Follow Your Bliss
By: Shannon Ralph
As I was perusing art prints on Etsy yesterday in search of the perfect original print to hang in my bedroom, I came across a print that said, “Follow your bliss”. For some reason, I was drawn to this phrase. As I went about my day, these three words echoed in my brain. Follow. Your. Bliss. Rather than calming me, these three words caused me to feel frantic and disheveled. Follow my bliss? What the hell? Do I have bliss? Do I know what causes me bliss? How can I follow my bliss if I don’t know where it is? Perhaps I misplaced my bliss? Lost it somewhere? Left it on the bus one day? Perhaps my bliss was crushed by the mounds of dirty laundry piled up in my house. Maybe one day, my bliss will be found gasping for air below a pile of mismatched socks. Or worse yet, stuffed at the bottom of my bulging laundry hamper beneath my son’s skid-marked underwear. Oh, the horror!
What exactly is this “bliss” people talk about anyway? I have things that make me happy. I have certain things that make me extraordinarily happy. My children make me happy. They frustrate me to no end, but at the end of the day, they bring me more joy than anything in my life. My relationship with my partner makes me happy. I feel that Ruanita and I are strong and can do absolutely anything when we are together. I love her and I have no doubt that she feels the same way about me.
My home makes me happy. I love my little mess of a house. I love my kitchen with its butterscotch-colored walls and pictures of the kids stuck to the refrigerator. I love my bedroom with its piles of crossword puzzle and Sudoku books falling off my nightstand. (I suck at crossword puzzles, but have some mad Sudoku skills.) I love –more than any reasonable person should really love an inanimate object –the four-inch memory foam mattress topper that sits atop my queen bed. I love my children’s bedrooms that I painstakingly decorated in princess and robot motifs—the rooms with the unkempt beds and toys strewn across every inch of available floor space. I love my yard with its 100+ flower bulbs Sophie and I planted last fall that are just beginning to reach, with tiny little green sprouts, toward the sky. I love the swing in my backyard held up by the crooked metal frame my dad made when I was just a little girl. I love the cat that sleeps at the foot of Lucas’s bed, though the feeling does not appear to be mutual. My house is warm and comfortable. It just feels like home.
While I don’t “love” my job, it is a decent job that pays me well and allows me to hang out in my cozy home with my children every afternoon. Although it doesn’t bring me huge amounts of joy, I feel lucky to have it in today’s economy when so many people are struggling to survive. I feel blessed in many aspects of my life. But I wonder…am I blissful?
When I think of the word bliss, I think of an inner calmness. I imagine a contentment that radiates from within. An inner peace that pours over into all other aspects of one’s life. I don’t know that I have this. I grew up thinking that I was going to conquer the world and do monumental things with my life. I was an A student. An overachiever. A Governor’s Scholar. I thought I was “special”. I thought I was going to cure cancer. Find a solution for world hunger. Broker peace in the Middle East. Play the piano at Carnegie Hall. I was going to do it all. I guess we all grow up thinking that. Then we become adults and realize that few people really get to do the amazing things we imagined. I know raising children is monumental. And I am well aware that finding the love of one’s life (which I most certainly have) is monumental and something only a lucky handful of people achieve. However, is it possible that something is still missing? I feel like I have somehow “lost” myself behind the designation of “mom”. I think I am a good mom. Or at least an obliviously optimistic mom. But is a mom all I am anymore?
What about a career? I do not have one. I quit my high-stress job when I became pregnant with my twins because I had a very rough pregnancy and their health—and my own health—was more important than anything else. I don’t regret that decision. However, I have an ungodly expensive private liberal arts education and today I work part-time in customer service for a heating company. I am thankful for my job because it works perfectly with our schedules. It brings in a little extra income, adds absolutely no additional stress to my life, and allows me to be with my children every day. But it is a job. Not a career. There is very little intellectual stimulation in my job (as evidenced by the fact that I do most of my writing at work and still manage to easily stay on top of my workload). As a matter of fact, there is very little intellectual stimulation in my life these days. I don’t know that I even possess the ability to talk intelligently anymore. I can talk circles around anyone when it comes to poop or pee or the nutritional content of various brands of kids’ breakfast cereal. If you want to debate Froot Loops versus Apple Jacks, I am your girl. But real conversation? About current events? Politics? Philosophy? Not so much. I end up feeling a bit out of my league.
I realize that a lack of “bliss” is a problem of the privileged. There are women in this world—in this very city—who are struggling to feed their children. There are women dealing with unemployment and disease and disability and abuse. And I am worried about not being blissful enough? Not being intellectually stimulated? It seems unforgivably arrogant of me. However, I can’t help feeling the way I do. I need to find something that satisfies me. Something that fulfills me. Something outside of the realm of marriage or motherhood. Something that makes me feel like I am more than a wife and mother. Unfortunately, at this point, I have no idea what that would be. Ruanita is going to read this and come to the conclusion that I am unhappy. She will probably encourage me to seek out therapy, as therapy is a therapist’s answer to everything. However, I am not unhappy. I love my life and adore all of the people in it. I just wish I could find that…something…to put my energy into. That something that makes me feel like “me” again. Anything I decide to do will pale in comparison to marriage and motherhood—the greatest adventures of my life. But what’s wrong with wanting additional adventures? Additional passions? Additional purpose? It is 2011. Can’t a woman have it all?