I fell out of my life for five years.
During that time, I was completely incapacitated by major depressive disorder, I was more or less cut off from the world. Unable to think clearly, I could no longer write and stayed home, not venturing outside for weeks, sometimes months on end. Walking to the mailbox felt like an adventure to the end of the world and any unexpected knock on the front door sent me into a blind panic.
Mine was an airtight life I spent every day wondering how best to put an end to. If I didn’t, it is because of those who came before me and whose teachings have protected me to this day although they’re no longer alive.
For over a year now, I’ve been rebuilding a new reality word by word as I relearn how to be a human in the world. Prior to depression, I was the cheerful, sunny type equally at home with random strangers, loved ones, or by myself. I delighted in meeting new people and had this innate ability to build an instant rapport with anyone.
In that respect, not much has changed, but how I relate to people very likely has. When you’ve been isolated for years and starved from social contact and human warmth, there is a tendency to try and make up for lost time. Your outside yearning for love gets in the way of everything, all the time, to the point that it sometimes becomes overwhelming. And yet you continue to do your heart’s bidding and love without second thoughts or attached conditions. You always take everyone at face value even when you get hurt, and get hurt you do, often by those unable to understand where you’ve come from.
You worry about alienating others with the sheer force of your love and yet all you can think about is celebrating still being alive. The love you craved for years is the love you give, the love you cram into every gesture, every word, every smile, every hug, every interaction. Although it has happened to you before, you do not think for a moment anyone might mistake your vulnerability for weakness. You do not think they might use it against you or to their own self-serving ends, whatever those may be, although you know some people do.
Instead, you resolve to live an unredacted life fluent in emotions and unfettered by pretence or appearances; you wear your love like a war medal. With every bump in the road, every misunderstanding, every metaphorical slap in the face you continue to give people the benefit of the doubt. Deep down, you’ve always believed humans to be good; you know and remember this goodness is often buried beneath all kinds of restraint. You strive to debunk fears, you strive to assuage defensive egos, you strive to meet adversity with steadfast kindness and compassion.
You decide to let your heart led the way and coax your mind into following its directives, which it does without pushing back for once. Your mind is weary, weary and battered and dented from years in stasis it wants nothing more than to surrender to love.
Alas, it takes more than aligning your heart and mind to protect yourself from pain.
While mine are in complete agreement about how to live, I’m growing concerned that they speak a language impenetrable to others. This foxes me. Words aren’t just a job but a vocation; communication is my raison d’être. Every day, I endeavour to become a little better at it, knowing full well that is a lifelong pursuit, one I often fail at but nonetheless cherish.
However, I remain shy and embarrassed about asking loved ones for help or stating my needs lest I should once again become a bother, a burden, a dead weight. My past haunts me, I see it absolutely everywhere, in everything. My inner child longs for reassurance; my outer adult is forever bereft at the impossibility of feeling I will ever belong in this world. I use bluntness to conceal fragility, love to placate adversity, and trust to honour those who pledged to accept all of me.
To trust someone to welcome all of you and not just the joy you exude when you’re around them grants you the freedom to be yourself. To trust someone to welcome all of you and not just the love that illuminates your exchanges but also your tears is empowering. All of you, all that you are, the good and the bad, the darkness and the light. I have always believed people when they told me who they were but I am almost always biased. Love is a powerful filter that will make you discount and dismiss all kinds of hurtful behaviors.
For example, my father gets argumentative and insulting toward me but I try not to take it personally because it’s the only way he ever offloads the fear festering within. His beloved wife was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer over a year ago and my father collapsed in on himself, refusing to open up to anyone, not even to me. Until then, I had always been the one who could get through to him during traumatic situations. Every time he gets difficult, I isolate, take a breath, gather myself, and return to the fray more determined than ever to focus on love.
My father is frustrated by how very little improvement there has been in a year despite grueling treatments. I’m in Europe to help support my parents and if that means I have to be the buffer between him and my stepmom and get an earful every now and then, so be it.
I would never have been able to get back to writing without first shedding my skin.
When I chose to let other people in after years of isolation, I was vulnerability incarnate, terrified of putting myself in harm’s way but desperate to feel human again. Their presence in my life has helped my heart get stronger but alas my skin hasn’t grown back and I wonder if it ever will. It is catastrophic for all involved, for not everyone knows how to handle emotions that aren’t theirs or how to respond to them. Not even when you report on your interior life as factually as possible so they’re not left wondering what’s going on.
Instead of interpreting this openness as a proof of trust and a kindness designed to protect and nurture a newly forged bond, they recoil. Instead of paying close attention to how their behavior impacts you, they get defensive and focus on how yours impacts theirs. You will yourself to withstand a little more heartache every time, hoping to eventually crack the code that gives love a chance to blossom. You are convinced you are at fault, always, because childhood taught you that love hurts and the illness that declared you unworthy for life is always ready to pounce.
Little by little, you feel yourself disappearing again as the confidence you worked so hard to regain erodes little by little. You started out alone and you still feel very much alone most of the time, groping in the dark for the hand that once promised never to let go of yours. You check it is still there, and it looks like… it looks like it is, isn’t it? But for how much longer? You become convinced it has started pushing you away and soon it is all you can think about.
One day, you notice you can’t stand music with lyrics anymore and you worry it’s a sign of impending mental collapse. You remind yourself everything changes and you let violin concertos on a loop sustain you and nourish a heart so heavy it keeps dragging you down. You remain in survival mode but survival isn’t life and you’ve been living out of a suitcase in transit between two continents and several countries for too long. Your answer is to take on more work, create more, help others birth long-held dreams and show what love can achieve.
Everyone loves a success story, a graceful ballet of hearts and minds, but no one ever pulls back the curtain and lets you peek backstage. No one ever shows you bleeding feet and torn toenails in once-pristine pink pointe shoes; no one ever counts the hours that go into making magic happen on stage. No one ever owns up to the sacrifices made, the sweat, the tears shed when time and again others dismiss you for taking too long to get happy again, mistaking your distress for drama.
Valiant hearts don’t quit, I can promise you that, and even when you feel all is lost trust yours to carry you; it has carried you until now, hasn’t it? Heed the directions of your heart and allow love to lead the way; so far, it’s the only antidote to fear we humans have ever managed to come up with.
So love will have to do, whatever it takes.
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.