The big news yesterday was Vanity Fair’s digital reveal of the magazine’s upcoming Caitlyn Jenner story. The cover image, shot by famed portraitist Annie Liebovitz, was breathtaking and captivating on many levels: pure curiosity, artistic appreciation, and fashion sense.
Because it was THE topic for the day, it was easy to stumble into additional coverage and commentary. I accidentally fell into watching Entertainment Tonight (it’s hard to know just when ABC Nightly News ends and ET, which follows, begins. My dear Peter Jennings, I’m sorry about this, and I miss you very much).
Someone close to the family made a statement that Caitlyn had had a panic attack in the recovery room after facial reconstruction surgery. The friend went on to say that it was a moment of “have I made the right decision?” — perfectly normal and understandable for such a very definitive step. (Shoot, I bet MOST people have a panic attack when they wake up in bandages after facial reconstruction.)
“Oh, Shit” Moments
We all have them, those panicky instances where everything grinds down to slow motion and the words burst, bubble-like, into consciousness: “Oh, shit — what have I done?”
I don’t believe that OSMs (oh shit moments) are a bad thing. In fact, I believe that you’re not truly living if you don’t experience these on occasion. It’s the mantra I adopted in my athletic life years ago: that thing causing a kernel of fear in the gut will make me grow. OSMs have followed any big goal I’ve ever set: Pikes Peak, Ironman Coeur d’ Alene, Rocky Raccoon 100 Miler, and a host of other seemingly lesser accomplishments, such as master’s swim classes, boxing, and any number of Fit Field Trips when I worked at the magazine.
You can’t grow unless you extend yourself. And that extension involves some fear. In other words, if you always do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got.
While I’ve freely accepted OSMs in the sporty side of my existence, they’re not something I’ve encountered very often in my “regular” life.
When Life Forces Choices
The man Bruce Jenner had to make some incredibly difficult and gut-wrenching decisions as he moved toward becoming Caitlyn. I’m sure there were many OSMs over the years, with that reaction to surgery being only the most recent (that we know of). I thought long and hard about all the little things that would go along with transitioning into Caitlyn, items small enough to slip under the radar until, suddenly, they popped up. I’m sure OSMs will continue to bubble up in the future.
Unlike Jenner, a lot of my adult choices about who I wanted to be weren’t really true decisions. When there’s a traditional path to follow, it’s easy to put off consciously considering some major life choices. Society, that river of popular habit and opinion, carries you along in the stream.
Of course I was going to get married — that’s what girls my age did, and my parents had prepped me well (they didn’t give me a middle name, so that I could keep my maiden name when I took my husband’s..and told me so). And naturally, I was going to have kids, though how many and how far apart they’d be did involve some partner discussion. Other decisions — if and where I worked, how I spent my days, even the cars I drove — were guided by the paths I’d already taken.
It’s only been in these last few years, after hitting 50, that I’ve really faced the all important question — what do I want my life to be like? — without those traditional trappings of caring for children.
In the quiet calm of the empty nest, I’m not sure I quite know what I want out of life.
On one hand, this crossroad is a very scary place. I’m having to take hard looks at the work I do (or don’t do). I’ve got to identify and assert the things I need, two things I’ve not been in the habit of distinguishing. I wonder — what determines my worth these days? I worry about whether I’m even asking the right questions of myself. Who knows for sure? And what if I make a mistake?
On the other hand, this conscious reckoning is so very exciting. I have the freedom to take a proverbial leap, to dive into a newly redefined life. I have the freedom to make mistakes and grasp glorious successes. While the athlete in me has always understood the importance of embracing and enjoying the journey, the rest of me isn’t quite up to speed. I need to fully embrace those “oh, shit” moments.
Vanity Fair isn’t interested in my transitions, my life choices aren’t making any profound or radical statements, and the jury is out on whether I could rock a white bodice. But I’m pretty sure that Caitlyn Jenner would understand and identify with the fear behind changes at this time in my life.
And I’d like to imagine that we’d share a “you go, girl” in solidarity.