Here is something I believe, deeply:
If you are gracious and kind and genuine (even when the latter feels terrifyingly weak and vulnerable), if you reach out to other people who do good work and connect with them, praise them, lift them up, if you put your work/ideas out into the world and listen to feedback and keep striving to improve…. good things will come of it.
Those good things will not necessarily be what you had hoped for or planned on. You may not put your writing into the world and get a book offer. But if nothing else, likeminded people will find you. And good will come of that–connection, feedback, unexpected opportunities, new ideas. Somehow, it will be worth your time.
I believe this because I am fortunate enough to have lived it. I have put writing into the world, even angsty teenage nonsense, and become a more connected, more sane, more whole person because of it.
Here is something else I believe, deeply:
Longterm personal projects requiring intense effort/engagement are deeply worthwhile. They can change you for the better, even if their actual product or subject matter seems trivial. You will learn meaningful things about yourself and develop your sense of self-efficacy, if nothing else.
Again, I believe this because I have proven it to myself. I have set out to do a number of seemingly trivial things–rereading all of the books by a favorite childhood author, for instance–and found myself in a completely different place mentally and emotionally a few weeks or months later. I’ve read and written and baked my way out of funks.
And here is one more thing I believe, deeply:
If I continually reach out for connection, devote time to longterm projects, and take decent care of your physical body (take your pills and get some sunshine and a walk and do your physical therapy exercises, damnit)… I will eventually get to the other side of any dark time, whether my life is actually falling apart, or I’m “just” battling depression and anxiety, or a little bit of both.
The evidence for this is simple: I’m still here. I survived a childhood peppered with crippling anxiety that I couldn’t even reach out for help for because I didn’t know it wasn’t normal. I survived severe, suicidal depression as an untreated adolescent. I survived an abusive relationship and a devastatingly ugly breakup. I survived getting kicked out of grad school. I have survived multiple stretches of unemployment and the miserable, creeping sense of desperation that comes from being in my late twenties with minimal assets and a lot of debt to show for it. And when things have been at their darkest, I have found ways to connect, found projects to throw myself into, and I have found a way through.
I know all this. I believe it, as I said above, very deeply. Down to my bones.
And yet…. depression lies.
I can’t tell you at what point in my most recent job I made the transition from merely overworked, stressed, and physically exhausted to actually depressed. But I can tell you that by the time I finally put my foot down and demanded something change, it was several weeks too late. My anxiety had ramped up to such an extreme that my digestive system almost completely stopped functioning–I would literally vomit any food I ate, and was nauseous constantly. Being in this place when I tried to negotiate with my boss was…far from ideal. It went poorly.
And, long story short, in the space of a few days, I went from panicking about how I would accomplish the ten million things on my plate this fall semester, to wondering how I would make rent without a job. The anxiety bubble burst and I was left with just a crushing despair which, I realized, had been growing beneath the anxiety haze for a long, long time.
And since then, I’ve been clawing my way back to being a person. I only spent about a week being completely useless–puttering around at home, sleeping, being sad–before I started looking for work, picking up tutoring clients, dealing with everyday life. I’ve now had seven more weeks since then, and things have gotten considerably better.
But I’m still struggling with feeling less competent than I did just a few months ago. Not that long ago, I was hiring and training other people, tutoring 15-20 different kids per week, answering dozens of parent calls and emails. And now I’m exhausted after a few hours replying to job postings, or one evening of tutoring? Pathetic.
When I feel this way, my instinct is to hide. To cut myself off from other people (I’m embarrassing and needy and unpleasant to be around) and to avoid taking on too much. And when I’m not making money, it’s tempting to panic and throw myself into that effort, spending too many hours a day scrolling through job postings and fretting over my resume instead of allowing myself to work on “frivolous” things like non-commercial personal projects and self-care.
But I am trying very, very hard to keep the faith in my deep beliefs. I’m trying to believe that connection is worthwhile. To believe that it’s okay to be vulnerable. I’m trying to make myself spend time on personal projects, like writing here, because those are not “taking away” from getting work–they are helping me develop as a person, which, so long as I’m not neglecting work, can only help me in the long run.
It isn’t easy, but then–believing things that are easy to believe in isn’t really what faith is for.