Those who know me well and those who have read my blog in-depth know my ongoing battle with depression. Well, my old friend paid a long visit. Her presence took quite some time to detect. As difficult as it has been, I think spending some time with her this time around is profoundly changing my life.
Momentarily, I panicked per the usual. My mind reacted with quick fixes: Back to a full-time office job! Go get a practical degree! Start a family! Conform to a “normal” life, and then you will be content.
Then, I paused. Maybe I would try a different approach this time around. Typically I run the other direction and keep moving to cover up the pain. Some meds and a few trips to a therapist serve as a bandage. But this time my conscious grabbed me by the wrist and looked me firmly in the eyes. No, don’t rush on to the next thing because things feel bad. I decided to take the advice of the many self-help and spiritual books I’ve read recently. Be still. Lean into the sharp edges. Don’t make any sudden movements just for the sake of getting comfortable.
In October 2010, I decide to visit the places I lived as a child and write about the experience. I thought it would be fun, exciting, and rewarding. While it has been all of these things, it has also been excruciatingly painful and terrifying.
It seems that memoir may be the most masochistic genre.
Taking the trip back to my childhood homes seemed like a way to bring closure. In reality, it ripped my world wide open and forced me to face my biggest fears, insecurities and dreams. It forced me to examine my self and my life through different lenses. It induced celebration and mourning for which I was not prepared.
The year-and-a-half in which I’ve been self-employed and working on my book also forced me to address what I consider my only regret. I once tried to stuff that puppy away, but it rages upon the arrival of an alumni magazine or a classmate’s facebook post.
Five years ago, I made a decision so untrue to myself that it threw me wildly off course. Fresh out of journalism school, I took an internship at a publication I spent my entire college career aspiring to join. And for those who know me well, you know my college career lasted a few extra years! Looking out the office window, I could spot the Chicago River and Michigan Avenue, and in my mind, at the time, if that was the furthest I went, I would die happy with my career.
Well, I walked away from it for the sake of security and practicality. The moment I decided, I knew I’d betrayed myself and the little girl who dreamed of becoming a great writer one day. And I punished myself every day thereafter by attempting to force myself into a life that increasingly felt like someone else’s.
We can only fake it for so long before we crack. When I started to chart a new course by writing a book and looking into grad school, my past choices collided with my present choices. I needed to forgive myself, find compassion for myself, and be committed to living my life in a way that fulfills me. No more people pleasing. No more allowing my fears to dictate my actions. No more listening to the obnoxious voice in my head that says: You think you're actually going to write that book? Ha. And WHAT exactly do you plan to do with an MFA in creative writing? You're nuts! And a teaching license? You think you can teach kids? They're bigger than you are! And don't even get me started on your wild track racing dreams.
There's a line from The Rolling Stones’ song “Ruby Tuesday” sends chills up my spine. Lose your dreams and you will lose your mind/ain’t life unkind? It’s true. We must be true to ourselves and our dreams, or surely we will lose our minds, our selves, and our ability to live a full and authentic life.
With the help of medical and mental health professionals, as well as some pretty amazing friends and family, I’ve recently committed myself to making choices for the right reasons, to balancing head and heart rather than thinking only the head is reasonable, to trusting my intuition instead of doubting it.
Amid this turmoil, I have found great peace about my career choice five years ago. It is liberating. As someone said to me recently about another endeavor, "Don't think about it as walking away from something, think of it as stepping into something else."What a great philosophy.
This post is my way of stepping into something else as a writer. I'm done doing only what seems practical. I'm deciding to follow my dreams no matter what. Life is far too short to play it safe.
I encourage those of you experiencing doubt, fear, frustration, regret, anxiety, depression, and all of the discomforts we encounter in life to reach out for support. Treat yourself with love, compassion, and kindness. Be patient. Things do get better.