My Good Earth tea has one of those inspirational yet condescending quotes written on its side:
Every man dies. Not every man really lives.
I suppose you could say it spoke to me, but I think it was more like a slap in the face from the guilt I had lurking inside.
See, a few years ago I quit writing. I had a successful blog; a small, but loyal, fan base; and an agent who was courting my book. The pressure gave me anxiety, which led to paranoia, which led to my quitting writing. I didn't slam my pen down in frustration and go out in a blaze of glory. I sulked off quietly, deleting everyone from my Facebook account and refusing to answer emails from my fans.
I was also mad. I was angry! I had been used by some friends and fans. It seemed like people were always reaching out to me for coffee or lunch dates so they could pick my brain, but I was rarely experiencing the authentic connections I needed--and deeply craved--from people.
I needed some time away. Away from what? I was no J. K. Rowling. No one, save my few thousand fans, knew me. Despite not being famous, I felt unsafe, upset, and exposed. It only took a series of harassing messages from a handful of "profiles" to do it, but it happened quickly--within a year or so of my writing--and within months I was plagued with bouts of breathlessness and a rapid heartbeat. I had visions of shadows lurking in the corners. I distanced myself from friends and family, from co-workers. I stopped making eye contact and spent most of my time anxiously sitting on my bed, zoning out in front of my television. The unsafe messages, coupled with the messages for coffee, blogging advice, and more, mixed with misunderstandings and misreadings of my blog just sent me into a place of retreat.
I grew disgruntled with writers, my former fans, and the process of writing, and decided to pursue my professional career instead of a creative career. I got a job in communications, writing press releases and brochures and managing corporate social media accounts. I tried every method in the book to get over "writer's block" and finally settled in on the one that worked best: I stopped writing altogether. Maybe if I stopped writing, I thought, I would forget I ever loved it and the guilt would go away.
I distanced myself further from any person who claimed to still be a fan of my writing. I stopped responding to people who asked for my advice on writing or who needed an editor. I worked, day and night, in a career that was initially rewarding but extremely challenging on a personal level. I toughed it out, even though it killed me to go into work every day.
Then slowly, my career started to come undone. Or rather, my desire to put up with the horrific conditions unraveled. I had joined a work team that completely fell apart within a month, and yet I managed to stay for several months, supervising my department and stepping up to the role of director. I remained strong, but eventually my heart was telling me to move on. My career stopped being as rewarding as it had been in the initial stages. The long nights and long weekends started creeping into my personal time. The burden of being overworked and continually feeling like I was misunderstood and disrespected got to me. My doctor started reporting some changes in recent tests that were pointing toward something deeper going on--insomnia, high blood pressure. I started wondering if the stress was killing me, and if it would be worth it in the end.
I started to pull away from the passion I'd thrown into my professional life, which made me question my purpose and even why I should keep living. After all, I felt a lot like a failure. I had quit writing. And then I quit my career.
I'd like to say that it was a dark time and then voilà! I magically fell into a revelation about life's greater meaning and solved all my problems.
It didn't go exactly like that.
In fact, things got much worse.
Then something happened. Because things got so bad, I picked up the pen again and started writing. At first, I wrote micro-stories on Instagram about the children's toys I had started to create. And then I wrote essays in complete private, under a temporary pen name, exploring deeper subjects and emotions that I had shoved down beneath the surface. I started opening up again, crying more, being honest on paper again.
I also stopped trying to hard to be something--professionally and creatively--and just started enjoying the process. Success stopped being the focus, and the process started coming to life again. I got in touch with my lost childhood hobbies and dove into my imagination, throwing myself into creative pursuits without the pressure to be perfect.
And it was so fantastically liberating.
It's been months since I quit. With distance from my professional and writing issues--and more importantly, distance from my perfectionism--I've been able to not just pick up a pen again, but also to start two new blogs.
Quitting gave me what I needed to feel healthy again; it gave me the distance from what (and who) was unhealthy for me. I needed to enjoy writing again without the self-imposed pressure to publish with a leading agent. I needed the freedom to drink a beer and sew some crooked triangles on a quilt. I needed to get dirty with watercolors in my studio--splashing paint around, digging in the colors with my fingers. I needed to stop being worried about the cutthroat people I'd worked under.
I needed a break. I needed to quit some good things in order to find some great things.
Giving up my "dream" of being a writer freed me up to say goodbye--not to the writer inside but to the writer I'd tried to become. The writer I thought I should be. Quitting as a writer taught me to dig in deeper to what makes me happy, to stop pressuring myself so much, and to just enjoy the ride.
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