An untidy and honest story about rediscovering myself and embracing life at a different pace.
I’ve always had difficulty with balance. I’m a very all-or-nothing person and most of the time it’s all. I struggle to locate my pause button. Rest feels like laziness. Stopping feels like failure. I’ve always known these weren’t exactly healthy traits but they provided me with the ability to be hyper-productive no matter how difficult the task or challenging the circumstance or broken my body or mind.
For most of the last decade and a half, I’ve needed that death before defeat approach. There were times when it was the only thing that kept me going. I don’t mean it kept me going through working towards a promotion or a pay rise, or struggling through an internship or an academic qualification. I mean it kept me going through literally existing. A new and unexpected disability can have a monumentally catastrophic effect on every area of life, including finances. A number of times over the last few years, death was much closer than defeat. What had once been a tendency towards workaholism became survival. And it’s OK. I survived. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful it wasn’t worse than it was. I’m still here. Hi.
Also, people say lots of nice things as you work yourself into the ground. You get a lot of approval, a lot of validation. You find yourself becoming useful, indispensable even. When you’re fighting to believe that you’re worth anything more than desperate attempts to make it through another day, approval and validation quickly become fuel. You might not ever intentionally seek them out, or even believe that you need them, but when you have no remaining sense of your own value outside of proving to yourself and the world that you’re trying hard enough, approval and validation can slide in to the space where self-esteem is supposed to live and tell you that maybe you’re going to be alright after all.
Then things change. Some things don’t but other things do and life becomes less imminently terrifying. You are still living with a debilitating medical condition that fluctuates wildly, that may improve one day but that may also get worse or stay the same, next week, next year or forever. While you can give yourself the best possible chance of being as well as you can be at any given time, you also accept that you are only human. A more mobile and functional day is not an achievement and a less mobile and functional day is not a failure. That in itself is healing and you are no longer simply surviving. There are fewer desperate times and desperate measures. You finally get to think about what you want, rather than what you can just about make it to the end of. And you realise you have no idea what you want because you have literally no practical perception of that as a concept.
And by you, I mean me.
Thus begins the trial and error, which is uniquely terrifying when you do not allow yourself to experience error. You spend a couple of years shifting into a headspace that is 50% yoga, minimalism and gratitude journaling, and 50% productivity, perfectionism and colour-coded to-do lists. It’s an improvement. But it isn’t ideal. And you still don’t know what you want.
You never lost your taste in elegantly violent films but somewhere along the way you forgot that you loved listening to classical music, that you liked to smear acrylic paint around with brushes and knives and fingers, that flowers were beautiful photographic subjects, that you didn’t actually enjoy being around large groups of people in loud environments, that you found social media mostly exhausting and stressful. You start to remember and it feels good. You start to remember what it is to know yourself.
And by yourself, I mean myself.
You remember that you have always loved to write but you’ve forgotten what it means to expend time or energy on anything that doesn’t have the primary purpose of scraping together enough money to stave off destitution a little bit longer, so you immediately start figuring out how writing can be a business. Because it has to be. You must earn a living. You must prove your worth.
After a while, you come to understand that you love telling stories and you love sharing them. You love planning and doing and feeling and experiencing. Sometimes you forget to eat and you listen to the same album on repeat for 13 hours because you can’t think about anything other than the characters you’re giving voices to. It is not obsession. It’s passion and it’s new and pure and beautiful.
You also come to understand that you do not want to channel this passion into selling things. You never felt comfortable with that when you ran your own creative business or worked for other people. It was a necessary evil and you learned to fold in on yourself and build high walls around the tightly curled, spiky thing you had become underneath it all. But now, you are no longer willing to tolerate people repeatedly (uncomfortably, frighteningly, threateningly) crossing your boundaries because you exist in a visible way online or otherwise.
And by your, I mean mine.
So you come to terms with the knowledge that you will always take photographs and write stories, but that it cannot be a business for you. Your income cannot rely on it if one of the conditions is that you – a person, a human, a mind and a heart – must also be an entity which people believe they have a right to tear pieces from. Suddenly, your creativity explodes in the most glorious way, as things tend to do when you finally take the pressure off them. And it is delightful and free.
You decide to return to education, to work towards the degree you always meant to get. You appreciate this opportunity in ways you still struggle to distil into words. You will study part-time, online, and you will channel that delicious, pure, shining passion and enthusiasm into gaining a deeper understanding of the world and the people in it. But you will also remember to eat and you will drink enough water and you will take days off and you will gently soothe the anxious part of your brain that tells you anything less than perfection is failure.
You will shift from second-person back into first-person and resist the urge to correct everything you’ve written because you have come to accept that sometimes you think within yourself and sometimes you think outside of yourself and both of those are fine. You are fine. It’s alright. Really.
And then life drops me in today. Autumn is drifting in on a still-warm breeze, carrying rain and darker evenings. I look forward to the winter mornings, to throwing open the back doors to the garden and enjoying a sweater-wrapped yoga practice, welcoming the light sliding between cracks in the clouds. Before that, I look forward to the leaves turning to fire and blanketing the streets with the crunch of potential and possibility.
But before that, before all that, before anything, I don’t look forward at all. It is simply now and I am in it. Some of my values will never change. Authenticity, integrity and creativity are the foundations of my soul. But while I can contribute and encourage and support, I no longer need to be useful. And while I can work conscientiously and intently and fervently, I no longer need to be perfect.
There is a deep, unshakeable joy to be found in calm, quiet moments of simplicity and gratitude. There is love and kindness and sincerity in the acceptance that I have enough. I am enough. So are you.
And by you, I mean you.