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  • Writer's pictureMaureen Seel

Hitting rock bottom or digging for buried treasure?

I always thought that I understood the definition of a "midlife crisis". I pictured a 40-something person (we will avoid gender identification here), buying an expensive car and having an affair with a coworker. What I did not picture was sitting on my couch staring at a computer while crying inconsolably, wondering what the fuck I'm doing with my life.

Up until the last three months, my life had been a series of decisions made with other people and their opinions and approval in mind. So when my husband, crazy dog, two cats, and I decided to move to New York City (who am I kidding-the cats and dog had no choice in the matter), it set off a chain of events that left me confronting the biggest question of my existence: Who am I and what do I want?

At first, this was a liberating and exciting idea. For the first time in my life, I was taking the wheel. I was in the driver's seat! But then I realized that I really don't know how to drive and I'm in another country where they drive on the "wrong" side of the street.

Now that I had the freedom to explore who I am and what I wanted to do, I was also confronted with the reality that I don't know who I am. I don't know what I want. That's the shitty-ass-shitty thing about letting other people's opinions and thoughts shape who you are. You're left relying on others to define you. This attempt at self-discovery uncovered some things about myself that I wasn't sure I liked. And the thing about living is that it costs money. Food, shelter, clothing, and pet food are not free. Go figure.

Within a couple of weeks after moving to Brooklyn, what started as enjoyable lazy days of sleeping in, playing video games, and eating delicious food from ALL THE PLACES, swiftly became a downward spiral of feeling inept, inadequate, and indecisive. I hated what I'd been doing for work prior to the move, and yet that was all I knew. Turns out that starting over at this point in my life wasn't going to be easy, intuitive, or enjoyable. Soon I was stuck in a cycle of anxiety over needing to find work, resentfully applying for jobs that I didn't want, and breaking down into tears about the fact that I was applying for jobs I didn't want. I saw no way out of the cycle and, as a result, fell into a deep depression. What this looked like was waffling between feeling every emotion known to man to an unmanageable extreme and feeling absolutely nothing at all.

What do you do when the only thing you know is the thing you hate? In my case, what I did was sit and stew in my own thoughts until there was a literal dent in my preferred side of the couch. People say that pets sometimes start to take on behaviors and traits of their owners. I started watching my boxer dog begin pacing, jumping on and off of the couch, and staring at me with anxious brown eyes so expressive I started to think that her anxiety was becoming worse than mine.

My husband, bless his heart, tried to help me find solutions to my problems. He soon regretted this, as there was no talking me out of my negativity and rational thought doesn't do a whole lot when you are dealing with a problem rooted in emotions. He would try to be helpful, suggesting possible next steps to take. And this is where depression plus anxiety equals a bad time. I was paralyzed between not wanting to go back to where I had been and being terrified of moving forward without a map or any kind of guarantee that I wouldn't get lost.

But the thing is, on the road to self-discovery and self-understanding, there will be bumps in the road. There will be doubt. There will be dead ends and times you have to turn around or ask for directions. In my case, this meant getting back into therapy and beginning to delve into what was really going on in my head. What the next part of the journey will look like is anyone's guess. Nobody ever found buried treasure without having to get their hands dirty. And how do you know the difference between hitting rock bottom and hitting buried treasure unless you dig it up?

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