Here Comes Yet Another “New Normal.”
I’m girding my loins. Gritting my teeth. And preparing for possible battle.
Since last February, when I was laid off from my gig as an Associate Creative Director for a large marketing agency, I’ve spent a lot of time at home. More than I have in years.
If it weren’t for the whole “making no money thing,” I’d quite enjoy the novelty of being cut loose from the nine to five grind. Or, in the case of my employer, eight-thirty to five. (I rarely made it on time, figuring after fifteen years, what’s a half hour?)
Interestingly, even though I was a copywriter, I’m writing more now than I ever did at work. As much as I want, when I want…and what I want. No more junk mail for the HVAC company we fondly referred to as “poops and pipes.”
With my time my own, now, If I get the notion to tidy up, I do it. Or throw a load of laundry in. Or dance like “no one is watching” as I bark out song requests to Alexa. Or sneak an early afternoon glass of wine.
Often, I also enjoy skulking around the house, looking for items I can toss, in a feeble attempt to de-stuff. In short, I’ve developed my own routine.
Again, in spite of not contributing to our household budget, I’ve made a fragile peace with this “New Normal,” the second one in less than a handful of years.
Although every individual’s “life chart,” if you will, is filled with ups and downs and unforeseen spikes and dramatic dips, the “New Normal,” hereafter to be referred to as NN, is a different beast entirely.
A NN can shake you, quake you and rock you to your core.
I mentioned that this is my second NN. The first was my receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer, which I was truly blessed to have caught, early on.
After that, my world shifted. Even now, four years later, it is still askew, as always, lurking in the back of my mind is the question, “Will it come back? If so, when…and where?” Usually, as I go about my day, I’m fairly effective at keeping these thoughts at bay, but at night, when I’m in bed, in the dark, the Banshees come. They shriek and dance around my curled-up body and mock me. “You’re not safe. You’ll never be safe, again,” they scream, until the Seroquel does its work and their voices fade, only to return another night.
When I was still working, I saw a rather expensive psychologist to help me deal with these thoughts, but I went once, and never returned. I couldn’t tell you why. Her fee, maybe — or maybe, I just didn’t want to go there. In retrospect, I should have continued, as so often, my brain is not my friend. My brain works against me. Wants me to hide under the covers and never come out.
Another NN is on the horizon. My husband, who, for many years, has worked as a Senior Editor for a publishing company geared to the manufacturing industry, and is experiencing issues with his own health, needs a break. And he deserves one. That said, in the New Year, he will be easing into “semi-retirement,” with a reduced role at work, and the opportunity to work from home every day. (Insert GULP here.)
He has every right to do as he pleases, being that this is his home, as well as mine. But I worry. I worry that we will get on one another’s nerves. Unbearably so. It’s happening already. And with alarming frequency.
Through the years, our ability to be joined at the hip, without incident, has eroded. It doesn’t take much for sparks to fly. Truth be told, it’s usually me who lights the match, as I like things the way I like them.
I like our home to be as neat and orderly, as possible. Everything in its place. Excess clutter fuels my anxiety and OCD. My husband, who thankfully, doesn’t share my many neuroses, is not bothered by a messy room. A chair pulled out from the table. A few crumbs on a kitchen counter. These seemingly insignificant things lead to constant and ongoing “discussions.” Talks that ultimately go nowhere.
My husband is worn down by my nagging. And frankly, so am I. I no longer have the fortitude to keep at it. Unfortunately, though, I’m stubborn, with a quick, unpredictable temper.
What will it be like when we’re both home…every day? I expect we will spend much of the time in our neutral corners. My husband will camp out in our office on the main floor of our ranch home. A space which he has also turned into his personal music room. Stereo receiver. Turntable. Lots of vinyl and CDs. Laundry that spills over the basket onto the floor. Paperwork. (What IS all this, anyway?) Clutter, and more clutter.
I, on the other hand, will set up camp in our finished basement, where I’ve created a precise little office, for myself.
To be clear, I do not begrudge my husband a place to hang out, where he can feel comfortable and be free of my judgmental presence. But why, can’t it be a neat and orderly place to hang out? Why the mess?
