Terrible, Thanks for Asking

From The Edge - Transcript

This is a transcript of a “Terrible, Thanks for Asking” episode entitled, “From The Edge.” The text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future for accuracy.

Listen to the episode here.


I’m Nora McInerny, and this is “Terrible, thanks for Asking.”

The other day, Hannah Meacock Ross and I were exchanging text messages, and I told her I was high on allergy meds (not sure if that’s possible, but my head did feel very funny), and she told me she was low on life. She was joking, kind of, but I understood what she meant.

We go back and forth a lot in our texts about work and life — always apologizing for being behind or feeling low. It’s like a teeter totter, and whichever one of us is up that day reminds the other person that their being down is not actually a personal failure, though we have personalized every failure! We’ve invented failures! 

We see a normal ebb and flow of human energy as a defect. We feel like our inability to produce consistent output is evidence of our shortcomings instead of evidence of our humanity. And we are not special, I know. Lots of us feel this way — like we’re reaching the end of a rapidly fraying rope, like we’re falling behind, like the problem is our inability to lifehack and optimize and make lemonade out of climate change and racial injustice and a global pandemic.

In February, a friend of mine sent me an article from The Atlantic called “Bring Back The Nervous Breakdown.” It’s by a journalist named Jerry Useem, who tells us that the concept of The Nervous Breakdown was introduced by Fortune magazine in 1935, when America was going through the Great Depression. And now I’m quoting:

For 80 years or so, proclaiming that you were having a nervous breakdown was a legitimized way of declaring a sort of temporary emotional bankruptcy in the face of modern life’s stresses. John D. Rockefeller Jr., Jane Addams, and Max Weber all had acknowledged “breakdowns,” and reemerged to do their best work. Provided you had the means — a rather big proviso — announcing a nervous breakdown gave you license to withdraw, claiming an excess of industry or sensitivity or some other virtue. And crucially, it focused the cause of distress on the outside world and its unmeetable demands. You weren’t crazy; the world was. The nervous breakdown was not a medical condition, but a sociological one. It implicated a physical problem — your “nerves” — not a mental one. And it was a one-time event, not a permanent condition.

I’m going to link that article in the show notes, because it’s worth a read. 

So we don’t have Nervous Breakdowns anymore, and we don’t focus on the sociological symptoms as much as we focus on our personal issues. There are books and podcasts and Instagram accounts and entire businesses built around helping you optimize, insisting you squeeze the most of your one wild and precious life by reaching for more and more achievements.

I have been feeling exhausted and depleted and overwhelmed and like I just want to curl into a little ball and sleep for a few weeks, or be spirited away to a cabin without wi-fi where I just do puzzles with my kids (or honestly alone, alone would be fine). I’ve re-read Walden. Poetry. Pema Chodron and C.S. Lewis. I’ve cut down my screen time, and I’ve said no to things I didn’t want to say yes to and still! Still I wish I could claim a nervous breakdown and go convalesce in a seaside resort where my prescription is to just stare at the ocean and hydrate myself.

I asked — on my Instagram — if anyone else was feeling like they were on the edge of an existential crisis. And if you were, to send me a voice memo about it. Just record into your phone what you’re going through. 

And you did.

And so, this episode is for all of us who feel like we are teetering on the edge. Who feel like the world is just too much and like we could really use a light coma, or six months in a sensory deprivation chamber, or a prescribed seaside vacation where we just exist.

That’s not happening. But … at least we’re not alone.

If there is one HUGE theme that we heard from all of you, it was that working, careers, and what we do for a living has changed so much during this pandemic. For many people, the pandemic was a time where you weren’t working for the first time in a long time. And we really live in a society that seems to value career over all else. When you’re asked to define yourself as a person, your job might be one of the first things to come to mind. So when that job changes, what does that do to your sense of self? How do you define yourself then?

Lea: As far as total meltdown, I feel like there's this narrative that we have to experience, like, one momentous, intense period of our life that's like an absolute rock bottom kind of storyline, and really gnarly. And terrible things do happen to people. And I've had them happen to me, too. But as far as a total meltdown, I feel like it's been a more constant and latent feeling in my life for the past, like, I don't know, three years.

So I was a bartender, a theater actor, as well as a theater teacher in different venues. And in about a four-day span, all of those careers got thrown down the tube. Like if there was a trifecta of careers that an individual could have had that got like, utterly destroyed by the pandemic, that trifecta was mine.

