Can Vocation Take you too far?
Passion means never knowing when to stop
The muse and I are on the edge of collapse.
Although pledging to look after each other has enabled us to tap into an endless fount of strength and inspiration, we’re exhausted.
And yet, we’re hell-bent on not giving an inch lest we should relinquish what progress we’ve achieved. As a result, I’m thumbing out this piece on my smartphone on an overnight transatlantic flight from Seattle to Frankfurt.
Compressed into my economy seat in the last row, I’m fighting off waves of nausea after being awake for several days.
In the cabin, everyone else is either sleeping or watching movies. Instead of being a normal passenger who does the same, I’m trying to bend my brain to my will rather than have its will — depression — break me again. I frequently stick my nose against the window and stargaze. Those ghosts in the sky are a good reminder of our place in the universe, accidental and wondrous.
Despite the flurry of loving messages being beamed back and forth across the Atlantic thanks to airline wifi, I am flying into the unknown. I’ve just stepped out of my life so I can support my father as my stepmom undergoes further treatment for Stage IV cancer. And I’ve taken a leap of faith hoping drive and dedication would not only see me through but also guide me back toward work that commands decent compensation. Or at least work that funds multiple trips between the US and the EU as I’ll be spending 2019 living out of a suitcase.
When I started out, I had the modest goal of earning my airfare so I could go visit my family again. After five years mired in major depressive disorder stuck on one side of the Atlantic, this was the only way. When my stepmom received her cancer diagnosis, it became clear that my father, who is her sole carer, would soon need hands on support.
But the minute I disclosed my intention in public, the naysayers came out in droves and took great pleasure in telling me it couldn’t be done. And yet, I bypassed self-doubt and kept my head down, tentative at first then getting more assertive as I began to recover my editorial skills.
And then, out of the blue, the muse showed up and upended everything.
Discovering I hadn’t lost my vocation was a relief even though turning the pen on myself felt unnatural.
As a journalist, I never expected my own life to become material, or to document my private fight against depression and hardship. A few years ago, I wrote a series of newspaper op-eds that were quite personal yet always short and tame. In contrast, my essay work is raw and unwavering in its commitment to radical honesty.
The muse and I wear our nerves on the outside and feel everything deeply. Extreme sensitivity combined with the ability to compartmentalize ruthlessly is a strange mix. It works, though. Hence my enduring belief that “Impossible n’est pas français.” And my willingness to prove it the way a scientist proves an equation. If this then that, recalibrate, iterate, innovate, repeat.
The muse and I are scrappy and we will not lose, whatever it takes.
But the only science here is human survival instinct and how it can trigger razor-sharp focus despite demons. Even in the face of almost constant psychic pain resulting from years of leading a non-standard life incomprehensible to many.
Not ever having had the financial wherewithal to get help for depression has pared my life down to basics and adjusted my expectations. Happiness is as simple as getting to live and write another day without my brain bailing on me.
Even though it keeps threatening to, lighting up like a Christmas tree on steroids one day and flirting with paralyzing terror the next.
But cash-strapped folks like me don’t have the luxury of waiting to get well to get going. So we hit the ground crawling until we can relearn to run.
Because the only thing that matters is standing upright again.
For all our skills, knowledge, and experience, the muse and I have been stuck for a very, very long time.
We are prisoners of questionable choices we made in the past, chronic illness, and resulting hardship. So when creativity happens, it is always against all odds.
Ours is a defiant refusal to accept the status quo, an expression of our insatiable appetite for disruption. As we commit tiny acts of rebellion against the ignominies of daily life, we’re relearning to live in a world that doesn’t reflect our values. Yet.
Because there’s always the hope of making a difference, be it only to the one person, by speaking out against taboos and dogma.
Rather than accept our limitations and circumstances, we strive to transcend them by any means necessary. Alas, there are many casualties in this all out war of wills, not least sleep. Thus insomnia becomes the new normal for a brain mired in trauma fighting against itself.
For months now, I’ve walked around with mysterious bruises I don’t even recall sustaining. My balance is so off I bump into inanimate objects with alarming regularity. I certainly don’t look forward to reclaiming two heavy suitcases off an airport carousel in Paris later.
But I will give it my best shot and if I fall flat on my face, well, at least France has universal health care.
What are limitations but challenges? Although I’m not always able to conquer them, I can certainly try and live with them on my own terms.
Don’t let anyone try and sell you happiness; it isn’t a consumer good.
Although the decision to make some changes can act as catalyst, nothing happens without hard work and failures. Happiness is very much a mental muscle that requires vigorous workouts to keep in shape. Neglect it and it’ll soon start cannibalizing itself.
Creativity works the same way, use it or lose it. Choosing to be happier and more creative is no guarantee you’ll get there unless you take repeated action whether you feel like it or not.
Frankly, fighting for survival every single day is far from thrilling. The muse and I enjoy mind-blowing moments of grace and unadulterated joy on a regular basis but there are days when everything looks like nope. And so we limp along, struggling on because life still appeals to us much more than its opposite.
Without resilience, happiness is just a pretty word on an Instagram quote.
You can’t take flight and soar if you’re afraid of falling, and you can’t be of any use to yourself or others without a minimum of heart and empathy.
And so we override doubt with risk. We override safe bets with creative solutions. We override tired vulnerability with yet another show of words, another hand extended toward those who need it.
It may sound like a dangerous way to live but neither the muse nor I have ever known any other. Passion and vocation are a way of life that fuels our hope for a better future and therefore knows no respite.
As you navigate uncharted territory with the muse as your compass, you’re never not aware that saving your own life is a matter of urgency.
And so you do what you have to do.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.