One of the great realizations of my life came to me after my divorce, when I realized that my career, and really life in general, had generally just happened to me without much in the way of deliberate action on my part. The reason that this felt problematic at the time seemed pretty obvious. I had not accounted for any future financially, I bought a house and got married because it seemed like the next things to do, I wandered into a career somewhat accidentally, and I certainly had not taken very good care of myself physically.
Over the next few years, I could see how the passive approach to life was not ideal. I worked in a job that had limited opportunity for growth, impulsive spending in my 20's put me in a fragile position and I dated ambitious women who had goals. I was limited only by myself, and that wasn't a good feeling. It was a turning point where I tried to be more intentional about things. There were definitely some mistakes here and there, but none of them were permanent.
The funny thing about being intentional about your life is that, unlike letting it happen to you, anxiety comes easier. Keep in mind, I'm about as far from a Type-A over-achiever as possible. I'm not a box checker or obsessed with winning or even the appearance of winning. But becoming a parent in particular changes your priorities, since it isn't just you that you have to look out for. Then age creeps up on you, and you have to consider how much time you have left. The age also changes you physically, starting with annoying ear hair and then messing with your cholesterol and blood pressure. Oh, and staying healthy isn't just for you, it's for your family. Work gets interesting if you've gone from maker to manager, because then you're responsible for others. I add an additional layer to it all by wanting to create things in my spare time that have value.
In the last two years, I've found that the anxiety that I've been experience is taking a toll. I don't recognize myself sometimes. I don't allow myself to indulge in many things strictly for me, and I worry about a hundred things that are not in my immediate sphere of influence. The worst thing is that I will beat myself up over taking a nap on the weekend, that most glorious 30 (or 40) minutes where I actually can turn my brain off and relax, because I'm not doing something more "productive."
I've had enough therapy over the years to know that the best way to combat this is to be present in the moment (there's a whole future post about that). Heck, that's even the focus of Simon's therapy right now. This used to come so easy to me, where I could just sit somewhere and tune out. Now I have to pull myself out of the usual environment to make that happen (cruises are good for this), or enter one so over-stimulating that I have to pay attention (theme parks, especially with friends). All I know is that I'm often in the midst of a non-remarkable day and my body and brain is on high alert, and that's exhausting.
The long Thanksgiving weekend has given me a little perspective that was sorely needed. Mental health is a product of environment, chemistry, genetics and choices. Some of those are easier to change than others, but importantly, you have to know that you can act on them. I resolve to spend more time being present, which by sheer math leaves less time to be anxious about things.