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What is Normal?

June 17, 2011

I see a common thread running through conversations among older women lately. There seems to be a struggle going on ~ an inner struggle and, for many, an outer struggle. So many of us are struggling with financial pressures and uncertain financial futures, job upheaval, parents and children in various stages of “unsettled”, not to mention the often perplexing experience of physical aging. As a result, we seem to be looking for a place to “settle”, to feel comfortable, to feel at home in our skin, to feel “normal”, if we ever did.

Whether we were once on top of the world in our careers, marriages, etc. and now find ourselves without one or the other or both, or never have attained our goals and realizing we’re running out of time, we seem to be longing for a sense of comfort that comes with what we once perceived as normal. We yearn for pre-911 security, a pre-internet and satellite awareness of the world’s difficulties.

We struggle to rest, to relax, to feel comfortable in our own skin and we are perpetually looking for answers. We seem to be ill prepared for the effects of aging and are desperately trying to “catch up” with ourselves ~ inner and outer.  We feel the weight creeping up, the skin sagging, the wrinkles forming, the gray threatening to win and we’re not done yet done with being “young”. We are fighting the fight and while sometimes we are sure we have conquered our fears, anxieties, and misgivings, sooner or later the uncertainty creeps in again, or some new issue arises to throw us off track.

Wasn't this the kind of parents we were supposed to be?

Our generation was raised on Leave It to Beaver, My Three Sons and Mary Taylor Moore. As much as we thought we were aware of this fantasy that made up the building blocks of our very foundation, we have underestimated its impact on our expectations of what our lives would be both then and now. Part of what threw us off track is that for many the American Dream seemed to be coming true. Money flowed like water as our economy rose to extraordinary heights at the peak of the technology boom and if we had not yet made it we could see the light at the end of the tunnel and advertising fanned the flames of our expectations. The values of the 60’s were lost in a whirlwind of buying and spending and feeding ourselves a heavy dose of materialism, believing that we could have it both ways.

Wealth, fame, and material abundance are potent drugs no matter how deep our non-materialistic values run. Mesmerized, we lost sight of reality and were ill prepared for what followed. When the rug was pulled out from underneath us we were shocked and dumbfounded. Now we’re struggling to find “normal” again. We long to be back where life seemed easy, or at least more comfortable than it is now. We long for the innocence and optimism that was in abundance in our youth. We long for the powerful belief we once held that “all will work out”. We long for the time when God and religion made sense. At least I do.

Many of us started our lives as regular church goers. Belonging to a church was normal in 1950 and 1960. Fewer of  us raised our own children in the church and a skewed fundamentalist perspective has become the religious norm. We are out of our comfort zone in so many respects. The things we thought we’d have to depend on when we reached old age have slipped through our fingers, one by one.  We’re left wondering, now what? What am I supposed to be doing, believing, thinking, and feeling? How am I supposed to order my world? Around what or whom? We are adrift in a sea of uncertain unfamiliarity.

Even the most difficult situations were coated in love and happy endings.

Acknowledging a problem or a situation is the first step to acceptance.  In noticing our deep discomfort with life as it is and acknowledging that it isn’t what we expected will allow us to turn our face toward acceptance. We may never get back to where we thought we’d be ten years ago, financially or otherwise. This is our plight. This is the life we’ve been given. Acceptance may be all that we need to free up the energy necessary to mine what we can from today, and collect the gems still available here and now, in this moment. This is the new “normal”.

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. earthnskystudio permalink
    June 17, 2011 7:49 pm

    One of the questions that came to me yesterday is “How did I spend my day BEFORE the technological age came onto the scene?” You know, my mind went fuzzy for a few moments and then my first thought was “I must’ve been totally bored!” However, I am realizing now (after reading your posting) how much more relaxed & enjoyable my days were during the good old days. I actually had time (when I wasn’t working) to chat with my neighbors, take the dog for a walk, putter around in a thrift store, bake homemade cookies for my sons & plan menus for dinner get-togethers. Technology (and noise in general) have taken over my life! And I’m realizing that I must be out of control in my time management. So thank you, Dorothy, for posting your thoughts and helping me to realize that I want to destress my life a bit by going back to the good old days and becoming a bit “bored”. Happy puttering! ^_^

    • June 17, 2011 9:32 pm

      My husband and I were just sitting here discussing (until I picked up my lap top ): ) that tomorrow we would take a break from phones, computers, TV and just quietly “putter”. That’s one of his favorite things to do to relax and unwind. I’ve had the same thought about trying to remember what it was like, not quite being able to grasp it and wishing I could. I was never bored. In fact, if anything, I feel more bored now but normal things and I think it may be just a matter of breaking free from the (what seems like) an addiction to technology. It’s so engrossing but I don’t think it gives us time to just process our thoughts. I’ve been trying to take more time away from it the past few weeks and I noticed that when I was “puttering” my brain was thinking things over. It felt good! So again Diane, we’re on the same wave length! and here! here! to happy puttering!