Just talk about 12 months of day in, day out questioning all of the choices that you had made in life, in school, what training you were going to get, questioning all of those choices every single day, and then spending at least three hours every morning at the kitchen table over coffee, perusing job boards and looking at job after job and just realizing how unqualified I am for everything. Or maybe to say I realize that is not true — to convince myself that I'm unqualified for any and everything that I encounter. And I fill out these cover letters and these resumes and it just like, you know ... I've given hundreds of hours to writing fricken cover letters. Those things take time like ... shit! And yeah, things haven't really changed for the better for me since then. So I don't have advice for you. I have a sardonic, “what the shit” attitude, okay? Life goes on. 

Maggie: I had been living in the Rocky Mountain region for many years and was working a job at the time that specifically focused on events, so large gatherings of people. An industry that doesn't really exist anymore these days. But once everything started to happen last year, they offered me a job, and I reached out and said, “Are you sure that this is still going?” And they said, yes, absolutely. And then I got here and they came out about a week later and said that they were laying everyone off from my new company, and that I no longer had a job. And I sat in the tiny, 600-square foot apartment that I was sharing with someone else who had just also lost their job and looked out the window at Brooklyn and thought, “I have massively fucked up.”

Lise: I don't really know who I am without, like, the pressure of a job looming over me, and the process of getting up every day and figuring out what I want to do feels like a burden. I know that that is really rich. You know, I could be working in a coal mine right now, but instead I'm sitting in my house not knowing what to do with myself. But it made me really think of, like, what do I want to do with my time on this earth? And even, like, is my career worth it? Is my career a good reason to leave my family every day? Is my career a good enough way to spend my precious time on this planet? 

It's hard to feel like anything you do is enough when there is just so much suffering in the world. And I have a really hard time not just kind of like, watching HGTV in my pajamas and being sad a lot of the time. And, you know, I have a therapist, and I'm doing the work to not be depressed, but it feels like who wouldn't be depressed right now? What kind of a monster would look at our world right now and say, “Everything is fine. Go back to your marketing job. Try to figure out how to sell things to people more, because that's what the world needs more of.” I just can't take myself seriously lately. And I wonder if anybody else is feeling the same way about their careers.

Oh, they are. They are...

Regina: I recently turned 30 and have been working as a social worker for the last seven or eight years. I got a job when I was 23, right out of right out of undergrad, in community mental health. I didn't know anything really about community mental health or social work or what all of that meant, but I quickly fell in love with it and have been working in community mental health since that time.

I loved being able to provide information to folks, maybe folks who had never had experience with the mental health industry before. Like, what is case management? What is therapy? What is psychiatry? How are those things different? Like, why does it matter? And then COVID happened, and I was no longer allowed to be in the community. And, you know, the plan for the majority of COVID continued to be, you know, remote services. And on the one hand, again, it was great that we were still able to do our work, but my job went for me being out and about in the community, meeting people where they were at, to basically sitting in my living room in sweatpants with a headset on, like I worked at a call center. And it was just different and not the same. And I did not appreciate how much that impacted me until recently. 

You know what, I thought that maybe it’s just time for a change. I’d been doing that job for two years. Maybe it was time for me to move on. So I looked internally, and I was hired for a different position. You know, a job with more responsibility, a better title. And that's what I'm doing now. And on some days, I do enjoy it. I enjoy feeling like I'm, you know, working in a different department. I'm getting a different experience. I'm a supervisor, so managing people definitely has its pros and cons, but at the end of the day, it is a new experience and skill that I think I'm developing. 

I really thought a new position would make me happier. It would make me feel better. Unfortunately, it hasn't. Unfortunately, I still feel very not happy. And it's really hard to tease out why that is. Right? Is that because I don't like the work anymore? Is it because I'm overwhelmed, or I'm stressed? And it makes me emotional, because my job has always been such a fixture of who I was. You know? 

Katherine: Crises. Uh, can one last 10 years? I guess mine started when I was about 32. I was a professor of engineering at a school in Alabama, and one day a colleague came to work and shot six people, killing three of them. Thankfully, I wasn't in the meeting when this happened, but I almost immediately started looking for another job. And in the process of looking for another job, I found out I was going to be fired anyway. 

