Some writing feels like flaying yourself alive so you can shed the skin that no longer fits but is still somehow attached to you, hindering growth.
Or at least this is how I justify my counter-intuitive approach to rebuilding a life word by word, out loud and in public. To help me find the mental and emotional wherewithal to keep poking at pain and distress with a pen, I must remind myself daily that depression kills.
Only I’m alive, against all odds.
Although the illness stole five years of my life, destroyed everything that was good in it on the personal and professional front, I’ve somehow survived. How isn’t very clear as I could never afford therapy co-pays and there was scant sympathy in my household.
But how doesn’t matter anymore: I’m still here.
How to keep moving forward is what occupies my every waking thought, especially as progress is far from linear and has entailed innumerable setbacks to date.
So many that confusion sets in regularly and I end up spending hours questioning whether all this hard work even has any value. Since so many people are keen to avail themselves of it for free, I’m being forced not only to audit my skills and experience but also my methods.
And how I tend to let my heart guide me to the point of overlooking or even sacrificing my own needs, a lifelong habit I yet have to get rid of. If vocation is what is helping me get back on my feet, it also has the unfortunate tendency of standing in my way.
The more something flummoxes me, the more it needs writing about.
Like many fellow humans, I process life in print; putting pen to paper helps me gain much-needed critical distance. Writing about an issue is like taking a magnifying glass to it until you can see exactly what it’s made of. Something seemingly complex becomes a lot easier to understand when you chunk it down; only then can you try and find fixes and solutions.
Writing is never a solo pursuit; there’s always the hope what you’re going through might help someone else. Your words might bring them a little relief or solace, much as theirs might bring you some, too.
So far, I’ve found no better strategy to guarantee accountability. Going public means being answerable to those I write to and for and it also ensures I am answerable to myself and do not quit when overwhelmed.
Over the years, I’ve found that this depressive brain of mine needs outsmarting with all kinds of stratagems to avoid apathy and inertia. The above is one among the many ways I’ve been bootstrapping a life and a very modest living since the summer of 2018. It’s far from perfect, it’s far from sufficient, and it doesn’t replace a reliable income, the comfort and support of therapy, or the ability to rest as needed.
But disruption is the very nature of transition. To go from a state of near-total and constant helplessness to one of capable and consistent productivity takes time and iteration.
It also takes focus.
You have to be willing to put yourself through the paces regardless of your mental, emotional, and physical state, day in, day out. You have to accept discomfort, self-doubt, growing pains, and exhaustion as the hallmarks of such a process and be prepared to document them all with honesty.
Above all else, you must convince yourself you very much do want to live even on those days you don’t, and you must remember that depressive storms always abate.
Even when it takes years.
On occasion, you might end up penning the pep talk you desperately need to read.
Pouring your heart into your work only for it to end up being taken for granted or undervalued isn’t exactly life-affirming. The same goes when you pull out all the stops for someone else and they’re oblivious to your efforts, meaning they are quite unable to appreciate them or indeed you.
If you let it, this can and will crush you, especially if you’ve spent as long as I have cooped up in your own head and invisible to all but your cats.
While it’s quite impossible to apply gratitude in such situations, you can always fall back on empathy.
First find some empathy for yourself and take pride in doing your best regardless of how it is perceived; let your conscience be at peace. Then have some empathy for those who do not yet see and find a way to open their eyes if this is important to you. It may hurt and you may fail but at least you’ll have tried.
Understand their reaction is beyond your control. The worst that can happen is that they do not care but at least you’ll know where you stand; you’ll no longer have to wonder or make excuses for them.
This frees up much needed mental bandwidth and helps you reclaim some agency.
The urge to protect those you love from the parasite in your head can make you avoid important conversations. To prevent rejection or confrontation, you may assume responsibility for more than your share. This could end up gnawing at your self-esteem, create resentment, or even lead to an all-pervading and intimately familiar sense of worthlessness.
None of the above is conducive to fostering the mindset you need to build yourself back up. What’s more, all can easily be mistaken for evidence that you’ve achieved much more than you really have because you appear much more self-sufficient than you truly are.
To prevent this, share your triumphs and your failures, share your strengths and your shortcomings, voice your doubts.
Write to dispel the searing isolation and suffocating silence of illness and hardship; write as if your life depended on it. Because if you’re anything like me, it may well do. It takes many words to leave illness and hardship behind; keep writing until you get there and don’t forget to appreciate how far you’ve come.
Even when no one else cares: All that matters is that you 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.