An Interesting Paradox

I was just watching a “Spendaholics” video in which a 21-year-old college student’s “overspending” is vastly increased by her frequent trips to and from London to visit her boyfriend there. I won’t delve too deeply into my own college experiences (for the large part, I look back on that part of my life with a great deal of love because before “reality” hit, we really did meet people from all different backgrounds, we did explore any and all of our outside interests – I started taking glassblowing lessons, as an example!, we got to explore cultures that were completely different than our own and we were able to share our own knowledge with others, which was something that was also reciprocated.). It was a wonderful time to be able to share with people who were in the hard sciences or in CS or other such “hardcore” studies the “perfect” book or collection of short stories that you thought they would enjoy – and they did! They also shared their unique experience and knowledge back with me. I do not think there has ever been a time or might ever be another time (we’ll see when post-graduate education comes around!) when you interact so much with people who are so inherently different from you (all of my roommates were, for instance, Chinese; I was also part of “Russian House” which was amazing and where I met many of my best friends at the time – I loved sitting around in a circle playing guitars and singing folk songs!); I dated people from all over the world, my friends were the best friends I could have ever imagined, and so much more. Although most of these people are no longer in my life either because they have fallen into that “adult” “THING” or have fallen into the “you’re chronically ill, I have no use for you” bad person trap, the memories I have are still some of the best I could ever imagine. Actually being able to re-enact parts of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” before there was a movie was literally life-changing. I could go on and on and on, but that is not the point of this post!

The point here is that I have noticed an interesting paradox in my remising about my handful of years in school. Just about everyone I know has gone on to fulfill their career goals. They have all gotten married. They all have kids. Perhaps for them, that’s all well and good. But this is where I start to question things. If you wham bam high school, college, graduate school / post-graduate studies, etc., then jump into a career, marriage, and having kids, does that mean that you only had a very short amount of time to actually “be you?” From various evidence I have seen, the “you” almost necessarily disappears after these things … and I do think not only the people who fall into that pattern but society at large suffers for it all. Say for instance you have a job as a full-time doctor and have a wife and kids to take care of – you might be able to take a nice vacation here and there (and you are more than likely to have done so to some extent before all of that), but where do you really go after that? In other words, once you are an “adult” at 30-35, where do you go? How do you chase after the things you want? How do you even know what it is that you want when you have a 60-hour-long workweek, a wife who wants time with you, and children to raise? How can you know what you want? Is the definition of being an “adult” giving up all of what it is that YOU want for your life in exchange for all of these things we are conditioned to want and “need?”

To me, this is a very bleak prospect indeed. I abhor (and to the best of my knowledge have hated such ideas back before I even entered elementary school) the idea that you give it all up until you either have enough money to retire or you decide you want to retire. If we “assume” the average age of retirement to be around 65, we also have to assume that there are inherent physical changes that limit a typical person’s enjoyment of the things they want anyway. I say that as a person who frequently feels like I am 65; I had a bone scan done about 1.5 years ago and thankfully I had basically various scans of my entire body a decade before that scan because the bone scan revealed that in those 10 years I had developed severe degeneration in every single joint and bone in my body. When I first went to the spinal surgeon to discuss / confirm my compression fractures, I was literally greeted with a doctor who was shocked to see someone so young sitting before him because he thought that by my x-rays I was about 85. I am currently dealing with A LOT of knee problems. I also have phlebitis, cataracts, the aforementioned degenerative arthritis, and many of the other “maladies” many “healthier” older people often have. I am slowly feeling younger and younger as the time goes by (ironic, but something for which I am extraordinarily grateful and I just pray things continue to improve) but I can say that in this sort of condition you cannot go biking thousands of miles or kilometers. You cannot climb mountains. You cannot backpack your way even across a state. I certainly cannot blow glass at this point in life just because of the state of my teeth. I can barely drive 3-4 hours … on a good day. So how much can an “average” person really do after one has retired?

