Early Intervention

“I didn’t get to marry Aidan today,” my daughter told me as I picked her up from school.

Having heard this before, I said, “Sweetie, does Aiden want to marry you?”

“He says he doesn’t,” she said.

I seized the opportunity for a much-needed life lesson. “Well, Sweetie, if he’s just not that into you, you should let him go and find somebody who is. “

“But I love him!” she said.

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Only So Much

“What can I do for energy?” I asked my obstetrician at my last visit. She belted out a good, long belly laugh.

“There’s really nothing you can do when you’re pregnant,” she said, and went on to explain that women usually have less energy during a second pregnancy because by that time, they’re already running after a little kid.

Normally I wouldn’t ask such a ridiculous question, but after losing so much time to morning sickness, I held out hope that I’d be able to catch up with everything I wanted to do in my first trimester, but couldn’t. Right now, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me. There are plenty for everyone else, but I need to nap in the afternoon most days, it takes 2 hours to get 20 minutes sleep and I have go to bed by 9:30 at night. And I don’t get just a little tired – I suddenly lose the ability to function and I’m lucky if I can muster the energy to brush my teeth.

But I have so much stuff I need to do. Every afternoon, my Outlook sends me a reminder of what I’m supposed to be doing during nap time. “Freelance: Monday 1:30-3:30,” comes up as I sign off of work. Or “Tuesday: Book 1:30-3:30.” Or “Blog: Friday 1:30-3:30.” I read the reminders, dismiss all, sigh, and go to bed.

Sometimes I awaken from my nap while Rose is still asleep. On those days I fire up the computer and try to crank out a few tiny tasks before the inevitable “Mommy! I’m all done sleeping!” And I feel good about those days, but I still have this overwhelming sense that I’m behind, all the time.

And that’s just stuff I want to do. I don’t have energy for anything else, either. The other day, I finished work; dropped the car off for brake work; took Rose to the dentist in a cab; stopped for a few groceries; walked us home on the bike trail; got the call that the car was ready; played the pregnancy card so they’d pick us up; got the car; watched a chick flick to de-stress for an hour; considered cooking onion soup and dessert; decided against it; went to drop off food for a new mom; picked up my husband at class; stopped for food and bathroom and to switch drivers because I was an exhausted menace on the road; and finally made it home and straight to bed at 8:40 p.m. I was just grateful I got through that whole day.

The next day we had a friend visiting for the weekend. I had to work and then pick her up at the airport. As I made breakfast, I surveyed the kitchen. One counter was covered with dishes. I knew the dishwasher was full and clean and considered unloading and reloading, but I typically don’t, because dishes are Matt’s job or Eric’s, not mine. Eric was out of town so the dishes fell to Matt, who’d rushed out and left them that morning. While I didn’t want my guest to see the kitchen like that, I still had to pick up Rose’s mess in the living room, straighten the office, finish work, get Rose at the babysitter’s, then go to the airport. I gave up. It was a messy kitchen, not the end of the world. And five minutes of Rose would destroy the living room. We don’t spend any time in the office, either. You know what? I thought. There’s only so much I can do. I finished my work and headed out. By that time I was late, but I felt better.

That’s when “There’s only so much I can do” became my mantra. I just have to accept it. There’s so much more I want to do, but right now I just don’t have the energy for everything. And it’s ok, because things change. When I have the baby, I’ll have less time to fit everything in, but I can manage time. I can’t manage exhaustion.

I can’t remember a time when I’ve been satisfied with what I’ve accomplished. When I moved out of my parents’ house, I’d talk to them once a week. Once we hung up, I’d experience a “parental hangover” – the aftereffects of our conversation. I’d ruminate over something they’d said or I’d feel bad about myself in general and I’d try to fix that feeling by launching myself into projects or cleaning or other chores – anything to regain a sense of self-worth.

Although I got over the “hangovers,” that feeling of inadequacy never left me. I’ve got a wonderful home and family, great friends, a steady paycheck, a freelance writing business, a growing blog readership, and lots of experiences to draw upon, but I consistently berate myself because I should have accomplished more sooner. I expected to publish my first book in my twenties; get married and have children in my thirties; and sit back and collect royalties from my third book, at least, in my forties. Instead I married, divorced and began to pursue a writing career in my twenties, married again in my thirties and had my first child at 38 (came close there but I really meant mid-thirties), and am still writing that first book and gestating the second kid at 41.

Did I fail to live up to my expectations? Yes. Did my expectations fail me? Yes. But I’m beginning to look at the whole process differently. I once read that no one should use lack of time as an excuse because Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison had the same 24 hours in a day that we do. It’s a nice sentiment, but Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison were men back when men didn’t care for their homes or their children. I am a modern-day woman and my responsibilities are a little bit different. I may have a cushy government job like Einstein but in my “off” time, I care for a 2 ½-year-old, write a blog, magazine articles and a book, and run a household. And let’s not forget that I’m gestating a baby boy every day and night. As for Edison, he had two wives. I can only begin to imagine what I could accomplish if I had two wives. So maybe it’s ok to blame a lack of time for my lack of accomplishments. At the very least, I can blame my current lack of energy. And I can allow myself some amnesty, because my ambition always exceeds my time and/or energy.

Things change. Maybe someday I’ll have the time and energy to do everything I want to do. I bet if that happened, though, I’d just set my sights higher and want more. But right now I’ve got to accept that there’s only so much I can do. Maybe I can learn to forgive myself for my “shortcomings.” Maybe I can accept that sometimes good enough is good enough. And now is a good enough time to do that.

Wasted Time

Is it all just wasted time?
Can you live with yourself
When you think of what
You left behind?

