After losing five years of my life to major depressive disorder, love became a hard-won choice.
While the illness kept trying to convince me I had become a waste of space and would be better off dead, love vanished. I lost my raison d’être and livelihood when my writing voice went missing. I lost the monomaniacal editorial dedication that had seen me through the hardest and darkest of times. I lost my husband’s respect and appreciation when I found myself unable to work.
And I tried to lose a language that had become part of me along with the culture it unlocked.
Gone, too, were hope and the ability to project myself into the future.
But the love that had always carried me wasn’t gone, depression just made it impossible to access. As long as I couldn’t think, I couldn’t write. And as long as I remained frozen in self-denial and shame, I couldn’t think.
The moment I realize I have little control over the illness felling me, it gets easier.
Instead of blaming myself, I cut myself some slack.
For example, I don’t get to dictate how others perceive me and my predicament or choose to react to it. The shame I’ve been experiencing is a result of placing too much importance on what others might think. And yet, I’ve been a journalist since 2004 and mine isn’t the kind of business where pleasing anyone has ever mattered. Now that I’ve turned the pen on myself, the same terms and conditions apply. The work is often too close for comfort, but that’s also the reason why I do it.
I’m uncommonly lucky because vocation endured. As a result, writing is what keeps me balanced on a daily basis. And when my work hits home with fellow humans who tell me it helps them, there’s no better incentive for me to keep going.
Look, we’re saving one another here, folks.
When the love you pour into your work resonates, that love inevitably grows stronger. Even though attaching too much important to what others think of us, we all need feedback and validation.
Cutting myself off from a vital part of my linguistic and cultural identity for years was torture.
Because I was still reeling from a difficult personal and professional episode, I thought I could snip off Portuguese forever to stop the pain. But love had other ideas; you can’t unlearn a language passion taught you any more than you can forget a vocation you sacrificed so much for. Or indeed erase a culture that breathes life into you.
And yet, I tried so hard.
Self-harming is as simple as denying yourself what you love and forcing yourself to walk around with a hole in your heart, incomplete. The violence with which I attempted to destroy all that made up my life force almost killed me. Most of it was down to my brain malfunctioning: Its destructive propaganda became indistinguishable from my internal monologue and impaired my reasoning.
In a particularly cruel twist of self-loathing, I shunned music altogether despite how much I had always enjoyed it. As a baby, I wriggled in my cot to the music on the radio, responding to certain songs with giggles and delight.
For years, self-imposed silence became the soundtrack of my slow, slow death. Everything in my life had fallen silent but for the beats of my heart. So I had no choice but to eventually listen to them.
Against all odds, the muse heard them too.
I had already started writing again when inspiration came back.
To me, inspiration is a broad concept based on the ability to connect random dots and create something that wasn’t there before. It also involves strategic thinking, a skill I thought was lost forever. Love was the siren song that conjured up the muse through a curious and unfathomable feat of alchemy.
The love I had been pouring into my work suddenly turned into pure life force, some strange empowering energy. Not only did I start to feel capable of achieving anything I set my mind to, but I also began to glimpse how to extricate myself from the very circumstances that had been keeping me down.
The love that carries me through every day is bigger than the sum of its parts, infusing the mundane with bursts of random joy.
And with deep, newfound appreciation for life, especially while I prepare to move back to the EU until further notice so I can remain present for my family as my stepmom undergoes further treatment for Stage IV cancer.
My lifelong love for Portuguese holds me together, the Netherlands have turned into a safe haven, and my remaining in Europe is love made manifest.
If that isn’t the meaning of life then what is?
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.