*Long post again, my apologies!* What I am getting at with all of this is that I think we have the idea of what it is to be an “adult” all mixed up. We all know Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” and we all know “self-actualization” is the pinnacle of existence. I interpret this as what you do that leaves your “legacy” behind (and I do not consider having children “YOUR” legacy because they leave their OWN legacy. That would be like saying “oh, my legacy is to plant this apple tree!” which is all well and good, but the only way that apple tree is going to prosper is if it is among other apple trees and can proliferate and “live on,” so-to-speak. Maybe that’s not a great example. But what I just mean is that you cannot claim the accomplishments of your children as YOURS because they are THEIRS). So how do you do this if you spend most of your life either not really knowing all of who you are or just giving that up? I will add a little anecdote here. There is “a guy I know” (we’ll call him Bob). Bob had a nearly perfect SAT score and could have gone to any school he wanted – he was accepted into many very prestigious schools. However, he wanted to be close to his parents and family so he went to a not-so-prestigious school. Bob had big goals in life. He wanted to be a very high-level hard scientist; he also wanted to be a writer and actually won full scholarships for studying abroad for doing so. HOWEVER, Bob also always wanted to have kids … and not just “any” kids, but HIS OWN KIDS. As a result, Bob’s ex-girlfriend, someone who was very much chasing her dreams at that point on the other side of the country said to Bob ‘hey, if you think that girl across the hall is cute, go date her! I can never be the cause of anyone’s resentments so if you have any questions in your mind, go and date her!” Bob’s then girlfriend didn’t want to have her own kids. To make a very long story short, Bob’s ex-girlfriend actually got Bob and his now-wife together (I don’t think that fact is widely known, obviously!). That is the beginning of where things turn from “go explore and live your life!” to “if that’s an adult, I want no part of it!” Bob’s ex-gf (the one allowed the two to get married, essentially) had made an arrangement with Bob – that if he would not come to undergraduate school to be with her (she was not going to give up a position in one of the best schools in the world), she would finish school and then move to the other side of the country so that she could pursue whatever graduate school / doctoral studies she wanted there and so he could be where he wanted – the place he loved, the weather he loved with the friends he loved and the family he loved. She loved all of that too. But what ultimately happened was Bob got two things he wanted: 1. he got married, and 2. he had kids. ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING ELSE HE GAVE UP TO BE WITH THE FORMER “GIRL ACROSS THE HALL.” He paid for her “medical profession” school (I do not consider it a medical profession, but that is just because most of the people on whom I can rely are actually human medical professionals!) for which she claimed credit. *Have I mentioned this elsewhere? Eh, the point is coming, I promise!* He had the kids, but not many and they spend most of their time in daycare. Bob works but does nothing he ever wanted to do. The kids do not even refer to Bob’s parents as “grandma” or “grandpa,” but other goofy names because Bob moved to a place he NEVER wanted to be just so he could be married and have kids and lose the rest. I will not say more about that but in short, he has kids and a wife but the kids are part-time and the mom is a very obvious “taker.” He is not even anywhere NEAR where he wanted to be … in any interpretation of that phrase.

I am sure one day, maybe when he is trying to blow out the candles on his 70th birthday cake, Bob will realize that he was taken for all he was worth. Maybe he will have an epiphany that he gave it all up when he very truly could have had it all if he would have waited just a little longer. I cannot dictate the lives of others and I never will. I will NEVER be the cause of someone’s resentment; I NEVER want someone to be sickly and dying and to think that “if ONLY THAT DAMN BETH HADN’T DONE …!” To this point, I have avoided that trap altogether. I don’t think many people care that much … even between husbands and wives as per the above example.

So what the hell am I saying with all of this? As someone who has had chronic illness and such SEVERE life vs. death chronic illness for SO MANY YEARS, I have had copious amounts of time to think about what I want to do and how I am going to do it. There is a LOT that I want to do … but I have no doubt that I will do it. And I would NEVER allow anyone to take that away from me. Perhaps that is a perspective that is rarely given to those who have not had to live with such severe illness for such a long period of time … that is, the realization that you really do have to live your life the way you want it ENTIRELY and you need to do it as soon as you possibly can. Giving up everything for one thing is not a good “bargain.” There is no reason I cannot be a doctor and still go on to advocate for the chronic illness and invisible illness community (in fact, I think it would help me to do so!) and I write every day of my life. I will not list my very long “bucket list,” but I will say that I hope to have at least another 35 years in order to check all of those things off. I NEVER want to be taken for all I have so that number is cut to 0. And in all of that, I really wonder if those who are deemed “adults” by our society (that is having completed some level of education beyond high school, gotten married, and having had kids) are really the least “adult”ish of all of us. In regard to the manner in which people deny what they don’t want to see about themselves and their lives, I think this is very true. I am always reminded of the quote my grandfather (PAP! God Bless YOU I miss you every day of my life) used to say – “I don’t care if you lie about me but if you tell the truth I’m MAD!” Maybe those who have met those “checkpoints” have to find some way of “defining” their lives without going mad because – especially among more intelligent people – they MUST know they are missing out on so much and the clock is always ticking. Maybe those of us with severe chronic illness, those of us who are disabled in any and every way are those who really become “adults.” I am starting to really wonder if this whole “adulting” business is just a way to essentially create commonalities that people are conditioned to achieve and therefore, however unpleasant the experience is, they are, universally, “adults.”

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. If you have any similar anecdotes you would like to talk about, please feel free to comment or to message me personally (you can always reach me at thespooniesensei@gmail.com if you would like to speak privately!) – I really would love to hear your experiences and thoughts about all of this! Perhaps even more I would just love to hear what your dreams and goals are for the future – for however much time you have before the “average, healthy” person would retire. To me, the key to living is to KEEP LIVING. That doesn’t mean just staying alive and satiating your biological imperatives. And if you ARE a “normal, healthy” person who has actually undergone “standard” types of conditioning, I would love to know what you think about all of this – whether you fall into the “type” I mentioned above or if you manage to escape all of that and keep on being yourself and moving forward in your life YOURSELF!

As always, thank you very much for taking the time to read this! I hope you are all staying safe out there in this crazy world. I hope you are having a happy and healthy weekend wherever you are in the world and I will be back soon soon SOON!!!

❤ Always, Beth

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