We’re a bit over a week into the New Year, and it’s been a whirlwind so far. The post I published on the precipice of 2017 was my most popular ever by far, which was encouraging and enlightening. I got the cast off my hand, rendering me the most physically free and able I’ve been since June 25th. I officially have zero corporate copywriting obligations for the first time in three-plus years thanks to a hilariously pedantic ‘layoff’ by my last remaining freelance client. Hank joined my family and has dramatically altered my life for the better.
It’s funny and informative to bring a dog into the fray. It forces us to change our lifestyles, creates considerations we never otherwise make, and highlights the simple benefits of being known, heard, and loved. Since adopting Hank, my in-home productivity has skyrocketed; just knowing that there are two of us here makes it easier for me to sit at the desk as I hear contented sighs and noisy yawns on the bed behind me. He also imposes a certain structure on my life, even if he isn’t exactly a morning dog.
More importantly, dog ownership has caused me to catch myself thinking repeatedly about the compromises he’ll require in some uncertain future. Oh, I guess I can’t go there because now I have a dog. I probably can’t do that because I’d be gone too long. That hotel I’d like to theoretically visit sometime in the next five years doesn’t allow dogs. I probably can’t spontaneously agree to one thing after doing another some vague date in the future without stopping by my house first. These are the same thoughts that prevented me from bringing a furry friend into my life for so long, which was clearly a beautiful mistake that led me to Hank. Still, it’s that type of preventative thinking that paralyzes so many of us across the spectrum of depression and general discontent.
How many of us experience profound, genuine discomfort because of some changeable aspect of our lives, only to do nothing about it? It is so easy to build a house of cards out of codependences—maybe the car payment is too high for us to quit the job, maybe the intertia of meeting new friends is too daunting to follow our dreams to a new place or community, perhaps our comfortable and busying routine is just the right balance of tenuous and steadfast to keep us moving forward.
A week in, there’s no chance in hell that I’d trade dog ownership and the unbridled joy Hank brings into my life for theoretical freedom. And a few days into having zero corporate obligations, I’m witnessing the fruit of my free writing brain and less-burdened conscience. I write more often and more people read and respond to it. This is promising, a step in the right direction for someone who desperately wants to be an author with autonomy but has never really tried. How often have I contemplated leaping from dry copywriting to some other dry office job out of exasperation at misusing my God-given gift of writing? And how close have I come to doing just that, to giving up on a dream that I never even gave a chance? All because steadier pay and less frustration beckon from the shadows seductively, promising more money to afford escapes from a more mindless, lucrative job.
And backing up, it all comes down to the same truth that getting Hank and getting “fired” from a freelance gig have driven home this week: it’s really easy to stay depressed because even on your very best days, you have what you consider a “realistic outlook.” That won’t work, people like me don’t do things like that, even though it sounds good, there’s no way it will actually be that good. I’m not that good. Risk mitigation, your depressed brain might call it. Robbing yourself of your dreams, I might call it. And I rob myself of plenty.
Even though I’ve made so many dramatic moves towards living out my dream, I still often doubt my own agency and potential for happiness. I still have this feeling that there’s an invisible membrane between the edges of my brain and the reality that surrounds it. I still get dizzy and distracted and think about things I’d like to do and reasons why I can’t do them, at least not any time soon. So often, I refer to what I’m doing right now as ‘biding my time,’ which is a nauseating way to think of spending our precious days on this amazing planet. My counselor always firmly reframes that: “You are not ‘biding your time,’ you’re healing.” And it is true, but this is a strange limbo that affects millions of people every day. Because so often, we’re healing from slow, invisible wounds and we can’t ever figure out when they’re better. So often, there’s no cast to cut off. There’s no x-ray for a broken heart or brain damage or situational depression.
It’s staggering the rate at which we fall a little off the tracks and just forget to get back on course. Usually, we land somewhere comfortable enough and climbing back to where we started just takes a little too much work. Contentedness and doubt are great at making us complacent, and complacency prevents us from finding the immediately available edification this world is full of.
If I dwell really hard on that moment I collapsed the second time after getting hit by the car, two things happen:
- I get extremely somber and grim and think about how unremarkable something like death felt.
- I am reminded how pointless it is to linger in uncertainty and decency (in the pejorative, mediocre sense of the word) out of fear of risk, or the unknown, or sacrifice, or even just a bit of hard work.
My response to that still isn’t quite what I’d like it to be, but we’re getting there. I’m working on my discipline and devotion and smirking at the universe’s way of nudging me along; quitting one corporate job while leaning on the safety net of another was hardly a definitive step towards writing what I should be writing all the time. So being told that (injury-inflicted) delays and tardiness and 2017 budget concerns were terminating that little monthly safety net was hardly dreadful news. It made me laugh and nod and do a Steve Carrell-esque shrug. If I was made to be a writer and every trial was placed before me for a reason, then we’re starting to see hints of those things coming true. The last few pieces I’ve written have received heartfelt responses from childhood neighbors and current-life acquaintances and perfect strangers across the globe.
If I’m going to suffer, I’m not going to let it be in vain. And if I’m going to write for a living, I’m not going to write about digital projectors or postal logistics or trends in social media marketing. If I need a dog in my life, I’m not going to worry about the logistics of my next trip to Boston or Fort Worth, especially when none are on the calendar and these sorts of things always work out much easier than our dread might have us believe. And if we all have a tendency to only learn things the hard way, maybe I can start shouldering a bit more of that burden and turning it into something worth reading until a book or three materializes from consistent habits and a life unburdened by complacency or skull-numbing research about topics I literally know nothing about.