I’m busy. I’m really very, very busy. And we’re a bit out of our depth over here as new parents. It’s doubly tough because I’m really not young enough to put the “young” qualifier in statements like that any longer (“out of our depth as young parents”), which makes things sound a bit more forgivable.
“Oh, you’re young? Well then, that explains the struggle. Don’t worry, you’re doing an admirable job, and it’ll all come to you in time.”
No, in my case I’m just basically middle-age, a realization I’ve had to come to over the last few days.
But that’s not what I’m posting about. Getting back to cases, I’m busy. Really very, very busy. And I keep plodding along—which is great—most of the time keeping up (just barely) and sometimes not—which is not so great—but on the whole I’d say we’re holding things together. I think.
That’s the trouble, you see. I’m having more and more difficulty trying to evaluate the state of my life or the degree to which things are (or are not) working out. I don’t quite know how much to panic, as a result, or how exactly to plan.
Things seem to go in waves. One moment I’m tremendously optimistic, overjoyed even, about the state of things.
“We’re doing fabulously. We’re young and strong and our baby is healthy and we’re relatively well off. Sure there’s a lot to be done, but there’s no reason to panic—I’ll simply do it! A little more planning and a little more dedication. That’s all that’s called for!”
Two and a half minutes later, I’ve been overtaken by despair.
“My wife and I never see each other. We’re going to grow apart. The student loans are waiting in the shadows to add a stressor into that mix, to devour our family. We can’t afford a full-time babysitter, but we can’t afford to have either one of us not work, and we don’t know how we’re going to solve that problem once we lose our family babysitters, which will happen in just a few short weeks. Meanwhile, the dissertation isn’t getting written, money isn’t getting saved, houses aren’t getting bought, and life is at a dangerous standstill!”
Cue the tense music.
One moment I feel tremendously healthy, energetic, happy, ready to go on a steady diet of carrots, apples, and herbal tea, to do Tai Chi, start lifting weights, and go for an immediate, cool, refreshing, bracing, invigorating walk in the park. Then, I go to get my shoes and embark and by the time I reach the front door I feel exhausted, unable to confront the labor involved in a filthy, freezing, pointless park walk, desirous of nothing but two pizzas with everything on them, a pile of crappy Chinese delivery as a side, and perhaps a 12-pack of Steel Reserve to be downed all in one go—hopefully to add twenty pounds and induce a combined food-drink coma that will carry me, without waking, until after next year’s presidential election, when things might (somehow, who knows) be better.
What’s going on here? Why can’t I get five minutes of emotional stability? And how do I know whether things are actually okay or harrowingly caught in the balance, whether I’m on the right track or hurtling toward a cliff, whether to keep ‘er on an even keel and straight-ahead-does-it or to throw out everything I own and burn all of my calendars and plans and start a new life from scratch?
Is it possible that there’s some middle ground?
But how do I find it?
And, assuming I can somehow navigate my way there (a somewhat dubious proposition), how do I stay there? How will I pay my bills there? And if I’m feeling tremendously optimistic, won’t it be a bit limiting?
Is this kind of weird bipolar emotional world just an artifact of fatherhood, or what? I certainly don’t feel like me—but then, after the last few years of New York, marriage, Ph.D., career, and fatherhood, and even little-but-revolutionary things like switching from Linux to Mac OS and from sarcastic screen-print tees to button-up (or is that down?) office shirts, I don’t even know who me is any longer.
Maybe that’s the problem. Mid-life crisis? Somehow that term doesn’t seem right. Mid-life overwhelm? Doesn’t really capture the spirit of the moment. Mid-life trip-and-fall-off-balance? That’s about right, I think.
Hopefully I manage to stand up, dust myself off, and get my bearings soon. I could use a return to emotional, temporal, and all other kinds of internal stability.