  2. June 17, 2011 11:30 pm

    It’s funny you should write about simpler times. I was with friends in their 50’s who live in a large metropolitan area who think that the simple life is for the birds.They prefer the hustle, bustle, proximity to airports, museums, good theater, diversity in foods, intellectual pursuits and shopping. I contrasted that to my almost 40 year old daughter who has fled the urban life and absolutely adores the more quiet, peacefulness of a smaller town. Her reasoning is that she can always visit the more high energy places, but for everyday living and raising her family, life is much easier in the country. I agree. Life had its challenges before technology, but it was sweeter and richer and more real. We had more time to talk with each other face to face, actually view a full moon for real, rather than on a computer screen. Relationships were kinder and gentler. We believed in each other and we had hope. We really DID stop to smell the roses. And it’s not that we can’t do all those things and have technology too, but we get so caught up in checking messages and updating our statuses that we’ve forgotten how to live real not virtual lives. I WILL simplify my life…..but don’t take away my laptop! Thanks, Dorothy! Very thought provoking!

    • June 17, 2011 11:55 pm

      Thanks for your comments ~ you said it all so well! As a writer I can’t live without my laptop BUT I think seriously about pulling the plug on the internet! I’d get more writing done for sure! Maybe there is a way to attach a timer to it so that it only turns on one hour a day. Really how many times do we need to check our email in 24 hrs? 🙂 DS

  3. Anne Watts permalink
    June 18, 2011 4:56 pm

    I couldn’t have said it better. All I wanted to do was grow up, get married and stay at home caring for my husband and kids (like June Cleaver or Donna Reed) . Then the women’s movement…we all went to work. Hmmmmm

  4. June 18, 2011 7:13 pm

    You cannot always control what happens in your life but you can control how you react to it. Our lives are different from our parents. We have kids and parents to take care of not to mention an economy that does not give us any bright prospects for the future. We no longer have Father Knows Best days. We all have to pull are brain power together to attack daily life and our futures. Don’t lose sight on all our blessings. Whenever I start feeling sorry for myself I think of friends who are fighting cancer and see a homeless person. Things can always be worse but we can always try to figure out how to make it better.

  5. June 19, 2011 10:01 am

    I used to live in the country and in some ways it was a great place to bring up my kids, although a great deal of time was spent driving to wherever they needed to go. Now I live in a small town in France, on my own, or frequently with one or another of the grown children who need a bed for an indefinite period. Stability is something I long for. Financial pressures, the difficulty the youngsters have in getting jobs etc, are real outer problems. I spend far too much time each day on the internet, sometimes doing silly things, sometimes working. It is like a drug. I should be out in the garden, going for walks, cleaning house, meeting people, but somehow the internet usually wins. Your article has made me realise how much I would like to be the person who used to make costumes for my kids, create fabulous decorated cakes, garden, be a taxi, and generally fill my time with creative activities. Instead now I just post the photos of those activities on Facebook! I am definitely going to TRY to re-organise my time to rediscover my own capabilities. Thanks.

    • June 19, 2011 3:20 pm

      Kathryn, A couple of years ago I decided I was playing entirely too many mindless computer games that ate up my time, so I set them aside and learn to needlepoint. In the time during the evenings when I used to sit and play games I instead completed a dozen or more needlepoint projects that now hang on walls and lay around as pillows in my house and the houses of friends and family. The last project I was working on was a picture of a violin that I was making with my mother in mind even though she was 97 because she loved violins. While I sat beside her bed in her last days I stitched away as she could no longer speak or communicate with me. She died in July of ’08 and I still have not finished the project nor worked on another. After her death I quit doing everything, compassion fatigue had taken its toll. Three years later I beginning to think it’s time to get back to living ~ I hadn’t realized I’d stopped until just now reading through the responses to my post. Too much of my time is taken up in mindless computer activities that have limited meaning. I have met some wonderful women, like yourself, that I would not otherwise have met ~ even if only pen pals ~ they have made me feel less alone, but there is time enough for both if I let go of the meaningless activities. I’ve often thought it’s almost an addiction, particularly for certain types of people in certain life situations. It can be an escape of sorts but often leaves one feeling empty. Sorry, I’ve gotten carried away in my response! I should just write another blog! Maybe I will! Thanks for providing food for thought ~ I definitely relate to what you are saying!

