Finding a better me
My husband and I moved to Portland Oregon over 20 years ago with our 3 month old daughter. We were living in San Francisco and both working full time, but after we had our baby we wanted a different lifestyle. We had often talked about moving out of the fast pace lifestyle of the Bay Area, we just didn’t know where to go. We wanted somewhere easier, where I could stay home with our daughter. Somewhere cheaper. We decided on Portland.
We didn’t know anyone here, we didn’t have jobs or a place to live. My husband came up for a weekend and found a condo for us, and we decided to move. After my maternity leave I quit my job as a credit counselor, a week later my husband quit his job. The day he quit I met him down in the Marina District and we walked along the water with our daughter in the stroller and talked excitedly about our upcoming adventure.
We were moving to a new city where all the experiences and memories would be ours. There would be no old boyfriends or girlfriends to accidentally run into, there would be no family that would put demands on us, there would be nothing except what we made of it. We joked that we were going into the witness protection program. We were starting a new life.
When we first got to Portland, for the first 3 weeks we slept a lot! It was as if we were coming down from all the noise and action of living in a big city. Neither of us had a job, but we had a little savings and my husband started interviewing. We hadn’t banked on the salaries being so much lower in Oregon. So even though the cost of living was cheaper, the money coming in was less so it kind of evened out, especially with me not working. We were on a tight budget.
I had gained 50 pounds when I was pregnant, so I spent my mornings going for long walks with Emily in the stroller. She loved being outside and often times would cry when I got home. I started looking for other mothers to hang with, and I joined a Mother’s Group. I felt like an outsider as many of them had grown up in the area and had beautiful homes, and I was living in a small condo with no family in town. Still, I did my best to connect and make friends. I kept in contact with my friends in the Bay Area, but their life seemed so far away and their concerns seemed so different. We slowly started to drift apart as they had families of their own and became involved in raising their own children.
It was a struggle. We had one car that we shared, and my husband would come home at lunch time and take me to the store. I did my best to find things to do with my daughter that were inexpensive. As she got older we spent a lot of time at playgrounds, and this is where I met my friend Shannon. She was cute and blonde and she was always at the playground the same time that I was, 7 AM. Our babies were early risers, and we liked to get out of the house. She had a boy, and our babies, which were toddlers now, liked each other. We decided to join Gymboree together and take them in the mornings. This was a big expense for me, but I didn’t let on to her how broke we were.
Shannon had a beautiful home on a lake, and a boat dock right in her backyard. Her and her husband would invite us out on their boat to ride around the lake. It was beautiful, and it was nice to have friends. Her parents lived right down the street and would baby sit her boy. Every time they babysat he would come home with a new outfit and toys. I was envious. I wasn’t jealous of her beautiful home, her boat, or even the clothes and toys that her baby got. I was jealous of her relationship with her mom. I wanted that. My mom had barely called me since I moved to Oregon, not that we talked that much before but I thought maybe things would change when I had my daughter. It was hard for me to be witness to their relationship without cringing inside.
When my daughter was 4 we bought our first home. It was away from the lake and in SE Portland, which at that time wasn’t considered a good neighborhood. We bought a small 1000 square foot ranch house, in a good location with a big backyard. Right away there were problems with the house. There were plumbing problems, rat problems, and an annoying nosy neighbor and would try and talk to us over the fence every time we went in the backyard. Still we painted the house inside and out, I decorated Emily’s room in pink, and I bought her a bed frame and painted it with stencils of little girls. We made a home there, but as the tiles in the bathroom started to come off we realized that we weren’t ‘fixer upper’ people and we had to move.
I had been working part time jobs, but when my daughter went into second grade I went back to finance full time. I wasn’t planning on making a career of it, but we needed the money to move into a bigger house. To me my new finance job was temporary. We moved when Emily was 8 into the house we live now. I am still at the same job, even though a lot about it has changed.
My husband and I worked hard every day to have the life that I currently have. But now I want more. All of the struggles of the past got me to a place that I can finally look around and say, what do I want for ‘me’ now? And that has been the biggest challenge of them all. It came natural to me to have my daughter and husband be the focus of all my energy. But making myself my focus has been another story.
I felt things start to shift when my daughter was in high school. She started to pull away from us, which is natural and normal. But as I saw her wanting to start her own life, I realized that I needed to start mine again too. Our relationship was changing from me being the caretaker, to me being a friend and supporter. I had never had that as a daughter, my mom was never my friend. So, in making this transition with my daughter, it brought up a lot of my unresolved issues with my mother. I had to do what my mom never did, and I had to give to my daughter what I never had.
Right in the middle of this transition, my mom passed away rather suddenly. At first I went into shock, and then I went into a depression. An alcohol induced, deep depression. I felt so lost. With my mom gone and my daughter leaving me I felt like I was floating a mile from the earth. There was nothing tethering me down anymore. I was scared. I tried to grasp on to my husband in hopes that he could pull me back down, but he was going through his own midlife transition. I felt so alone.
Every day I floated to work, and floated home and looked forward to my glass of white wine at the end of each day. It made my head fuzzy and my eyes bleary so I didn’t have to feel and see myself floating above the earth. My emotions were all over the map, one minute crying and the next I was angry as hell. I had forgotten about all my strength I had in moving to Portland and starting a new life. I forgot all that I had been through and all that I had accomplished. I couldn’t grasp onto anything solid. I felt weak and incapable of making the simplest decision.
Was this what a midlife crisis felt like? I hated to use that term on myself, but whatever it was, it was definitely a crisis. I was exhausting myself trying to find relief. So, I signed up with a life coach because I knew I needed help, and I needed outside help. I needed someone that was completely objective to tell me how to get out of the mess I was in. I didn’t tell anyone about my coach. It was my secret. So, I would talk to her in my car outside the gym before I would work out. It was a 30 minute session where I would babble on about wanting something different, and my mom passing away. I wanted answers, she gave me none. She just reflected back to me what I was saying. It helped. I felt stupid for being so scattered and indecisive, as I had never been this way my whole life. I was always so decisive, strong and determined. I felt like I was losing my mind.
My coach was patient and kind. She let me talk and try to figure things out. My mind was so granular as I would obsess about an argument with my boss, my sister or my husband. I would go over every word, every action, every expression in trying to make sense of it, and prove my point to them. Then my coach said to me one day, ‘Where do you see these relationships 6 months from now if you keep trying to prove that you are right?’ She stopped me cold! I wasn’t doing that! I was just explaining myself. I was just trying to make them understand that I needed time for me. That I had never in my life had time just for me, and I wanted it now. I needed them to understand this. I needed them to give me permission to focus on me!
What I didn’t realize then, that I know now, is that I am the only one that could give myself permission. I am the only one that needed to understand why I was doing what I was doing. I didn’t need to explain it to someone so that they would accept it and make it ok. But I see now that I was looking for someone to tell me that I was worth it. That I was worth my own focus and energy. I wanted someone to tell me this, because I didn’t believe it myself.
I blindly moved up to Portland 20 years ago, with a confidence that I could make a better life. And I blindly moved forward 4 years ago with a confidence that I could find a better me. The latter was much harder, but so worth it.