And then in the second year, after moving to Texas, packing up my whole life, dragging my family several states away, I lost that job, too, because the company I was working for went bankrupt. So, yeah, I remember in 2012, lying in bed, crying myself to sleep, thinking, “How did I become a 34-year-old with a Ph.D. who had no job and a house she had to sell and a kid that she was sure she was screwing up for life?”

There’s a book I recently read — I’ll be talking to the author soon on TTFA Premium — called “An Ordinary Age.” It’s by a woman named Rainesford Stauffer, and I’ll link the book in our episode description. But the book is about the immense pressure that we feel when we’re young — a pressure that doesn’t seem to go away with age — to be EXTRAORDINARY. To be a person that does something AMAZING. When really, what is more amazing than just existing? Well, you know … ACCOMPLISHMENTS! Accomplishments that do in no way inoculate you from the realities of being alive.

Brenna: There's all this pressure in law school to get the perfect grades and the perfect jobs. And it's highly, highly competitive. And it kind of feels like it's going nowhere sometimes, because maybe the pandemic — it's really hard for people to get jobs. And I just am wondering all the time if all of this is worth it … all the sacrifices that I made and the things that I gave up. But I get through it, because I know that this is going to be good for me. And what's supposed to be mine already exists out there somewhere in the time, space, world. And each day I just try my best. And a collection of days of me trying my best, my hope and my idea is that it will create the life that I'm supposed to have in an authentic way instead of using the word supposed, like should-type ways. And that's where I'm at.

Rachel: I'm 21 years old, and I'm going to be a senior in college in the fall, and every time I think about what I'm going to do after I graduate, I just panic. I don't know if I want to go to grad school or if I should start working right away. And everything just seems totally overwhelming and it seems like I'll never find the right answer and like, I'm drowning in all of my life.

McKenzie: Everyone says, “Yo, you're 24. Things are fine. What do you have to worry about?” But I have to worry about a lot. Through this pandemic, it's been rough obviously for everyone in this, but it just sent me into a spiral where I found out I am extremely bipolar and I have ADHD. So that's been difficult, figuring out just medication and therapy and trying to figure out what the fuck is happening with my mind is overwhelming sometimes. Along with that, I'm still getting my undergrad degree and switched my major to something that no one in my family would approve of — Art History, aka the best major ever. So that's another uncertainty. Like, what am I going to do with an art history degree? I don't know. Do I love it? Yes, I love it so much. So between student loans, mental health, figuring life out, I don't know. No one gives you a handbook for this. It's so unpredictable and so strange. And I'm kind of freaking out. But hopefully it'll work out. Who knows?

Evelyn: So a few months ago, I was sitting on a work call from my garage. On this call, we're discussing the future of the COVID response and major components of the COVID response in the state of California. At the same time, it's 7:30 p.m. My children are very hungry. They are 8 and 10 years old. It is 7:30. I have not fed them yet. The 8-year-old, he's hangry, and he comes out, and he's stopping and demanding when am I going to be done? Meanwhile, my husband, for whom I am a spousal caregiver — he has a severe brain injury and is dependent on me for everything — is texting me asking for assistance to use the restroom. So here I am, doing work that has so much purpose. I'm a leader in the COVID response in the state of California, and I've been doing COVID work for more than a year in the Bay Area, leading the first shelter-in-place orders, where I had to make, and was part of making, really, really difficult choices. Looking at how do we protect health and save people's lives and at what cost to society? How do we move forward, how do we navigate in uncertainty? I also am doing the meaningful work of solo motherhood of two beautiful humans. And I'm doing the meaningful work of caregiving for a spouse who basically died to me and came back in a different form. And I've been doing that for eight years. So there's so much work, all this work happening. And yet … I lost the meaning of it all. Why am I doing it all? And all the work had compounded, and eclipsed, anything about me. But also, who was I without it? I am, as I define myself in introductions, a public health leader, a solo parent, a spousal caregiver. But who am I? And that's the question, right? That is every existential crisis. And what is society? What is belonging? What is community? And how do I exist in this world? For what purpose?

I've wondered often, you know, the choices we made in public health around shelter-in-place orders and restricting movement. You know, what cost did that have on society? And what cost has that had to me? In all the work that I have done? So we don't have all the answers, but I know that navigating the space has been terrifying. I've had to find the courage to face the things that I have been running from: the sadness, the anger, the confusion, the fear, the uncertainty. And we're all in extremely uncertain times that test us in ways that we've never had to face before potentially.

