’s still a sense of purposelessness, of wandering without direction: when people ask “What do you do?” there’s still no 100% true AND socially acceptable answer. But I’ve stopped thinking that having no great answer = I’m pathetic.
Maybe it’s ok to not have an identity all propped up by work. Maybe it’s ok to not have much of an identity at all. Maybe it’s ok to just be.
I quit for self-preservation. Having an identity didn’t save me from feeling worthless, and lacking an identity doesn’t keep me from enjoying and living life.
What do I do? Breathe. Play the piano. Read books. Sometimes run. Sometimes play with pictures. The stuff that gives me enough pleasure to keep me alive. Being alive means I then also have enough energy to help my kid with homework. Play board games with her. Comfort her when she’s upset. Cook a few healthy dinners. Have conversations with my husband.
Maybe I don’t measure up to society’s standards now. But I’m learning to stop using everyone else’s yard stick to measure myself.
And given that it’s been a year now without ANY suicidal thoughts, and my family gets more of me, and I sometimes have a sense of humor again and even enjoy life again… I’m thinking my life is on a good path for now. Even if it’s a path that meanders and winds and seems to lead nowhere.
Sometimes the best adventures are in the middle of nowhere.
Nicole Steenstra Darr lives in York County Pennsylvania. She was a member of the founding ITE/MH Advisory Committee and is the Evidence every day of the Campaign’s values and example.