Life Begins at Forty?

Hello friends. I woke up this past weekend stung by a notion that’s kept me buzzing since: if I don’t love myself by the time I’m 40, I probably never will.

It was a startling thought.

So I decided in short time that I needed to get to work on the “Five Year Plan” I devised last summer. Priority one is getting back to school and getting my Bachelor of Science in Nursing. So I’ve started a GoFundMe project, and I’m also working overtime reaching out for scholarships and grants (I’m not averse to panhandling if it comes down to it, either!) For many years now I’ve been content as a reclining academic and minimum-wage social services drone. I have always loved any job that allows me to help people or increase human flourishing. The greatest pleasure of being a minister in the United Church of Christ was meeting people and listening to their stories, trying to understand their pain. I’ve long left religion behind, but one lesson I cherish from my former calling is that “There’s a broken heart in every pew.” That bluesy bit of gospel expands comfortably into a secular equivalent: “We’re all brokenhearted.” I find that truth especially compelling as a sufferer of depression, and I believe my desire to do good is grounded in a very personal pain.

I knew that a life dedicated to helping others would not be a lucrative one. I’ve always aimed for a very moderate and reasonable standard of living knowing quite well that social services and non-profits are very poorly funded. When I left the church, however, I re-entered the job market with a practically useless degree. Shortly after I’d begun to look for work, I went to a resume critique session at the CTWorks office. The counselor advised me to leave my Harvard degree off my resume entirely, explaining that advanced study in religion and theology would probably deter potential employers, Harvard University label or not. It was a sobering moment.

I’ve made do with entry-level jobs as a living skills trainer for adults with traumatic brain injuries, a mentor for children with developmental and behavioral disorders, and presently as a client supervisor for a Department of Corrections substance abuse treatment center. I’ve also continued to write and to direct films, mostly as a hobby. But the $9 – $13/hour that non-profits pay is not enough to stay afloat. Not in Connecticut where the average apartment is $850. Not as a father with $100 of weekly daycare expenses (to say nothing of food, clothes, and health care). Even with SNAP benefits and HUSKY State Health Insurance I’m not going anywhere, only losing ground at a frightening pace.

For my daughter’s sake, I need to make a change. That “Five Year Plan” includes, at some point, owning a small home – we’re talking 1-2 bedrooms and less than an acre of land. It includes being able to take my child to the Boston Museum of Science or the Connecticut Children’s museum, paying for piano lessons or soccer uniforms, taking her out of the country to encounter other languages and cultures – in short, a very modest version of the American Dream.

A good friend who recently completed her Master of Nursing turned me on to accelerated programs for people – like me – who already have degrees. I was immediately interested, and as I considered the possibilities for a career as a nurse I become more and more excited. Here, I thought, is a job where I can help others and avoid the anxiety and despair of relying on state assistance or being evicted from my apartment. How wonderful it would be to add some measure of goodness to the world and take care of my own child.

My journey begins today. I’ve already begun the process of getting into an accelerated BNS program and now look to friends and compassionate strangers to help me make this happen.

I struggle with my depression daily, of course. But I’ve not had a suicidal thought in nine months, a remarkable achievement given that they were daily occurrences over the preceding three years. My wonderful therapist tells me that, all things being equal, I would not have any depressive episodes at all at this point in my life, because the depression I occasionally feel now is contextual, not biological. In other words, he said, “No amount of medication or therapy will make you happy if your life sucks. So make it better.”

I’m on my way. You can help me out right here:

3 thoughts on “Life Begins at Forty?

  1. Very well written, honest and hopeful. For many, life does begin at 40 and if you are like me, the 40’s were my best years so far. Health and wisdom is a great combination!

  2. Hey Jason,

    I worked for my parents in the Putnam apartments and always thought you might be a kindred spirit, though it seemed inappropriate to extend friendship given the circumstances. I recall a car in the parking lot with a litany of bumper stickers that I identified with – from “for the horde!” to atheism. I always suspected it was yours.

    I’m a scholar with a rather useless – in the capitalist sense of the term – focus, as well. Mine is history (though I’m still hoping to make a career out of it, somehow).

    I always think about the tenants that were having a tough time and wonder what became of them. Good to see you fighting on.

    1. Wow, Nick – so nice to hear from you. How on Earth did you find my blog? That was my car, and I’m glad you liked the bumper stickers. My daughter loved that apartment, where we spent the first three years of her life. It was so hard leave that place, not only because the rent for a huge 2-bedroom there was extremely good, but so many memories were made there. Just the other day River said “Let’s move back to the red house.” Small world, strange coincidences.

      Thanks for commenting. Hope to see you around sometime.

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