Wasted Time — Sebastian Philip Bierk; David Michael Sabo; Rachel Bolan Southworth

I used to lose sleep for days or weeks. When it happened, I never felt safe; I couldn’t focus; and I’d always latch onto the idea that something really great or something really bad was imminent. Once I thought I’d win the Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes. Another time I thought I’d get myself a job writing for “Saturday Night Live.” It happened every nine to 18 months. Sometimes events would trigger it. Every time “Uncle Gus” came to visit (See Some Things You Can’t Forgive); right before my wedding; when my first marriage ended; the first time my grandmother got sick.

For weeks, I wouldn’t know what day or what time it was, I’d lose hours, days, classes, jobs and friends. It started when I was 17 and Yaya had to go to the hospital. I couldn’t sleep for a week. The episodes were mild at first. During that one, I went to school, shrieked at a tap on the shoulder, started my job at Baskin Robbins, cried when my boyfriend stood at the counter, insisting I quit, and then they fired me.

My parents didn’t take that episode seriously, or the next one or the next. Once, when I was 21, after 2 or 3 weeks of freaking out and telling my concerned friends I was ok, they did take me to the Crisis Center in Carmel, where two nice men listened to me and gave me some pills. I slept for three days, woke up fine, and that was that. Problem solved. I remember once having a psychiatrist appointment after an episode, and he prescribed something that made me feel stoned. I complained, stopped taking it, and never saw him again.

My first husband tried to help me. Shortly before our wedding, I freaked out and he took me to see doctors but they didn’t help. They thought I was anxious, or depressed, or just psychotic. When our marriage ended, I freaked out again. That was the time I thought I’d work for SNL. I went to a psychiatrist recommended by our marriage counselor and I told him what my problem was. “You’re bipolar,” he said. Just like that. He prescribed some medication. I’ve never had another episode and now you’d never know that I’m mentally ill. Even during the early years, my disease wasn’t new or exotic. Everyone knew about bipolar disorder. It was all over Oprah. I even taped that episode for my mother and told her that’s what I thought I had. She waved my theory away. I worked with several therapists over the years. But no one deduced the right diagnosis before my 29th year.

And that’s what kills me. The wasted time. How much living could I have done if I didn’t freak out all the time? If I hadn’t lost all those jobs, could I have had a real career? Would I have published a book by now? What happened to those days and weeks I lost? What about all those years that I wrote off my own sanity?

I’ll never know. Losing all that time is one of my biggest regrets. Why couldn’t I just admit to myself I was sick and go to the right doctors? Why couldn’t I accept that there was something really wrong with me? I honestly didn’t know how easy the solution would be. A few pills a day and I’m a normal person. I think if I had known that, I’d have done it sooner. But I was so scared. So scared to get labeled, so scared to hear the truth. And now I mourn the loss of all that time.

Was the time really wasted? When I was in a 12-Step program, they said, “Everything happens right on time.” It’s a perfectly reasonable statement except for regrets that tear us up inside, yet those regrets are the very issues that sentiment’s about.

Between the ages of 17 and 29, I managed to graduate high school, get my bachelor’s degree in Psychology (believe me, the irony isn’t lost), work in a psychiatric hospital (again, I get it), move to Florida, realize I wanted to write, place my first published article in a magazine, move back to New York, get a job at a newspaper, survive a horrific car accident, learn to live with the resulting brain damage, land and lose another newspaper job, get married, get divorced and get a national reporting job that moved me to Washington, D.C.

Also during that time I established my reputation as a slut in high school; attempted suicide; used drugs; quit drugs; dropped out of two colleges; lost at least five jobs; adopted a puppy; gave him up; showed up psychotic at work; moved without telling my roommate; lost several friends; and knowingly embarked upon a doomed marriage.

When I first learned about death as a kid, I used to lie in backseat of the car on the way home from Yaya’s in the city, and I’d think, In the next minute, I’ll be one minute closer to death. And the next minute, it’ll be closer. And closer! I’ve learned a little about the passage of time since then, but I’m no less alarmist when it comes to death. I was 38 when I had my first child. My first thought was, “I’ll be almost 50 when she’s 10!” My next thought: “When she’s 40, I’ll be 80. Oh, no just how much of her life will I live to see?”

It’s no surprise that a kid like that would grow up to obsess about wasted time. And maybe that is my lesson to learn, my cross to bear. Maybe that’s why I’ve wasted so much – fodder for this cosmic lesson. Maybe regret is my driving force. If I didn’t feel I was so behind, maybe I’d never push myself to accomplish anything. I try to live as if I’ll get hit by a bus tomorrow. For every activity I consider writing off, I think, Ok, so if I die tomorrow, will I be satisfied with what I’ve done? The answer’s always no, but thinking about it helps me prioritize. When I’m dead, will folded clothes really matter? Ok, no, but writing that chapter will. Will I care whether Rose’s toys are picked up? Shit, Matt can do that before the mourners come, but if I read her a story right now, she’ll have one more memory of Mommy.

It’s a morbid method, yes, but I don’t encounter a lot of buses, so the statistical probability’s in my favor. And it helps me decide what’s really important. When I worked at the newspaper, I wrote obituaries. Hundreds of them. During that time, I decided that when I died, I wanted a kick-ass obituary. One that would make readers say, “Wow, what a life!” Or “Wow, I didn’t know she did all that!” So I shifted my focus from trying to fulfill other people’s expectations to defining and fulfilling my own. I decided that the pursuit of happiness trumped the pursuit of money or approval or prestige. It’s not like the founding fathers wrote “money, prestige and social standing” into the Declaration of Independence. Those guys knew the deal. I guess you had to when no one lived past 40. Maybe they thought about death all the time too. It might be morbid, but my method works for me. I just wish I had learned it sooner.

You build your resume. I’ll build my obituary. — Maria Bellos Fisher