Without the human collective that is the internet, I doubt I would have been able to find the way back to Europe in the last year and much less back to myself. 2019 was the year love took on depression, destruction, and death.
No day goes by that I’m not mildly surprised at a life that bears so little resemblance to the one I left behind in America that I wonder if it is even mine.
I built it word by word so it must be even though I would never have imagined another life were possible. For the longest time, I did believe my time was up. After losing five years to depression and holding my own hand throughout while contemplating the best way to die, still being around is a little odd.
It’s even odder considering I’m no stranger to suicidal ideation; it’s the one aspect of chronic depression I haven’t figured how to handle yet. And it still shakes up my brain whenever anxiety and exhaustion intersect, which is far more often than I would like. So far, I’ve managed to deflect it with music and staying put whenever I want to run, reminding myself that the moment will pass.
And it always does, no matter how long it stretches and lasts and smothers me with the kind of mental propaganda that declares life is over again. Generally, looking around is enough to remind me things aren’t as they were as I’m now on another continent and there are people around me. Even when my self-talk is brutal, I’m forced to remember why I came back to Europe, namely to help my parents navigate the reality of stage 4 cancer.
Little did I know death looming large would end up teaching me how to live again, something I owe to my parents and their poise in the face of adversity. Although they’re now in their 70s, their enjoyment of life is both contagious and irresistible. Out of necessity, they fully inhabit the moment and let all inconsequential preoccupations fall to the wayside.
By their side, I learned how to take each day as it comes, roll with the punches, and make the most of ever-changing circumstances. But there has been one constant that made it all possible, day in, day out, and it isn’t me; the words I write wouldn’t exist without those who make them possible.
Yes, I’m looking at you, the singular you, the plural you there on the other side of the screen; your presence is the reason I’m still here. You and I are living proof no one ever writes in a vacuum; we write to and for fellow humans so we might understand one another better.
No one can go it alone in life and I’m no exception to the rule; without people, I withered and came to the conclusion life wasn’t worth living. But when you showed up, I understood how depression had been lying to me until it looked like I’d never escape isolation. Depression tries to make us believe temporary distress will endure forever because we cannot see a way around or out of it. And if we listen to it, the parasite in our head turns into a dictator contaminating our every thought until death sounds like a relief.
Conjuring up hope is a daily challenge when left to our own devices without anyone around to encourage us. But the moment we connect with one fellow human, everything changes.
Writing was the catalyst that connected us.
Both vocation and profession, it’s the one thing depression didn’t blow to smithereens when it detonated my life. Despite years of journalism, I still had to relearn how to do it while turning the pen on myself and getting to grips with the personal essay format, i.e. the epitome of awkwardness and discomfort.
And yet, using our personal experience to humanize universal predicaments with dignity might just be the way to write up a better world, even a new life. Because returns aren’t always financial and investing time, energy, and heart into our work can yield unexpected results.
This past year was the year I chose to trust my heart and let it guide me; 2019 was the year love won absolutely everything and none of it is quantifiable in dollars. Love reconnected me to writing; it helped me locate many of the parts of my identity that went missing when I immigrated to the US in 2013.
For example, I rediscovered Portuguese seven years after I filed my last newspaper column. The language my heart speaks has been holding me together since then, becoming a key part of how I manage my mental health. Ours is one of the defining love stories of my life and I’m not complete without it.
On a tiny speck of rock in the middle of the North Atlantic many years ago, I fell into Portuguese the same way Obélix fell into the magic potion cauldron. Despite estrangement, silence, and distance, the spell endures and I cherish it, nurturing it with music and literature.
Love is a formidable fertilizer; everything it comes into contact with blossoms and blooms as roots strengthen. From setbacks to difficulties via assorted hardships and ill health, there is nothing it cannot handle. Whenever I start faltering, I look around me to remind myself of its redemptive power; if love saved me it is because you welcomed it and helped it grow.
You gave my heart a home and a safe space on the page and bore witness to the singular transformation that took me to places I never expected. After spending a year living out of a suitcase, it’s time for the next step: set geographical coordinates, therapy, professional reboot. What love built quietly behind the scenes love will keep building, one word at a time, connecting people, places, and prose.
Those who tell us all it takes is self-love and working hard and believing in our dreams are forgetting one essential ingredient, namely others. Anything we achieve always takes people so why would I erase you?
There are no writers without readers.
Everything you read about, we made it happen together so thank you; I owe you absolutely everything.
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.