NOTE: I originally started writing this post over a year ago, but it took me a while to edit and finish writing, in that time, “two years” became three years.
Starting my new job I had panic attack at least once a day the first two weeks. I was confident in my abilities and enjoyed my coworkers, but I subconsciously feared–don’t get too comfortable, because all of this good could all fall apart–like it did last time.
Looking back now [especially 3 years on], I realize how so many things worked out for the best, but it wasn’t easy–I openly acknowledge coming from a place of privilege as a white college-educated cis-female with stable and supportive immediate family. I know my challenges are impressively minimal in the grand scheme of life.
I ended my marriage the previous December, only to get laid off a few months later, my close friends hated that I’d left him, so as they left my life I lost the last aspect of routine stability I had. I was hurt. Very angry. Alone. And poor. I’d given this man a decade of my life to put his career first, and the military before any of my personal aspirations. I left with a grand in the retirement account I had–from the only salaried job I’d had in that entire 10 years. I tried to donate plasma for a little extra cash, but I was declined because the nurse couldn’t find a decent return vein in my arm. I hadn’t been eating much, so I assume that’s way. With only a couple hundred in my savings, I embarrassingly borrowed money from my parents to afford my move to Minneapolis.
I’d wasted my twenties, and had nothing to show for it. I was worse off than I’d have been moving to the Twin Cities right after college. No social circle. No career. No savings. No retirement plan. No investments. No health care. I had nothing of value. Despite my education and marketable job skills, I struggled to find work. Six months of unemployment, and 80+ job applications later, I landed two entry-level part-time jobs (I’m not speaking disparagingly about these jobs, nor anyone who has worked for/with them or in any similar position. I worked for good companies, that paid fairly with good working conditions.) My inability to secure a similar job to the one I’d lost intensified my feelings of failure and inadequacy. I considered selling my eggs, but after some cursory research the potential damage to my body with hormones, etc. made me too nervous. I’d heard people (primarily men, I assume) with particular fetishes buy women’s worn underwear or tampons online–maybe I could earn extra money with that? I use underwear and tampons anyway? (Don’t worry, my lovely parents, I never ended up doing that either.)
I completely lost faith in myself and settled into the idea that maybe, this was my life–just this. In the world some people just fail despite how hard they try. Some people win and others lose. I might just be one of those people who loses at life. I tried to come to terms with the fact that my life would likely never be what I envisioned for myself. My life would never be stable. At this point, I genuinely thought–I guess, suicide is a valid retirement plan, once I’m too physically or mentally broken of a human to work. (I assure you, I’m not being flippant about suicide.)
I regularly struggled to make rent and buy groceries. Odd art sales usually somehow-magically came through to help me when I was desperate. (Thanks unreliable but wonderful magic of the universe!)
My eventual ex-husband was fighting me in the divorce, claiming I didn’t deserve anything except my $1,000 retirement. He didn’t owe me anything because I had a college degree (which I earned before we married), so I’d “be fine” he thought. My resentment swelled. He was earning an additional $400 a month for rent, simply because he was still technically married. And honestly, I never had any idea how much he had in his bank accounts. I didn’t have access to his side of our banking accounts and his mother did our taxes, but based on the general pay-scale of the USAF, a salary of $45,000 is a safe bet. He had a stable job with reliable income, paid rent, health insurance, a TSP retirement fund in addition to his military retirement, and he had my ex-friends calling and texting to make sure he never felt too alone. His life was hardly disrupted, except that he no longer controlled mine. My life was the worst it’d ever been, yet I still would never have traded it to go back.
This anger would burst out of me sometimes. I’ve never been an angry person. It was a deep enduring angry hurt. And I didn’t know what to do with it. I gave our marriage a decade, my entire twenties. Those years that are supposedly the most fun, set groundwork for your career, and when women are most desirable. Now that it was over it felt like I’d shown up too late for my own life. It was a hard feeling to shake. Back then I was 32 facing life’s uncertainty like I was 21–but without the optimism. My future was finally in my hands, I could make it what I wanted–it was all up to me. And, apparently, I failed.
Looking at food in the grocery store I’m doing mental math again (“Bagged spinach for $1.99, cucumber $.89, the cheaper hummus is $3.25, wheat wraps are… $4.50? Fuck. There has to some cheaper ones? $3.59?–that works. Don’t forget to factor in for sales tax, Carly, they have that here.”)
I have about $20 total–between all of my banking accounts. I won’t get paid for another three days, and I will probably need fuel before then too. So—$10 to feed myself for the next three days. I can skip breakfasts. Roughly $7 for gas until pay day. Okay. This works, as long as my mailed paycheck arrives on time.
