Two and a half years ago, I lost my mother. I didn't just lose her, actually; I lost her to a long, ugly, painful battle with cancer during which I was her primary caregiver and the economy collapsed, taking her financial security with it.
I knew even while still in the middle of that experience I would never be the same when it was over. Even so, I had no idea how profoundly it would change me -- would damage me, I should say, because that's the truth.
I came to Michigan because staying in California where everything and everyone reminded me of my mother and her last horrible months was impossible. I knew it was pretty here, and inexpensive. I have friends here, including my dog Rawley's breeder, Paula Pascoe, and my best friend Dawn Hoffmann, who actually flew across the country and drove out here with me and the dogs (a trip from hell we both choose to forget as much as possible of, even if it does make for some pretty hilarious horror stories; ask me about Salt Lake City sometime).
Still, in many ways my choice of Michigan was a bit random. I very nearly ended up in the Pacific Northwest, where I also have some very dear friends, and was also looking at the Pennsylvania and Washington DC countryside and parts of New England.
At first, just being in a new and relaxing place was helpful in making me feel better emotionally, but moving is enormously stressful even without a 2,600 mile drive. After I got settled here, I began taking on more and more work, sleeping badly, not taking care of myself, having relatively little free time or spontaneity in my days, and struggling (as I had since my mother went into her final hospitalization) with emotional eating.
I lost a lot of weight over the last 8 or 9 years, and I've kept most of it off. But beginning just as my mom's illness entered its last stage and continuing until this winter, I re-gained around 50 or 60 pounds of the 187 I'd lost, which brought with it its own baggage of self-criticism and old, old psychological and emotional garbage I thought I'd processed years ago.
Of course I knew that was a perfectly logical thing to happen after what I'd been through. I didn't rationally "beat myself up" over it, but I still had to experience it and find a way through it that got me somewhere, anywhere, I felt good about.
I tried a lot of things, not just about my emotional eating and weight, but about myself and how I live my life. I realized around two months ago that because I'm a single woman (happily single, by the way -- this isn't a negative to me) and have no children, and have moved far away from my immediate family, a lot of my personal fulfillment needs to come from my work, since it comprises such a huge part of my life.
I mean, everyone wants and deserves personal fulfillment in their professional lives. But I can't fix the entire social and economic structure of the United States. All I can do is make the best choices available to me, and I am lucky enough to be able to choose fulfilling work over simply lucrative work, and still be able to pay my bills and have a good quality of life, especially here in rural Michigan. And I'm 53. I've paid a lot of professional dues already. It was time to pick and choose.
Know what happened after I did that? I started sleeping better. I almost overnight got back to where I was with emotional eating before my mom got sick, which is to say, it is almost a non-issue. I started losing some of the weight I'd gained. I felt more relaxed, happier, and more creative. I had more energy. I felt alive. I felt more social.
I felt younger.
I still have regrets. I miss my nephews in California constantly, not just every day but every hour. I know I'll never get back these years with them, and it hurts my heart to realize that.
I miss being able to go into the office of one of my clients, where we got a lot of work and brainstorming done that's harder to do on a conference call.
I miss the incredible sustainable and local food that's available year-round in California, and I miss the friendship and support I got from those people who became so important to me during my mom's illness, or who are just my friends, period.
But as my first Michigan spring creeps over everything, I find myself feeling, I don't know... stable? Optimistic? Balanced?
I have no idea what comes next. But I do know that one deliberate decision to focus on the work that means the most to my heart triggered dozens of other changes, all for the better. It's a lesson I don't think I'll ever forget, or ever stop feeling grateful was available to me.