This is why: My husband suffers from acute and chronic insomnia and all the problems that go with this horrible condition. He pushes through his days, exhausted to the point of insensibility. He is just too damned spent to straighten up, much less do anything else. To his credit, I don’t understand how he is able to fulfill the demands of his job, which is a hell of a lot more difficult than mine ever was.
No one seems to be able to offer any real help for him. Doctors throw scripts at him like rice at a wedding.
Never the best sleeper, my husband’s condition has escalated through the years to the point where he rarely bothers to come to bed anymore. He’ll spend a couple of restless hours on the living room sofa, wake up, read his Kindle for a while and then, hopefully, pass out for another hour or two before the alarm clock signals the start to his morning — and another day of stumbling around in a debilitating haze.
My heart breaks for him. It does. Which is why I need to think before I speak. Sometimes, I just need to shut the hell up. But the thing is — I’m not feeling that great myself, these days. The stress brought on by worrying about my husband and the future, in general, has affected every part of my body.
How do people do it? “Get happy?” If only there was a magic potion to wipe the brain free of any negative thoughts — leave it fresh and ready to take on new challenges. If only.
I don’t meditate. I’ve tried, but not very hard. I’m not particularly “mindful.” At the end of the day, I don’t express my thanks for all I have in a “gratitude journal,” although, perhaps, I should.
Both my husband and myself need to make some changes. If not, I worry that the daily face-top-face will erode our relationship, which has always been a loving one. (And yes, I am grateful for that.)
“Grey Divorce.” I stumbled upon that term the other day. Cute, huh? Apparently, according to a report by a place I’ve never heard of — the Pew Research Center — among U.S. adults age fifty and older, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s. Yikes.
There was a very sweet, seventy-something woman at my former place of employ, who divorced her husband after more than fifty years of marriage. I was gobsmacked by this. Fifty years and splitsville! Unfortunately, I think I understand now, how something like this can occur and it scares me. Couples just grow apart. Or, after years of discourse and misunderstandings and petty grievances, come to the point where they can no longer stand one another.
I never want this to be the case in my marriage. Never. So, I will just have to suck it up and accept this NN like I did the one preceding it. What choice do I have?
I’m rambling because thinking about this is making me nervous. I’ve read a lot of online tips and advice having to do with “Retired Husband Syndrome,” “How to Avoid Living Unhappily After Retirement” and the like, but I’m aware that at the end of the day, to each his own. And technically, I’m not retired. I’m out of work.
So, to keep the peace, I’ll make it a point to leave the house, every day, even if only for an hour. My sister, bless her, has given me free rein to hang out at her house when I need to, while everyone is at work. I’m sure I’ll be taking her up on this very generous offer.
I’ll do my best to stick to my routine, as it is, and help my husband carve one out for himself. Because this will be an NN for him, as well.
Nagging will be kept at a minimum. I hope.
I’ll try not to be so consumed with the negative and instead, look for and embrace the positives in my life.
I’ll do my very best to be kind, loving and supportive.
If my husband needs to take short naps throughout the day in order to function, I won’t care if he messes up the carefully made bed.
I’ll continue to look for work.
I’ll finish the new screenplay I started.
I’ll drink less.
There really is no other recourse for me. If I don’t adapt, and keep my judgmental thoughts and accusatory comments to myself, I fear something bad will happen. Something that involves projectile objects. Sharp ones. And I’ll deserve every wound and gash.
The thing is, my husband is not a violent man. He is a sweet and gentle man. But I can be a shrew, and if my bad behavior causes him to snap, and us to kill one another, I can’t help but think: What will happen to our poor cats?
In my morbid mind’s eye, I envision our bodies, moldering here for days, or even, weeks. Stiff. Cold. Battling no more. And our three, sweet, beloved kitties, slowly circling us, as the big cats circle their downed prey, fending off starvation until they can no longer deny their natural instincts as obligate carnivores to tear and rend flesh.
All I can say is, “Have at us, guys. Less of us to burn.”
Sherry McGuinn is a longtime Chicago-area writer and award-winning screenwriter. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and numerous other publications. Sherry’s manager is currently pitching her newest screenplay, a drama with dark, comedic overtones and inspired by a true story.