I’ve been a writer for about six years now. I love it, it comes naturally to me — usually. Like any human being, I have days where I’m distracted, cloudy, out of creative ideas. So, back in 2015 when I was let go from a totally-fine-but-not-terribly-inspiring-job, I didn’t feel immediately concerned that my writing brain seemed to shut off like a flashlight. Originally I had imagined my unemployment to be a playground of creativity — I’d work on my blog, spruce up my portfolio, build a bustling freelance career that would allow me to travel the world. Maybe I’d start doing pottery again. I could paint. I’d eat healthier, drink less, become someone who enjoys running for some fucking reason. The day I lost my job I was on cloud nine. The split was amicable and I’d had one foot out the door for a while anyway. I drove home at noon on 76 on a traffic-free final commute with the windows down and music blasting. It was a brand new day.
Then, like any 20-something with a severance, I spent a month just relaxing. Doing whatever I wanted. That didn’t include writing, but I told myself that was okay. I was on vacation. However, that feeling wore off pretty quickly. As an insomniac, my already bizarre sleep schedule went off the rails. I was drinking too much and eating too much. Then I’d eat too little. Then I’d feel malnourished and binge. I’d sleep until noon, feel like I had already thrown the day away, and scrap my plans for world domination by going to the gym to lose myself in a podcast. The gym was the only thing I did that was productive, but even that turned into semi-obsessive toxic behavior that whittled away at my confidence and made me angry at my body.
When I would sit down to write, I had nothing. I was offered an opportunity to contribute to a fiction anthology, a lifelong dream of mine, and every time I sat down to write I would panic. I had no ideas. “Writer’s block,” I would tell myself. And then I’d open YouTube, or WoW, or pour a drink. Sometimes all three.
As a child, I was constantly lauded for my creativity. I doodled on everything I could get my hands on. I won almost every adolescent art contest I entered. I drew on the walls and painted canvas just for the tactile enjoyment of blending colors. Ideas poured out of me. For a long time, I felt like I had nothing in common with that person anymore. And it scared me.
As the months went on after my unemployment, I eventually picked up freelance work, but I struggled to find the drive that I had felt before. The fire that got me excited to write about the most mundane shit was gone. I used to be able to get hyped up to write about payment security because I’d geek out about the technology, but I found myself grasping to get joy from writing lengthy descriptions of delicious food — which, if you know me, is my favorite thing to do.
Being ripped out of my salary bubble sparked months of self-reflection that, while I’m thankful for, didn’t exactly make my life easier. What I had imagined being a very long-term relationship ended, albeit very amicably and with fault to no one. My financial situation got a bit dodgy for a bit, but I figured it out. But most of all, I realized that the reason I was having a hard time writing wasn’t because of “writer’s block,” it was because I was neglecting my mental health. Which, I guess I knew to a degree. But it’s so easy to ignore it when you’re coasting. And tired. And kind of just… don’t give a shit?
The fact is, I needed someone to shake me and tell me that staying up until 4 a.m. and laying in bed all day was hurting me. Not giving myself permission to eat was hurting me. But almost nobody knew.
I needed to see a therapist, since every previous time I had gone to therapy as an adult it had been a direct result of being in an abusive relationship, there was a disconnect. Subconsciously, I didn’t think I needed to go back unless I was being abused.
I don’t remember what triggered me to step outside myself and see the crash dieting, anxiety-ridden, depressed person I had turned into, but once I did I was able to start taking steps to climb out of it. As I viewed myself from the outside, it became clear to me that the life path I was on was not allowing myself to be 100% true to myself. So, in true me fashion, I chose the hard road. I found a house to rent in South Philly, found an incredible therapist, started picking up more contracts, and between periods of procrastination, slowly started to feel like myself again.
I recently spent two months out of town, and since I returned things are finally falling into place. I’ve started to build a freelance business that I’m truly proud of, snagged some side hustles like a true snake person, and I’m in the process of turning my rented house into an actual home. Having people I work with relying on me again has been healing in a way I never anticipated.
I do wonder why I took me so long to identify that my problem was based on mental health. Was I simply in denial that I needed help? After all, I am infuriatingly stubborn. Is the topic of mental health still too taboo a topic and such a source of stigma and shame that sweeping it under the rug felt easier than staring it in the face? Was it because after I was diagnosed there were people that questioned it because I “seemed fine”? I imagine it’s a combination of everything, and with the current state of our country and the unsure future of our health care system, it, unfortunately, doesn’t look like the latter is changing anytime soon. But this experience has taught me that these conversations are important, and I’m going to do my best to continue having them.
I’m still not at 100%, but I’m actively giving myself permission to have symptoms. And if you’re in the same boat, I hope you can be gentle with yourself on the hard days. It’s called “mental illness” for a reason. There’s no shame in being sick.