Starting Over is Fucking Scary


Starting over is fucking scary.

Sure, it’s all the stuff we like to write about: the excitement and the possibilities and the chasing your dreams before you die.

It’s also waking up at 2 a.m., wondering why you’re turning your life upside down and then remembering you have no clean socks to wear in the morning. You would have clean socks if you had time to do laundry, just like you would have food to eat if you had time to buy groceries.

Since stepping back from journalism to pursue a career in nursing, I’ve had very little time to overanalyze whether I’m doing “the right thing.” I guess that’s a reasonable strategy for getting through a big life change — just dive in and don’t think about how cold the water is. Except at 2 a.m. The water is freezing at 2 a.m.

Going back to school as an adult is humbling if nothing else. It’s your 20-something study partner who just finished undergrad catching onto the rules of hydrogen bonding faster than you. It’s the sense that your future depends on the letters scribbled at the top of exams handed back by professors. It’s pulling all-nighters for the first time since high school, even though your body is screaming that you’re too old for this, because there simply aren’t enough daytime hours to hold all the deadlines that come with school and work. It’s trying really, really hard to get an A in medical chemistry and still ending up with a B.

It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture, the reasons why you set off down this path in the first place. It’s easy to glance back at your old life, behind you but not so far away that you couldn’t reach it if you tried, and think maybe you and ex-life could have worked things out after all.

It doesn’t help when people lament that you had such a promising career behind that door you just closed. Even if you know the reality wasn’t really so shiny. A 40-something advertising exec-turned-nursing student told me during a group study session recently that he was tempted by job offers in his old field, even if he was badly burnt out. It’s hard not to grasp at the familiar when you feel like you’re drowning in icy waters.

And then there are the questions about “backup plans” and what pieces of your old life you plan on keeping. As if, somewhere — maybe beneath the dirty socks in the hamper or on that empty shelf in the fridge — you have a bullet-pointed plan with all the answers. Don’t they know the plan is: “survive today, get home, sleep, do it again tomorrow”?

My favorite is when people say things like, “You’re not going to work while taking all these classes, are you? You can’t do that!” Look, until money starts falling from the heavens, or work is no longer a prerequisite to eating, yes, I’ll be working, thanks for asking.

I knew I was teetering precariously close to the edge of sanity the day I found myself in my kitchen, talking aloud to a frothy mass of bread dough. I had just checked my grades online and learned I’d gotten a B in that insane, should-be-illegal accelerated medical chem class from hell. My fantasy of being one of those people with a 4.0 in all prerequisites shattered, I tossed my phone on the table and grabbed a bag of flour to feed the bread starter.

When not sockless and sleep-deprived, I’m a reasonably stable person with the patience and attention span to do things like bake bread. Kneading my hands into a mass of dough reminds me of watching my mom stand in the kitchen, flour clinging to her hands as she paused to scan The Joy of Cooking. When I was little, I loved punching down the dough.

Anyway, I had used my glorious, school-free days between summer and fall semesters to finally start a sourdough culture. But Whole Wheat Herman, as I had named my starter, wasn’t cooperating. The frothy mixture of microbes and yeast made delicious pancakes but refused to rise enough to bake bread.

So there I was, glaring at a jar of bubbly batter, thinking about how I was entering a profession in which I would be responsible for the well-being of other humans and yet could not take care of a bunch of grain-gobbling bacteria.

“What do you want from me??” I asked the bubbling microbes in desperation. “A different kind of flour, warmer water, a view from the window? What more could I possibly give you??”

The microbes bubbled silently.

Sighing, I gave up arguing with the raw bread dough and flopped down on my couch — the kind of flop that used to make my dad look over in annoyance. “The furniture isn’t built for you to fall into it like that.” (It’s been many years since anyone told me how to properly navigate the transition between standing and sitting, but flopping down into my own furniture is still one of my favorite things.)

As I write this, Whole Wheat Herman is sequestered in the fridge, and fall semester is about to start. Honestly, I have anxiety about it. Sometimes it sucks not to have any space to breathe between work deadlines and anatomy exams and volunteering and tutoring and overanalyzing things at 2 a.m. It sucks to give everything you have and still have moments when everything isn’t enough.

But when I really think about it, I’m more afraid of not moving forward, of staying on a path that was comfortable but just not working anymore. I guess I have to accept that there will be imperfections, be they chemistry classes from hell or arguments with raw bread dough, along the way. I’m just really hoping it will all be worth it in the end.


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