Emily: I am on the other side of running a major metropolitan hospital in the middle of a pandemic. I’m on the senior leadership team of one of the big hospitals in the Twin Cities. So not only like, the death, and the fear, and the surges, and the just horrific situations that our staff and our patients were put in, I also got to lead our vaccine clinic and I am leading our vaccine clinic, which is fucking amazing. And why would that create an existential crisis? I think I'm in this situation now where I did it. Like, I filled what I've always wanted to do, which was really, truly use my brain and my head and my heart to help people. And I fucking did it. And it was amazing. And I have a million stories about how I did that. But I think internally, the meaning in my life has always been about getting there, and now that I'm on the other end of it, I think a lot of us are having this sense of like … now what? Like, what the fuck just happened, and what are we supposed to do after all of that? How are we supposed to walk around and know that little fuckers are in Miami Beach running around with their masks off, you know, gonna to go back and hang out with grandma afterwards? And I think one of the questions was, “How do you get through?” And I think all of us in health care right now did it. Like, we got through, and we every single day just sucked it up, and put it away, and got in our cars, and drove to work and did the work. And I don't know who it is, like fucking Glenn and Doyle or Brene Brown or one of our, you know, high priestesses. Like, your dig deep button like, breaks. And that's all I've done my whole life is use that button. And so that's my existential crisis.

We’ll be right back.

We’re back. 

We are all struggling. With our careers, with our sense of purpose, and also with our relationships. Who we are within them, or maybe without them?

Unknown: Hi, Nora. I wouldn't call this a mid-life crisis because I hope I live longer than … 68? Math is hard. Anyway. I'm 34.5 years old, married to a man, and I have two kids and just realized I'm actually gay. And now I'm questioning everything I've ever known about myself and the world I live in — in the middle of a pandemic and civil unrest. So we're doing great. That’s all. Bye!

Chelsea: I decided to go forward with divorcing my alcoholic husband. And everything was actually pretty great. Our breakup led him to get help, and even though I was no longer in love with him, we have two small kids together, so we were in no rush to, like, make things legal. But we were living separate lives, and we both started dating other people. And mine was, like, the guy that I had always dreamed of my whole life. Not too long after that, I was on my way to visit him, and I got in a really bad car accident. I rolled my car twice and totaled it and got a concussion, which I didn't realize until the next week. And this was over a year ago. And now I'm still dealing with issues from that. And then about a month after that in like November, my dog was diagnosed with cancer. Around the same time, my kids really started to show signs of struggling from my former spouse and I being separated. So everything was starting to just, like, pile on top of each other. About that same time my … I hate to say Prince Charming, because he was way more than a prince. He was an intellectual, very cerebral. He was like my University President Charming. I don't know, I don't know. Not a prince. But like, anyway, my dream guy. At this point, we had been together for like six months or so, seven months. And that Prince Charming guy, he became physically abusive. 

I was in the middle of COVID and really like ... he was perfect in front of my kids. And I really needed his help with the kids, because even when I was still working for those first two weeks where they were homeschooling and there was no daycare. My family couldn't watch my kids. My former in-laws couldn't watch my kids because, you know, so many people are high-risk — including my oldest, who was born with heart disease and had to have heart surgery at five days old. So, like, we definitely didn't want him around anybody. So I really needed this former Prince Charming’s help.

And then in July, I don't know what happened, a switch flipped. And we are in a situation where I didn't feel safe. I didn’t feel comfortable. So I locked him out, and then what he did was he went crazy. He started headbutting the glass door. When his head wouldn't work, then he kicked through it. So I'm on the phone with 911. I've never seen him like this. And he took my purse, because he thought my purse has his car keys in it, and he leaves. So I go to try to take my purse back from him in my front yard, and he and I basically have a little fight over it. And in this fight, I fall to the ground. All my neighbors in my perfect, wonderful neighborhood that I love so much, saw everything. It was so horrifying. It was so embarrassing. But I actually went to court and testified that he was in therapy, which he was, and he had letters from his therapist and stuff since July saying that he was seeking out treatment. And the judge asked, “So are you saying this was basically just a misunderstanding?” And I never said that, and I never wanted to say that, and it really caught me off guard. It was not a misunderstanding. I did not blow anything out of proportion. I did not misunderstand the situation or what he did, but I didn't know what else to say in that moment. I didn't want him to go to jail. It was a felony. He had, I think, two felony charges. And I just said, “Yes.” And I still can't believe I did that. 

