Hi, my name is Brenda and I am fifty years old.
Midlife. Five freaking decades old.
The thing about turning fifty in pandemic is you have a lot of time to think. Maybe too much time. Fifty is a turning point. A reckoning. Not only was this the year I turned fifty, but it was supposed to be the stepping off point for our youngest—the third of three—and the year my husband and I rediscovered our relationship. After twenty-four years of marriage, far too many moves, and a whole lot of chaos and sacrifice, this was going to be the year the roller coaster levelled out. A return to stability. A year of rediscovery and growth.
Yes, the universe had other plans.
What happened instead was a blessing in very questionable clothing.
Not only did we get to spend a bonus year with our youngest, but we got to see our middlest grow into his own skin while studying and working under our roof. We watched our oldest live up to the challenge of living apart from us as an adult. We had family suppers again. We talked on the phone. We Zoomed. Like so many others we stayed home, looked inward and relearned some family boundaries.
But while we were re-exploring our family we, something else was happening.
Fifty year old me was flailing.
Anyway, in March when the world was going to crap, my daughter and I drove the eighteen hours to our cottage, stopping only for gas on the way, and got across the Confederation Bridge just hours before they shut it down for weeks.
March at our little beach cottage on the Island is about as isolated as it gets. It was just me, my youngest, the foxes and the crows, with a quiet (but lovely) neighbor who kept to herself. There was snow, wind, rain and worry. Worry that I’d made the wrong choice to come there. Worry about my husband and son who were far, far away in a different country in a pandemic. Worry for my other daughter and my parents and family and friends. Worry that someone would judge our American license plates and, in their very real fear, act violently against myself or worse—my daughter.
So much worry.
As a Canadian who has given almost two thirds of my life to my country both in my own uniform and in support of my husband and others in uniform, living there on the edge of the world, as I approached the end of my forties brought on huge crisis of identity.
If I’m not from here…where am I from? What do I want to do with my life? Where is home?
Who am I?
Then one of those days, after a long week of working virtually and dealing with the worry, I started reading Brené Brown’s 10th Anniversary Edition of The Gifts of Imperfection. In her Preface, she talks about her own reckoning with mid-life. She says:
People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis”, but it’s not. It’s an unraveling—a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are.
I read that sentence and burst into tears.
Really. I’m not kidding. Full on meltdown.
In the silent, hidden way that a mother cries knowing her seventeen-year-old daughter is upstairs doing virtual schoolwork in a pandemic, I sat there and bawled. Ugly-cried. I wanted to yell out loud like Charlie Brown—“That’s IT!” I wanted to call Brené Brown and tell her thank you for putting it so clearly, and for reading my emotional temperature better than I can myself.
I was unraveling. I AM unraveling.
Oh my god, I’ve been living how I’m supposed to be for sooooo long. My hats are my own but I’ve been wearing them because that was what I thought I was supposed to do. No one forced me to wear them. At any time I could have said, no thank you…I don’t think that’s me. But I’ve been wearing them anyway and they are freaking heavy. My shoulders are weary.
And I’m just…tired.
Sitting there in that quiet cottage overlooking the ocean I realized it’s up to me to examine each and every hat I wear. Some of them will stay on my head. Some of them will be put aside, in case I need them again.
And some of them I will unravel, and build something different.
The hat that I am showing you now is one I’ve dusted off now and again, but I realize, after a year of thinking and reading and doing, that I need this hat.
I am a writer. And I need to write.
I am a creator. And I need to create.
Sometimes my military spouse hat has meant that I have not been true to that need. For some reason in the past, I thought my opinions would be harmful—for my husband’s career, for my family, for me. I was afraid to show my true self because it might be construed the wrong way.
But the thing is, after more than thirty years of serving my beautiful country in the best way I think I can, there are very few people that have that foundation—that reality. And if I’m going to be true to myself, sometimes my opinions will be different. That’s okay.
As long as I’m authentic, and honest and true, I know now that writing—even difficult, controversial writing—is what I need to do.
Unraveling isn’t easy. I’m a knitter and I hate ‘frogging’ something I worked on. It’s painful. And the past few months have been hard for me, and for everyone. They’re still hard.
But the good thing is now I have a ball of yarn to create something beautiful with.
I’m starting with this blog. It’s been forgotten. As I lost myself under the weight of my hats and life in general, I’ve found that writing is super hard. Finishing my latest manuscript has been a long slog.
So I’m starting here. Just a few words when I can. A few thoughts as I journey forward.
I hope you'll continue to join me here as I do.