Hey there, friend. It’s been a while. While I’ve taken a break from writing, I’ve been doing some reading and a lot of thinking about what the next steps of my personal journey will look like. I’ll be sharing more about that in the future, but for now, if you’d care to have a glimpse inside my imperfect head, have a seat. ‘Cause I’ve got some things to get off my chest.
In my inaugural post, I described in very broad strokes where I am in my life now, and how I ended up here. Today, I’d like to unpack that a bit, just in case there’s anyone out there who may be feeling/has felt/is entering a point in their life where they may feel like I have over the last four years. Because, as the people who’ve chosen to put up with me through these stages of my life can vouch, they can be pretty ugly.
As much as I attempt (rather comically) to play the part of the lofty academic, I think it’s time to come clean. Although I moved to Canada on a student visa, I didn’t come up here for some stellar educational program that fit my interests and/or changed my life. I moved a thousand miles to a new country for a boy. Plain and simple. And as much as many of the Lean-In Feminists out there may hate to hear it, I don’t regret it at all.
That said, with all the glamorous wanderlust stories that fill our feeds and urge us to follow our dreams, people rarely tell you how difficult visas and immigration can be to manage. When I finished my Masters, I was lucky enough to qualify for a student work program designed to allow new graduates to work in Canada while they sort out the next chapter of their lives, but these visas come with the caveat that you cannot study at a Canadian institution without giving up any job you may have found, leaving the country, re-entering on a student visa, and submitting to international tuition fees. And if you want to apply to stay in Canada as a permanent resident? Good luck. My husband is awesome, but immigration is hugely complicated and expensive process that can take years. Long story short, I’ve lived in Canada for well over six years, and we’re still waiting at the mercy of Citizenship and Immigration.
So, in 2014, I’d survived a grueling graduate degree in a subject I knew early on wasn’t for me, and I’d managed by some miracle of fate to keep this fella (now my husband) around. What was next? Find a job and start paying back my mountain of student debt, of course. But if I had to ask myself what I really wanted? Well, that was another story. I wanted more than anything to go back to school and formally study biology/ecology, but for practicality’s sake, I accepted a job drafting letters for Senior Executives at a major corporation. Since then, I’ve spent the bulk of my life sitting in cubicles, writing for other people.
Ever the pessimist, I’ve lived the last four years entirely miserable and with no clue what to do about it. In futile attempts to find some sort of fulfillment, I’ve tried to write, changed jobs, lost weight, gained weight, played video games, given up video games, and mostly, watched way too much TV. I spent ridiculous amounts of time and money attempting to reconcile living the life I’ve fallen into with this unrelenting flight response—a tightness in my chest urging me to run away from it all and never return. This office drone isn’t who I am. This work isn’t what I’m meant to be doing. I have more to offer the world than soul-less documents that in reality are nothing more than bureaucratic flotsam. A psychiatrist might have called these episodes panic attacks. I’ve been too scared that a shrink would write it all off as a hormone imbalance, prescribe pills, and urge me to medicate myself into placation to talk to one and find out. This is what life is, I’m afraid they will say. Just go to work, go to the gym, watch TV, spend a week a resort where it’s warm every February, and be happy.
I understand that without privilege and a lot of help from people who’ve supported me more than I deserve, I never could have made it our of the small-town South, but hell if any of it was easy. I worked my butt off in hopes of one day having a fulfilling, meaningful life. At 28 with, a passionless career, no kids, no prospects for further education, and developing back problems from too much time spent at a desk, I felt like a failure. I felt like life I’d fought for meant nothing. I felt unworthy of my partner, which caused our relationship to deteriorate. Then, Trump won the 2016 election. I began to wonder if everything I’d ever cared about meant nothing in the bigger picture. Moreover, I felt completely impotent: terrible things were happening back home, and living in Canada with full time work, I couldn’t even be on the front lines to fight. By the summer of 2017, I was ready to give up on my home country, my marriage, and myself.
After surviving one of the deepest bouts of depression I’ve ever faced, I started really searching. I went to marches and demonstrations, though I cried every time. I read Gandhi. I read Malcolm x. I started spending time outside again, even though my sedentary job has made this challenging, both mentally and physically. Along the way, I’ve caught little glimpses of where I could be headed from here—one of the most enduring, my experience reading Silent Spring by Rachel Carson last summer. For those of you who haven’t read it, this beautiful union of scientific information and eloquent prose is said to have been the catalyst for the modern environmental movement. Taken in by the skillful writing and careful attention with which the dangers of commercial pesticide use were described, I was inspired.
I’ve spent most of my adult life building an identity as a writer. Now, it’s time for me to do some mental and emotional work and figure out what the heck it is I’m here to say. Reading Silent Spring was a timely reminder of how much work remains to be done to help preserve the our wild spaces and all the cool critters that inhabit them.
I have a general direction, and I’m doing my best to stay on the path I feel is right for me, but it still requires patience, perseverance, and discipline—more than I’m confident I can muster some days. I wish I could say that as soon as I rediscovered my love for the natural world, there was a Eureka moment after which my heading became clear. That the darkness in my mind subsided, and I was able to move forward into the future with indefinite peace and purpose. However, this isn’t a fairy tale. It’s life. And that’s okay.
I read a post the other day by an artist/blogger posting progress of a piece he was working on. The author had a picture of the work in progress, a geometric portrait that was only partially coloured in. He talked about the frustration that comes when he’s in the thick of a project, yet he has little idea what the finished product will actually look like. Recently, my life has felt a lot like that point in his process. Taking stock of my life so far, I can’t help second-guessing the choices I’ve made—noticing errors or places where a different decision could have changed the whole outcome. This also requires accepting that at this point, there’s no turning back. The only options are either riding the creative process out to the end or giving up. Some days the latter is pretty appealing; however, if the artist/blogger’s work is any indication, the results can be pretty incredible if you follow the process through.
It’s a daily struggle, but one that I hope, by the end, will be worth it all.