Meg: I did do IVF on my own in my mid-30s. I did it twice, with donor sperm, and it wasn't successful. And then I've always thought, “I'll do it. I'll do it later. And I’ll use donor eggs and donor sperm.” And I'm 49. And now with a pandemic, I'd need to go to probably America to do this. And with a pandemic, that's not going to be happening any time soon. And even though possibly I could still be like in my 50s and have a baby that way, I don't know if that's something I'd want to do. So I think the other thing that's worrying me now, or it actually is consuming me a little bit, but I try to just block it, is … admitting that my time to have a child is over, which actually I can’t even bear to think about.

Unknown: I am currently 30, but my meltdown happened at 28 and is just kind of wrapping up. It started when my best friend accused my husband of doing something really terrible, and he had no memory of it. And I was stuck in a position of having to kind of help my best friend and help my husband through some really terrible stuff and feeling a lot of guilt and shame about picking sides in an impossible situation. I had to change my career so that my job was more in line with supporting myself and my child if we were to be a single-parent household. And I lost my best friend in the process. I lost my social circle. I lost my work that I had really loved for many years. And I'm now in a career that feels very alien but meets the needs of my family. I have been in therapy for a very long time now, or it feels like it, but have made immense progress, as has my husband and both of us cope together, working through everything that happened and how to kind of pick up the pieces. We're coming out of it a little bit, and I am still with my husband, and he had to work through what it was like to be accused of something terrible, take ownership for it, even with no memory of it. And I had to work on forgiving myself for helping somebody that I really loved, for losing somebody that I really loved and continue to love, and doing what I could to get through.

Alex: I left a perfectly good relationship with my partner of two years, and I'm not really sure why. I think I might have freaked out about commitment. I think maybe being isolated together for a year kind of exacerbated that. And I packed up my stuff. I moved a couple of hours south to Los Angeles, a city where I really don't know anybody. And a couple of days before I was set to leave, I was also laid off from my job. So ... I managed to get a new job, but I haven't started yet, so I'm sort of existing in a weird, liminal space. You know, right now it's Monday morning. I’m sitting in my apartment doing a crossword puzzle with the cat in my lap and trying not to think too hard about what's next. Because to be honest, I … I really have no idea what I'm doing.

Shannon: When I was in my early 20s, my biological father, who I never knew, sent me a Facebook message. And I wrote him back a mean message, “How dare you get in touch with me on social media after all of these years?” And he died a few days later. Then at 23, I met a great love of my life, Gregory, my husband, and he died when I was 28 from cancer, upon which time I lost our home and land, our community, my job, his income and socioeconomic class status, friends, support group, family member relationships, physical and mental health. And recently I've been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and ADHD, and it's becoming glaringly obvious that I am on the autism spectrum. So those are comorbid issues. And grief, loss, trauma and the exclusion that I've experienced in widowhood has exacerbated all of them. I've always been an outspoken feminist, something my husband loved about me, and I lost my voice when he died. And I lost so much at the same time, simultaneously experiencing bullying and exclusion and harassment from mostly old, white, powerful men in the music industry. And so … being a recovering, perfectionist, outspoken woman, it has been a huge identity crisis.

Susan: I'm 40 years old. I live in the Netherlands. And, um, my meltdown happened in 2018. I was together with my boyfriend, because we were not married, for 17 years. And he was the love of my life. And from all our friends and relationships, we were the ones who were the most perfect. We never fought. We had no issues. We had the same humor. We could laugh a lot. I could not imagine anyone better for me. He was the love of my life, period. In 2018 eighteen we had a son, and I was with an obstetrician who was also my obstetrician when I was pregnant the first time, and I thought this was a very remarkable, inspirational woman, because she could really give pregnant women trust in their bodies, in their babies, in the birthing process. And, um, so I really had a really beautiful birthing experience the first time and also became friends with her. And so she was also my obstetrician the second time. So when I was five months pregnant with my second child, my then-boyfriend and my obstetrician did an ayahuasca session together, which is a medicinal drug from the rainforest, which makes you go trip and hallucinate. And after they did that, they found that they were supposed to be together and live a life for God, which also meant that he would leave me. And so my whole world at that point was upside down. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't understand it. The very confusing, difficult thing for me was because I have put them both on a pedestal. And I trust them. So I believed them. 

