I’m lying on the floor in the basement of the Washington Conference Center, my back pressed against my cork yoga mat, wearing Lulu Lemon tights. My feet are bare. I hope no one notices that the snowflake manicure I got before Christmas is starting to chip.
“Extend your left leg. Pull your right knee into your shoulder. Squeeze in to stimulate your right ovary,” the teacher says.
She’s teaching a workshop on “yoga for hormone balance” to 24 over-40 women, all of us lying on our yoga mats, seeking answers to questions we can’t articulate.
“Uddiyana Bandha …” Sanskrit for Kegels, where you pull up your nether-regions tight like you’re trying to hold in pee. “Transfer your attention to your ovaries, and release….”
Two dozen women release breath together. It sounds like a prayer. I translate, their thoughts are my thoughts:
We have everything. We should be happy.
I look out the window, where I see the bottom of the sky scraper next door. I had my own office, with a view, in that building. I was a lawyer. A really good lawyer. I wore designer suits and clutched Starbucks in my perfectly manicured hands. I was 27 and gorgeous and ready to take on the world.
At 41, I teach yoga and write novels no one has published yet. In December, just after I got snowflakes painted on my toes, I put my law license into inactive status so I could …. I’m not sure. Follow my dreams?
I didn’t realize my dreams would lead me to the basement of the Conference Center, focusing on my ovaries. Yet here we are, together.
Before 40, we were brilliant. Beautiful. Now we’re strangers to ourselves. We’ve tried acupuncture and green tea. Yoga and meditation. We quit jobs and took vacations and got divorces. But we still feel “off” in a way we can’t explain.
If we were men, they’d call it a mid-life crisis. We’d buy Porches and sleep with 20-year-olds. But we’re women. We can’t afford Porches because we’re paying for dance team and soccer tournaments. We have no time to sleep with 20-somethings because we’re doing laundry and driving our kids to Taekwondo.
“We’re tired, we’re cranky, we’re doing too much, but it’s never enough,” we say to our doctors. They offer us anti-depressants and tell us to find “me-time.” Go to therapy.
None of it works.
So we sign up for hormone balancing through yoga. We read the Goop website when no one’s looking, although we mock it with our friends. We immerse ourselves in the culture of Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown. Follow your dreams. Manifest your magic. Love greatly.
But most of us have no idea what we want to manifest, much less the power to manifest it. So we flounder to find The Thing We Should Do. Maybe we leave good men. Maybe we sell everything and move to Italy, India, and Indonesia for a year.
Maybe we walk away from well paying, prestigious careers just as we hit our prime.
I was a lawyer. I argued in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and externed for the Chief Justice of the Washington State Supreme Court. I second-chaired three jury trials, all with eight-figure demands. We won them all.
At 27, I was on top of the world. At 40, I was buried beneath it. I never saw my babies, even when I went “part time.” When I was home I was on my phone, sure I was one missed email away from a malpractice suit. I watched my babies grow into tweens and teens after work, from the driver’s seat of our SUV.
I’d think, what’s wrong with me? I have it all! I should be happy!
But we aren’t happy: stay at home moms, doctors, preschool teachers, artists. We all stare down 40 and ask, what’s wrong with me? We joke about first world problems because we feel guilty admitting we are miserable in our prosperity.
We stare at our phones. At Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. We see the world fawning over British royals in size two suits and something called a “Kardashian.” We look down at our own thickening waists and download the newest couch to 5K ap.
We’ll be happy when we can run that mile/fit into that dress again/the kids go off to school.
Quit that job.
One gorgeous May afternoon, I left my pretty office with a water view behind. I decided I wasn’t a lawyer anymore.
I took yoga teacher training. I signed up for a writer’s retreat. I purposefully ignored the little voice in my head screaming, what the Hell are you doing?
My friends were jealous of the unimaginable indulgence of spare time. “You’re so lucky,” they said.
But who am I? I wonder. Who am I if I’m no longer a lawyer and my kids will be soon able to drive themselves to soccer.
When we were kids, well-meaning adults said we could do it all: career, kids, sexually satisfy our partner, size two jeans, a plush bank account of our own earnings. As we face middle age, it’s no wonder we’re neurotic. We’re all floundering, trying to find our place in a world where we are increasingly irrelevant.
We smile while making homemade gluten-free soy-free cookies after work for the fifth grade picnic at 11 p.m., work deadlines be damned.
We ask, why can’t we be happy?
We meditate. We take more vitamin D. We blame perimenopause, and try to balance our hormones through yoga.
We lie there, pulling our knees against our ovaries and visualizing and end to the unrelenting cycle of do, do, do. Be, be, be.
And we think: I’m so lucky. I have everything. I should be happy.