“I am one of the searchers. There are, I believe, millions of us. We are not unhappy, but neither are we really content. We continue to explore life, hoping to uncover its ultimate secret. We continue to explore ourselves, hoping to understand. We like to walk along the beach, we are drawn by the ocean, taken by its power, its unceasing motion, its mystery and unspeakable beauty. We like forests and mountains, deserts and hidden rivers, and the lonely cities as well. Our sadness is as much a part of our lives as is our laughter. To share our sadness with one we love is perhaps as great a joy as we can know – unless it be to share our laughter.
We searchers are ambitious only for life itself, for everything beautiful it can provide. Most of all we love and want to be loved. We want to live in a relationship that will not impede our wandering, nor prevent our search, nor lock us in prison walls; that will take us for what little we have to give. We do not want to prove ourselves to another or compete for love.
For wanderers, dreamers, and lovers, for lonely men and women who dare to ask of life everything good and beautiful. It is for those who are too gentle to live among wolves.”
― James Kavanaugh, There Are Men Too Gentle to Live Among Wolves
A few months back I decided I need to speak to a therapist, someone who didn’t know me and could possibly offer me some insight into what I’m now calling my early midlife crisis. The last time I went to a therapist/psychologist, I was 11 years old and it was court-ordered to assist a family court judge to decide if he would let me change my name. I was born Shannon Elizabeth Romano, but at age 11 I changed my name to Shannon Robbyn Hurst so that I could have the same surname as everyone else in my family.
Twenty seven years later, there I am, sitting in an uncomfortable, cheap upholstered chair with tissue in hand, talking to a complete stranger trying to figure out my life. As I sat there and began to talk, telling her my life story from the beginning, the therapist took notes, every once in a while shaking her head up and down, giving me a few ‘mmmhhmmms’. Then I began to tell her about the other side of my life, travel writing.
Her head popped and I could see the disbelief in her eyes. I think she was pegging me as disillusioned, living in some fantasy world inside my head. As I went on and on telling her some of my experiences, her eyes got bigger and bigger. She frantically made notes, looking down at her pad of paper and then back up at me. At the end of the session, with not much being accomplished, she gave me some tips on meditating and complimented me on my vivid imagination. We scheduled another session for a few days later.
Three days later I sat in the waiting room to be called into the therapist’s office, to once again sit in that uncomfortable chair and pay someone to listen to me tearfully chatter away. My therapist came rushing into the waiting room, excited to see me again, offering me a soft drink, a coffee, whatever I wanted. As I seated myself in her office, she confessed that she looked at my websites (I had offered her my card at the end of the first session) because at first she thought I was making up everything. Oprah’s Favorite Things? Good Morning America? Champagne in Saint-Tropez, speaking at international conferences, First-Class flights to London, visiting orphanages in Belize. All this from a thirty something south Louisiana mom who works shift work at a local fire department. It was unbelievable.
And she asked me why I thought I needed a therapist? What problem did I need to solve? And I sat there and couldn’t answer that question at first. I love being a mom, wouldn’t trade it for anything. I have a very loving extended family. I had been married for almost 17 years and working in the fire service for 18. I have a nice house, a fun car, and a little black and white wiry dog. What could be the issue?
And while many people have the goal of travel for their retirement, there is this unspoken issue underneath everything, that my family likes to keep silent about and rarely speak of — Mr. Miyagi. But every morning I wake up I know he’s there. And while he’s given me a reprieve for the past few months, every once in a while he likes to remind me, with a multi day headache, sometimes dizziness, and frequently waves of exhaustion that hit me out of the blue. He lets me know that time waits for no one and to seize the day. And one day I’ll have to pay attention to him again, and I’ll have to clip my wings, possibly for good.
I told this to the therapist, and she cried. I had to console her, hand her the tissue. Then she gathered herself together, made some notes, and looked at me.
“Don’t stop traveling. If you aren’t happy at your job, you need to find a way to leave it. We need to find a way. You don’t need therapy. While I enjoy talking with you, listening to you, there’s really no need for you to come back. I’d love for you to come back because your stories are amazing, but you know what you need to do. You need to travel. You need to write.”
That was in April. And I’ve been skating along the past few months, putting a bandaid on the problems, taking almost every big travel opportunity that’s landed in my lap that I could manage with time off from work. Hard to believe I’ve been to Vegas, cruised around The Med, visited the Middle East, explored a bit of Thailand and even snuck away for a quiet weekend in the UK to have a think in the shadow of a castle ruin. All this since April. I’ve been loving my babies, and then crying every night trying to figure out the answer on how to be happy with what I’ve been given. Because while I love helping people and my job at the fire department is the quintessential career for helping others, when I walk into that building on Harding Boulevard, the energy, the happiness, the sunshine gets sucked out of me. It’s almost like walking into a zombie den, with most everyone pale, unsmiling, and every once in a while I can hear an audible sigh filled with unhappiness from someone across the room. It’s a grey building and when one steps inside they become grey as well. I don’t feel like I’m supposed to be there. It is sucking the life out of me and I’m so afraid that one day soon it will take the last breath of living from me. But I need the steady paycheck to provide for my family. I need the health insurance. I need the retirement benefits.
I don’t know the answer and I won’t give up on finding the solution. I may be a mother and have all the responsibility that goes along with that role, but I am also a dreamer and a wanderer and I am still searching for something I can’t explain. All I can ask of my family and friends is to not judge me, to continue to support my decisions even if they don’t understand and agree, and to just accept me as I am.