What was difficult for me was that when a relationship ends, it's not only that you have to say goodbye to your relationship, but the whole idea of who you think you are, of what the relationship was, of what the other person was and what your life was supposed to be is not true anymore. And that is really hard to deal with, to understand, to grasp, to figure out. Very depressed. I had many moments that I thought I could not live this life. I didn't know how to do it. I had no hope. And right now, I'm at a point that I'm doing much better and much more positive. I'm feeling stronger about myself. I've been angry with him for a while, and what I noticed is that at some point I was like, “Yeah, I can stay angry with him forever, but it's not going to change anything.” And then I figure that I'm not actually angry at him. Now, I'm angry at myself, because I don't know how to do this life. I don't know how to do this. And that was a big eye-opener.

That’s some big emotional maturity that I do not have. I’m proud of you. I’m so proud of you. And we’ll be right back.

We’re back. 

As much as humans (me) love categories, organization, making sure things fit into specific places … our existential crises are as unique as we are. There’s just so MUCH to think about! There’s money, there’s health, there’s the sands of time slipping so rapidly through the hourglass that you’re thinking maybe you should invest in a better timekeeping device. There’s looking at your hands and seeing your mother’s hands, the same ones that covered your whole tummy when you were a little girl. But now they’re your hands, on your son’s tummy, and you wonder if he feels as safe and as loved under your touch. There’s wondering if any of it has mattered, it any of it will matter, if maybe you spend too much time staring at a laptop and not enough time staring at your child’s teeny tiny teeth, or listening to their itty bitty voice, or if maybe you should have just pet your dog instead of telling her not to nuzzle you when you’re trying to work.

There’s knowing that life is short, and that we are stuck in very fragile vessels.

Eli: Hi. My name is Eli. I am 22 and my pronouns, are they/them. I am what a lot of people would consider quite young, I suppose. But I genuinely did not plan to live past the age of 16. My mental health has always been rocky, and then I'm also queer from an non-supportive family. I've had a slew of health issues that I feel have really made me perceive the world differently than my peers. I was diagnosed with my first brain tumor at the age of 19, and then a different brain tumor at age 20, and then diagnosed with lymphoma at the age of 21. Was in remission for a bit, and then had a relapse and went through the whole chemo thing again. And I'm very, very thankful to be able to say that I'm currently in a partial remission. But just the knowledge that the next tests, the next scans could show that things are bad again, it really spurs some interesting turmoil, one might say, and has led to quite a few crises over the past couple of years.

Maggie: I have a life-limiting illness that I've actually had for quite some time that put me at very high risk for death from COVID. So I was very fearful around what would happen to me if I got COVID due to losing my health insurance from my employer, and having spent money to move to New York without a ton of savings left, and I thought, “I could die and put my family and my loved ones in an incredible amount of debt. And I don't know what to do.” So I basically melted down for about six months. And I stopped talking to people, and I stopped answering my phone. Basically, most of the contact that I maintain was via the mail. I suddenly sort of rediscovered this love of the mail and sending and receiving letters and cards and things from people. And I realized that that felt really safe. And it was the one thing that I could do that made me feel a little less alone in all of it and figuring out how to answer people's questions. You know? It wasn't as if I was on the phone with someone and they were waiting for my response, or sitting with someone in a room. You know, it was on paper. And I had the choice and the ability to think about my response prior to sending it, and I could choose not to respond if I didn't want to. And it was, I think, a lot easier for me in that way, and it's funny that that became such a coping mechanism for me and something that actually turned into something really beautiful. I think I have spent so much of my life fighting against being uncomfortable and placating myself and my needs and my issues with whatever thing that worked in that moment — temporary distraction, whether it be my career, a relationship, friendships, volunteering, activities, art, music, working out, my diet, whatever it was. I did my best to actually distract myself and then that all came to a sudden and crashing halt. And I actually had to just sit in it and sit with it and face the reality of the uniqueness of my life and that I had always tried to create the space around myself where I didn't want anyone to worry, and I didn't want to cause anyone pain, and I knew that with my illness, and the fact that it will end my life early, I have have a rough timeline, an idea of what progression of what it looks like. There's, you know, maybe not an exact date on the horizon, but I know that I'm not someone that's going to live, you know, into my late-40s, 50s, 60s. I’ll be pretty lucky if I make it to 40. So I would say ... last year, I was 32. I guess that would make me having my three-quarter life crisis, or you know, end-of-life crisis, and facing this idea of, “Who am I when nobody is looking at me?” I was able to open up to people and tell them the truth about how I actually was and how I actually felt. And for the first time, I was actually able to share the reality of my life and my illness with some people that were close to me that didn't really know, that I hadn't really told, because I thought that I was protecting them. And it has opened up avenues for me that I'm saddened that I didn't allow myself to pursue until now. You know, I try really hard not to get caught up in the idea of wasted time. Life sucks, and it's beautiful, and it's painful, and it's a million things all wrapped up into once, but … each moment that I had until right now and today got me here, and this came in the time in which it was supposed to.