A friend suggested I apply for one of those programs that help low income people buy food. But I won’t. I’m not sure if it’s pride? Am I just refusing to acknowledge I’m barely getting by? Or maybe its guilt? I still have a lot of privilege and it’s unfair to take assistance from those who are at a systemic disadvantage. Or am I trying to keep up appearances to my friends with some faked semblance of normalcy? Committing to the lie that my life hasn’t become simply treading water. And guilt that pretending I was doing okay meant I spent $30 on a meal with friends, I know I should’ve budgeted more wisely. Maybe it just felt unfair for me to try to use such a program when I should use the little money I have better. And I knew if worse came to worst, I could ask to borrow money from my parents–again.
My parents are wonderful people. Their love and support were one of the few things that made leaving my marriage bearable (and feasible). They’ve never guilted me or expressed disappointment. Regardless, there’s still a lot of shame being in your thirties and asking your parents for an extra $200 to make rent for your tiny overpriced apartment because you just had to move to Minneapolis. That asshole voice in the back of my mind gets more and more bold. (“Cool, Carly, let’s tell all your old friends how you now clean houses for a living. I’m sure your husband and them will enjoy your impressive inadequacy at adulting. You clean houses! They’ll find that hilariously ironic! Get it?! Remember how you were a constant disappointment to your husband because you weren’t clean enough! Now you clean homes! For other people! They will be so delighted to see how shitty you’re doing. They think you deserve this. You probably do. You’re failing, Carly. Nope-Failed. I think we can officially use past-tense. Failed. This is your life, huh? Well done, Swenson. Ohhhhhh….Are you going to call your parents again? Yea, good idea! Let them know you literally can’t afford to eat the next day and half until your paycheck comes through, because you’re poor and shit at budgeting. They’ll be so proud of their sweet baby girl. Hey! Remember how your brother is getting his doctorate at Oxford! On a full ride scholarship! I guess at least they had one decent kid, right? But no–by all means, you should totally call. Let them know you don’t have food because you’re an idiot.”) My mind can be such a dick (and uses a lot of sentence fragments).
I don’t call them. My boyfriend understands my situation and takes me to dinner. I’m able to use the leftovers for lunch the next day. [Thank you so much for that, by the way. You’re a kind human]
I couldn’t go home for Christmas and see my family. I’d loved to. I was so desperately sad and lonely, and wanted to experience something that normal–the way it was before all this. But I needed the money. House cleaning and pet-sitting pick up during the holidays. Around Christmas Day, literally every waking hour of my days were scheduled, cat visits in NE, house clean in St. Paul, lunch snack in the car, cat visit in Dinkytown, house cleaning in Whittier then 4 cat sits Downtown…every single hour.
I worked 97 hrs. in about 7 days, making over $1000. So, I needed to be working. However, I did carve in an hour and half on Christmas Eve to spend with my friend, Samantha and her husband. She give me this awesome Murderino tank top. It made my Christmas. “You’re in a cult. Call your dad.”
The following spring, I started my current job as an Event and Communications Manager for a neighborhood nonprofit.
Now, I’ve been there for over two years. I still love my job and love my coworkers. The panic attacks slowly subsided over the first few months. I still have my adult job with health insurance and a retirement plan. My divorce was finalized in November 2017, almost two full years after I’d left. My anger and resentment dissipated pretty quickly after that.
That next December I spent Christmas in Montana with my family. (My brother and I got these awesome embroidered dishtowels from grandma. Mine says “Sugar plum”, but clearly is a peach or apricot. My grandma isn’t a funny person, so I don’t know the story behind it, but we found them hilarious.)
In 2018, my life and mental health leveled out enough to get back into blogging and documenting my artwork. I could have a healthier reflection on my chaotic life changes.
Over the last few years I’ve made a few really great new friends, my artwork has progressed, and I’ve gained more confidence. I’m still pretty broken in relationships, so maintaining anything serious has been hard. I’m learning to communicate better and how to build trust with my new partner. I’m in therapy. It’s helping a lot.
Three years on, and my life finally has a hint of the stability I’d hoped for. I’m evolving, and stumbling, while growing into the mindful woman I want to be. I still have anxiety issues and depression. It’s likely I always will. I’m figuring out better ways to manage my mental health (Yay! Therapy!), and helping loved ones understand me better. I still borrow money from my parents when things get unexpectedly rough. I’m still mourning the idea of the friends I had. I still have a loving white dog and weirdo cat. I don’t think of my ex-husband much, except occasionally checking his instagram to see how Soupy is doing.
I’m more unapologetically myself. And I’m better at shutting down the asshole voice in my mind.
My life still ebbs and flows, however, one of the most important things I can express is that I know now I didn’t waste my life. A person’s thirties are not too late for a fresh start. Chances are, neither are a person’s forties, or fifties, or sixties. My thirties have included some of the toughest challenges I’ve faced, and yet I’ve been living for me for the first time in what seems like a lifetime. And even at my hardest and darkest moments I’d never have traded them to return to the life I had.