      • June 19, 2011 8:19 pm

        I really appreciate your response and it makes me realise that I am not alone in being a “sad-act’, but that we all have our reasons for seeking an escape – what is important is finding something that provides what we need, or in realising that it is not an escape that we need but a re-affirmation of who we are. I have done so much of which I am proud, I am a person whose values I found outstanding (even with all the compromises I have learnt to accept along the way), why do I now have to question who I am? Simply because I don’t know what the future holds. This I will never, know, so I must learn to live with what today holds…

  6. June 21, 2011 2:03 pm

    Almost a year ago, before I launched my blog, my husband Nelson of 32 years gave me a card which read, ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.’ The past year has been filled with much trauma as Nelson endured chemo and other intrusive experiences related to his disease. Two months ago he transitioned and I am grieving. At the age of 68 my life is in many ways a blank slate. The quote by Neale Donald Walsch, which he so lovingly and wisely presented to me, resonates more deeply than a year ago. Through the fog of grief I feel moments of hope and beauty.

    • June 21, 2011 2:36 pm

      Oh Judith, I am so very sorry for your loss. I dread the future because of just such a likely heartbreak. But, sometimes, as you point out, it is in our deepest pain that we can experience our deepest hope. You have definitely arrived at a place that is at the end of most of our comfort zones…I know it would for me…but through your sadness I feel certain your life will be enriched in ways you have not heretofore imagined. I will hold your broken heart gently in my thoughts as you walk a path that only you can walk. You are not alone and you will be lifted up on the wings of the loving thoughts and prayers of wise women everywhere. They know. They understand. They care.

    • June 21, 2011 5:58 pm

      My condolences in your enormous loss, Judith. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Your response is full of graciousness and acceptance ~ although I imagine you would not agree with me on certain days. May you continue to walk in those attitudes as doors open for you on your continued life journey.
      Many blessings,
      Diane

  7. June 29, 2011 5:48 pm

    As I sit here living vicariously by reading all your wise comments, I hold back the tears. These tears are for a life not lived as I wish; the pile of dirty dishes, the stacks of partially read books, the morning glory that needs trimming, the laundry that needs doing, the marketing I need to do to sustain our business (our only source of real income), the connections I am not making with loved ones, and on and on. I have come to believe that technology is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is being able to re-connect with people I love and with whom I have lost contact over the years, the ability to write blog posts that touch others lives, being able to play with digital photography and share pictures that have meaning for me, among others. The curse is the addiction to escape into the computer screen and live virtually rather than in real life where I could be interacting with real people and my beloved dog; escaping from all the taks in my life that seem overwhelming when considered together. I am motivated to curb the demon technology and only use it when it serves my larger life purpose. Thank you so much for stirring the pot!

    • June 29, 2011 8:42 pm

      I can so relate Taru! I have a need to curb this unwieldy beast myself. It’s becoming an imperative. I went to bed last night determined to take a break from it today, but alas, I am back at it. It’s an ever widening circle leading nowhere. I too cherish the friends I have made online and the opportunity to connect with people like yourself. It also affords me the opportunity to have people read what I write. Traditional means are so slow. But at what cost? Like anything I believe it comes down to balance. Setting limits on ourselves and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you say that it often is a form of escape. Perhaps we need to look at the source of our emptiness and fill the hole with the sustenance we really need. Thank you for adding your thoughts. We can support one another in our quest for a meaningful life.

  8. June 30, 2011 12:07 am

    Taru & Dorothy ~

    This week I began a new “schedule” (aren’t Mondays made specifically for this purpose? ^_^).

    I cut down on my daily computer hours and set aside only so much time on the computer. When that time is up, I move on to other activities such as chatting on the phone with a long-distance friend or eating lunch with my husband, or sitting outside on the patio in the cool of the evening and reading a bit in a library book or perusing a magazine from the stack that has piled up over the months. I’ve slowed down my whirlwind lifestyle of virtual reality and it is giving me a new lease on life!

  9. June 30, 2011 12:14 am

    That is very good news! Though I hope you still drop in here now and again. I’m right behind you!

  10. July 27, 2011 2:39 am

    I think the dilemma that the elderly have is that they feel young and strong in their hearts. But, their bodies are againg. Yes, they are living in a world that is absolutely new to them. But, they have witnessed the emergence and the development of these technologies. And they can rip the most out of it. You can get whatever you want from the internet, for example. You can get a job. You can date again. All you need is to know few tips on how to do it.

    Thank you so much for this great post. 🙂

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