Caroline: I'm 40, and my nephew, who was 6, died of brain cancer on October 30th. His name was Charlie, and he was sick for three and a half years. I recently moved two blocks away from the house where he lived, and the house where he died, to an apartment two blocks away. His parents moved to a new house just in the last month, and so they don't live there anymore. And someone else does. And I think it's just … I was walking by today and just thinking about how it's like he disappeared and like, what does that mean about life, that there was a child that was so, so magical. I wish that I could describe him. And I really cannot. He was really sick for a really long time, and so home was his really safe place. He didn't really like to go places. He just really liked to be in his home with his stuffed animals and you his, you know, just to think that a totally different family lives there now. And … but it's like I don't know how you can't have an existential crisis about life and just what is the point of all of this when something like that can happen, and just the trauma and the grief of going through the three and a half years and then the loss of him? He was amazing. He had red hair. I loved him so much. 

Here we are, a year into isolation, and fear, anxiety, and loss and rage and grief around the world, and especially here in the U.S. And so many of us are feeling just stretched to the absolute limit, perched right on the edge. And I know a podcast episode is not the cure. I know that we need more than just each other’s stories to get through. But I also think that some of my best work comes from a place of passive-aggression. And so, if you yourself are feeling burned out or depleted or just like time is slipping through your fingers and all of your efforts are in vain … if you feel like the people around you don’t get it? Sometimes I think what sharing stories like this does is give all of us a thing to point to as a reference, to tell people, “It feels like THIS” without having to name too much of our own specific struggle. Without having to bare that soft underbelly for people who might not get it.

Because some people don’t get it, and it’s not always their fault, either. I can only speak for American culture, but we looooooove a winner. We love a success story and a comeback story where the fall was quick and the recovery was quicker. We celebrate bootstraps and a brand of resilience that is unrealistic at best and harmful at worst because actually … growth is painful and uncomfortable and there is nothing in nature that grows forever. 

Things end: relationships, careers, lives. Things stagnate. There is nothing that just continues to climb at an upward trajectory, and we cannot treat ourselves and each other like we are the exception to a natural rule.

And like I said, there are many, many industries dedicated to making sure you continue to feel like you are not enough. Like you just must not be working hard enough, waking up early enough, meditating enough, drinking enough water or green juice. When really, the problems and their answers are bigger than you.

We used to make space for this. We used to agree that sometimes, the world was just too much … not that WE weren’t enough. You are. You are. You are.

This is our last episode for a few weeks while we work on the next season. You won’t  see any new episodes in our feed, but you will find bonus content at TTFA.org/Premium.

We are coming up on five years of making TTFA, and we’re lucky to keep doing this work, and we do need your support to keep it going. Subscribing to our bonus content stream will get you, uh, bonus content! Longer interviews, ad-free episodes, additional pieces we’ve been working on that haven’t found a place on the feed. 

We’re really excited to finally be able to have this option. And, ya know, the economics of podcasting in a world where some celebrities are getting paid literal millions of dollars for a podcast? It’s tough! It’s tough! It’s tough. It’s tough. And no big deal if you can’t do it. Listening to our show is obviously a big help. It’s a big thing! But if you CAN, if you are interested in that, please go to TTFA.org/Premium.

This has been “Terrible, Thanks for Asking.” I am Nora McInerny. Our production team is Marcel Malekebu, Jeyca Maldonado-Medina, Hannah Meacock Ross and Jordan Turgeon. We get help. We get help. We get all kinds of help. Our theme music is by Geoffrey Lamar Wilson. We’ve got engineers. We’ve got people everywhere, everywhere, helping us on this. And Jeyca really took the lead on this episode, and I’m very proud of her for doing that. So, if you see her on the internet, tell her good job, you’re doing a good job. We all need encouragement, and Jeyca you’re doing a good job. So good job, bud.