It just creeped up, this malaise — slow and heavy and full, like a delivery truck lumbering down a residential street, stirring the trees and rumbling the concrete in its wake. My funk was real. And as a result, my writing — the skill that’s financed my life, won me accolades and brought me immeasurable joy— was shifting. Suffering. Painting with words felt less like hues of hot pink and neon orange on a fresh canvas, much more like gloomy shades of gray scribbled on scraps.
It took me a minute, but I recognized the feeling when it appeared. It was the same feeling that was the impetus for my leaving an incredible career as a newspaper journalist to become a magazine editor in 2000, and the reason I left my writing career in New York altogether more than a decade ago to become a full-time author and freelancer from a new home base in Georgia. I was on a search for something new.
The same is true right now, in this very moment. I am a woman in transition. But the focus is not so much centered on career growth as it is on personal fulfillment. The truth of the matter is that I am changing — as a wife, as a mother, as a friend, as a writer. Certainly as a woman. And things that used to mean something to me — winning others’ approval, catering to everyone else’s needs, being perfect for the sake of everyone else’s gaze — no longer take up the majority of my mind space.
I am hunting true joy. For me.
Years ago, observers may have called this transition a midlife crisis. Jokes about me soon tooling about town in a red Corvette, rocking clothes and make-up meant for girls 20 years my junior, and dumping my husband for some young, hot thang would abound. But I haven’t purchased a two-seater. Or served up divorce papers. Or gone looking for Idris Elba. And I’m most certainly not subscribing to the stereotypes assigned to 40-somethings when we finally start taking stock of our lives and figuring out what makes us happy. Society no longer gets to dictate how I should… be.
Instead, I’m painting the hot pinks and the neon oranges on new canvases, ones that brighten my personal picture. Where writing used to bring me joy, something altogether different makes my heart beat faster. Sunsets are my mediation. Evenings out with my girlfriends, full of laughter and good drinks and lots of shenanigans, make me feel alive. Getting lost in a good book, rather than writing them, inspires. Drooling over art, putting on lipstick just because, lifting weights at the gym until I’m sore — each of these things make me feel… new.
Like life is worth the living.
Like life is for the living.
Like I am… alive.
Mothers, wives, sisters, lovers, women — we need these things. We have to recognize the malaise and hear its rumble and embrace the grays, yes, but find the pinks and the oranges and color outside the strict lines society draws around us. The sooner we figure it out, the better. No need to wait until middle age. Trust me: focusing on self, no matter the age, makes the breathing just that much easier.
Denene Millner is a speaker at the #BlogHer16 conference, the premier event for women online taking place from August 4 – 6, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. Don’t wait! See the agenda and all the speakers and get your ticket now. She is also a New York Times bestselling author of 25 books. Her latest works, “Believing in Magic,” with Cookie Johnson, and “Around the Way Girl,” with Taraji Henson, publish in September and October respectively. The founder of MyBrownBaby.com and Denene Millner Books lives in Atlanta with her husband and two daughters.